Henry Rollins on Why He Chose Spoken Word Over Hardcore

Henry Rollins on Why He Chose Spoken Word Over HardcoreEXPAND
Heidi May

Though Henry Rollins made his name as frontman for hardcore punk band Black Flag and later move to his own hard rocking Rollins Band, he hasn't put out an album since 2002. "One day it occurred to me that I was done," he tells New Times from Australia. "I had no more lyrics and that being the case, I did not want to just do old material. If there is nothing to risk and all I would be doing is providing entertainment, then I was out. That was it, pretty much. It was quite a change to not be in a band after so many years, but I’m busier than ever now and have no regrets."

That current workload includes acting, writing a regular column for his hometown paper (and also our sister publication) LA Weekly, hosting a radio show and podcast, and presently making the rounds in Australia on a spoken word tour  — that comes to the Broward Center October 6.  In his performance, he talks about his travels, film and TV work, and the interesting people he has met isn't off the cuff. "I work through the stories for weeks before a tour. I say them out loud to myself to hear how they sound. I take a lot of notes on the places I have been to try to get a better understanding of what I saw. During a tour the material will evolve if something in the world happens that pertains to one of the stories. Some of the locations I have been to required a lot of research to be able to talk about the time there." 

The medium of spoken word wouldn't seem to provide the visceral thrill of singing or screaming out lyrics with a full powered band behind you. But Rollins says he enjoys the challenge of all eyes being on him with no music to save him. "It’s a lot more difficult. It’s just me up there. It is challenge I like but it’s not easy. As a medium, I liked it immediately when I first started doing it in 1983. The format allowed me to move in almost any direction without getting in the way of the music. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to music in that you have to be all in or not at all."

Off the top of his head, Rollins named some other musicians who are strong enough storytellers that they could make the move effortlessly to doing spoken word. "I think Ice T would be an amazing story teller. Tom Waits, Nick Cave, those two would be great. Iggy Pop, Keith Richards."

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Even though he no longer has the urge to make new music, his desire to listen to it is stronger than ever as evidenced by his writings and radio shows. "I like records better than people. As I get older, I like music more and more." Though he spends nearly every night checking out live music and listening to new albums, it's hard for Rollins to compare any current bands to the ones he fronted. "I think time and place, along with Greg Ginn’s singular talent, made Black Flag a standalone entity. Rollins Band, by comparison, was just guitar driven rock music, which can be found almost anywhere."

Though he recently wrote a column about how he never turns down an interview and was very professional in making sure this interview happened on short notice, he admitted publicity is not part of the job he enjoys. "I do a lot of interviews and just answer the best I can. It’s the stupid questions that stand out the most, unfortunately."

He pointed out an Australian interview where they asked him what he ate this week, what he drank, and his funniest childhood moment. His answer to the last question was "In grade 3, I wrote E=mc2 on the chalkboard and everyone laughed. I showed them all. "

Henry Rollins. 8 p.m. Thursday., October 6, at  Au-Rene Theater at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-0222, or visit browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $29.50 to $39.50 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.

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