The following interview was conducted in the living room at Hole in the Sky in 2011, a few hours before HR, the mercurial frontman of Bad Brains (or as he likes to call them, the Human Rights Big Brains Band), headlined Ain’t Scared Fest. Footage from that gig can be seen here.
I blew it early in the interview when HR brought up Obama’s election – it would have been a great chance to ask him about race. Still, we cover a lot of ground. I didn’t undertake the exhaustive preparation for this interview that I normally undergo, so the questions could be better, though the answers are gold.
I was sitting near H at H.I.T.S. and I asked him if he’d like to do an interview sometime. “Yes,” he replied.
“When?” I asked.
“As soon as possible,” he responded.
I happened to have my digital recorder on me, so we headed backstage.
HR displays his trademark sense of humor throughout this interview.
What do you remember about your show at the Corpse Fortress?
Well, that was a few years ago. The one show that I do remember that was very, very inspirational, was the show we did at the 9:30 Club about three years ago, shortly after the elections. That was a nice performance.
Today is Henry Rollins’ 50th birthday, I guess.
They say that you encouraged him to sing when he was a kid.
Did you encourage him specifically to sing, or did you encourage everyone to sing?
I would encourage people who wanted to learn about music. I’d encourage friends.
The show on the boat, in Manhattan – how did that get set up?
They contacted our manager, Mr. Anthony Young, in New York. 212-741-(redacted) – very nice man.
I used to work with Anthony as a youngster. He was my lifeguard coach and I would go swimming at the swimming pool at Springfield High.
It was in 9th grade, and he would encourage me with my work as it was coming along.
I was a very bashful, shy person, but he noticed something that was exceptionally talented about us, and I, and the group, and he encouraged me to keep on trying. And I met him again a few years later on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
You live in Baltimore now?
No, now I’m staying just a few steps away from the fantastic location known as the White House.
How do you like living there?
Oh, I enjoy it very much, sir.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about the Bad Brains?
Well, the Human Rights Big Brains Group was sometimes questioned about their intentions – were they a peace and love group or were they a group about playing heavy metal? But actually, we were into playing reggae music, and in the future you can look forward to some very nice soul reggae music.
Was it a peace and love group?
That also plays heavy metal?
Well, we do play some pop songs, from time to time.
Some pop songs? Is that punk rock, too – pop music?
It’s considered new age, sir. That’s the phrase they use for it.
You guys are one of the best new age groups of all time.
(Laughs hard). Oh, thank you very much.
Who are your favorite groups to come out of D.C.? You’ve seen everyone.
Oh, I would have to say the Human Rights Big Brains Group is one, also the H.R. Band, also Mind Power – that was the name of our group years ago.
Any groups that you haven’t been in?
No, not too many (laughs hard).
Do you pray every day?
Oh, yes sir.
Within reason. As much as needed.
Do you have children?
Oh, I do have a few offspring.
Many figurative descendents as well.
(Laughs hard) Thank you. Cheers to that. Praise you.
Do you like Rage Against the Machine?
They are an interesting lineup. I think Jah Son, Jason, and the others are coming along. Not too long ago we were in Hollywood, California and I was working on my Roland 5050 machine, it’s kind of a rhythm machine, and Jah Son happened to hear those rhythms and added some vocals to the rhythms I had previously programmed. He got a nice response – he gave it a try and some of the kids were happy. He always did encourage me: told me to never give up, keep on putting out good music.
Who is Jah Son?
Jason – the lead vocalist of their group.
I thought his name was Zack.
Oh, they have several different vocalists. And also, another good recording of ours is “God of Love,” by the Human Rights Big Brains, and after that, we put out another album called “Build a Nation.”
I like that album.
You do? Oh, great.
Yup – it’s very unique.
Praise be the Lord.
It sounds like nothing else, it really does, and that is a compliment, ‘cause it sounds good. Making something singular that sounds good is probably the biggest challenge of all, as a musician. We just follow the same patterns as other bands, we just try to do it very well. We bring some different mixture or some different flavor, but we don’t try to reinvent the wheel – we’re just playing hardcore punk rock.
How do you feel about the fact that there’s still so many bands playing hardcore punk, or hardcore?
Hardcore pop music does have its limitations, but you gotta start somewhere. It’s not really what you do, it’s the way you do it, you know? And us brothers here in D.C., we try to keep that groove going on. Once you got that groove on, you do your own thing, keep it original, you know?
I’m very grateful for the students that are interested in my music and I just keep giving them good music.
When did you first meet Dave Stone?
I met Dave about a year-and-a-half ago. We did some work in Philadelphia and got a very good response also at this nice little spot not too far from Northwest Washington called the … I think it was called the … What did we call that place? Oh yeah: 9:30 Club.
What do people ask you the most in interviews?
Oh, they usually ask me if the Brains will be available for future performances, or did the Brains break up, something like that. I always tell them, “No, we didn’t break up – we’re still together.”
You play around 12 shows a year together, or more than that?
It depends on the requests. Sometimes we do a few more, sometimes we do around that many.
