Interviews : Napalm Death

Napalm Death : The Ministry of Common Sense
Napalm Death
With Barney Greenway
Interviewed by

The godfathers of grindcore, Napalm Death are entering their 27th year of blowing away listeners with brutal, fast and relentless metal littered with copious amounts of messages regarding anything remotely un-P.C. Despite the fury and power that goes into every N.D. performance, it would seem that our beloved grinding deities are as soft-spoken and genuinely grateful as the rest of us.

Barney Greenway, the grunt-belting frontman of Napalm Death, was kind enough to give me some time to talk to him about (what there is) in the new album, Michael Moore, Richard Dawkins, and the Dillinger Escape Plan. If you blink, you might miss when he plays 'You Suffer' during the interview.

So this is your first week out on the DevilDriver tour. How's that going for you?

Yeah, it's fine. There's five bands on there...still kinda getting to know people, 'cause it's hard when there's like thirty people on the tour, but...yeah, it's going quite well.

I'm sure you've been seeing some of the old ND fans showing up out of the woodwork.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, just like any band, there's people that just show up to see us.

That's unfortunate business about Walls of Jericho dropping off the tour. Did they end up doing any shows with you?

Naw, no, they basically pulled out at the eleventh hour. But okay, I understand their situation, y'know, I'm certainly not blaming them. Shit happens. What are you gonna do? You can't do something if it's gonna cripple you.

Let's look at the lineup here: it's Invitro, 36 Crazyfists, you guys, and DevilDriver headlining. It's a different lineup...

Yeah, it's pretty different. Every band's got their own thing, and I know that's kind of a cliché thing to say in a way, but there is something genuinely have seen in a lot of ways. I mean, y'know, what I've learned at this point, as Napalm we've tried everything we can to mix things up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. There doesn't seem to be a formula where you can sort of say, "this is really gonna bring the kids out of the woodwork." People are spoiled for gigs over here in general, and what's a kid gonna do? He's only got so much money in his pocket, as we all have to go and do stuff, so it's hardly surprising that it's difficult to get something together that's going to reach them.

Well, you guys do more straight-ahead, extreme metal tours too, like Cannibal Corpse a couple years back and the Suffocation tour in Europe later this year.

Y'know, we try and do everything. We did the Life Once Lost thing last time, and then we did the Hatebreed thing, which was different. We try a bit of everything. We do the straight up, fast hardcore bills, grindcore bills. Whatever works at the time, really. Whatever we think's gonna float, then we'll do it and see where it takes us.

Considering there's been a lot of band reunions in the past couple of months, what with Carcass, At the Gates, a little less recently Immortal - how do you feel as a band that's not had a breakup?

Bands go away and they come back, and you're always gonna get that sort of the 'mistake factor,' because obviously they've not been around, so people are eager. And it's been bands with a pedigree. The thing with At the Gates is somehow kids picked up on that. I don't quite know how it happened, but it did.

It blossomed here.

Yeah, it did! It's quite interesting: back in the day when Napalm Death took At the Gates out on tour with them, back in '92, no one was talking about At the Gates. Everyone was just like, "oh, it's just another band." Although, y'know, undeniably 'Slaughter of the Soul' was a great album. It's just that no one recognized that.

Now it's kinda become an archetype album for a lot of modern extreme metal.

Yeah, and that's fine. I'm not gonna be critical, because it's not necessarily my trip, but I'm certainly not going to sit on a pedestal. It's up to Napalm to forge our own path, which we are doing. We'll continue to do it - there's no real reason for us to pack it all in.

Speaking of 'forging a new path,' do you guys have a new CD in the works or anything?

It's really funny actually. We've been laughing about that actually the past couple of days, because we just happened to mention to someone that we had sort of the very bare bones of riffs and stuff like that. And it was like Chinese whispers; the next thing we know is the record company is talking about bringing magazines down for playbacks, and we're like, "hang on a minute. We haven't even got half a song yet." But that's fine, it just shows that Century Media is genuinely interested, as they have been all along since we've been with them.

And you guys have released three albums with them, and those have been pretty successful.

Well, two and the covers album, yeah. Undeniably.

And the guy that's been the producer since the original Leaders Not Followers, Russ Russel, are you guys looking to go back to him?

That's what I can tell you: it's definitely gonna be with Russ, and it'll be the same studio (Foel Studios) that we used in combination with another studio. Code [Is Red...Long Live the Code] was the first one that we did there, and for me, it was the best vibe we've ever felt at a studio.

It's out in the middle of nowhere.

Yeah, nothing there. Sheep.

That's the middle of Wales for you.

Yeah.

Napalm Death's always politically driven.

Common sense driven.

Sure, yeah! Well, politics come into play there inevitably. What do you feel has changed in the political fields in the past year and a half since 'Smear Campaign' came out?

Probably not very much, actually. In terms of the great things that are needed to make transformations for the people at the bottom of the pile, y'know, still nothing's really happened. Something radical has really gotta help people - there are victims of...if you want to use the U.S. as an example, lack of a health care system. Now everyone's talking about...but it's something I've been talking about for years.

It takes someone like Michael Moore and the movie business to get that out there, I guess.

People rag on Michael Moore, but if it wasn't for Michael Moore, there wouldn't be half as much awareness as there has been, so I've got nothing bad to say about that guy, really. And Ralph Nader as well, people that really have a lot of integrity, and sadly, get left behind at points. I find that really sad. But there you go - who knows what's going to happen, speaking in context with the U.S., but it effects the rest of the world, undoubtedly. There's a lot of things I don't like about England, about the way the government's heading, the so-called socialist party. There's more and more surveillance, all the time. They're talking about a DNA database, nationally. I don't want anyone to have my DNA. That's my right as a human being - I should be able to say, "no, no, you can't have my DNA. That's my very makeup. You take a lot of things from me, but you can't take the very thing that is the makeup of me as a human being that was born on this earth."

