Today I published my interview with Henry Rollins on Forbes about his passion for music, the importance of vinyl in delivering music and the stories behind our greatest artists, and his new venture, The Sound Of Vinyl.
Henry was kind, down to earth, and inspirational to talk to. Our discussion was so interesting I want to share the full raw transcript of our discussion which is below. Please note: this is a literally transcript, so it will read like a conversation as opposed to a written discussion.
Jono: Hey Henry, how are you doing?
Henry: I’m fine and thank you so much for waiting. The interviews are kind of running and I ate half a sandwich so my blood sugar didn’t plummet and I didn’t faint on the phone so I’m so sorry. I ate that sandwich as fast as I could.
Jono: No problem.
Henry: I tasted at least one bite of it.
Jono: I appreciate the future indigestion you’re about to experience. [laughs]
Henry: There you go.
Jono: Awesome. Well, I appreciate you taking a bit of time today.
Henry: No problem.
Jono: You know, I’ve been a fan of your work for not just your music but your comedy as well so it’s a real thrill to chat to you.
Henry: Oh, thank you.
Jono: Yeah, I’ll try and keep this relatively short because I know you’ve probably got a million of these lined up.
Henry: Yeah, whatever you want, man.
Jono: All right cool so to start off with you know when I started listening to music I loved vinyl in a similar way I think a lot of peopled loved the cartridges in the video games world. It wasn’t just the content but it was the packaging, it was the feel. It was the smell when you opened that thing up. What is it about vinyl that makes you so passionate about it?
Henry: Of all of the things that you said, the fact that vinyl has a physical place in the world in that you hold it in your hand, if you drop it, you could hurt it, which gives it more value but I think digital music has devalued the currency of music in that you can run a CD over with car, it still plays, which is fine.
Henry: You can stream it but all of a sudden it’s music-in-the-background. Well, what does the album cover look like? I don’t know.
Henry: Do you know what you were just listening to for an hour? Music. What was it? I don’t know.
Henry: Really because some people really sweated and nearly killed the bass player to make that record and shouldn’t you know more about what you’re listening to? And I think the digital experience has distanced a lot of people away kind of all the best parts of music and to me the vinyl kind of welds you to all the good parts of music. First off it sounds better. That’s not up for debate but the fact that you have to manually put it on the record player, flip the damn thing over, not screw up the record by putting the needle on it incorrectly, put it away and store and, like, care for it, like, kinda love it a little, which is weird with an inanimate object but I love my records as much as I’ve ever loved any human being, I think, you know? They’re definitely better friends and so I’ve never had that with a CD.
I’m not putting down the noble CD. It just can’t do that for you. It’s a disc with computer information on it. It’s a buncha numbers. It’s doing the best it can to fool you into thinking it’s playing. It’s just playing a computer’s version of it.
Henry: It’s a high-resolution drawing made by a computer but there’s no human touch to it except maybe some mastering but there’s no humans on a CD. There’s no music on a CD and I think the human body – me not being a spiritual person but there’s something humans and analog signal – you know it when you hear it but you put on a Miles record on LP, now you’re listening to Miles Davis. You put on a CD, you’re hearing a record with … you’re hearing some music, I guess, and I think that’s it and that’s why I like all of it. I like the physical aspect of it.
Henry: I like the fact that it sounds better and the fact that as soon as I have a record on I am immediately am connecting with music on a I-have-a-pulse-I’m-not-dead-yet level and I immediately go into my happy place. I am at my happiest when I’m mainly angry and sad but when I get kind of sort of happy is when the music’s playing and it’s usually vinyl.
Jono: Awesome yeah I could not agree more. One of the things that I read in a piece about you was that you describe yourself as “a vinyl cat lady”…
Henry: Yeah exactly.
Jono: Which I love, what is it about the collecting? I mean you know I couldn’t agree more with you about the experience of listening to vinyl, like when I started listening to music. For me it was primarily Iron Maiden and there was something about those Iron Maiden records, the lyrics, sitting there, looking at the vinyl, I listen to it, what is it about the collection element because I saw pictures of your collection and it’s fucking crazy, like, [laughs] what is it about the collection piece that attracts you?
