For 35 years (with a few notable breaks...) HR has served as the lead signer of the groundbreaking hardcore band Bad Brains. Patient zero for the Afropunk movement, Bad Brains' classic run from 1977-1985 produced 3 of the best hardcore records, period. The band's latest, Into the Future comes out November 20th.
Leading up to the interview, I admit I was more than a little nervous. Beyond being simply a legend and the singer for one of my favorite bands of all time, HR has a bit of a reputation preceding him. Sometimes confrontational and sometimes obtuse, the internet and zines are littered with stories of HR being a difficult interview subject. We sat around the Afropunk office in the hour before the interview watching videos of 90's slow jams on Youtube and tossing back and forth increasingly absurd interview questions (favorite smurf?), while I paced anxiously, waiting for 1pm to strike.
When I finally got him on the phone, the man I was speaking to seemed to have little in common with the HR of legend. Soft-spoken, humble, and warm, the Into the Future era HR is a man with his legacy in mind while he looks optimistically to the future.
Interview by Nathan Leigh
The new album, from the harder faster songs to the album art with the ROIR lightening bolt seems to be calling back to the early days of Bad Brains, was that on your mind while you were making it?
Yes, it was.
What were you trying to capture about that era?
Well, we were just trying to make things a little more innovative and exciting. So we just decided to make it a little more hardcore. Put a little extra spirit into the music. Bring it up to date, you know?
Do you still get the same thrill from hardcore that you did in the early days?
We sure do.
Do you think punk rock has changed since then?
Yes, sir. It has. I think it's gotten a little more mature. The music has kind of advanced a little bit. The arrangements of the songs have gotten looser.
What about the future of punk rock, where do you think it's headed?
I think there's going to be more variety. A little more versatility. It's going a little more constructive, and opens up the—how do you say, uh—consciousness of people.
I think the youth of today are a lot more open minded—more conscious. They think about things a little differently; more direct, more universal.
Are there any current bands that you're feeling right now? Any favorite records of 2012?
Other than the Brains? I think the Deftones.
What are you listening to on the road?
We like the Wailers, Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley. And sometimes we do enjoy a few jazz albums. Return to Forever, Chick Corea, stuff like that.
When you're not on tour or making records, what are you doing in your downtime?
Well, we like to do a little farming. And sometimes we do benefits, helping people, help kids. We do a little music teaching. Things like that.
Oh cool! So, like urban gardening? What sorts of things do you grow?
Usually produce. Like cabbage and potatoes, strawberries, applies. Vegetables mostly.
What do you think about companies like Monsanto? Industrialized farming and all that.
I think it would be good to use more organic food, and try to stay away from pesticides and chemical fertilization.
What do you think about GMOs? [genetically modified organisms] I always hear proponents saying they're trying to end world hunger.
I think they can be dangerous. It's controversial. It depends, it really depends. People should watch out for what they're doing. As long as they don't overdo it. It's good to end world hunger, but it is important to eat nutritional and healthy food. I do think that's important.
The new record is Into the Future. What's in the future for Bad Brains?
I think the future for the group's going to be doing a little more touring. A little more live shows. Going abroad to Europe, and also to South America I think.
Your live show is legendary for being intense and unpredictable. Is that something you guys work on?
Well I think I'm not certain, but yes sir. We do want to try to strengthen our relationship with the audience, and with the kids.
Then is there a difference between HR the man, and HR the performer on stage?
I think it's probably the kind of person I am on the stage.
So you're not doing back-flips and stuff when you're at home?
[laughs] No, sir. I don't think so.