|NAPALM DEATH – Barney Greenway tells it like it is|
|Skriven av Daniel Löfquist|
|Skapad 2008-12-30 19:38|
For the better part of twentyfive years British grindcore-veterans NAPALM DEATH have been pounding out relentless noise displaying both aggressive brutality and intelligent musicianship with their unique brand of extreme music. Few bands have been even half as influential in shaping the genres that we know today as grindcore and death metal and it is only natural, or obligatory even, that we take notice as the band is about to drop their new album "Time Waits For No Slave", due out in Europe by the end of January.|
Luckily frontman and singer Mark "Barney" Greenway was kind enough to have a chat with me over the phone to discuss the new album, the state of the world and several things in between.
As is only proper, I gotta start with commending you on yet another monstrous album. The fourteen songs are some of the most harsh and aggressive music I've heard in a long time. Personally, I don't know how you keep topping yourselves again and again.
Well, thank you very much. It's very nice of you to say so. You know mate, we just go into the studio with the songs that we believe are the best that we can do at that particular time and hopefully don't forget to add some spontaneity to it as we record and make sure to give it that genuine rawness. As long as we do that things generally work out fine you know, says a remarkably humble Barney.
The previous album "Smear Campaign" had a pretty clear theme – religion. Is there such a theme to the new album?
Yes, there is in a sense. The religious theme is still in there, it's less prevalent, but it's part of the over-all theme. Talking about a general theme, the album really is quite a simple concept. Originally I tried to make it not conceptual at all, but I always seem to lean toward these – some would say – grand theories or ideas. You know, we as humans spend a lot of time working ourselves into the grave. For some of us it's because we've kind of been conditioned to think that that is the thing to do. For some others it's because we believe we need to get as much money or other status symbols as we can. I think that maybe I personally fit into the first category. This is as much an observation of myself as it is of anyone else. And given that I think that we sometimes fail to acknowledge and appreciate the simple things around us, understand and experience what it is to take a day off and go and sit in the park on a bench or under a tree or whatever, and watch the world unfold around you know. Because we miss those things sometimes, because we're not looking, and I think in some ways unless we have that kind of understanding of the simpler things we can't really understand the more complex things in life. So I think it's really important that we take a step back and acknowledge that and perhaps do something about it you know. That's the concept of the album basically. It's quite a basic concept that perhaps you and other people have thought about yourselves, but then there are a lot of other things that branch of from that, things like marriage, religion, personal faith, the perceived role of women today and things like that.
Since you're the one belting out the acidic lyrics of NAPALM DEATH, how much of the lyrics are you yourself writing? In the case of lyrics that perhaps Mitch or Shane wrote, do you ever feel that it's hard to convey the thoughts and feelings of some one else?
For most albums I do about 95% of the lyrics. For this album Mitch (Harris, guitar) did two and Shane (Embury, bass) did two. Shane usually does a couple but Mitch not as often. It helps me out you know, I gave them the general idea of what this album was supposed to be about and they wrote their interpretation of something that could fit in with that, explains Barney. And singing the lyrics they've written is not a problem at all. Even if it can be difficult to understand fully things and concepts completely formed by someone else, this is seldom the case. It helps me out a lot to have them do some of the lyrics so all contributions are accepted you know, he giggles.
"Smear Campaign" was, to me at least, a bit more easily digested than "Time Waits For No Slave" is, mainly due to very direct choruses. There seems to be more focus on sheer aggression and gritty heaviness this time around.
It's funny you should say so. As this is my twentyfifth interview today I've obviously spoken to a lot of different people that have given me their respective perspective on this and it really goes to show that everyones levels of perception are drastically different you know, which is interesting to me. You know, I do like psychology and I think there's a lot to be said for that kind of observation. Maybe it's just me being fucking pretentious but that's something that occurs to me you know, he says and laughs a bit. Any difference between the two albums though mate, was nothing deliberate. We don't have like a corporate meeting or anything like that where we sit down and decide what sort of sounding album to make. Literally, we just have some ideas - Mitch and Shane have music they've written, I've got my lyrics - and we build those into songs and go in and record them trying to do the best that we can. Like I said earlier, spontaneity is a big factor in NAPALM DEATH. The songs many times actually change while we're in the studio, even within the very limited timeframe that we have to record albums. Things change because we work at something and something just comes about and some of the time we're like "Fucking keep that! That's good!", you know?
How much time do you usually spend recording an album then?
That's all? That's impressive I think.
