Recent Music Reviews
NAPALM DEATH (Mark “Barney” Greenway) INTERVIEW
2011 has been quite a fulfilling year in terms of impressive album releases and good quality live shows and as someone who grew up supporting the extreme Metal scene I could not think of a better way to end it other than attending a Napalm Death gig at the legendary Underworld which is located right at the heart of London. Now, I am always keen on having a chat with the band’s frontman Mark “Barney Greenway as he is quite an interesting and strongly opinionated individual but the fact that in two months’ time we will welcome yet another Napalm Death release made the prospect of an interview not so much a requirement but rather more like an absolute necessity. What you are about to read is the result of twenty five minutes of absolute joy for me and if any of the interesting ideas and positive vibe that were exchanged between Barney and me ends up reaching you in any level then that will simply be mission accomplished.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
• Hi Barney! It is a great pleasure for me to be able to sit opposite you today and talk about an upcoming Napalm Death album.
• You guys have defied all odds when it comes to recording music. You are one of the most prolific and hardworking bands of the genre – a genre that you yourselves created. As I already said, a new album is about to be released so I guess that the purpose of tonight’s show is to help promote it, right?
Barney: The gig tonight? Actually no, because the album does not come out until February next year, so we are actually doing these dates before Christmas to end up the year almost. We did not actually want to make a big deal out of them and when I say that I mean just that we sort of wanted just start to kind of tie up the “Time Waits…” you know? Of course we treat this as an important occasion, something that we do for every show but the actual shows for the new album will be next year! Obviously we will be playing one new song tonight, no more than that, so technically it does not tend to promote the new album.
• If my information is correct, this is something that you have already done earlier in the year when you were touring Canada.
Barney: We did play one song – the same song as it is going to be tonight.
• Obviously the whole recording process is still quite fresh in your mind and it is perhaps slightly difficult to stand back and see things objectively right?
Barney: Yeah, you are right. Yeah, it was good, I mean - to be honest it was just the same as with every other album! I had periods, and I am not ashamed to admit that, I has periods where I would fu*king sat there for days on end going “what’s next”, you know? “The stuff’s in my head and I need them to come out”, you know (laughs)? I really sort of agonised over that a little bit but it seems to kind of come together in the end. With Napalm, even when things look like they are never going to happen, they generally kind of do. There is some sort of ‘chemical’ thing there that sorts of gets us to where we need to be going to, you know? So yeah; albums are a mixture of elation, frustration and lots of frenzied fu*king typing on keyboards with us saying “this is not good, this is not good, let’s scrap the whole fu*king thing”, you know (laughs)? So yeah, this is a kind of rollercoaster really and, without trying to sound too cliché, it is a rollercoaster of emotions!
• Barney, most of the members of the band are involved in projects outside Napalm Death and there are so many that you can easily lose track if you try to name them. To somebody like me it seems strange how any musician who pits so much passion and energy into so many different projects has the ability and strength to focus 100% onto a new Napalm Death album. I really cannot understand how you guys manage to do that and still manage to retain the band’s unique style and character to be perfectly honest!
Barney: Yeah, I mean it’s just…I will have to put this in another way! You know, it just kind of happens as I said earlier but, on the other side of things I would say that if it did come a point where it felt as if the music that we were producing wasn’t right for us, it didn’t have the required excitement and, on the concert side of things, that we weren’t committed enough, that we were going through the motions so to speak, treading water, then I would simply say “fu*k it – I don’t need to do that”! I could not stand behind something that I know I had put 50% in, whether knowingly or unknowingly! I just couldn’t do it. So, for that reason, the fact that things do fall into place just kind of underlines, you know, that I should still be doing it! I know that it kind of sounds like a roundabout sort of answer but…
• I know exactly what you mean! It’s roughly three years since the release of your previous effort “Time Waits For No Slave”, an album that indulged in many groovy-laden riffs similar to those featured in your mid 90s releases.