Henry: I think it could be a very male thing, which I love to have fun and make fun of myself with; we men need to control something. Since men can’t control the force of the universe or women, you might as well be able to control your record collection. Simon Reynolds, the great music writer, does a whole chapter as he describes it perfectly in Retromania where, like, you read it and you’re, like, “ahh.” It’s like when you read High Fidelity. You read about yourself, these pathetic men, you’re, like, “Oh, wait, that’s me.” I like to have these things organized so I can walk into the record room almost with my eyes closed and know exactly where the black Sabbath albums because I know where the “B,” all the “BLA” records are, you know, anything that has “BLA” in the title.
Henry: And it’s like just knowing where all the keys on a piano are, where you can almost in-the-dark find the exact record, just because it’s almost like braille. It’s like a tactile relationship and I like the fact that records have prominence, like, usually I have dragged back over one or two continents over weeks in a shoulder bag that’s curving my shoulder blade or my collarbone through multiple airports and tour buses because I’m on the road a lot and I go to record stores in almost every country I go to. I was in 19 countries last year and the only record stores I didn’t get to, I forget, in one or two though they just didn’t have time, but did I get to record stores in Poland and Russia? Oh, hell yeah, I did and bought records, too, a lot of ‘em and so I found records in South Africa. I find records wherever I go and so the fact that you finally lug them home and they’re heavy and the fact that when you eventually move, you might not move because it’s the records are, like, “screw it, honey, we’re staying here until we die.”
Henry: “Why?” “Because I’m not putting the records in the Subaru and driving them across town.” “What? You’re divorcing me? Well, okay, I’ll just stay with the records.”
Jono: Shit happens, right?
Henry: “Maybe we could get two houses and I’ll just come and visit” and so I think you know that’s why I like the collection because, I’ve said this before in my little “LA Weekly” column, “you wanna know me? Don’t talk to me about me, go look at my record collection” because that tells you what I’m into but it also describes, with perfect accuracy, my idiosyncrasies, insecurities, quirks and all the things that I think make me interesting. Like why do you have 20 pressings of the Buzzcocks record? Because I love the band, the record changed my life, it’s a masterpiece and I need the pressing from every territory because there’s a different mastering, a different cut and there’s different writing on the label and that tells you everything that I’m a fan and I’m also out of my mind and [laughs] so you wanna know me? Know my record collection.
So and I’m a judgmental old bastard. I have to go, “What music are you into” and when they say, “I’m into all kinds, I’m into everything, I like all music,” I know they’re full of it.
Henry: Because if you know anything about music you’ll know that you’ll never know how many kinds of music there are or when someone says, “I know a lot about music” I know they don’t because anyone who does knows they don’t know anything about music and you’re nothing but a student. You must be humble because as Sun Ra once said, “Be careful, the music is listening” and so I like collecting because sometimes I don’t listen to music, I just go into the room and I sit with the records. I really enjoy that. I just sit with them because I’m with my ancestors, I’m with my best friends, I’m with the great, genius artists of not only my lifetime but the lifetime of my ancestors. I’m with John Coltrane and Jimmy Hendrix, Sun Ra and Jane’s Addiction, just sitting in my garage.
Henry: Do I know them? No but do I really? Yes because I know them through the message of music. What John Coltrane wanted to tell me was not in an interview, it was on the record so do I know John Coltrane? Are you kidding?
I definitely know John Coltrane. Is he my friend? How many times have I listened to “A Love Supreme?” I think he and I are friends and that’s why I don’t necessarily go running to meet a musician. I’m happy just going to the show standing in the back so that young kids don’t run into me and break my hip.
Henry: Because I am you know of the age of osteoporosis so when someone says, “Hey, the band knows you’re here, come backstage and meet them,” I’m, like, “Tell them I said hi” and then I went to the merch booth and bought the t-shirt but I don’t need to meet the band. I just like the records and what you’re trying to tell me, musically.
Jono: That’s awesome, yeah.
Henry: Because when I see the rock star at the airport, trust me, I look and go, “That’s so cool” and I keep on walking because he’s just an angry guy who’s up at 5:00 AM like me and I don’t wanna get yelled at by a guy [laughs] who I have every record of because he’s grouchy, too.
