December 18, 2014 Interview – Barney Greenway of Napalm Death
From his first visceral, throaty grunt on “If the Truth Be Known” off 1990’s Harmony Corruption all the way to his gut-shattering bellow on “Everyday Pox” off of 2012’s Utilitarian, Mark “Barney” Greenway has been and continues to be the ever defiant face of one of the world’s foremost extreme metal bands, Napalm Death. During those years, Greenway has lost none of his desire for social and environmental change. Bringing the same furious discontent to both stage and studio, and always with the same integrity and passion, Greenway combines an abiding love for music as divergent as crust punk and prog rock to help keep Napalm Death as cutting edge and uncompromising as possible. Recently, CrypticRock sat down with the veteran frontman, finding that though the plague still rages, it does so in a most articulate and polite manner.
CrypticRock.com – Napalm Death has been together for around thirty years now, establishing themselves as leaders in both the Death Metal and Grindcore genres. Tell us a little bit about what that journey has been like?
Barney Greenway – Long, problematic, and dangerous but always enjoyable. We’ve been to places in the world where bands in general don’t even hope to go. We were pretty much the first harder edged band to go into Russia when it was still the Soviet Union. We were among the first bands to go to South Africa post-Apartheid. Its been an interesting journey. I know that when it comes time for me to die or whatever, if I get some warning, I know I’ll be able to look back and say I did stuff that was incredibly exciting and exhilarating.
CrypticRock.com- That sounds like a truly an amazing journey. Having spent two years as part of Benediction prior to joining Napalm Death in 1990, looking back now, did you think your time in Napalm Death would span as long as it has, allowing you to develop the relationships you have with the musicians, producers, and friends that you’ve crossed paths with across the years?
Barney Greenway – Absolutely not. In all reality I probably figured to myself, this is great. I’ll do a couple of years of this and maybe go back to my old job, which was engineering, and just have the memories. Now here I am twenty five years later. Success is relative though. I think its fair to say everything we did was under our own terms. I mean, we didn’t mind the band getting bigger, but we never wanted to do it by selling ourselves down the river. To me personally, that would be kind of soul-crushing. I could never live with myself if we did anything to like sell the band short in terms of the things you can do commercially to make your band more popular. I’m proud to say everything we did with Napalm Death, we’ve done it literally on our own terms. Sure there were moments in there where we were a little naive, or we got sold out to a bigger company we would never have chosen had we had the scope to understand what was going on. In the main, it has been a good ride. We’ve kept things really independent. We live and die by our own choices, by our own decisions, and of course like everyone else we have made some stupid ones. You learn from it and you try to move on in a better way.
CrypticRock.com – That is really admiral that the band has never a compromise themselves after all this time. Napalm Death is often credited with founding Grindcore. Yet the band has greatly influenced Death Metal as well. Such is the diversity in your legions of fans, one could accurately describe a Napalm Death show as ranging from mohawks to mullets. Is such a title, as being labeled the founders of Grindcore, something the band is happy with?
Barney Greenway – I like that saying, mohawks to mullets. I’m gonna have to use that if you don’t mind. There’s a thing with the term grindcore, people seem to think it was adopted, that someone woke up one day, a light bulb went off, and they said ‘we’re gonna call it grindcore.’ But I think where that term comes from is actually Micky, the old Napalm Death drummer (Mick Harris), he came up with it. The actual parameters that he had in his head could be anything from the slowest, dirgiest (sic) approach, like Swans, to the fastest imaginable pace like Siege or Repulsion, or Infest. So grindcore has a much wider span, at least in Mickey’s definition, and you’re talking about crossing the cultural divides, for want of a better term, which is indicative of the fact that the music itself is more varied and has a lot more to it than I think people give it credit for. You say Grindcore, people go “oh yeah, a million miles an hour, barking like a sea lion,” and there you go. Although of course there’s a lot more to it. There are some good bands out there in the genre, because ultimately good songwriting is good songwriting. I think like everything else it has a certain appeal.
CrypticRock.com – That is extremely true. The band is set to release your new album, Apex Predator, Easy Prey on January 26th, 2015. What was the writing and recording process was like this time around?