Barney: Well, I don’t know! I mean, we have always had this side to us anyway but it’s…I don’t know – it’s tough. I mean, I…there are some things in the mid-90s that worked really well and some that didn’t and that is just my perspective. You will get a different response depending on which member of the band you will speak to. Some of this stuff I had a real difficulty with, you know, because my whole outlook is that I would not like Napalm to make generic music but I also think that my call and love is the fast chaotic stuff that are almost coming off the rails and I think that was not happening it would not be Napalm Death to me. At the same time I do think that as a band we need different elements and so there is no point in us making the same fu*king album five or six times over, you know? So I always struggle with that a little bit; I am always really analytical about things, thinking stuff like “is that intense enough” or “is this mid tempo fu*king stuff extreme enough” I suppose?
• Allow me to say as a fan that it is this exact diversity that we are really enjoying about the band. If it was only all about how fast you can play, then it would be quite pointless really.
Barney: Of course, it is what you do with that fast stuff that counts! I am not talking about breaking the fu*king land speed record here or anything – it is what you do with it that’s the important thing! Never consciously did we aim to go back in the early 90s!
• The point I was trying to make with my question was not that. What I was really aiming at, apart from saying that you have never recorded the same album twice, much to your credit, is also that there is always a strong element of experimentation in your albums – not only in the way that the music is presented but also in the way that you use your vocals. Based on a few samples that I have heard on your site, it looks like you continue to try and find new ways of doing that. My question to you is, how far down that road of evolution do you thing that you can go as a vocalist?
Barney: There is a world of possibilities; as long as it sounds challenging and actually annoys quite a few people then that is the desired effect, you know, because it is really all about the annoyance factor (laughs) – that is really important. It is the paradox between the sort of peaceful lyrics, the very assured sort of humane lyrics but then this sort of complete lunacy, you know what I am saying? So yeah, I am all about that; I am all about a lot of different stuff as I love experimenting but if I am going to experiment I don’t want to experiment obviously, if you know what I mean. It would be very easy to go “well, what’s doing well in the Rock world these days – maybe I can do something like that” – that is not my concern! If I am going to experiment, I want to go even further off the rails! I want to experiment to more strange degrees, you know? So yeah – don’t forget that there is the alternative side to Napalm Death that people don’t talk about that often but it’s quite obviously there like influence from the Swans, My Bloody Valentine, Birthday Party, you know? I mean Joey Division is a big…I mean a lot of people like Joey Division and although they are quite mainstream in some ways, some of their dark stuff is pretty fu*king dark (laughs). Even as a mainstream band, to some degree, they are very dark. So yeah, there is this whole side to Napalm that people just don’t openly discuss in the media sometimes but it is there and that’s where I want to experiment – in those directions and not in very obvious semi-mainstream sort of “oh yeah, that sounds like completely not Napalm but like a band that sells around one hundred thousand records” kind of thing. I don’t want to do that – it’s too obvious for me, you know?
• For a band that has always been very careful not to tread towards a very specific path, you’ve always seem to have a section of your fan base who are constantly sceptical towards any musical change that you make. That, for me, is a great paradox because, on one hand the fans are embracing a band that has the balls to go out and say “you know what; I will go out and do something different” and on the other hand, these are the same people who will first say “why did you stop doing this”! This is something that begs belief!
Barney: Yeah, that is the nature sometimes when you are a band that works like we do and that is fine! You know, my skin is really thick these days! There were times when I used to kind of stay awake at night (laughs), especially in the early days, but now it’s just not worth it, you know? But on the other hand, I also respect people’s opinions; if they want to have these opinions then its fine, however I do think that they are a little bit misguided. It’s fine – I really don’t worry about it, you know? It’s OK by me! Then, there are other times when I go “what are you guys talking about”, you know what I mean (laughs)? It is completely nonsensical but, you know, that’s fine! I don’t read into Internet forums, you know, I can handle it to a great degree but I just don’t reason with it because I do value people’s feedback but I cannot spend my whole fu*king life looking at Internet forums, you know? People can have their say – I am fine with it!