Jono: Yeah, he’s at the office, right?
Henry: What they are as – yeah, what they are as — people are mere mortals who, you know, just befell the earth as we all do what they do in the band room is so extraordinary, that’s kinda all I need to know and I let the naïveté of, like, “what’s he like,” who cares? Listen to what he did. It’s like I don’t wanna meet Charlie Parker, I just want the record. Apparently he was a mean dude but, man, when he plays, you know, he’s an angel.
Jono: Right yeah.
Henry: And so that’s why I like collecting records and, like, that cat-lady angle is sometimes I’m somewhere and I see a record I already have and you see 9 stickers on it, it went from $10.00 to $5.00 to $4.00 to $1.00 and I treat it as a rescue dog, like, “Oh, no one wants you? I’ll take you, I already have 2 of you at home but no, you’re okay with me so I’m gonna take the stickers off carefully, I’m gonna put you in an acid-free, polyvinyl-lined environment, I’m gonna play you lovingly with a beautiful stylus and I’m gonna store you next to your new friends” and I do rescue vinyl all the time. I have so many versions, like 3 of that because I saw one for cheap with no blemishes on it and no one wanted it so I rescued it from Indiana. It’s now with me.
Jono: That’s awesome yeah I mean it seems like from the way you’re speaking and I see it the same way that there was a physicality to music years ago and we’re seeing, obviously, fewer and fewer record shop and you’d go to a record shop and it wasn’t just about buying records, it was getting recommendations, like when I lived in the UK, there was a little record shop in a town in the middle of nowhere and all it stocked was super-obscure Metal and Punk so I’d go in there to buy a record and I’d come out with – I’d spend £200.00 to £300.00 on it, you know?
Henry: Yeah and the guy behind the counter, dude, the guy behind the counter knows every trainspotter fact about that record.
Jono: Right, yeah.
Henry: Right and so here’s what we’re trying to do. Like I used to go to Ray’s Jazz all the time in London.
Henry: With those kind of wizened, old Woody Herman experts who would kind of scold you as you bought a record, like, “You’re buying that one but he sold out on that record,” like, “Don’t yell at me, I’m giving you money” and, like, so I’d go, “Okay, well tell me the Stan Kenton record I really need” and they’d come running out and they kind of throw a record into your hand and grab you by the ear and drag you back to the counter and lecture you for another 20 minutes. We’re trying to do that with the SOV website where we don’t get to grab your ear because that’s litigation but when you come to the website, you’re gonna see interviews, like, on-camera interviews of me extracting information from fascinating people from every aspect of the industry from engineers, record-company owners, journalists, record collectors, music fans about everything from how they remastered the Blue Note catalog to the first record they ever bought to their preferred analog playback environment and you’ll see really well-known and somewhat obscure people wax you forth about the vinyl experience and you’ll have access to an insane amount of vinyl . You’ll see Top 10 lists that I’ve written in Starbucks all over Southern California on a weekend because I have no life. There’ll be lots of things for you to read and watch for free, like, you like this record? Go listen. Go stream it, son, go listen to it for free and then wonder what it would be like on vinyl. When you’re wondering, come to see us because we’ve got that sucker and we’ll put it in your mailbox in three days and so that’s what we’re trying to do.
So what they brought me in for is I’m content guy or at least one of them and so I am here a few days a month developing and creating tonnage of content so as this website ages we’re only getting heavier and denser with more stuff to listen to, read, experience and learn from, from how a record is mastered and cut to how it’s pressed, why, why it sounds this way, how to screw it up, how to take care of your records, how not to take care of your records, et cetera. Meanwhile here’s records we think you’ll like. Our computers are working overtime trying to figure you out. The more you tell us about you, the more we can tell you about you and so that’s kinda. We’re a multiplatform, multichannel or multiport way trying to bring – my target is – teenagers, early twenties, you know? People like me we’re already set in our ways.
We don’t believe in global change and we hate the world but an 18-year-old I can get to and I want that young person to buy whatever new artist they like, like the Thai Seagulls of the world but I want them to hear The Velvet Underground and Television and The Stooges and The MC5 on vinyl, thank you very much.
