Napalm Death's Mark "Barney" Greenway
Published Feb 27, 2009After almost 30 years and 14 albums, most bands lose their musical steam and have little new to say.
As luck would have it though, like their confrontational music rich in quick tempos and societal observations, grindcore stalwarts Napalm Death are far from either slowing down or running low on opinions.
Their latest effort Time Waits For No Slave (Century Media) continues in the dominant, progressive and vicious path as set out by precursors The Code Is Red...Long Live The Code (2005) and Smear Campaign (2006). In fact, it surpasses even those high watermarks, finding the British quintet of vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway, bassist Shane Embury, guitarist Mitch Harris and drummer Danny Herrera invigorated; outshining all previous accomplishments by expanding on the already avant-garde metal sub-genre they helped to create and define. Never ceasing to toil away at their craft, Greenway enlightens as to what finds these guttural gurus releasing what both critics and fans are calling their best albums to date.
Napalm Death have been on a sort of creative renaissance lately. What inspired that?
I have been asked this question quite a lot over the space of the last few albums but there's nothing I could really put my finger on; no grand revelation or light bulb going on in our collective heads or anything. As we were getting Enemy of The Music Business together - it probably goes back that far, if anything - I just remember having a telephone conversation with Shane where I mentioned to him that I wanted to make an album that would absolutely tear peoples' faces off again. It seems we did, if you ask followers of the band. That perhaps just gave us a platform to be able to continue experimenting but with the fast and furious elements of the band brought back to the fore. Everything just seems to come together without too much calculated churning out of music, which is ideal.
How are you keeping it flowing so well, as Time Waits... is yet another impressive affair?
Spontaneity always helps and, perversely, putting ourselves against the clock and really under pressure to finalize album songs in a relatively short space of time. The combination of those two things seem to make the music sound more urgent which is entirely what Napalm Death needs. From a personal taste perspective, I couldn't think of anything much more unfulfilling than making a really polished or metronomic-sounding album. Especially with the last two or three albums, the songs that we've taken into the studio have come out the other end taking on a life of their own in a good way. Going on instinct and attacking your studio stuff with the same ferocity as you would live gets great results. I don't think the majority of bands take that on board which is a bit of a shame, really.
How much of a hand does producer Russ Russell have in this, since you've worked with him a number of times now?
It's going to sound like a massive cliche but Russ is almost the fifth member of the band at this point. He has such an understanding and great interpretation of the band that it takes a lot of pressure off us having to think about getting the sound right on album. Forget about studio etiquette and all that shit. Russ just goes with whatever will make the band sound like a bulldozer coming through your apartment. But still also being forward-thinking by producing some tracks differently to others to give subtle differences without losing the nutty edge. For one, Russ is all about the distortion - essential! And for two, he lets me use a handheld microphone (rather than one of those spaceship-looking, expensive ones on a stand), walkman headphones to monitor through and gives me carte blanche to run around the studio control room barking like a fucking bear!
What do you feel you've had to do in order to keep grindcore progressing as a genre?
We haven't had to do anything and don't feel that it's our place to carry the torch for everyone anyway. What we're concerned with is Napalm Death not stagnating and if people pick up on that, then all well and good. The scene is so well-populated now compared to even five years ago, so there are plenty of bands there to play their own part. I'm kind of loathe in a way to act as any kind of scene overseer because that's when things start to get a little elitist, which is something I really can't abide. Like anything else, there are some bands "attached" to the scene that really float my boat and others that don't so much. Just like everything else in life, I suppose.
Do you feel you're at a point where anything goes within Napalm Death or are there still taboos?
If you're referring to lyrics, I don't possess a moral compass - the ultimate superiority complex, rooted in religious dogma - so anything that I write about that might be considered taboo will only be so in the eyes/ears of an outside observer. The thing that really cracks me up is when people sometimes arrive at such a conclusion when all my stuff is generally about humanity, free thought, tolerance, equality and peace. Yeah, all really unsavory stuff, you fools.