It makes sense to be terrified by something that is scrutinizing your life.

There's a lot of things out there that I just don't like, but that goes for everywhere. It doesn't just apply to the U.K. and the U.S.

Another topic that often pops up in Napalm Death is religion. Theocracy in particular. Do you feel that that's kind of driven the U.S. over the past couple years?

Whether to say that it's driven the U.S. entirely is arguable, but there is definitely a big lobby movement of various religious subsects. And they've had a stranglehold on the ethos and psychology of the nation. Of course, for me, it's wrong. Fundamentally, why is it that churches don't pay taxes? I cannot understand that for the life of me. These churches are turning over some serious cash, man, why aren't they paying taxes?

I kinda look at it as a lesser form of entertainment.

What really cracks me up is that there's all these definitions in tax law as what is something, and what is something else. Religion is something that's ethereal, and it's unproven, so it's therefore like a utility industry. So why shouldn't it be taxed? That's like rewriting something for convenience sake. All these things can be taxed with tax definition, but religion, that's something...let's put it on a pedestal. It's untouchable...it's the great untouchable! I would like kids to get a secular education and leave the religion at home. Education and day to day stuff, life skills, should be purely on a secular basis and based on fact, biological and scientific fact.

Would it be fair for me to assume that you'd be a fan of Richard Dawkins?

Yeah, I like Richard! Unfortunately, there's a lot of pitfalls that go with being Richard Dawkins. He's kinda become the celebrity figurehead of the movement, and that wasn't necessarily the intention some couple years ago, even though he was still a big author. He didn't really crack into the ultra-mainstream until a couple years ago, so he's kinda become a celebrity. Which is, in a sense, if you think about it, if you're look at it from aspects of free thought and how that rolls, then to have a figurehead and a movement behind it, it kinda goes against what it is. So that could be interpreted as somewhat unfortunate, but in the same breath, when Richard Dawkins speaks, coinciding with Michael Moore, he tends to get things out there out into the public attention that wouldn't necessarily be there. Atheists and secularists and humanists have always had a tough time, especially here. They have a really tough time trying to get the word out, and when Richard Dawkins speaks, or someone of that ilk, it tends to get out there. So that's the upside.

What have been some of your favorite bands to tour with in the past?

Nasum was a great one. Obviously, Nasum is no more after Mieszko died - that was a great tour, real fun. Sick of It All in the early nineties, fantastic...

...that was with Sepultura?

Yeah, Sepultura as well. Sepultura were on fucking fire, man. Things like that live long in the memory. It reinforces not to take these things for granted. An interesting one was Faith No More. We toured with them at the peak of their powers. We did a couple shows in Europe, it was just us. We were the support band! It wasn't like three or four other bands and they just kinda tacked us on. We were the main support. It was fucking nuts. It was wicked, man. Playing with Bad Religion in the early nineties...

You've played with some of your influences, like Discharge.

Discharge! I mean, it wasn't quite the early 80's Discharge, but it was still pretty powerful. All kinds of things, all kinds of people.

Favorite albums from 2007?

There's actually quite an obscure one. I'll give you one big one and one obscure one. My favorite album, thus far, is the Dillinger Escape Plan album. What a fucking brilliant album! Me and Shane, we were talking about it actually the other day, he went to see them just before we left for this. He said they were fucking wicked, man. I mean, again, another band, they played with us when they first started out. And now, look at them - they've evolved. The thing I like about Dillinger is they did quite a gutsy thing - they've developed themselves to a point where, yeah, they're still doing like the extreme math metal, whatever you want to call it, they're still doing that, but it's like a hybrid. There's even like soul and kinda disco in it.

Like 'Milk Lizard' and 'Black Bubblegum,' stuff like that.

Yeah, it just worked. It totally worked. Great songs. They didn't worry about all the scene stuff, like sniping away in the background going, "Dillinger Escape Plan is a pop band," and totally trying to look down on them. Fuck off. They just make great music. The other one is a bit more traditional, a band I just discovered in Australia called Extortion. Okay, they're like fast hardcore, very much in the mold of the 80's stuff. But they're really good players and they've got great songs. That's the important thing. You can make as extreme, as noisy an album as you want, but have it so it's memorable enough for you to say to yourself, "I'm gonna reach into the CD rack and play this CD again." A lot of the stuff that's around, you'll listen to it once, and you'll never play it again. It's human nature. I like bands with songs. When I say 'songs,' I don't mean in the mainstream sense of the word, I mean, it can be something that's totally crazy white noise. But make it memorable.

A band I gotta ask you about is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

Yeah, Shane was talking about them. I haven't heard it yet.

They've got a bunch of instruments they make themselves. Bizarre.

Shane says they sound a lot like a band that me and him really love from England called the Cardiacs, if you've ever heard of them. He said they're kinda like that in some ways which...bonus.

Got any most anticipated releases for this year?

I hadn't looked at what's coming, really. I couldn't say. I'd have to sit down and have a look.

Do you have anything to say to the fans while we're still here?

I know it's a big ol' cliché, but thanks, everyone, for supporting us. For us, now, we're in a fairly unique position. We've been coming here now for pretty much 20 years, to the States, and people have always turned out. People still want to see us - we don't get the feeling that we're still on the wane of people wanting to see us. You can't take that for granted man, it's great. Thanks to people - we're trying to make the very best albums we can, and hopefully, you know, people will wanna see us.

Thanks for your time man!

Yeah, my pleasure.