Henry Rollins | One Man Wrecking Machine

Singer. Speaker. Author. Actor. TV personality. Talk show host. Heavy metal hero. Punk rock icon. Henry Rollins brings his unique brand of spoken word performance to St. Louis.

First coming to prominence as front man for seminal California punk band Black Flag, Henry Rollins exploded into the public consciousness with "Liar," a song from the 1994 Rollins Band album Weight, whose video helped launch the singer as an omnipresent MTV personality. His newfound fame opened a chance for small roles in films like The Chase and Heat. Rollins also began writing books and publishing them under his own 2.13.61 banner, including his essential Black Flag memoir Get in the Van. In recent years, Rollins has appeared on the Independent Film Channel, first as host of Henry’s Film Corner and later of The Henry Rollins Show, a topical talkfest that IFC recently renewed for a third season.

Throughout all the various stages of his career, Rollins has also toured as a spoken word artist. His spoken word shows offer him a chance to speak on a wide range of topics, from observational humor to intense social and political commentary, all filtered through Rollins’ unique world view. As a man who makes a living through his words, Rollins is understandably chatty, and in this lengthy interview he touches on several wide-ranging subjects, including the origins of his IFC show, the reason he still goes out on spoken word tours, the future of the Rollins Band, his latest acting turn in the horror film Wrong Turn 2, and the current political climate of the United States. 

Rollins appears at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 20 at The Pageant in St. Louis. Tickets are $22, and the show is open to all ages. The rest of Rollins’ tour itinerary is at the end of this article; to find out more about Rollins, visit his website at www.21361.com.


How did you first hook up with the guys at the Independent Film Channel, and what lead to the show changing from the movie format to the weekly talk show format that you’re doing now?

It was their idea. [Swift River, the show’s production team] called my management, they said, "We have this idea for—"—what became the Film Corner show—"we like Henry for it." Rick, my manager, called and said, "These guys seem pretty on the level, do you want to meet these people?" I said, "Sure." It just sounded interesting; I had never thought of being on TV.

I met them and they were go-getters. They weren’t messing around, they were young and…champing at the bit, as they say, and I liked that. So I threw in with them and we made a demo, a 15-minute version, and we shopped it around and went on some of those excruciating pitch meetings where you try and pawn yourself off as, you know, "Hey, here’s this show that’s going to change your station." And these people have seen everything before, so they kind of go, "Uh huh…get out." It was just really weird.

We gave the demo to the Independent Film Channel. They said, "We like this, we like Henry, can we sit down with you all?" So we sat down with them—very cool people. They said "Here’s some money, can you make a broadcast-ready, half-hour version?" We did that, and they got back to us a few weeks later and said "Okay, can you make a season?" And all of a sudden, we had a show.

Then they said, "The new plan: We like you, we want you back, but we see that people really respond to you when you’re just being yourself, so let’s forget the film aspect and let you do what you want. And let’s call it The Henry Rollins Show, just so it doesn’t have to be film all the time." All of a sudden, I’ve got this big-ass job. It takes a quite a bit of time and consideration, and it’s been a very growing experience because I’m used to doing things on my own. I’ve got a band, and you work with the band guys, and I’ve got my talking shows…it’s just me up there. But the TV show is a very collaborative effort. Also, it’s not my money, so IFC wants to hear what we’re doing, they want a say. There’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen. It’s cool, thankfully…everyone is really great and none of their ideas are awful, where you cringe. We don’t always agree on everything because there are a lot of different minds in the room, but by and large, what you see is what we wanted to show you.

That’s been the evolution of it. The time from the first little demo to actually putting the show on was well over a year. The Swift River guys would go away for a few months, and I’m very busy so a few months [goes by] for me and I’ve kind of forgotten them because I’m deeply into the next project I’m struggling to complete. Then my manager would call and say "Ah, the Swift River guys called again," and I’m like "Oh, yeah, that TV show. Yeah, like that’s going to happen…" We’ve been dealing with the Swift River guys for years now, and hopefully more good work next year.

I saw that your show just got picked up for season 3. Did you have any big plans for next year when you pitched to IFC to continue the show?

We just flew out to New York for meetings with them, so we’re going to start storyboarding ideas now, but there won’t be any shooting until ’08. That’s not that far away. With the way I’m booked, with the way I schedule myself, 3 or 4 months is like 3 weeks, it’s like it’s around the corner. So we’re kind of scrambling now for next year, because unless you start really nailing it down now, you don’t get to do anything you want even by spring of next year because you didn’t plan in the summer of the year before.

That I look forward to, I always like the planning stuff. Y’know, it’s exciting.


Were there any moments of the season that just ended that you particularly enjoyed, particularly anything that was unexpected, that you didn’t plan for?

We had a lot of really good bands on this year, and the interviews went exceedingly well. It was really great to interview Gore Vidal, who I think is a great American man of letters, and he might not be around for that many more years—I mean, he’s in his 80s—so it was great to have met the man. The Larry Flynt interview was really interesting. We didn’t talk about Hustler; I don’t care about Hustler magazine, really. Jerry Falwell had just passed away, and they had a very interesting relationship. He’s very articulate.

We just interviewed Steven Tyler the other day, of Aerosmith. Very sincere, very intense guy. He lives right at the surface of himself, so you ask him a question and he’s just right there with it.

I talked to him the day before on the phone, he had said, "I want Henry to call me. I don’t want to hear from managers, I just want the two of us to talk." So I got his number and I called him on this Sunday afternoon, and we ended up having this really cool conversation about everything from music to being in a band and the frustrations contained therein. I mean, the guy’s been in the same band since the 70s, and in that time, there’s probably a bunch of ups and downs. So that was a really cool interview, very intense.

And we just interviewed Shepard Fairey, who does all the "Obey Giant" stuff. The art is great, but the reason he does the art is, to me, just as interesting. There’s a message behind it. Those were all really substantive interviews.

And, the bands: Sinead O’Connor, Billy Bragg…[the list of artists] we had on there…it was fairly staggering. I mean, there’s nothing like walking into the studio to see the Good, the Bad, and the Queen, which means you have Paul Simonon of the Clash standing in front of you—that was pretty large for me—and Tony Allen, who drummed with Fela Kuti, so you’re like, "That’s Tony Allen…wow." Because I’m a fan of all these people. I’m not one who’s too cool to be a fan of someone else, so when they come in, I have to contain myself.

We had the Stooges come in this year. Forget it. I’m like, [nervously] "So, uh, hey guys…"—you know, trying to hide the fact that I’m jumping up and down inside — and they were great. Iggy [Pop] said, "Do you mind if we warm up with a few songs before we play?" I’m like [meekly] "Yeah, that’ll be okay…" and they played half the new album in front of like 10 people. It wasn’t the worst day of my life.

Yeah, when I saw that the Stooges had played this year, I knew that had to be one of your personal highlights…

You know, Iggy’s a hero to me, he fascinates me. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve met the guy over the years. I can’t say I know the dude, but, y’know, I’ve shook the hand on a number of occasions in the last 24 years.

It’s a great opportunity. We all walk out of there at the end of the day—cast, crew, everyone—saying "This is really cool. This is a good job."

[Continue to page 2 to read what Rollins feels he gets from spoken word shows, as well as the future of the Rollins Band.]

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