It is almost impossible for any interview not to turn into a political conversation when the main speaker is Mark “Barney” Greenway – frontman of the legendary outfit Napalm Death. Apart from analysing the current political situation, we also managed to say a few things about the band’s latest release “The Code is Red…Long Live the Code”, remembered a not so pleasant incident with the Russian band Korroziya Mettala and to talk about his active role in a musicians union.
Hi Barney – it’s really good to finally be able to host one of your interviews on Get Ready to Rock. In less that an hour we are going to see Napalm Death performing at the Koko/Camden for the promotion of your latest release “The Code is Red…Long Live the Code”. Is tonight the last day of the tour?
Barney: No, we have one more show which we are going to do in Birmingham.
So, is that always the case? Do you always make sure that the last day of your UK tour is in your hometown?
Barney: Well, we did it on the last tour and it worked out really well, so we also decided to do the same on this one.
What is your impression of the tour?
Barney: It’s been great! What we did is…because the album was out in April which was, and still is a festival season, we thought that rather than just doing the festivals, we also wanted to do a proper tour and make the most out of the album release time. We decided to do a full tour, but that of course carries a risk at this time of a year, because most people are going to the festivals. What we did was to put gigs right between the festivals and it seems to have worked really well, because we managed to pull quite a lot of people to our shows.
How many people of the audience that attended your gigs were younger fans?
Barney: The real irony is that, as the band gets older, it attracts younger people. Especially this year, it’s a mixture of young and old, and we also have a lot more girls than we used to in the past. That is great, because music is meant for everyone, not just one type of people.
Based on your experience and knowledge of the way the music industry works, what is it in your music that still manages to attract young people? Napalm Death has been around for ages – what is your secret?
Barney: I like to think that it’s because we are a very honest band. We say what we think, we play the way we want to play, and we don’t do it to please the industry. I think that it’s like that – there is definitely a sense of adventure in Napalm Death for sure. I don’t mean that in a melodramatic sense: I mean that in a sense that we are not playing by anybody’s rules and regulations – we do what we want to do, and we have always done so.
It’s good that you mentioned that, because I always believed that if these were not your principals, you may have made a huge but temporary success, but you would not have been here today with us, after so many years.
Barney: That’s kind of hypothetical really. I have seen the way the industry works on a certain level that I don’t particularly like and I don’t really think that I could ever be a part of that. You have to get joy out of what you do, but I have seen a few things through the years that turn me off completely. Napalm Death has managed to remove themselves from that stuff, so it’s hard for me to imagine how things would be like otherwise.
I assume that this is also the reason why you have chosen to change quite a few labels so far in your career. Is that another way of trying to secure that you will continue doing things the way you want?
Barney: Yes, that is indeed the case. If we are with a record label, and we feel that the record label is not working the way we feel that it should…you see, the guys in Napalm Death are working really hard as a band, and if the label is not supporting us properly then we are definitely going to move somewhere else. I am not interested in sticking with people that can’t stick with their end of the process. At the end of the day, that is going to be a severe handicap support, you know? At the moment, things are going well – things have been going well for some time with this record label (Century Media), and to be honest, the amount of times that this has happened in the last sixteen years…that’s a really good situation because something like this has not happened that often at all. If this thing works out with Century Media, then we will stick with Century Media, if they don’t then we will leave and go somewhere else. It really doesn’t matter to us. I’d rather not have a label at all, than a label that is completely dragging us down.
In your last three studio album we saw a return to a more aggressive approach to music. Is this something that your fans liked in the new album?
Barney: The fans have been really good, but they generally are in every album. We’ve always had that aggression – it’s never really gone anywhere. I think that’s a misconception that the band had gone somewhere else, but I guess that what you are trying to get out is that we did do some kind of more experimental albums in the mid 90’s. They were quite contentious; they caused a lot of debate within the band as well as outside of the band, but at the same time people need to remember that during the mid 90’s the general scene was dying. People didn’t used to go to gigs, bands were splitting up and Napalm Death was one of the only flag bearers still out there, you know? We had to really do something different. I think that I might have gone a little bit too far on some of the albums for my taste, but that depends on who you speak to in the band. Different people will give you a different perspective.
Most of us have enjoyed the lyrics that you have been producing for the band during all these years, but do you also contribute to the song writing process of the Napalm Death albums?
Barney: Well, minimally really. The other guys come up with the riffs, although I will also sit in the rehearsal studio and direct them at times. I cannot play an instrument, but I believe that I can explain what I think that they should be doing instead of one particular thing. For the most parts, the stuff that they come up with is fairly at the point where it needs to be, so it doesn’t require that intervention from me really.
Also, the fact that you are not composing any of the music, gives you the opportunity to see things with a different perception than the others.
Barney: Exactly, yes!
I was once again reading the lyrics on my way here to do this interview with you, and I realised that the same things that have been troubling your mind years ago are still present. You still get sad and angry about them.
Barney: Yes, that is true, but the question is “do we really see things changing”? I personally don’t see any major changes. I think that one of the things that the world really needs is radicalism – positive radicalism. These small steps that have been taking place aren’t anywhere near big enough, if you really want to make any changes.