• Now, you are a man with strong views on many things – views that you have never been afraid to voice in the past. Is it still important in the year 2011 for the bands of Napalm Death to understand these socio-political messages? I am aware that there are people who appreciate the music without necessarily relating to the message, you know?
Barney: You have actually hit the nail in the head – you said it in the right way, you know, in that they understand what we are trying to do. I don’t expect everybody to fu*king take up on my agenda if you want to call it that! I don’t expect people to simple swallow my lyrics as a sink! I want to put those views out there because I want people to know that, for example, I can talk about sexuality, you know? I mean let’s face it; it’s a taboo but I feel that you should talk about it! These are the roots of humanity, you know, we should talk about it. Again, I don’t expect people to agree with my perspective as such but I would encourage them to scratch the surface and open their mind and think for themselves – they have to do that, you know? So, that is important but, that said, if they look at that then that’s fine, they understand and appreciate it but, you know, the music is the thing that drives them the most then no problem! Not everybody in this world is the same or of the same persuasion and that’s kind of the balance of things – the way it should be, you know?
• With all these terrible things that have been happening in the world these last couple of years, I assume that there is plenty of material for you in terms of lyrics and messages to be conveyed. Can you explain what the inspiration has been for the lyrics of the new album?
Barney: Well, if you know anything about the meaning of the word ‘utilitarian’ and what it applies to you will know that it is actually a philosophical concept and the simple way to describe it is that, although there are many different perspectives and there is much debate amongst people who are into philosophy and stuff, what it is basically is the act of doing good deeds which will ensure that good things will follow and is an action that radiates and does good for the whole of the populous. There is equality and there is, you know, peaceful, tolerant life cycles for everybody – that is basically it! But, you know, with Napalm, that is not enough! I am not going to just quote philosophy because that wouldn’t really be achieving anything in terms of any challenging aspects so what I did is that I took that and I applied it to the individual and perhaps other people too. I, the way I live my life is…I consider everything that I do, what the implications of doing certain things are with regards how I conduct myself in my everyday life whether that refers to whatever I may buy from a shop or anything. You know, with products that you may buy from a shop – that money that I spent on that product, what is it going to do? Is that company then going to completely exploit the people that basically either made the products or created the raw materials, you know? That is a big consideration for me! I really cannot stand putting my money into things that ensure inequality for other people in the end of the line. Of course you cannot be 100% on stuff but I can at least do what I can, as much as I possibly can, you know? That is just one example!
• To do what you have just described, an ordinary person will need to have a lot of free time to investigate and detect such cases before applying a similar tactic to yours and so I am not sure as to how feasible this whole thing is!
Barney: No, not necessarily, because once you become informed at a certain level then things tend to follow up, but my point is that you do have periods of self-doubt – again, we are all just human beings! I always like to play on being humane, you know, the human condition as everybody has self-doubt – I have self-doubt thinking things like “is this stuff that I am doing, is it working”? “Is it achieving anything”? You know, I could be so blissfully ignorant and run my way through life thinking that I am only going to think or myself and then I will die anyway, you know? So I am going through such periods and so does the whole band – you do go through periods of self-doubt thinking “is this good, is it achieving what it needs to achieve”? And so if there is any conclusion with the “Utilitarian” concept is that I should carry on, we should all carry on and persevere because…any challenge to the norm, you know, of the robotic sort of way of life, if that voice is taken away, if you take that action away, then you are one less voice – you are one less person resisting to those at the top who just let things go anyway and who let people be exploited, you know? These people take everything for themselves and so the inequality gap grows even further, you know? So you should, you should continue!
• The problem with most of us is that if we do not see a direct result into what we do we think that we have no power whatsoever but that is not always the case!
