Interview: Napalm Death
How can you separate people out as being less deserving than others when it comes to dignity and humanity? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Napalm Death recently stopped off for a sold out show in Manchester as part of their reborn ‘Campaign For Musical Destruction’ with Brujeria, Power Trip and Lock Up in tow. Just before doors opened for this incendiary show, Steve Fallows managed to grab some time with Napalm Death vocalist Barney Greenway and chat about the tour, their Glastonbury appearance and how the band had dealt with changes in the industry over time.
(((o))): First of all, thanks for your time. It’s a sold out show in Manchester for tonight’s gig, the tour sounds like it’s going well so far?
Barney: Yeah, apparently so. That’s great. We’ve actually just reached the halfway point (checks tour laminate), yeah, we’ve done just over half of the shows and it’s all been fantastic so far.
(((o))): It’s a hell of a package (with Lock Up, Power Trip and Brujeria). How did that come about?
Barney: Well, it’s not something we’ve adopted as a recent thing. The point is that these days, it’s not good enough to go out as a headline band and have just the one support. You need to make something that fleshes it out a bit and gives people something worth watching. Even though our ticket prices are a little lower than others out there, people still want to see a good two or three bands of note, so yeah, we always try and put something together. It’s not always easy, or possible, but we always try.
(((o))): It’s definitely becoming more common over in the UK, as sometimes we seemed to miss out on the bigger tours that Europe and the US get?
Barney: I would say the idea started in Europe. There was always quite a demand in Europe for more than just a headliner plus a local support. That has radiated out to the US and happily seems to be happening more and more in the UK now.
(((o))): We’ve had the Glastonbury announcement, which was a huge shock for fans. How did that come about?
Barney: That was a huge surprise to us too. I haven’t got a clue how it happened to be honest. We just sort of fell into it. We heard about it a couple of months ago and thought it was some sort of prank someone was playing, and at the time we were like “Nah, this wont happen”, but yeah it came true. What it is, is that our old label from many years ago, Earache Records, are curating a stage and I guess they just wanted us to be a part of it, and to headline it too. That’s how it’s worked out. It is kind of surreal when you think about it, bearing in mind the way Glastonbury has been in recent times, and for me because I used to go there back in the day when it was a complete hippy kind of thing. Very cheap to get in, almost a free festival, so it’s very strange to be going back and playing it.
(((o))): As well as it not being your typical audience anyway, the tickets go on sale before any act is announced. How do you approach a show like that?
Barney: There could be a tendency to be a little bit snobbish about it, because I’ve read a few things about it and people saying “oh, its great that Napalm are going to play to all these fucking weekend warriors, they’re gonna get it”, but to me, that’s not the way I think, you know. The usual microcosm that we exist in in terms of our gigs and our regular people that come, you know, the people that would see us where they would not usually see us are no less deserving or anything. People are just like everyone else. I wouldn’t be derogatory towards anyone, because if the whole idea of Napalm Death is to get our ideas out there as much as you can, then surely it’s a good thing that we are able to do it.
(((o))): You have that kind of following where your name appearing on a bill will guarantee ticket sales, but this time you are stepping into the unknown as far as crowd and reaction are involved.
Barney: In terms of what we would do creatively, we would rise to the occasion you know in as much as we would anywhere else. We’ll throw ourselves in anywhere that we feel that we should and we wont make it any different. It will be a complete noise attack. If people are ready for that then OK, but if they aren’t (laughs), then it could be very interesting for sure. We’re not going to tailor it, we certainly wouldn’t say “well, it’s a bit more pedestrian here”, we are going to do the exact same as we would anywhere else. We’ve spent nearly four decades not watering ourselves down for anyone, why would we start now.
(((o))): How does it feel to be playing under the Earache banner once again, after such an acrimonious split from the label years back?
Barney: I’ve talked about this before this show came up. The thing is, we had a history of quite a lot of schism between us and Earache for good reason. But you know at some point you have to go “you know what, the fights over now”. Whether we achieved what we set out to do when it got got really fractious, I’m not sure, but to be that angry about it for the rest of your life…what’s the point? So, we decided to press ahead with it. It is what it is. It will serve us a lot of purpose, so I’m OK with it.
(((o))): It’s now thirty years since the Arena TV programme brought you originally to national attention in the UK. Extreme music is largely ignored by the media again now. Do you think this is a good or bad thing?
Barney: Speaking from a Napalm Death point of view, we would still exist whatever the case, we don’t go to bed at night losing sleep at the lack of outlets for us to get our stuff over. But the only thing I would say is that a truly independent media is a fantastic thing and a true necessity, and there’s not as much of it about as people like to think. In one respect it is sad that that’s the case, but we’d still be here anyway, and were not just about metal anyway. We have metal elements, but there is a lot in our music that has nothing to do with metal at all. We also have a lot of influences from outside that realm, we are in Manchester, the likes of Joy Division were a huge influence on us, something from the darker side of music.
(((o))): You’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry from the old DIY days, through commercial success and media coverage in the 90’s, back to almost DIY days again as bands use the internet to spread the word. How have you noticed the changes for your band?
