Napalm Death's Mark "Barney" Greenway The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Published Feb 27, 2012For over two decades, Mark "Barney" Greenway has been the frontman of Napalm Death, one of the UK's most influential and revered grindcore bands. He has also defined the group's message over the years with thought-provoking lyrical content rooted in political and philosophical themes. Napalm Death's latest release, Utilitarian, is no exception. Their 14th studio album, the aptly-titled record is based on the ethical theory of utilitarianism. "The general idea of it is the achievement of total happiness; all good actions create good consequences. I'm bringing that parallel down and I'm saying that I did my best as a person, but within that there is self doubt," Greenway says. His humanitarian perspective is the foundation for his lyrics. "We have to rediscover our humanity and I think that requires coming back to understanding what we are and what we're capable of as human beings."
It's this inspiring subject matter, combined with the band's revolutionary blend of hardcore and death metal, that have made Napalm Death a prominent grindcore act for generations. "We persevered because we have drive, motivation and a spontaneity to us. You're just as good as your next album. If you start to believe in your own hype, you will fuck up pretty quickly."
What are you up to?
The Napalm album is right on the horizon now, it's finally ready for release. We've sort of been bouncing around Europe a little bit, we've been doing a couple little shows here and there. But mainly we've been at home because there's been a lot of preparation for the album, so we've been tearing our hair out getting everything done at the last minute. It's never "Oh, this needs to be done by next week," it's "Oh, this needs to be done by, like, yesterday."
What are your current fixations?
My fixations are getting away from my desk because I never seem to be able to, it's my Napalm desk [laughs]. When I do get away from my desk, independent cinema is the only thing I've been really doing of note at the moment. I really love independent cinema, especially films from Eastern Europe, Soviet Union movies, I think the general quality of those, in terms of film art, is exceptional.
Why do you live where you do?
Budget [laughs], that's definitely one of the reasons. But, my family has always been from the Birmingham area, it's not one of those families where they spread their wings too far beyond that, so that's one of the reasons why. I can't really think of any other reasons to be honest, I guess where I live in Birmingham has always been alright, it's cheap. Although it's the second largest city in England, its rent and other things and other bills are comparatively cheap for a second city.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art.
1984 by George Orwell. I think that gave a lot of different perspective on the powers people were capable of. I think when that book came out, a lot of people would never criticize, some would criticize the system, but they never truly appreciated the extent of which they could be manipulated. So George Orwell was a real game-changer as far as that book goes.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
Playing the Soviet Union. We were the first band to independently play Moscow in the Soviet Union, when it was still the Soviet Union. At that time with bands playing there, it was very much an organized thing with the government, and at the time we were working completely independently, which you can imagine, during the Soviet point, was not an easy thing to do. And we played at an ice hockey stadium, which is really not the kind of venue that Napalm would usually play by any stretch of the imagination. But it was historic. I can't really tell you too much about the gig, the little details almost pile into the background when you consider what we were doing, it was unbelievable really.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Highs, well that goes back to the previous thing I was talking about. Playing that and playing South Africa, we were the first band to go down there after apartheid. Obviously not wanting to be associated with the apartheid regime or the hangover from it, going down there under the advice of the ANC and by the promoter, that was pretty special. So yeah, those kinds of very unique, trailblazing gig experiences, those are definitely highs. The lows? I think the lessons that we've leaned that taught us not to do something again. The main one was being on a major label, or being sold to a major label, I should say. Although there were some very nice people, some good people with good intentions at the label, I think the overall experience was completely not what was appropriate or necessary for Napalm. So yeah, that would be a low, wouldn't it?
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
We had a lot of problems in the early '90s and the States was the worst for it. We had these white supremacist sympathisers coming to gigs and trying to mess up our gigs, people would shout things like "Nigger lovers" and things, which was pretty offensive. We've always been a very humanitarian band and anti-fascist, so that was really not the kind of stuff you wanted to hear. But I didn't ever let it destroy me to the point of storming out of a gig because I try to basically be positive and try to demonstrate how things like that are pointless and that's how you do it. And by blowing kisses at people because that always gets 'em going [laughs].
What should everyone shut up about?