The results of which you have only seen here in London last week. The real sad thing about these explosions is that it’s always the innocent that have to suffer for other people’s actions. I would have to guess that part of the reason why these explosions happened is because of Britain’s interventions in places where they shouldn’t have been intervening – quite clearly Iraq, Afghanistan etc, and many other things that have happened way past in time. Tony Blair didn’t listen when two million people marched in London and said “we don’t want you to go to war with Iraq”. He didn’t listen!
Most people in Europe say “we don’t want to be at the billing of George Bush” or whatever, and he doesn’t listen – the leaders don’t listen. If you are going to mess with people two, three or four thousand miles away, they are not going to sit there and just take it – they will strike back, where they think that they will cause the most emotional, controversial, physical damage, and that’s what you saw in London the other week.
Tony Blair came out quite quickly and said that it was barbarian acts, which yes, quite literally when innocent people get hurt it is unforgivable, but still he tends to forget that one night even before we set foot in Iraq, twenty or thirty thousand people died there by indiscriminate bombings from our planes. Who is he to call someone a barbarian?
How do you believe that this whole situation is going to change then? I don’t see how people are going to get into a state where they are actually going to realise these things…
Barney: Are you Spanish?
No, I am actually Greek!
Barney: Sorry, I though that you sounded completely Spanish! (Note: you are not the only one!). The reason I mentioned Spain was because of Madrid. There, the people turned around to the government and said that that they were at fault for supporting Bush by sending troops, and what did they do? They kicked them out! They declared a vote of no confidence in the government, and then they had a new government next week. What did the new government do? They pulled the troops from Iraq just like that – problem solved! That’s what you need – radical actions. People say “oh, you cannot have radical actions because it is too severe in any civilized society”. Well, I do not believe that, because there is a difference between violent radicalism and constructive radicalism.
Barney, as an artist obviously feel a calling when you have to write your lyrics - an obligation to speak about all those thoughts that you have and you do so. What about the people who listen to your band’s music – do they actually listen to what you have to say?
Barney: I am convinced that they do, absolutely! Not everyone, cause not everyone chooses to do so, but at least if everyone is aware of what we’re saying, I think that our albums and especially the new one which is fairly obvious, that’s all that we can do. I can’t sort of force feed someone – they have to sort of take things on board themselves, and of course it all comes down to choice, whether they take the whole thing of music and lyrics or whether they just take the music. I can’t control that, but I think that most of them do. I am absolutely convinced, and if you go down and talk to some of these people, they will tell you.
I understand that this may be the case with any English-speaking crowd, but what about all those people who don’t have English as their native language and they simply get attracted by the vibe of the music?
Barney: Yes, that is true. There are places like Indonesia where people do not give any emphasis on speaking English, but still when we went there, we talked to the kids and they totally seemed to understand what our music is all about. We really enjoy things like that.
Is that an extra motivation for you, which helps you to continue playing this type of music?
Barney: It’s the whole package really. I suppose, being creative in the music sense hopefully. In the lyrical sense being humanitarian, as is the true definition of humanitarianism, not the government’s interpretation of humanitarianism. Yes, it’s just the whole thing really that becomes a really good motivation.
There have been quite a few moments throughout your career where you managed to get yourselves into a difficult situation by simply supporting your views and ideas. One very good example was when you played in Russia for the first time with a local band called Korroziya Mettala, which is a well known, right-wing band.
Barney: Yes, but they were not such a band when we first played there. When we first went to Moscow back in 1991, this band had nothing to do with that scene at all – they were just a parody Heavy Metal band. They had fuc*ing naked dancers on stage while the music was on, and we were like ehhh? We just couldn’t understand what they were all about.
That guy Zhirinovsky, he was not even in the picture at the time. We came back from Russia, and I was watching some documentary where he was talking about stuff like “the roots of Russian supremacy”, and doing silly things on stage, and I was like “what the fu*k”. Two years later, we were playing some festival in Estonia, and they were also at the festival so I thought: “right, now it’s my chance”. So, I went and I questioned him about it, and he became mad, so it all ended up in a massive fight.
We bit the sh*t out of him (laughs). I am not violent person – I do not like violence. I don’t think that violence solves anything, but having said that, I will defend myself and I believe that in this case it was a matter of self defence. We did kick the sh*t out of him…it’s those kinds of people that are fairly dangerous.
That guy Red Spider is very fuc*ing stupid really, but he is clever enough to know that he can have influence and believe it or not, they are quite popular in Russia. This band is like a big youth movement, and they have the support of this guy Zhirinovsky who is an ultra nationalist and a parliamentarian.
His vision is for his country to return to a state of imperialism, where Russia will re-invade the countries which are located on its borders. Basically, instead of having a communist state, they have a fascist state – turning the coin a little bit, you know? They are very high profile people, and that’s what makes them fairly dangerous. The first time we saw them in Moscow, they were fine and I’m telling you that if they had been like that back then, I would have got my ass back on the plane and come straight home – I would have nothing to do with any of these people.
