NAPALM DEATH’S BARNEY GREENWAY: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
On April 11, I interviewed Napalm Death front man Barney Greenway when the grind god rolled through NYC on the second date of their tour with Kataklysm, Toxic Holocaust, Trap Them and Coliseum; on April 13, I interviewed Nile’s Karl Sanders. If that wasn’t fucking life affirming, I don’t know what is.
So: Barney Greenway and Napalm Death. Napalm practically invented grindcore (in fact, their former drummer Mick Harris literally coined the term) twenty-two years ago with their seminal debut, Scum; Greenway joined the band two years later and, save for a bried hiatus in the 90s, has been there ever since. The man is a fucking legend, and necessarily so: on stage, he’s just as ferocious as he ever was, and with the release of Napalm’s latest, the mind-fucking great Times Waits for No Slave (read my review here), the band has laid to rest any doubts that they’ll be slowing down any time soon. The fact that he turned out to be an incredibly nice, soft-spoken British chap only just barely calmed my nerves enough to actually remember all of my questions.
After the jump, get all of Greenway’s thoughts on why Napalm Death continues to be a relevant force in metal, the ins and outs of the band’s live show, the state of modern grindcore, and more.
So first of all, congratulations on Time Waits for No Slave and the incredible reception that it’s getting.
Yeah, I know. It’s unbelievable.
You guys sort of have a hat trick now of “comeback” albums with The Code is Red…, Smear Campaign and now this.
Are you surprised after all these years . . .?
Shit, I never fail to be surprised. I don’t expect anything from how things are received. Whatever comes, comes. I certainly didn’t expect things to be as positive as they have been. You could say that 99.9% of things [said about the album] are positive from webzines, magazines, kids, just people. It’s unthinkable to me almost.
How do you think Napalm manages to keep that kind of fire in their bellies when obviously a lot of your peers have fallen by the wayside or started to put out, for lack of a less polite term, lackluster material?
Right. The thing that really drives Napalm is the spontaneity, not just in the way that the music comes out on the record but just our approach as well. We have a very sort of loose approach, but things just seem to come together. We put ourselves under quite a bit of pressure. We basically start arranging things a month and a bit before we go into the studio. We don’t like to fuck around. We like to keep ourselves on our toes. Sometimes your head kind of explodes when you do that. That’s the trade up, but it just seems to come together. When we’ve been to the studio, certainly with the last three albums and even Order of the Leech and Enemy of the Music Business, songs just seem to take a life of their own when we went into the studio. It is what it is. It kind of seems to work out.
Of course, none of you are original members from back in the Scum days. I’ve always wondered if that’s part of the reason Napalm continues to be so good. It seems to me that the four dudes currently in the band are four dudes who really want to be doing Napalm Death – it’s not just some guys who are doing it for a paycheck.
Yeah, of course. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t do that. What’s the point? Why string it out for this long if it’s just like you can make so much money. It’s not something that drives me. If I do something, I’ll do it 100%. I don’t half do something or do something for a certain motivation. It’s got to be something that I have an absolute drive to do. Of course we need to earn money to pay the rent and put food on the table like anyone else who goes out who works a job. Not that we treat it as a job, but you get the point that I’m making. That’s not the justification for doing it by any stretch of the imagination. I think that hopefully people can sort of recognize that when they listen to the band.
I want to ask you a little bit about the theme to the lyrics of Time Waits for No Slave. I saw that there was a video on your Myspace page where you talk about it being anti-violence music.
That is sort of a paradox with Napalm. The music, sonically, is like super violent of course. Actually the thought behind it is passive and peaceful as you can imagine. Speaking for myself, again, you can pigeonhole me as a pacifist. I don’t engage in violence. Yes, if someone attacks me, I will defend myself if I think I am in danger. But I would never actually go and attack someone. In the past it was different. I used to fight like crazy. I don’t feel the need now, and in a wider sense I think that’s part of the evolution of the human race. We should all consider ways to resolve things or to achieve things without using those kinds of aggressive means. I think that if people think that violence is the only answer, you can really ask “Have we really evolved or only evolved on a physical level?”