What do the other guys in the band do to keep busy?
They work as entertainers, also as drivers.
What did you think when you walked into Hole in the Sky today?
Oh, Halo in the Sky was a nice place that I worked at years ago. I also worked at CBGBs. I used to work at this other place, doing construction, it was a church location … It was called the Unification Church.
What town was that?
That was nice. That was a little while ago – not too long ago – around the turn of the new year. Shortly before the 8th of January – maybe two weeks before we played the show at the 9:30.
Is D.C. Babylon?
No, I don’t think so. It’s a college location where one can focus on their academics.
Babylon is a spiritual function that was referred to in the Bible, where one had to relieve one’s spiritual negativity and go on to a positive consciousness. They would focus on the conscious level of a re-born again person and leave the Babylon, the old ways of living, alone. So, it’s more of a spiritual term.
What are your favorite Bible passages?
Psalms I, Psalms 100, also I enjoy
Do you want to recite ‘em?
Well, I can recite ‘em, yes: “Make a joyful noise onto the Lord all ye men. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with vocalizing, knowing that He is God and He has made us. They are as people as sheep in pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise. Be thankful and bless his name, for the Lord is good. His mercy is everlasting and his truth endures through the generations.”
Oh, there are a whole lot of others.
Yeah. I like “All is vanity.”
How often do you read the Bible?
Oh, I read the Bible just about every day.
Do you have a favorite book?
(Reaches into a backpack). Here you go.
He’s one of my main inspirations, from the early days – he and his wife were very, very influential in my life. They would organize events at the Mall and the White House.
What do you think of Pat Robertson?
He has his highlights. Al Sharpton is another good activist. My father, Captain Leon Hudson, he’s a great preacher, and his father, Edward Hudson. There are a lot of good ministers about.
What do you think about what’s going on in Egypt?
Oh, I think that little by little, the students are going to improve and they’ll work things out in a peaceful way. It’s just going to take a little time for the transition to go over so that they’ll make sure that there are new laws that will govern them in the proper ways. Then they’ll be able to share a little bit of the currency.
What did you think when Communism fell, in the ’80s?
Well, the difference between Communism and Socialism is that Socialism, or social living, was the best. I thought that there were some atheist slogans with communist theories
“Religion is the opiate of the masses” – Marx said that.
Right – yes, sir. Social living was the best. Communal living, also capital living, here in the West, had a term, “In God we trust,” and it made so much of a difference for students, and also government workers, to know that we could trust God.
There are a few other slogans that are slightly in theory right now, like vetoes and other slogans they use meaning snap-jitters. Another slogan that they use is censorship. A slogan that they may use is “reforms,” and the difference between “reforms” and conforms. Some people think you have to be reformed and submit to the con way of living, but it doesn’t mean that at all. Reforms means an actual availability of learning how to use the community’s programs to get one’s education that one needs to better oneself and also to get support that one needs, financial support. Sometimes kids might want to get a loan given to them to help finance their education and college, and then they can go to school and get the government to pay for it, and I think that’s a great idea, but some people don’t want to come out and say that, and they go a roundabout way, go through the back door, and they think they can call people “bad” and this and that, and exaggerate. They don’t really want to tell the truth, you know what I mean? It’s so oppressive. They go around and they lie to chauffers and they lie to the police and they lie to the banks, and they try everything in their power to screw people over, and then you have to go and straighten things out the proper way and let people see who you are – and then they’ll know that they’re lying.
One does have to stay on one’s Ps&Qs, because some of those kids are so out of it, you know? I don’t want to name any names or go into any details, because they’re kids – they’ll learn. Eventually they’ll see.
Did you ever take any college classes?
All over the world.
Do you have a favorite country?
Jamaica. Also England.
That’s where you were born, right?
Yes sir, yes sir.
What do you want to say? Is there anything?
Yes sir, I do want to say something: After winning the elections and after being voted in the Hall of Fame and winning the Songwriter of the Year award last year and Musician of the Year, the year before that, and then the other day they gave me Celebrity of the Month (laughs).
I think that’s very good, and I’m thankful and I’m grateful to the brothers and the sisters here in Washington and in the United States and it bestows onto I a very honorable and loving position of support and I’m thankful for their love and also I’m thankful for their keeping the faith and being loyal.
And I understand and I will do the very best that I can to fulfill that honor and that privilege that is given to I, ‘cause I know it is an honor and a privilege to be able to entertain the kids. So that’s what I’m going to do.
It’s a new day and a new year and I have a new philosophy and also we have new laws and new programs and we have new songs and new ways to interpret those songs.
The thing about soul reggae music is that it has to be interpreted and the theories have to be practiced properly and they have to be perfected and the theses have to be applied, and once those theses are applied, they can then be used in everyday living, and I assure you that I will practice what I preach.
Again, I want to thank you for this opportunity to perform here tonight, and in no way will I let you down. The show must go on. I assure you: The show’s not going to be canceled. I’m not going to walk out on you. Thank you again, and what do I call you, again?
Thank you, Mr. Tim.