Did you ever have the feeling that things were stagnating like many critics seem to point out about a decade ago?
I would not say stagnating, as actually some of those Napalm Death albums from the mid-to-late '90s were perceived to be quite influential on things such as the technical math-metal - for wont of a better reference - scene. I mean, they're not necessarily my personal favorites but there are still quite a few songs from that period that really deliver a kick to the rear end and are sometimes really quite unique in their riffing style etc. To totally dismiss them is to do a lot of good songs quite a disservice. You also have to remember that the extreme music scene in general was close to going into death throes at the time. The interest was waning rapidly outside the band and other bands themselves were jumping ship at an alarming rate. Actually, if you think about it, we were actually one of the few bands still rampaging onwards through all the testing times. Maybe there was something to be said for that, maybe not.
How did you pull out of that, 'cause it seems as if around the time of Leaders Not Followers, things kind of revived. And then it was a wallop with the past few albums: a refined attack and sonic style per se. Is that true or am I nuts?
As I kind of mentioned earlier, we just refocused and got on with tearing people's faces off again. Leaders Not Followers was maybe the catalyst for that because we had to dig through our dusty metal, hardcore/punk tapes and vinyl and re-discover what a rush all that stuff really gave us. There were some absolutely spectacular bands that really never got so much as a couple of lines in any kind of magazine and we thought they deserved to be acknowledged at least by us. This then sort of rubbed off on us when we took back that spontaneous feeling that a lot of those bands seemed to have. It's just the way things have naturally panned out, which makes you definitely not nuts, my friend!
What were some of the prime motivating factors for your lyrics this time around?
I wanted to illustrate that the freeing up and expansion of your mind is a wonderful thing. We are so driven and conditioned to work ourselves into the ground for a variety of motives. We lose sight of the simple things in life and comprehension of processes like the day-to-day ever-evolving mechanics of the natural world around us. In essence, that is all about taking time for yourself and making yourself happy as opposed to spending the finite time we have on this earth working toward... what exactly? Elsewhere on the album, I wanted to challenge conventions such as the moral stranglehold on the act of marriage and perception of women in this so-called era of equality.
Is there a balance you try to strike in your lyrics between what people feel are political issues and other points that interest you?
"Political" is perhaps somehow a redundant term in some ways because a lot of people's take on politics is that it's largely about posturing, gestures and tokenism. Which are things I am absolutely as fed up with as anyone else. I'm basically about all those thing I mentioned earlier: humanity, free thought, tolerance, equality and peace. You can put politics out with the garbage if you so wish.
Seeing as you're quite socially aware, how does Napalm Death utilize your status as public figures to inform the masses, especially outside the confines of your fan base? Is it even possible or is it a pointless uphill battle?
I don't know. The way that sounds is very stiff, formulaic and kind of puts me or us up on a great big pedestal. That is not my intention. Of course it is a great opportunity to put the freedom of mind and speech into something that a considerable amount of people will listen to, absorb and give an opinion to, but, really, this is me and a big part of who I am. I would be this way anyway, band or not. My lyrics, incidentally, are intended for everyone. To just try and preach purely to the converted, as the old saying goes, is entirely insular and in some ways a little pointless when you desire a world of balance and equality. Anything is possible just by persisting and having an open mind and a long view.
Understanding that you've not all been in the band since day one, how does it feel from the inside, being genre stalwarts and quickly approaching 30 years? That's... amazing.
Ah, I talk about it onstage for fun from time to time but it's not the biggest deal in the world to me. In reality, you are probably only as effective as your next album or next gig, creatively speaking. When you start to believe the hype - just because you've been around and seen bands/scenes/trends come and go - and think that you have some kind of divine Midas touch when it comes to making music, then you become delusional and start to churn out crap. I'd hopefully like to avoid that, thanks very much.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I think you've pinned me down in all areas. Thanks to everybody for their continuing support. It is never taken for granted. Peace to you all.