We were lucky enough to catch Napalm Death in New York on February 2nd. Before they laid waste to the Gramercy Theater, frontman Barney Greenway took some time to sit down with us backstage and discuss the creative process behind Apex Predator – Easy Meat, his letters of appeal to Indonesia, and everything in between.
So, it’s been three years since Utilitarian, which in grindcore time is kind of an eternity!
It’s really random. People think you’re doing your records every three years, that’s a weird plan. The point is it isn’t our plan, it’s random. When we do a record it depends firstly on what we feel is the right time, the record label doesn’t tell us when to do it we decide it. Secondly, we get so many requests around the world on what to play we could play every day if we wanted to, everywhere in the world. We figure that while people still want that, why not?
That’s killer. And speaking as a huge fan myself, if you guys tour 2 to 3 times a year, would I go to every show I could? Absolutely! The demand is there for sure. So the second part of that question was with the time in the studio, was it the time to experiment that ended up taking a bit longer than usual?
No. The experiment would have been the same. Because it is strictly dependent on literally what we feel is the right thing to do at the time. Where our heads are at. I mean the record you could say was technically too short in between. The recordings for the new album started way back in January of last year. What we wanted to do was to do it in three or four sections. Naturally, you would get a slightly different production as a default setting for each session. And also diversify those four things. The one thing about extreme music there’s a lot of new experiments with stylistics, but not do anything with the production. Just sat at the desk and just go, oh I’ll play all these songs. But I think there’s plenty of scope to do that and it could get extreme. Two big influences for that really is Amphetamine Reptile and also Touch and Go as well. The big variance in production across those. That’s increasingly what Napalm has started to encompass. Of course we’re never going to dispense with the traditional Napalm approach or sound, but there’s much more scope.
It think what’s really cool is how organic a lot of that sort of oddness is. The melodicism is really subtle. The experimental kind of stuff you have.
It’s because it’s in our blood. We’re fans of that stuff. So naturally we can work into it. We are familiar with it. For example, we’ve been listening to Swans since 1980-something. I’m personally a big Joy Division fan since way way back.
I was actually going to ask if you were a Yes fan at all.
Yeah, I love Yes!
So, that brings us to the songwriting process. With the record, what was the division of labor like? Did you guys tackle it in any way that was different?
It generally follows the same path. Shane and Mitch write the guitar stuff. Then they’ll decide whether with certain songs they want to construct their own drum patterns. Or Shane will work with Danny and they’ll improv stuff out.
So is it more of a jam environment?
It can be, in parts. And the lyrics I generally will write. I’ll come up with a concept and all the rest of it. That’s how we work.
Cool! That’s kind of a lost art. Most bands processes at this point are just four dudes at their computers.
We still record on 4-track recorders. Once you get comfortable with something, you get good result from it, you stick with it.
Absolutely. In the studio as far as that goes, did you guys work things out as you were in there or was everything totally laid out in advance?
Most of the stuff was prepared. Of course you go in the studio, songs take a life of their own because the studio technique boosts everything. So songs that might not necessarily have clicked at rehearsal stage, once you get to studio the light bulb comes on. Oh right, that’s what it is.
By that token in the studio and also on tour, this is one of the longer amounts of time you guys have had a concrete line up for the most part. Compared to earlier days where it was really a revolving door situation. Maybe it seems like an obvious question, but how different is that? What’s the difference between being on the road with dudes that you’re really close to?
I think it all comes down to chemistry because the four of us currently understand that. Even though Mitch is not with us right now for certain reasons. There’s the chemistry between the four of us and we think amongst ourselves, an unspoken thing I think, but if that were to be changed in anyway it would be another task to bring it back to a level of quality. So we understand what it means to us and we obviously have been in a band so long now we almost think of Napalm in the 3rd person. Napalm is this entity that kind of sits there and we are the primary part of it, but it’s also a thing on its own. We don’t say to ourselves, oh we can’t do that because it will fuck Napalm up, we are Napalm.
I’ve gotta know then, what would fuck Napalm up creatively speaking?
Well, there are various decisions that you can with your band that for me would not be appropriate and to me would be damaging to the ethos of Napalm Death and so I just want to do. I’m not talking stylistically, I’m talking choices and stuff.
Oh, right. That makes more sense for sure.
I mean musically? As long as its extreme, jarring, challenging, annoying to some people, it passes the litmus test.
So, I wanted to talk to you a second about the Indonesian situation going on.
Absolutely, it’s worth talking about!
It’s very interesting stuff, I mean it’s been documented and understood: The president is a Napalm Death fan, it’s all very good and fun. But then this death row thing happened. So when you got wind of that it must have been, “I’ve gotta go do this.”
People that know me and you might have read interviews with me, questions have been asked and I’m completely against the death penalty. In any way, shape or form. It’s no deterrent for anything and most importantly if in this world the idea is to arrive at solutions for the good of humanity the death penalty is not one of them. It doesn’t break the cycle of violence or aggression. Anyway, with this, an Australian organization came to me and asked me to write an opinion, which I did. It is a very small thing that I do, but it seems to be picked up on everywhere. It’s very major, news places have been talking about it. And all the better because I’m not one to use things cynically, but in this case with something so crucial, I’m quite happy for it to be put out everywhere. So I just wrote another one today, actually .I’ve written another letter to him. I’m sure a lot of people might think well you know that’s the fun of it, you shouldn’t really read into too much because it doesn’t look good. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if he’s a Napalm fan or not, it’s fair game. If I’ve gotten to him somehow, it’s fair game, for a guy that’s put himself forward on a platform of change of a more egalitarian situation in Indonesia that has a recent history of being brutal. Mass murder, massive corruption, state murder, ethnic cleansing, it’s all in there. For a guy that came in on a different path, I think it’s only fair to push him into the right direction. I don’t shy away from it.