Henry: I want them to have their minds blown by stuff their grandfathers, literally, grew up on. I want them to hear The Clash on vinyl, you know, and all of that or any record they would’ve streamed now as they do on their phone, I want them to put out hard-earned money and get a record that they’ll preserve and give to their kids, like 20 years later, if you take care of a record it still sounds good. I have records I’ve been playing for three damn decades now and they still sound and I took good care of ‘em, they sound great, and so that’s what we’re trying to do on this site, educate, illuminate and spark the curiosity of and provide a direct-to-customer vinyl service.
Jono: So on that front one thing that I was curious to ask you was so outside of writing, you know, what I do during the day is I build community is for organizations and so when I was looking at this, it really excited me because it seemed very much about building a community around vinyl and obviously for a long time there’s been audiophile communities where people debate online about high-definition and amps and which Petri, Marantz or McIntosh amps they’re buying and which tubes they’re using and there’s obviously a community around-the-world right now of people who already listen to vinyl and that seems to be much more about the musical experience of it. How do you see? It sounds almost like there’s a bit of a blend of both here with Sound of Vinyl that it’s the ideal vinyl experience but it’s also, like, the music and that relationship you have with those artists, right?
Henry: Yeah I mean what I want and I think I can speak for all of us, we want people to get that good-time, analog, visceral gut-punch.
Henry: When someone says some inanity, like, “I love this record, I love this music” where you truly love this music because the vinyl made it sound so good. It delivered it right to your bone marrow.
Henry: It’s now encoded in your DNA. You’re never coming back from this experience. You just want it again and again and again and a different one as good so there’s that, anything beyond that as far as, like, paying $5000.00 for a 2-foot cable that’s kind of icing on that basic gut-punch, visceral-love cake, I am both. I want the sound and all of that. I’m also a ridiculous audiophile. I think you can have both in that you can have a so-so system that you’re looking maybe to upgrade one day like get a better turntable or whatever, it’ll be nicer to your records, or maybe get a better stylus at some point but, man, if you have anything that communicate sound, like, from stylus through the speakers, you are 99 percent there.
That other 1 percent is just like the speaker upgrade and none of that matters that much in that an audiophile system, like the ones I have, you will levitate off the couch when you hear stuff on my system. It’s worth every penny but I get the same “Yay, I have a record on” when I’m listening to a, you know, a $4.00 record player because it’s still the music coming at me analog so I think you can have both. If it were me I’d be getting a good system that I can afford and I’d be looking to upgrade, either by getting a good turntable used or a medium turntable new or just switching up because people write me all the time, like, “Dude, I work at a Starbucks, what can I afford?” I’m like, “Well, here’s some brands that like you’ll – here’s this brand and this model, it’s a little pricy but you’ll never need another turntable for as long as you live.”
Henry: Like I’ve had mine – my 2 of those – for 20-some years and I don’t need another record but then there’s, like, the $35000.00 turntable, which you don’t need. It sounds good but you don’t need it. The $200.00 one does just fine and so what we wanna do is just give them really good repressing and really great limited editions of good-sounding new vinyl because we don’t sell used, we sell new and we just want that to be great. What they do otherwise like with all the sterophile magazines of the world and all that, you know, trainspotterness, you know, that’s up to them on the weekend. Sadly I am one of those guys. I paid way too much for stereo gear but I think that until I sit down and play it and then I’m reminded it’s worth every single penny.
Jono: Yeah awesome, I’ve got I think just one more question for you.
Jono: So obviously you know a big chunk of this is gonna be encouraging newer bands to be releasing on vinyl and it seems like — today it seems like – a lot of bands see vinyl as primarily a medium for the quote/unquote “collector’s edition” as opposed to you know they look to maybe digital or to CD’s for broader kind of you know distribution.
Jono: Of their records, what’s your thinking there?
Henry: I agree.
Jono: How do we get more bands interested in releasing vinyl?
