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Advice > Industry Interviews > Q & A With Band Leader Henry Rollins

Q & A With Band Leader Henry Rollins




Copyright Bobby Borg 2003, 2008


Henry Rollins started playing music live in 1980. Since then, he has averaged about 104 shows a year worldwide and has recorded and released a wealth of records, first with the pioneering punk band Black Flag, and then on his own with Rollins Band. He’s relentlessly busy writing books and a column for Details magazine, making cameo appearances in films, doing occasional stints as a VJ on MTV, and traveling the country performing his spoken word tours. In this interview, Rollins touches on his philosophy on being a bandleader, as well as on what has kept him alive as a voice in music for over 30 years.



Q: Describe some of the major differences between your role as a band member with Black Flag and your role as a solo artist and the leader of Rollins Band.


H.R: Black Flag was Greg Ginn’s band. He wrote most of the songs and called the shots. My current status as bandleader has me making most of the decisions and deciding the band’s schedule for touring and recording. The main difference is when you are in charge, you have many factors to take into account. The needs of others, what’s best for all in the long run and what the objectives are. This is all entry-level stuff. There’s just a lot more to deal with day-to-day than being a paid and working musician.



Q: In standard recording agreements, the record company will want the rights to all leaving members as either a solo artist or as a member of a self-contained band. When you parted ways with Black Flag, did you have any contractual obligations to the record company? How did you handle your exit?


H.R: Greg Ginn owned SST Records, which was the label Black Flag was on. There were no obligations to the label for any of the members when the band parted ways.



Q: As a bandleader, you are obviously responsible for putting together a group of musicians to perform live and in the studio. What are some of the attributes you look for in your musicians?


H.R: What I look for is a love of music by the people in the band. An open mindedness. Knowledge that the music is the master and we are only there to serve it. Understanding that it’s going to be fun, but it’s also going to be a lot of work. Hard work and a will to perform with much excellence in a live situation is a must. A good band is always good live. No exceptions.



Q: How do you find your musicians? Do you prefer to work with people whom you already know, or who are referred to you by people you know? Do you look for musicians who are experienced and have played with other successful acts?


H.R: I do not look to put together bands very often. I have not played with many lineups. I have been in three bands in 21 years. I first got together with the current members years ago, when I was producing a record for their band, Mother Superior. I was lucky to hook up with good people of such high-caliber musicianship, work-ethic, and desire to tour.



Q: Describe your professional relationship and interactions with your musicians. Although it’s your name that is displayed on concert hall marquees and album cover artwork, how much do you rely on your band for feedback when making decisions (e.g., when writing songs)?


H.R: We are a band. We all get the same salary and all have an equal voice in the making of the music. We don’t have a “he’s the boss thing.” I treat all with respect and get the same.



Q: What are the various responsibilities that bandleaders have to their musicians (e.g., from a creative, business, and/or legal perspective)? Please feel free to elaborate.


H.R: I think the leader of the band should be very careful of the welfare of all the other members from the financial to the emotional. The leader is to protect their interests and not do anything to limit their potential. I am very protective of the people I work with, from the band to the crew.



Q: I have noticed that for years you have been quite the entrepreneur. From the written and spoken word, to acting and recording and touring with the Rollins Band, you move from one endeavor to the next as if you were “part machine” [a slogan from Rollins’ T-shirts]. How do you keep a balance between all of these activities?


H.R: I work steadily, not frenzied, so I get a lot done. Also, I do what I do to the exclusion of many other things, like friends and family. I just work, for the most part. I spend my down time, for the most part, alone.



Q: One of your T-shirt merchandising designs bears the slogan, “40 years of service.” To what do you attribute your success and longevity as a solo artist?


H.R: Commitment, tenacity, and a love of what I do.



Q: It seems that most of your musicians have been pretty committed to Rollins Band over the past years. Has it ever been difficult keeping everyone on board during periods when you’re focusing on your other talents? Are you in contact with your band during periods of inactivity?


H.R: When we are not together, the boys have their own band, Mother Superior, which is a full-on writing, touring, and recording unit. They rarely take any time off at all.



Q: You have CDs that are only available for purchase at your live performances and over the Internet. Why did you decide to handle some of your distribution this way? Would you comment on the current state of the record industry, and your predictions of how the Internet and the digital revolution may affect the business in the near future?


H.R: I put out CDs that are sold at the gigs and from our website so people who want to hear more, can. I don’t want to clog up our already low priority bin space at retail. I think the music industry is a cesspool of corny bands, and luckily for me, I didn’t get any on me. I have no idea as to what the Internet and the digital revolution will do to the recording industry.



Q: Do you have any advice for musicians who are just entering the business, or conversely, who are burned out or are frustrated due to their trials and tribulations in the industry?


H.R: Same advice to both parties: stick to the reason you got into it in the first place. You wanted to play music, right? So you won’t mind playing in front of a few people as long as you get to play, right? Good. Also, know that all the greats played through all kinds of highs and lows and ebbs and tides. If you’re a player, then play!



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Warning: This material is copyright registered by Bobby Borg ©2003, 2008. All rights reserved. If you copy material from this web site, for use in any printed or electronic media, please ask permission of Bobby Borg first by email at All credits, links to, and copyright notices must be posted.


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