So you obviously keep things that are going on in the world today very much in mind?
I think everyone does, really. It’s just whether you acknowledge it and really take it into your life. Yeah I do, and I think everyone does. It’s just done on different levels.
Let’s talk about the live show a little bit. With such a wide array of material to choose from, how do you guys put together a set list after all this time?
Yeah, fuck, it’s a lot to deal with. We started [the tour] last night, and we did the set which is like an hour and twenty minutes. That’s too long.
Oh, definitely, for a five band bill like this, it’s too much. Kids are being battered to death with lots of good, raging music. I think that it’s stretching too much, doing an hour and twenty. So we cut like five songs out. We’ll cut it down to about an hour or an hour and five. That’s enough.
Are there songs that you feel like you have to play?
Not that we have to play but that we want to play. It’s difficult. We all have our own perspectives, but we do meet somewhere in the middle.
Are there any songs that you’re like “Jesus Christ, if I ever have to play this again…?”
No, because I love every Napalm song. Napalm was my favorite band before I even joined. There’s not a bad Napalm song for me, and certainly with what we’ve been doing the last few years… There isn’t any that I could say that I fucking hate playing that song. I just don’t have that level of feeling emotionally.
Just to switch gears quickly, there seems to be a resurgence of grind. You were on the cover of Decibel’s grind issue a few months back. How do you feel about that? Are there young grind bands on the scene that you’re aware of?
Good for them. More power to them. It seems very different now. It has evolved in many different ways. Grindcore, the term itself, was invented by Mick Harris the old drummer [for Napalm Death]. His actual first interpretation of it was that it could be music that was silly fast or super slow, The Swans from New York… That band was a huge influence on Napalm. All that early New York ’80s avant-garde was a huge influence on Napalm. That’s what he applied it to. It could be on either end of the spectrum. But I don’t think Mick could have foreseen what it would turn into and the direction that it has gone now. Like with any scene, there is stuff I like and there is some stuff that doesn’t rock my boat really. Who am I to say what it should be or what it shouldn’t be? The bands that are coming into it, it’s up to them to roll with it how they want and see it. I’m certainly not going to judge anyone.
Are there any young bands out there right now that you’re really into?
I’ve got to be honest: I was getting really bored with metal music. I was saying I was bored with the metronomic albums, all the ProTools stuff. I was waiting for someone to come along to really excite me. Trap Them, I heard them for the first time not so long ago, they put me on my ass when I saw them last year at the [Los Angeles] Murder Fest. And to a point, I hate sounding pretentious or melodramatic, but they kind of restored my faith in the metal side of things. They just blew me away.
That’s awesome. I’m running out of time here. What’s the road ahead?
We got this American tour we just started last night in Allentown, Pennsylvania. So this runs nationwide. We’re doing some festivals in Europe through the summer. That’s how the summer is in Europe. It is very much geared to weekends in the festival season. Then we’ll do a full European tour in like September or October. We got Japan and a lot of other things falling into place. There is a world of things to do.
Excellent. Last question and I’ll let you go. So like we were saying that there were no original members of Napalm left, do you see Napalm as something that is, at this point, bigger than any one person? Can you imagine a time when Napalm will continue without you guys?
I mean, who has a crystal ball to see something like that? Circumstances can take and life is unpredictable. Stuff happens. I think that if the band lost a member, then it would roll along with someone else. Of course some people will challenge your band at that point. You can’t worry about that stuff, if it’s the right thing to do then just roll with it and who gives a shit when people act negative about it? If there were a couple of members going, then I think that this would be the last sort of lineup of the band. I’m not sure. I could be wrong. I just don’t see it [continuing on after this line-up].
But you don’t see a time in the foreseeable future when you’re going to want to hang it up.
No. If it got to where the albums were getting generic or the live gigs are a drag, then I would be like fuck it. I make no bones about that. What’s the point if you’re walking out on stage hating life every night or every other night? Kids pay fucking money to come in here. The least you can do is give them something to enjoy.