I think the fandom of that probably comes with the open mindedness. I think it’s hard to listen to you guys and not have at least an awareness of the politics.
How could I turn away from something like that knowing somebody was on death row? I could maybe do something small to push it.
Have you heard anything back from their people?
Not yet, but no word is not necessarily bad word. I’m hoping though. I’ll do more if people need me to do it, I’ll do it, no questions, whatever I can do. If I could wave a magic wand and have the capital punishment worldwide, the whole mechanism smashed to pieces I would.
So, to change the tone up a bit to something less dire, what are you listening to right now? Doesn’t necessarily have to be metal.
Blues Pills, I know there’s been a big hype around it, but it’s a genuinely good album. I’ve only heard some of the songs, I haven’t heard it all, but I thought it was great. Good rock music is good rock music at the end of the day. I didn’t really listen to much last year, because not only with song writing on the Napalm album, but Napalm is very self-contained so I did a lot of structural stuff for with Napalm and with that and the album, it was so much to fucking do. I like this one’s album and the new Vallenfyre album. I like that, it’s great. There’s not much else I’ve really listened to. It’s been a lot of older stuff to be honest that I was listening to get a bit of outside inspiration for the album like, CRASS and Finger 5,000.
So I opened this up to some fans online to see what people wanted to know. One pretty good question they came up with was “How hard is it to find vegetarian food on tour?” Here in NY I’m sure it’s not too bad.
No really not anywhere, it’s great because you couldn’t say the same thing 10 – 15 years ago. Now I’m vegan, I turned vegan about three years ago. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made, other than being vegetarian for me personally. If you want to do it, you’ll do it you’ll always find a way to do it. If you’re stuck, you’ll take bags of nuts with you, like Brazil nuts, for protein for playing gigs. There are various things you can do. Like with any diet, if you keep a general level of health, make sure you get all the fruits, vegetables, vitamins, proteins and carbs, you’re good to go.
So, last question I’ve got for you. Nazi Punks: Should they still fuck off?
*laughs* Yes! They should still fuck off.
Did they ever fuck off to begin with?
No, they didn’t fuck off for quite a while in the early 90’s which is why American gigs were quite fucking hairy at one point! A lot of bands were already intimidated, and so were we, but we said “No, fuck you. This is not acceptable. You’re fucking bullies.” Don’t get me wrong, my opinion I was like what are you fucking angry and ready to fight? The one thing I will say, whilst I abhor that kind of thing, I also respect that people should have the right to say whatever they want, as offensive as it might be. I do respect their right to say it. It’s just when you’ve lived in Europe with the history of the 1930’s and the great proliferation of right wing groups in Europe right now it’s pretty scary right now. You get very fucking nervous when those people start to organize. If it goes too far, there’ll be a fucking civil war like there was in Spain in the 30’s with people going to fight fascism from all over the world, descending on Spain and fighting General Franco and Hitler.
Here I don’t necessarily know if there’s a whole lot of that happening anymore, but especially back home, is that something that comes up very often?
Well you know it’s a possibility especially down towards Southern-Eastern Europe; there are certain places that have a really nasty undercurrent of very right-wing ultra-nationalistic colonies. It’s almost become acceptable now where it wasn’t for many years. So with that bubbling under, there’s the possibility.
So it’s as true and as relevant as ever.
Of course, those things never change. I can say my views have refined a little bit. I think that everybody has the right to whatever opinions they want. No matter how ignorant it might be. I think that once that becomes hazardous or oppression, or when it’s allowed to manifest itself in physical form, into intimidation, like murder in some cases, then that’s a different story. I consider myself to be a pacifist. I wouldn’t fight anymore, I’m done with it. We were talking about the cycle of violence, and I’ve got to live by my own example and not commit violent acts. I try to live by that book. I would be sorely tested if we had that situation in Europe again, because I couldn’t accept living in a fascist state.
Was it that prevalent at every show? Or a majority anyway?
In America it was. We would be tearing up the venues, looking for the escape routes, what we would do if, or if we couldn’t escape how to fight our way out of a situation. It fucking rough you know you had all those bands, to be honest, they didn’t even know why they were doing it or what they were singing about. It just became a bit of a youth movement. There was also some connection with the straight-endge Movement as well. There was a lot of really right-wing straight-edge kids. The two kind of molded into each other. So you had either this ultra-right-winged side, a sea, within the sea. Then you also had a lot of idiotic, jock behavior, like kids bringing pool balls in socks into venues and going into the pit and fucking smashing people. It’s fucking stupid stuff. It was not fun at points.
You’ll still see that, to an extent, at present-day hardcore pits, where kids are just throwing punches and kicks to hurt each other.
And what’s the point? Dance hard and people get hurt, we all accept that. It comes with the territory.
But there’s a point where it just turns into a bar fight.
But don’t go in to literally traumatize folks. I mean come on, really?
So you heard it here first, 2015, Nazi Punks, still fuck off. Thanks so much, Barney.