Barney, Napalm Death has recorded numerous albums throughout their long career. Every time that you have to go into the studio to prepare your new album, how do you ensure that you are not working on a formula that has already been used in the past?
Barney: There’s nothing like a magic formula – it just happens! The best way of achieving this is by being spontaneous, and I do believe that we have that ability. We just stay focused. When I am writing lyrics, I literally lock myself in my bedroom in isolation for like ten hours at the time, and I just write with the headphones on and the music playing. For me, that’s the only way of writing lyrics – I cannot do that with any distractions.
Did Jesse Pintado’s departure affect the band, and the music that you have composed for the new album?
Barney: Nothing, nothing at all. If you remember, Jesse played a minimal part on the previous album. His departure, though, was something that we had to get used to for the first time.
I am being very honest when I say that I was surprised when I saw you guys as a quartet at the release party that you gave for “The Code is Red…Long Live the Code” at the London Underworld a few months ago. I was really curious to see how you would sound on stage with only one guitar, and I have to admit that I saw nothing wrong there. Do you guys intend on remaining a quartet, or are you currently looking for a new guitarist?
Barney: Never say never, really, but for the time being this is working really well, and as the old saying goes “why fix something that is not broken”? That is our opinion at this moment in time.
Now that the tour is almost over, what are your plans for the following months?
Barney: We are going to take a couple of weeks off, and then we are playing weekends throughout August. We are going to play in Ukraine one weekend, and then we are going back to Germany for a few shows, so you can say that we will still be active in August. In September we are going to visit America.
Who are you going to play with in the States?
Barney: We are going to play with Obituary and two other bands, but I am afraid that I really cannot remember which those bands are!
Do you enjoy playing in the States? How different is it to play there than here in Europe?
Barney: This is one of the most commonly asked questions, but my answer is always the same: there is no difference! People are people across the world, you know? They are always enthusiastic for us – it just so happens that they come from a different part of the world.
That is true, but are there any specific places that have embraced your music more?
Barney: Generally speaking Europe, because it tends to be more of an overall level of support here. America is a very difficult place to get any level of consistency, so you can never second guess what kind of audience and what sizes you are going to play for.
Quite recently, we saw a double CD collection by Earache records. Were you guys involved in that release?
Barney: Yes, we were! Obviously we kind of stated that we are never going to work with Earache again, but contractually speaking, they were allowed to release that best of without our permission. Then we thought that if they were to release that collection on their own, it would simply feature songs from the albums, so it was actually us that came up with the second disc (that disc contains quite a few rarities) and the family tree, which makes it worth getting.
Tonight you are going to perform for something like one and a half hours, am I right?
Barney: Well, that was indeed the original plan, but I think that we will end up playing something like one hour and fifteen minutes after all.
OK, which of the band’s classics are you going to perform for us during this short period of time?
Barney: We are going to try to get a good mixture of everything. Obviously, we are going to do a lot of the new songs.
Any particular songs that you personally prefer to perform live?
Barney: Hmm…I would say “Silence is deafening” and the title track. It would be nice to play “Morale”, the last song, because it is a different aspect to the band, but a very important one. We tried it at the rehearsals, and it didn’t feel as good as it did on the record, so we chose not to play it tonight.
Are there any other projects that you are working with alongside Napalm Death at the moment?
Barney: Shane is…Shane is the only one – he has something new every other week!
You, on the other hand, did a few appearances with the guys from Dream Theater in the past (I laugh).
Barney: (he laughs). I did this thing with Dream Theater because they were old friends of mine. I knew them even before they became big. It was good and funny, because you had this band on the one had with the really skilled musicians, and you had me on the other doing brutal vocals…a nice mixture! Napalm is enough for me really. It’s a lot of work that needs to be done with Napalm, and there is also time to do other things. I’d rather do a mixture of things in life, as opposed to one thing. I do things outside – I work for a musicians union, which is like a trade union for musicians…I like to devote my energy to that as well.
Is that something that you plan on working with after you finally “hang your coat”?
Barney: I won’t go to another band after Napalm, because when you have been involved into something that’s considered a pioneering band like Napalm Death, where can you really get that level of excitement again? I should go and do other things when this eventually finishes.
Barney, you don’t intend on giving such sad news to us in the near future, do you?
Barney: No, no! Now it is probably one of the best times that we have had for Napalm Death. This is a very constructive period for us?
Your best memories as a member of this band?
Barney: Lots…going to South Africa for instance. It was a challenge to see the end of Apartheid and stuff like that. Going to Russia for the first time after the end of the Soviet era. We were there the last weekend before it happened, and all the people that were walking on the streets looked really confused – they didn’t know what was going on! Those were the moments that I will always remember.
If tomorrow someone was to wave a magical wand and the world was to become a better place what would then be the subject of your next studio album?
Barney: It would be a disk with no grooves, just white noise (laughs)!
Barney, it has been a pleasure meeting you and doing this interview. I wish you all the best for the future! The last words are yours!
Barney: I would like to say something different and unusual, but it all comes down to this: thanks for the support. What can you say – people have stood by us and we are always grateful for that. Hopefully we are doing enough on the creative side of the band to keep things interesting for these people!
Interview © 2005