Barney: Well, we never relied on the industry ‘per se’, we’ve always done our own thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic thing that people have done their own thing and taken on the major powers, and taken the power back in various ways, but we just did our own thing anyway. We never based what we did on somebody else telling us what we should or shouldn’t do. Specifically, to us being selfish about what we did or the way we did it, we carried on regardless of industry interest. The only downside, and this comes from me being a rep for the musician’s union for some time, sometimes with so much easy access to music it makes it very easy for musicians to be undervalued. We are the same as everybody else and we have rights as much as you would expect any worker to have rights, because we really fucking work hard at this. Whatever we do, we still have to put fucking bread on the table at the end of the day. As long as the rights of the musicians are maintained, then it’s a great thing.
(((o))): The band have been on a rich vein of form for the last few albums, with a lot of people agreeing that you are producing some of your strongest material. What keeps a band focussed after over 30 years?
Barney: There’s a very simple answer to that, we are still motivated, we are still enthusiastic and we still have a lot of things we haven’t done yet. Based on the fact that the band has a very humane ethos and lyrical perspective, the world throws stuff at you all the time that you can react to, so there’s never a shortage of ideas, and musically as well, the guys always seem to have something else in the closet we just keep going while the ideas and motivation and enthusiasm are still there. If there comes a day where that’s not the case, then we will probably go away then. We shouldn’t do it because there’s not point in doing anything at 50%.
(((o))): Do you think that you as a person have changed much from the angry young band that you were?
Barney: But, that’s a stereotype, you see. Because there is always that focus on angry AND young. What I would say is why can’t you be angry and old. It’s actually a bit more refined than that because you can be positive and thoughtful, and move forward. You don’t always have to be angry as in jumping up and down on the spot. Anger only gets you so far, you have to be pro-active as well as reactive, so I feel the same as I did 30/40 years ago. I still believe in human rights, that has never dissipated for me, because until you have that at the base level you don’t have anything else as far as I’m concerned. There’s a lot of things that could do with changing. Poverty is still the same, arguably worse, so as long as things are going that way, then you can and should never stop. There will always be something to confront.
(((o))): Have you ever found that speaking your mind has got you into trouble, such as the incident with the Indonesian president? (Joko Widodo, a Napalm Death fan that the band approached to overturn a death sentence placed on two inmates convicted of smuggling drugs into the country).
Barney: You see, power like that doesn’t intimidate me. I don’t think about that. The people you have to appeal to in this world are just people. You have to address the things that need to be addressed. I know there seems to be a big backlash against human rights, but I’ve never understood it. It’s such a contradiction in terms, why would you not want human beings to have rights. How can you separate people out as being less deserving than others when it comes to dignity and humanity? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
(((o))): And the fact you can easily get yourself into a lot of trouble for standing up for human rights?
Barney: Yeah, but if that’s what needs to be done, then you need to do it. Imagine if everybody backed away from dealing with these things. Nothing would ever be broached and you would have totalitarianism somehow becoming acceptable. Make not mistake about it, it might seem like a marginal view on it, but I just fucking want the Tories out. It’s not looking likely, but that’s something that needs to happen soon.
(((o))): Even though information is quite vague at the moment, how does a band like yourself prepare for the imminent departure from the EU as someone who travels around Europe extensively.
Barney: Here’s the thing. You know what, if I was to sit here and tell you that everything that happened outwardly from the EU was great, I’d be lying. The austerity measures that were forced into Spain, Portugal and Greece were despicable. If the whole idea of the Union was to preserve people rights and people freedoms and dignity and to stop people starving, then surely that’s not the right way to go about it. I’m not saying it’s perfect, when in reality it’s far from that. However, it’s preferable to have union, not ethnically speaking, but as people who live on this continent. The moment you don’t have that, you start to get things like Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. Groups and people from the extreme right have already taken advantage of the fact that Europe is splitting up in many different ways and they are becoming scarily powerful in certain parts of Europe and the human race cannot afford to let these people get their fucking claws in power again, and people should be careful what they wish for.
(((o))): As in what happened in the French elections this year. Even though Marine Le Pen lost, she still finished second?
Barney: Yeah, exactly. It’s very unnerving in terms of prospects for the future. Going back to your question, in practical terms of us being touring musicians, the thought of having to get work permits again is just something you just don’t want to fucking think about. Such a fucking bureaucratic hassle. But on a human level, it’s quite sad in a way.
(((o))): What’s next for Napalm Death after this tour?
Barney: We’ve got quite a bit of touring still to go. We want to make another album, toward the end of the year, or at least start work on something. We don’t have to, but we feel it’s about time to start on something. That’s why we wanted to do this UK run. We were very conscious that we hadn’t really done anything for Apex Predator…Easy Meat, apart from the Deathcrusher tour, but we only got to do a 45 minute set there. Now we are doing a full set and doing these shows as part of that album cycle. Towards the end of August, I think we will start working on it, once the festivals are out of the way, there’s always festivals, as they seem to be the de riguer thing nowadays.
(((o))): Do you prefer your own shows or playing festivals?
Barney: It doesn’t bother us either way. We just turn up and bash it out, never bothered about what, where and what time, we just fucking get on with it, and that’s the key phrase for us I think.