Henry: Okay I agree but I also – I would posit that that is a temporary situation in that a lot of people might say, “Well, vinyl’s for the collectors, I’m just gonna listen to music outta my phone through my Bluetooth, through my car speaker so I’m in traffic all day and I can’t put a turntable in my damn car.” I get all of that. I just think that more and more people – obviously, we’re seeing that vinyl sales are going up, turntable sales are going up, which means people are going from no vinyl and no system to a system and vinyl and so I think that faux elitism is going to go away because when I was young you just bought a record because you wanted to hear the music. It wasn’t like, “Oh, you buy LP’s, what, you’re all cool now?”
Henry: I’m a person of the ‘60s and the ‘70s. It’s just what you did, you know? It’s like sticking a fork in your food. This is how you eat and so I understand how some people might say how it’s a collector-boy thing and I know how some labels are kind of skewing it towards that now-and-then but I also think that a lot of bands like your Dinosaur Jr’s and your Thai Seagulls, like real analog people, they have the unlimited black-vinyl pressing, yeah, they got the colored vinyl for trainspotters like me because I’m always going for that but they have the unlimited non-elitist, you know, just put a damn record on and get down, black-vinyl pressing at a nominal price. And so I think that elitist tag or that collector-boy tag, I think that’s kind of falling off in real-time, like right in front of you like if you came back next week, half of the tag would’ve fallen off that and I think in a few more Record Store Days from now, give it a few more years, when you have a few more hundred-thousand turntables in homes all over the Western World, I think we’re gonna be kinda sorta back to where we were, like when I was young, like, you just bought a damn record and if you had a car, you bought the cassette maybe or you just made a tape at home and if that turns into making a CD-R at home outta your laptop so be it but I think more and more an LP is just turning into that thing you buy, hence the reason why so many LP’s come with a download card because, you know, you still want it on the phone and on the CD player or whatever.
Henry: Yeah so I think things are changing because the proof is in the pudding. You take the uneducated ear and you give them a night of vinyl and they’re, like, “Wow, that was really meaningful, I damn near wept,” it’s like, “Right, because you’re hearing the real thing.” You’re never gonna get that from a CD and with vinyl I mean you kinda get that in buckets. It’s like a monsoon and so I think once you have that epiphany because I never had the epiphany because I never didn’t have a record player but when these younger people who kinda grew up with a laptop on their legs because you know they’re born in the ‘80s or ‘90s, whatever or even at this point born in the 2000’s, when they have that revelation go, “Oh, this is more than I thought it could ever be” I don’t think you ever get those people coming I mean that they never recover from that initial punch. The only that limits them is their wallet because sadly vinyl isn’t, like, $2.99 when I was young. It is what it is. It’s bloody expensive to make it, to ship it, it is what it is.
It’s a resource that is you know so you’re gonna pay so you’re not gonna be buying records like you’re gonna be streaming but maybe the stream inspires you to save up and get that record. I think you can have all of it. I think there’s enough used records and enough people with enough income to have new records going, you know?
Jono: Yeah, awesome.
Henry: I mean I buy one-to-three records every day. That’s my rule. I haven’t bought any records yet today but by sundown I will have purchased a few records. It’s a law. I buy one-to-three records a day. Oh wait, I got two eBay things coming up.
Oh no those are non-vinyl. I’m always on Discogs. I’m always on websites looking around. I go to record stores. I get records sent to me and I get solicited by SOV.
Henry: And so what we wanna be is one of your options so you can be like me, looking to always buy a record, always be looking to acquire vinyl. Life is short. Have more records next week than you do right now. And you will be much happier.
Jono: Could not agree more.
Henry: And you should get them from us. That’s a really good idea.
Jono: [Laughs] Well, I – yes, I mean, thank you so much for taking a bit of time today and I think what you’re doing is awesome and it’s important and it’s bringing the experience of music back as opposed to just the access
Jono: You know just let me know if there’s anything that I can do in any way to help.
Henry: Oh, I appreciate that. That’s really cool of you. Yeah bottom line we’re trying to turn people into fans instead of just mere customers.
Jono: Yeah, totally, totally agree. Awesome well thank you, man, I appreciate it. I’m gonna get this written up and it’ll probably out in I think mid to late-October.
Jono: Awesome, pal. Thank you and have a good day.
Henry: ‘Kay, see ya.
Jono Bacon is the author of ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams‘, published by HarperCollins Leadership.
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