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Radical rock star remains conservative with cash

Henry RollinsKnown for his scowl, Mack-truck body and a wealth of tattoos, Henry Rollins established himself as a punk rock pioneer handling vocals for the band Black Flag. Rollins has long stood as the personification of the angry young man, ranting and raving about society with Black Flag, with his own Rollins Band and in a series of successful speaking tours and books.

But Rollins, young no longer at 40, also became a successful businessman in the process, embracing the capitalist aspect of the punk rock do-it-yourself ethos with the formation of 2.13.61, his publishing company/record label. Started in 1984 for the purpose of releasing his own material, Rollins has since also released books and CDs by cultural figures such as Henry Miller, Hubert Selby, Jr., Nick Cave, Exene Cervenka and Iggy Pop.

As if this wasn't enough, Rollins is also an actor, appearing in films such as "Heat," "Lost Highway," "Jack Frost" and "The Chase," and hosting a "Twilight Zone"-type anthology program on the Fox Network called "Night Visions."

Bankrate spoke to Rollins about the business side of life.

Bankrate: How did 2.13.61 start?

Henry Rollins: The date is my birthday. I wanted to put out 500 copies of a small fold-and-staple book. I called the company 2.13.61, and I thought it would be the company for this one little book, which I figured I would give away more than sell.

So I sold 500 -- well, probably gave away 400. I took the money and did another run, sold those, took that money and made a paperback. It went from there. By 1989 we had signed other writers, and were eking it out.

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B: Did you have any business knowledge going in?

HR: Sure. I've had a job since fourth grade. I threw newspapers as many young kids do, went from there into retail, and by the end of high school I was working up to three jobs a week while going to school. So I got a sense of the retail business and seasonal retail fluctuation. Then I joined Black Flag, which had its own record label. As a member of the band you also worked at the label, SST, packing envelopes full of records, putting together a mailing list, laying out flyers and album covers, and trying to improve the state of independent record distribution. So that showed me how an independent company should work.

I also learned about spreading my money thin, learning you don't want to put 90 percent of your money out if it's going to take 2 1/2 years for it to come back. You'll starve to death in the process.

B: How big is the company?

HR: It takes up several rooms. It has two to four people, depending on the day of the week, because some of our people are part time. They're only there to handle our mail order, which is a pretty substantial venture at this point.

B: What kind of income does the company do?

HR: We do great. We are in the black, and thanks to the Internet we do thousands a day, sometimes, in revenue.

B: From the way you describe the startup, I'm guessing startup capital wasn't an issue. Was there any point where the company need investment capital?

HR: Around 1995 we started doing photo books, and we put out a book called Get in the Van, which was about my years in Black Flag. To do a 10,000 print run of a hardcover photo book was, for us, a really huge expenditure. I was going to Hong Kong to do the printing. It was a sizable investment for me at that time.

B: So you did it yourself, all out of pocket?

HR: Yeah. It probably cost me $60,000 to $70,000 to throw down for that book. For me, in 1994, doing that was not an easy thing to pull off. But we did it, and we did great with the book. It flew out the door. I think Tower Records bought almost half the print run before it came off the boat. So we spent half of our time loading up a UPS truck right off the pallets.

B: Did you always intend to release books and CDs by other artists?

HR: That was inspired by just being around other people who's work I really admired who had no other way of doing it. Let's see if we can help out a good situation, a worthy cause, and make some money, and the company keeps going and builds an even stronger foundation.

B: Of all your ventures, which are the most profitable for you?

HR: The talking shows. There's no overhead, and I outdraw The Rollins Band.

B: What do you receive for one show?

HR: I'm loathe to throw numbers out, but it's two to five times the amount the band gets a night. I'm doing six digits a year in spoken word, net. A big, healthy six digits. It still has me scratching my head about it.

B: Are any aspects of what you do really just break-even projects?

HR: No. It all makes a profit now.

B: Do you enjoy dealing with the business and money ends of things?

HR: To a certain extent. I hired the right people. They take care of more of the business for me so I can be more creatively minded with the business.

B: Did you get caught up in tech stocks?

HR: No. I put a lot of money in the stock market, but it's very good, slow moving, Fortune 500 type stuff.

B: Any stocks do really well for you?

HR: I don't know. I trust my accountant -- a very sturdy, longtime old Brooklynite. Me, I would just throw all my money in a bank account and leave it for a war chest. He goes, "No, let's invest it." We're not trying to be mavericks here. It's just for when I'm 50, or 55, and no one wants me around anymore. I want to have a roof over my head. I've always been very survivalist with money. I don't live extravagantly, nor do I spend extravagantly. I just want to keep working all the time.

-- Posted: Oct. 15, 2001

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See Also

Go-Go's guitarist Jane Wiedlin

Donny Osmond on the money
Bob Weir -- balancing money, causes

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