The Republican nomination for the Presidency, it's utterly ludicrous in my books. And religion. If you want to believe in stuff, that's fine, I don't have a problem with that, but keep it to yourself.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I don't like the fact that sometimes I'm anal to the point of a computer's gauge of error, I'm anal almost to that point. And that's a contradiction in me because I'm a very free-thinking person, but generally I'm absolutely anal and I drive everyone crazy. That's something I dislike, I can't get over that anal nature sometimes. What do I most like about myself? I'm a humane person. I'm generally a humanitarian, humane and human. I really like people, I always give people the benefit of the doubt, if somebody says some bad stuff about somebody else, I'll always just judge for myself. I don't generally look at people negatively.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
A perfect Sunday is having time to myself, I have so much stuff to do generally that I like to take time to myself. I think it's probably something like reading a newspaper, and I like to sit in a park for a while and I like to run sometimes. So it's very simple, I have very simple pleasures.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I don't know to be honest.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Kicking someone out of the band, I don't have that power in Napalm Death, we're pretty democratic, it would be a democratic decision really. But what would I do it for? If somebody fucked another band member over. That could be many ways, but I would want to see him out and I'd expect the same treatment. Me personally, I have a general thing with life and that's you don't fuck people over. I'm not a moral person, and that's because I think morality is a sham in itself, but I don't believe in fucking people over. What would make me kick someone out of the bed? Stealing the covers, surely.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think it's a curious situation that you've got that split in the country with French and English speaking territories. Maybe my impression is wrong, but there seems to be a certain divide and I don't think that's always entirely healthy. I think you should be able to speak whatever language you want and none should take precedence over another, but I don't think you should divide people. It seems there's a superiority complex in some quarters and I don't think that's healthy for people. Forget society, because society is nonsense anyway, but for people in general, I don't think that's a good situation. So that language barrier divide is one thing. But on the other side of things, I think it's a beautiful country, I bet everyone says that, it's a bit of a cliché sometimes. But, British Columbia and other areas are really beautiful. And I like the fact that, unlike other countries in the region, not everywhere in Canada has been bulldozed for the sake of progress, I think that's definitely a plus.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
I think it was probably Motörhead by Motörhead. They have always been my number one band, especially in my formative years, when they were a three-piece. That was my very first record actually, I cherished it and I cherish it to this day, I still have it in exactly the same condition.
What was your most memorable day job?
Well I've been in this band pretty much since I was 19, so there isn't much to talk about there really. But I will tell you the worst one, and memorable for that reason. I needed some money after I left school, I just didn't have anything when I left school, I did eventually fall into an engineering job, but for a while I was looking for money and I actually went on the streets to sell a carpet cleaning service. And it was so manipulative because the owner was a scumbag. He was this rich guy, didn't have no qualms about going to vulnerable people's homes and trying to sell them this piece of crap service, this carpet cleaning service, which by the looks of things just ruined people's carpets. And I got so pissed off at having to go to people's doors, who clearly have no need for this service, and he used to encourage us to try to bully them into taking the service. I was like, "Fuck this guy." So I wasn't selling any services at all, and he came along and started giving me shit and I just threw the equipment near his head, flipped him the bird and left, and that was the end of that.
How do you spoil yourself?
Well I don't really indulge very often, so it's really special for me when I do. I really like beer from independent breweries. The stuff that's mass-produced generally taste like piss to me, you know chemical-infused, no redeeming features, I really can't begin to describe it. If you get a good, independent beer, it can be a fantastic experience. And because I don't drink that often anymore, it's more special to me when I do.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
I would be a number of things. I would be working for a union, because that's what I do on a voluntary basis, I work for a label union, it's a musician's union. I would be doing that full-time possibly. I would maybe also be working in human rights on a wider scale, maybe on a world-wide level, because to me that's the essence of life itself. So working for some kind of group in that way. Or I would be a biologist because I'm a bit of an amateur biologist and I love it, I love that whole Darwinist thing, looking at the whole process, I'm just fascinated by it, so something like that.
What do you fear most?
Heights probably. I hate heights, it's the worst. I can do certain things, as long as I'm inside then I'm fine, but I could not go on things in open space and like, look over the edge. I would just have a heart attack. I'm really, really scared of heights.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Happiness, that actually gives me the urge. I think general happiness when you're with someone that is a partner or whatever, if it's just a casual thing. Communal happiness gives me the urge, and that might sound really strange, but I think happiness is really important and it should begin for the most simplistic reason. Happy equals horny to me, it's very simple.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Years and years ago ― I mentioned the major label thing ― it was one of the few ludicrously enjoyable things about that whole process of being on Columbia for a while, and again it wasn't our choice. But, I enjoy Journey and classic rock. There were some great bands, great songwriters, completely different to what I do, but I appreciate the use of melody and songwriting and whatever else. Anyway, it was my birthday and Columbia actually made a secret rendezvous between me and Steve Perry and I couldn't believe it, I couldn't believe what was happening. Rolling Stone actually took some pictures of it, and you look at my face and I look like a deer in headlights kind of. And it was really nuts, he wasn't with Journey at the time, he was with a band for a solo tour, and I just sat on a couch and he was singing like right in front of me, like two or three feet away. I was just like, "What is going on right now?" That was definitely bizarre, that was something that would not happen ordinarily, it was just part of my birthday thing I suppose, and a ridiculous birthday it was.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
My ideal dinner guest would be Charles Darwin. I would go through The Origin of Species with him. There are many things written about it and obviously books say one thing, but it would be nice to know a little bit more about how that corresponded with his character because again, there are many things said about him and I don't think all of them are necessarily accurate observations. I'd also like Adolf Hitler around the table because, of course he's someone I wholeheartedly oppose, but I would like to know more about him as a person and what makes him tick. I love that, I'm a real psychology animal, I can't pretend to be any sort of psychologist, but I love that whole process of psychology. And I'd also have Chairman Mao around, and also various people from throughout history, perhaps Marquis de Sade.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
My parents are very supportive, very open people and they always want me to be happy. You know, yes of course I could come up with something off the cuff, but I think my parents genuinely don't care about what I do, as long as it brings me happiness.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
"Dead Men Tell No Tales" by Motörhead, and there's a reason for that, because being somebody that believes, as a naturalist, that when you die you go to the earth and there is no afterlife, people don't speak, there's no apparitions, no spiritual re-appearings. When you go, you go. It's part of the cycle of life, you go back to the earth.