Barney: No, but you have to be patent, you know, and you have to understand that this is how things work. It’s just like, for example, trade in coffee beans, which is always a big thing for me! The coffee and the chocolate industry are the two industries that are pretty fu*king exploitative, you know, as in the people that gather the raw materials, you know, and that’s got to change! Ok, you could say “well, what’s your argument” because surely, if anything, you want to…if you really going to achieve equality you’ve got to a bartering system and capitalism will have to either seize to exist or completely change, you know? That will mean that if I’ve got more that you do then I will just have to give you some which is like a redistribution of everything! But the reality is that we are not in that system right now, so we have to work in it for now, you know, whilst pushing for change! These are two different paths that are running in parallel, you know? That is what we have to do, so, you know, I always insist on putting my money in good schemes that I know to be trustworthy. That is what I have to do and I think that everybody should do that because now you have a thing, which is actually quite a stigma especially with things like coffee where if your company is not trading fairly then that’s actually a social stigma, you know?
• Well, I am not sure whether that is universally applicable mate!
Barney: I don’t know that because a lot of the companies that produce coffee with cheap labour and stuff, there’s a lot of pressure on those companies, you know – definitely! Ok, you could say that their products are still massively consumed, they are, but there is a massive amount of pressure on them to change their labour practices for sure! They may not be getting there just yet but they will need to at some point I think…well I hope so! Maybe I am being a little bit too hopeful here in a sense but, I mean, what can you do? Again, I am trying, you know?
• “Utilitarian” will be out in February as a result of a small delay; I believe that the album was originally scheduled for October this year, right?
Barney: Yeah, you know, we kind of overstretched ourselves a little bit with all the stuff we had to do and we had a dream of releasing it at a certain point which was not very realistic (laughs).
• The album was recorded once again with the help of producer Russ Russell and that means that he has been part of the Napalm Death family for eleven consecutive years now which is quite an impressive thing.
Barney: Yes, the first time that we started working with Russ was together with a guy called Simon and so that was a two man team but this time it’s all Russ, you know?
• Now, how is it possible to be in a working relationship with the same guy for eleven years and still be able to come up with new ideas, managing to keep the sound fresh?
Barney: Mate, that is the unanswerable question because, again, this is something that just happens! There is a certain level of spontaneity in Napalm where things just happen; I don’t know how other that there are times where it looks like “fu*k, is that stuff OK”? Again, you start questioning yourself asking questions like “is that stuff OK” or “is it as good as our last album”? We do ask ourselves stuff like that but things tend to always work out fine in the end! That is the real honest answer, you know?
• Russ is the kind of producer that works with many diverse bands or projects –with bands like Amorphis, for instance, which are so much different than you guys!
Barney: Yeah, but Russ understands the noise factor, that’s one thing! I think that with most producers out there, if we went to them and we decided to do a record with them they would be like “I am sorry, I am not putting my name to that”, you know? It would be not conventional enough for them, you know? So yeah, Russ understands that - the noise factor and everything else that we do.
• As we already said, the new album will come out in February and you guys have already booked a slot in some of the most illustrious festivals, right?
Barney: Yeah but that is a really strange thing because there were points in the past where some of these festivals were slightly in two minds about booking us, you know? Yeah, because in some quarters, Napalm Death are still like…people king of flip-flop over us. Some are like “yeah, they are still around but do we need them on the festival circuit and blablabla”.
• Are you serious?
Barney: Well, to be fair, a lot of the Metal festivals out there are pretty mainstream, you know? They are but their very nature and so I do not necessarily know right down to the way they think but it has been very difficult for us to play in some festivals for quite some time, you know? But now it seems like things are kind of clicking into place a little bit and that is not because we’ve gone out and kind of prostituted ourselves to anybody! We do what we do and if people like it then that’s great – if they don’t then it’s whatever, you know?
• Barney, as a long term fan I can confirm that what you just said is indeed very accurate and that is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about the band and continue to support you to this day. I understand that it is time to wrap it up here by thanking you for your time and wishing you good luck with everything that you do. I am sure that I will see you again on a live environment soon as you guys are always on the road somewhere.
Barney: Cheers mate – I appreciate that! Thank you very much!