Maybe, but you know I like that. After all these albums I'd like to think that we know pretty well what we want from an album for one and it's also good to be a bit under pressure because that produces even more spontaneity. It's nice to be sweating a bit and being on the edge. That gives you a better method of execution I think. I could never cope with spending much more time in there you know. I'd be going mad sitting there waiting for someone to get a fucking snaredrum to sound exactly right for eight weeks you know, laughs Barney.
Back to the music on the new album, the ominous vibe that revealed itself in the titletrack of the last album is now visible in several of the new songs (titletrack!).
Well actually, Barney almost interrupts me, what we did with that song, "Smear Campaign", is use an ingredient that we've always had in the band. If you go back to "Harmony Corruption", the title track of that album is very ambient, very strange, and then we've used that again at different points. Some of the influences of NAPALM DEATH that are seldomly talked about are what I'd call the "alternative" side of the band, that being things like SWANS and SONIC YOUTH. When we did the song "Smear Campaign" it was a very big change of pace compared to the rest of the album. For this album I wanted to expand those influences more. Sure, if it had sounded like shit we wouldn't have used it but it sounded good for the parts where we used it you know.
The last album also saw you experimenting with your vocals and this has continued on the new album in tracks like "Downbeat Clique" for example. What inspired you to start experimenting in the first place, and where do you plan on taking your vocals in the future?
That was actually a lot of what I was referring to in my answer to the previous question, my vocals. This time I've stretched it out and to me it works and it doesn't smother the well-known elements of NAPALM DEATH either. To achieve a mix of elements like that is difficult to achieve some times, but it worked out good I think. I mean, I like SWANS and stuff like that you know and if you listen to "From Enslavement To Obliteration", which was before I was even in the band, the first track "Evolved as one" is completely SWANS, you know, so the influence of those things have always been with us within the band even if they haven't been as visible outside of the band. If you listen to the very early NAPALM DEATH-demos, it almost sounds like MY BLOODY VALENTINE you know, so that's always been there. I might experiment even more in the future, I don't know. But why think about it like "what if people don't like it" and worry about "the scene police" pointing fingers and stuff like that you know? Of course, if I think it sounds like shit myself or if it doesn't fit into the context that we're trying to do then I'd take it out naturally. Like many others I'm my own worst critic you know and if I think I've done something in a shitty way I'm quite happy to admit that. As long as it makes the song sound good I'll leave it in, but I'm not on some sort of ego-trip so if it doesn't fit than we won't do it. I ain't fucking stupid, or at least I like to think that I ain't, he laughs.
How have you kept your voice healthy through all these years of grunts and screams?
Mate, I couldn't even begin to understand how. I wish I was a biologist or something, maybe then I could tell you. The only thing I can say that's worked for me is not smoking, if I smoked that would kill me. I try to stay healthy in general and also on tour I don't drink alcohol at all. When I'm at home I do a little bit, not too much though. But when we're touring I don't drink as much as two beers even because that just dries up my throat completely. I need to make myself 100% able to deliever to the audience what they've paid for. People are making a real effort to come out and see our shows and I think it would be a really stupid thing to do to not make sure that I was 100% every time I go on stage. Whatever I can do you know, to make sure that I can give the people a show that they remember is what I will do. I'm not judging anyone, but for me I'm not out there on tour to drink myself into the ground, I'm there to play gigs for people and put our songs across in the best way possible, to talk to people, express points of views and things like that. I get my stimulation when we're on tour from mental stimulation by meeting and talking to people.
When you first started out way back in the 80's, what inspired you to sing like you do?
To be honest mate, it just came out like that. Way back then I was in a couple bands, even before I was in BENEDICTION. I was actually in a band with Jimmy (Whiteley, bass) who played on the B-side of "Scum" and in one other band with Andy Whale who was the original drummer for BOLT THROWER. It was all in a small scale, but one day I said "Yeah, I'll sing" and it just came out you know and I thought "Wow, that actually works quite well", Barney laughs. And it all just went off from there really.
In the late 90's and early 2000's your music was considerably less aggressive in my opinion, still very heavy but at a slower pace. What made you put on the breaks in the first place (somewhere around "Fear, emptiness, despair")?
More experimental generally I think, Barney interjects. You know, I have to be honest mate, if you're aware of what went down in that particular period of time, it was quite a difficult time for the band really, both inside and outside of the band. Looking back now I gotta say I have more of an appreciation of those albums than I did back then. Some of the things and some of the directions the music went in I still have problems with and was very much against back then. I was like "Guys, this is not why I joined the band. Yes, we can try some new things but this is too far away from what I envision as being a good output from NAPALM DEATH" and it did cause a lot of friction within the band and even at one point lead to me leaving the band and joining EXTREME NOISE TERROR. But looking back at it now I'm more like "Shit happens", you know? Life is about lessons, you go through the negatives and the positives and you hopefully learn from those things to make your life more enjoyable.
