Henry Rollins | Stacking Miles from St. Louis to Tibet

The iconic Henry Rollins shares his thoughts on travel, DiY ethic and technology.

Henry Rollins has been a force to be reckoned with since his inception in the early 1980s as a punk rock frontman. Since the break up of legendary Black Flag in 1986, Rollins has become known throughout the world as not only an influential musician but a radio personality, author, television and film actor, motivational speaker and political activist — a workaholic in every sense of the word.

As Rollins continues his relentless schedule with his “Frequent Flyer Tour” this summer, I was able to stop him for just long enough to talk about some compelling current issues throughout the world and in his own life.

You’ve traveled to dozens of countries, many off of the beaten tourism path, including Mali, Burma and several Middle Eastern locations. Where are some of the places you have yet to see and what are your motivations for wanting to go there?

Well, a lot of the ’stans hold great interest to me, like: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. I don’t know how many of those I could get myself in to; some more easily than others. But I definitely want to get to all of those in the next year or so. North Korea certainly interests me, Bhutan, Mongolia, Tibet. Place like that are of great interest to me. Mainly because they are off the beaten track. The ’stans, you know, any country around the Caspian Sea is of interest to me as it seems to be some of the only or one of the only locations where Big Oil and Gas has left to truly and fully exploit. So I’m just interested to see what those places are like, what those capital cities and those countries are like with Big Oil kind of, you know, chomping at the bit to exploit the territory. Also, a place like Mongolia and Bhutan or Tibet are very tricky to get in to; North Korea — very tricky visa to get, if you can get one at all. And these are places I’ve not been and, you know, I’m just curious.

There’s some countries that don’t interest me as much: South America and Central America are not high up on my list. Hopefully, I’ll get to these places I haven’t been but it’s these other countries that I just mentioned that would be higher up on my list just because… I don’t know, they strike more curiosity in me at this time.

On [FX network original series] Sons of Anarchy, what were some of the challenges you faced playing a character with a world view so different from your own?

None. I mean, ultimately, it’s just lines on a page. And the character was not a very emotional person and so it was a reductive process of getting to the character, in that, he’s a pretty awful human being, admittedly. But it wasn’t like the guy runs the emotional roller coaster, you know, of crying and laughing and rolling on the floor. It’s kind of this militant guy who didn’t speak much, who just took his orders and dispatched people into the next world. So it wasn’t all that hard, in that, I didn’t have all these awful epiphanies when I left the set. I just did the lines for the day and went home. I mean, I took the work with a great deal of seriousness but I knew all the time that I was acting.

There are many musicians and artists, here in St. Louis and everywhere, I’m sure, that are really trying to make their way in the true DiY, “do it yourself” fashion, following that philosophy. What do you have to say to people in that situation or do you have any advice?

Oh, sure. It’s very, very tough. And very, very worth it. Ultimately, you know, what you look for when you sign to a label or something is you’re after an advance and their distribution. You want the money or the space to be able to create the art and then you want to get it out to people who would potentially dig it. And, potentially, record labels offer all of that — they have the cash up front so you can go in and make the thing, and then they have the distribution to get you to this audience who, no doubt, will love you. That is also putting the artist on the cotton farm and is one of the craziest deals known to man: where the artist signs the contract, gets the advance — which the artist owes immediately, and also the artist’s part of the actual art, the intellectual property, does not belong to the artist. So basically, you are in debt and you owe a record; none of it you get to keep. And so, to me, the wise, innovative artist sees this for what it is and tries to be brave and strong and innovative and smart and never go on the cotton farm and do it for yourself: own the publishing, own the property.

So you’re faced with a challenge. Distribution. How do you get your thing out? Well, I would utilize the internet. I’d utilize a website that allows people to check you out for free and underground networking to get your music across. And online radio shows, podcasts where you can send the music as an mp3 file. You can not have to have inventory, you know, you don’t have to make a CD if you don’t want. You can just have it as a download. And so all of a sudden you’re working without inventory — which is a great drain on the wallet — and you don’t have to warehouse it.

So, there’s some advantages if you take advantage of them. Perhaps you can win. That being said, you know, it’s very tough. And what really helps is to have some really good music, some really good art. That’s always the best is to be very, very good at what you do. An overwhelming amount of talent is usually the best asset.

Great, well, that leads me into my next question. Have you noticed a significant change in your fan base as technology has given more people access to your work, with developments such as podcasting, quick online access to music and even having your blog on VanityFair.com?

Yeah — for me, I can only speculate — in that, you know, people write me and say, “I saw a lot of your stuff online, like, I can watch you online for free. There’s so much of you out there.” Ok. So, I’ve met a lot of people who said, “I came to your show ’cause I watched you on YouTube.” So, certainly, that’s cool; it brings someone down to the show. Or, “I downloaded four of your records for free, I hope you’re not too angry. And I’ve been checking you out for a couple of years.” Well, that’s alright. I mean, someone is checking out what I do. So the internet has brought a lot of people to me and for that I’m very grateful. How many? I don’t know but I do hear that kind of thing said to me fairly often.

And so it seems my audience has grown. I would like to think it’s my winning smile. But I think the communication and access to information is a lot greater, in that, if you and I get curious, it is now at our fingertips. In our lap, in a laptop, rather than go to the library or just be left to wonder and speculate. And, so, I think so many people being online as they are, you can kind of be mildly curious and have your mild curiosity quickly satiated. So, perhaps, that’s it.

Do you think Americans are putting extra emotional stock into the World Cup as a distraction from things like the BP and Chevron oil spills and declining presidential popularity? Or do you think we really just like soccer?

Oh, I don’t know. I don’t follow sports at all. I mean, I was in South Africa a few weeks before the World Cup started and saw all of the excitement there but sports never did it for me. I think the World Cup is certainly a bit of distraction because the rest of the news in America is fairly grim, as this oil spill goes out of control. And BP, CNN, any news carrier, any CEO, and this president must back off at a certain point because they start hurting their bottom line. So as far as the truth, you’re not going to get it from your president completely or from, you know, the Anderson Coopers of the world, as much truth as they want to bring you. And CEOs of places, people like Halliburton or, uh… “People like Halliburton.” I just gave personhood to a corporation like the Supreme Court… Um, or companies or organizations like BP, they’re certainly not going to tell you the truth because it’s not in their best interest to do so. So the American is left to deal with an ever worsening proposition. And now that there’s storm patterns seeming to be forming in the Gulf — today, it could get a whole lot worse as crude, perhaps, goes aerosol; you know, when it goes into a tornado column.

So maybe the World Cup is distraction. I don’t want the distraction, I want the bad news first and the good news last. Because I think the good news is what you do about the bad news. So right now, I’m disappointed in my president, too, and I’m a guy who voted for him. It’s a very dismaying proposition being an American right now if you’re paying attention. And I don’t care who you vote for, things are very tough right now. What’s the solution? I don’t know. That’s why I don’t run for office. But I wish the arguing would stop and we would just get on to more non-partisan ideas about how to solve problems. | Nicole Madden

Be sure to catch Henry’s spoken word performance in St. Louis this Thursday, July 1.

The Pageant
8:00 pm

Enter your name in our drawing to win tickets by clicking here or you can purchase at:
6161 Delmar Blvd.

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