Barney Greenway – To be honest, pretty much the same. The guys, Mitch (Harris – guitars) and Shane (Embury – bass guitar) would write their stuff first on guitar and bring it to the rest of us, and of course I write the lyrics to it. After we’ve yay’ed or nay’ed anything in the music that could have been improved, and then we just bring it into the studio. The real difference here is we recorded it over twelve months. That’s not to say we went in there and messed around for months on end. What happened was we did it in sections. Using Russ Russell, who is a really old friend, allowed us to do that. Some producers would have said well pay me for the extra time. I was writing all the time though. When we did the first eight songs, I already had three or four songs ready to go. So after that session finished I was still writing…it was an ongoing process. The intent was for different parts of the album to sound different from one another. One of the things with extreme music that I thought could do with a bit of a kick up the arse, especially on the production side, was a variation in the levels. Cause with a lot of bands, it sounds like they just set the desk so they play the songs and it sounds like its on the same level the whole time. There’s a huge spectrum of sounds you can use. I don’t see why you can’t use that spectrum and still keep it extreme. So a bit of drier production here and there, and ambiance, a bit of depth and spacey-ness (sic).
CrypticRock.com – That certainly helps keep things interesting. How would you describe the state of the extreme metal scene nowadays in 2014. Do you think it is in a cohesive, healthy condition, or has digitization perhaps negatively affected it?
Barney Greenway – I personally am still a vinyl and CD man. I do not own any MP3’s apart from the test Napalm Death ones. I don’t have anything against that though, I’m not going to be a snob. The thing I like about it is it allows people to produce and consume the music as they want to. The monopolization that the major record companies had over music in general until around the turn of the millennium, they were even ‘hoovering’ up the independent labels, was a bit of a nightmare. For us it didn’t matter so much because we always moved in our own circles. Certainly we weren’t going to sign to a major label. I mean, I’m not a big social media person – I’m not on it actually. Shane (Embury) takes care of it for the band. Having said that, I can believe how appealing it is to certain people and how they want to utilize it so much.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly has taken over this younger generation of music fan, that is for sure. Over the years, you have c0ncerned yourself with issues of human and animal rights. Would you say that things are getting better or worse in that regard across the world?
Barney Greenway – I don’t look at it as issues, cause then it starts to sound like a shopping list. I try not to look at it as issues because a lot of things are interlinked. My objective with Napalm Death is to put these issues on the table. Is the world getting worse? I think it has been consistently bad. East and West Europe, and east and west farther afield, is not at loggerheads like they were in the ’80s, but there are many small conflicts going on all over the world. The thing that bothers me the most is the fact that human beings suffer. People are still continuing to be dehumanized by a whiff of power, and it continues to make human beings do things to other human beings that you and I wouldn’t even consider. For example, the whole thing right now with sweat shops and slave labor. Its really sad that there is a number of people who believe that the very worst vestiges of slavery ended in the cotton fields in the U.S. in the 1800’s, but of course it didn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it seems there are more people living under slave labor conditions now in the world than at any point in history. In that respect the world is worse.
CrypticRock.com – Right, if one wants to look at it deeply, they are making iPhones now instead of cotton, so it seems like nobody cares.
Barney Greenway – That is actually changing a little bit, even though its only a very small degree. There is a company in Holland that has made a sustainable cell phone. I own one, I use it. and something like nineteen percent of its components were sourced from sustainable places with fair trade/labor conditions. That is a real step forward. Hopefully that small chink of light will begin a change across the board. Hopefully the supply chains, whether its food or manufacturing, hopefully that whole culture will start to change. It is the major corporations that have to change first. I find it particularly scandalous that there has been no legislation to control this type of thing.
CrypticRock.com – It is truly sad. Hopefully things will get better in the future. My last question for you is regarding films. CrypticRock.com is a Rock/Metal and Horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of Horror films, and if so, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Barney Greenway – I am indeed a fan of Horror movies. I always liked Demons (1985), which is absolutely ridiculous and brilliant at the same time. A really good one I saw recently about a serial killer is called I Saw the Devil (2010). It is not a splatter movie, but its pretty fuckin’ frightening.