What was it that made you come out blasting once again around "Enemy of the music business"?
I remember a specific conversation between myself and Shane. I called up Shane one day and I said "Shane, we have to make another album that's gonna tear peoples faces off" and luckily he said "Yeah, you're right". I breathed a big sigh of relief and it all went from there, you know. "Enemy of the music business" was a very enjoyable album to make and a really pivotal one for NAPALM DEATH. We're really started to pick up speed in every way with that one. Even if Dreamcatcher could've been a better label than it turned out to be in the end, they showed a willingness to support us that we hadn't had in a many years. When you have that you don't have to worry as much about what's gonna be fucked up this week and so on. We could confidently look forward and concentrate on the creative side of things since we knew we had people working for us and handling all of the other things.
I've seen you guys tear it up on a variety of stages, from small clubs to large festivals, and you always do an awesome job. You seem to very easily adapt to the size of the venue, but what kind of gigs do you prefer doing?
When the audience is right there up in your face you know. When there are no barriers. It's so much more interactive that way and NAPALM DEATH is to such a large degree about spontaneity and interactivity. We're a serious band that cover serious subjects but we're not so serious that we can't have a laugh you know. I mean, if you've ever seen us live you know that I'm constantly making ridiculous comments, just fun stuff you know, 'cuz I know people in the audience themselves like to banter back and forth with each other, it's healthy. Laughter and being happy is such a great thing. So you know, I like that. But I can't deny that a festival with the big audiences gives you that great vibe coming back from the crowd that fucking makes you fly through the air. It's fantastic!
When you go out on tour you usually take one or a few other acts with you. How do you decide what bands to bring out on the road with you?
Some bands will be suggested to us but sometimes we come up with bands ourselves. We're in a position where we get to do that sometimes, pick bands that we think are really good to go out with us. That's what we did on the tour with NASUM for example and next year in the States we're taking out a band called TRAP THEM. They're fucking amazing. They are the best extreme band with that metal feel to it that I've heard in like forever. They sound like old ENTOMBED with some really good punky elements mixed into it. If you haven't heard them you gotta check them out.
Shane seems to have a black belt in starting and joining musical side-projects. How do you think this impacts the band if at all?
Haha, yeah, he has a new band every week, Barney jokes. I don't know that it affects us at all to be honest. He just gets itchy feet you know. If he's not making music for something or other he's gotta do it. That's just his way. Personally, I get all I need from NAPALM DEATH. I actually do a lot more for the band behind the scenes than people may know about, which is an all day every day thing usually. So Shane does his bands and that's fine. It does impact on NAPALM because he himself likes different things like we all do and he needs to put that in different bands. When he does NAPALM he knows that it's the elements of fast hardcore, fast punk and fast metal that goes into it you know. Many things don't belong in NAPALM DEATH and that's what the other bands are for.
I've heard that you regularly contribute reviews of progressive metal to Kerrang!. Does it ever feel odd to review other bands when you yourself are such a prominent musical figure? Maybe it makes you understand the business better?
I used to, I don't anymore. I gave it up basically. It's really funny because that thing appears on my page on Wikipedia, that I still do it, and just like many other things on there and on the internet it's kinda accurate but not really you know, he laughs a little. What I used to do was write all kinds of different stuff for them about all kinds of different bands. For example, I like the band DREAM THEATER. I think they write good fucking songs you know. A lot of progressive music is just being progressive for the sake of being progressive, but they have no good songs. No thanks is what I say to that you know. But I like DREAM THEATER so I used to get a lot of progressive stuff sent to me and a lot of it was fucking boring as hell, some of it was good though, but overall it got to a point where to be completely honest with myself I had to be completely honest about those bands you know. If something was complete shit from my perspective I would say so and I just felt really bad about doing that. One day I didn't want to do it anymore. Obviously it gave me this plattform to review other bands but more than anything it gave a perspective on freelance journalists and what they go through. I mean, talk about poorly paid and underappreciated you know. For an average freelancer on a magazine that is how it is, and I feel sorry for these people sometimes, especially since these days there are often other duties that fall upon them for which they don't really get paid any extra for. It was different for me though, but I just woke up one morning and didn't wanna do it anymore. It didn't feel constructive for me.
NAPALM DEATH has been around for 25 years at this point and you're all close to or slightly past 40 years old. Other veteran-acts like SLAYER are starting to hint at their retirement in the upcoming 5 years or so. How long do you think that you or any other act playing extreme music can keep going without losing credability?
Well, for me age is really a misleading thing because I believe that if you wanna do something, it's not a matter of how old you are, you will do it. It's that simple. And I think it's really short-sighted to lay an age-thing on bands. In the case of SLAYER I think it's that they've been around each other for so many years, done so many gigs together and, in my opinion, they've really run out of ideas a long time ago. If we're being completely honest about their albums, and this is coming from someone who loves SLAYER, who bought "Show No Mercy" on import when it first came out, I think they've gotten bored with it. It has nothing to do with age at all. If you look at them on stage they seem bored. I just think they'd rather be doing something else. It's sad to say but they often look like they'd rather be elsewhere. You can look in a bands eyes sometimes and you can tell if they're enjoying themselves or not. To be honest, I could back to the past four or five times that I've seen SLAYER and they just didn't seem to wanna be there you know.
Your new album, "Time Waits For No Slave", isn't out yet but has already leaked onto the internet several weeks ago. When I asked Shane about his thoughts about kids downloading music from the internet illegally he didn't seem to have much of a problem with it since you make most of your money from touring and merchandise rather than record sales. Do you share his views on the whole downloading issue or what's your opinion on the matter?
All I would say is that I really have no real problem with kids downloading our music because, like it or not, it's extra promotion for the band really. Even if someone downloads the album for free, they might still come and see a show and buy a T-shirt you know. In practical terms that's how it is. But when people put it on the internet before it's even out the point is this: The album doesn't make profits in those early days, that's a fact. What it does do is return money for the record company and when that record company is someone like Century Media – who have done a lot of really great things for us – I feel bad for them because that money generates funds for them to be able to work and support us. So in that sense, downloading it and not buying the album is not helping us. We don't sell METALLICA-esque levels of records, not even a tenth of that I think, but in that way I can't say that it doesn't harm us. While I'll never agree with breaking someones door down just for downloading some music, because I'm just not that way as a human being, I do wish that some people would take a step back and think about that for a band like NAPALM DEATH it actually does affect us in some way. But generally speaking, I think that this downloading business just gave the record industry and the big labels a big kick in the teeth. They've been exploiting artists for years and years and just weren't prepared for this. But that's what happens, what goes around comes around you know.
The hysteria surrounding illegal downloads have set in motion a frightening trend in European politics. Several countries, my own included, are now considering creating laws that give the record labels and movie companies rights to invade peoples privacy that not even the police have, as well as enabling the prosecution of people with very little or even easily fabricated evidence. This creates a political climate when the really rich corporations ultimately rule at their own wim taking down ordinary citizens with criminal charges and huge fines as they see fit.
That's just completely fucking Orwellian that is. I'm not sure I really need to comment on that any further, Barney initially concludes. Like you say this sets a dangerous presedent and things like that can lead to civil war you know. People don't like to be provoked like that. I mean, think of the situation with the poll tax in England. People had just fucking had enough of Margret Thatcher, I'd fucking had enough of her long before that, you know. But there will come a tipping point when people just say "fuck you" you know what I mean?
I read somewhere that Britain has the most surveillance cameras in the world...
This is true! And of course I'm very much of the opinion that they should be knocked off the fucking wall. Where do people come off thinking they have the rights to do this? They just pull these rights out of nothingness and do this shit.
I think the big problem here is that they're giving a governing power to companies that are ruled by profits rather than a will to do good and look after ordinary citizens.
Yes, absolutely. We all know that whether it's from the left or from the right governments are very much tempted to get into bed with these companies. It's all about buying favors.
Once the album is out, what's next for NAPALM DEATH? Are there any plans for touring already in the works?
We have an Eastern European to do in early January and we're doing like a promo-night in Birmingham just to play the album itself you know. Then we're gonna go to the States. We usually do Europe first but this time we're doing States first. After that things will take off and I suppose we'll be out on the road for the better part of 2009. We've actually been talking about doing a Scandinavian tour similar to the one we did a couple of years. So that's what's in the cards right now.
Thanks a million for your time. Any last words to the fans and our readers?
It's probably a big cliché but that's always the hardest question to answer, I mean, what do you say to the people that give you the support to keep going over the years? We've been doing this a long time and certainly from a lot of our own steam but along the way there's been friends, fans and people helping us out that we have to be very thankful to. So great thanks to everyone, basically. Cheers!