When the Decibel Magazine Tour recently came through Calgary, Scene Point Blank was awarded the pleasure of an interview with the legendary Napalm Death. As the bands set up, SPB chatted with Barney Greenway about the evils of trusting what is presented to you and how to find vegan and vegetarian cuisine in western Canada. Barney was a gregarious and intelligent interview subject who answered our questions and then some before going out to destroy the audience for the better part of an hour with a setlist that contained a little bit of everything from the band's 20+ year history.
Scene Point Blank: How did you get the opportunity to be on this tour?
Barney Greenway: We literally just got asked to do it. Albert (Decibel Magazine EIC) was kind of an old friend of ours and I think he’s been wanting to do something with us for awhile. And he just asked us, at first we weren’t sure because we had just done a tour in North America and were asking, “Do people really want see us again?” because, traditionally for us, the states have been difficult to gain momentum. Even if you haven’t been there for 3 years, you go back and you get the feeling that people have already seen you. Like you play again, they’ve seen you, they don’t want to see you again for at least another year-and-a-half. We had talked to Albert and said, “Do you think it’ll be ok? We just did the Municipal Waste tour” and he said, “Yeah, it’ll be okay.” Then it just came down to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
Scene Point Blank: How do you guys retain your energy after all of these years?
Barney Greenway: It is almost getting to feel like Napalm is as old as time itself sometimes. [Laughs.] Actually the question should be: “Do you still feel that way to begin with anyway?” Because if I didn’t (feel that way) I wouldn’t be doing this. I just am, I suppose is the simple answer. I just am, I always do. I feel fairly confident saying that would be the same for any member of the band. We’ve all seen bands that are just out there going through the motions; people can tell. I still find it exciting playing gigs. Hopefully our albums are still pretty vibrant. If that’s still the case then we’ll carry on. If it starts to feel like we’re running out of ideas or being on the road is too much of a struggle then I’ll just stay home. I wouldn’t want to inflict something that is half of what it should be upon someone. I think would just be cheating, not just cheating people but cheating ourselves.
Scene Point Blank: More specifically, How do you remain inspired to continue with the band and doing it at this level?
Barney Greenway: I’ve been alive. That’s essentially it. There is certain literature I like, certain people in the industry that have been free thinkers and such. The whole idea of free thought is to think for yourself. I mean, I could just turn around and say Crass’ whatever album is huge, like Jesus Christ: The Album or whatever was big for me. But then I also have my own thoughts and through my own eyes can decide not what is right or wrong but more so what is equal and un-equal, fair or unfair. So it’s mainly myself just trying to write creatively. There are a million admittedly great bands out there who may write songs about war and violence, for example, but they end up doing it in a very singular way. That is the challenge to writing creatively. One of the best examples of that, and it may seem kind of obvious, is the Dead Kennedys. Jello [Biafra] as a lyricist is unmatched, he is second to none. I have other bands that I like more than The Dead Kennedys musically for sure but, in terms of lyrics they are pretty unbeatable.
Scene Point Blank: With many of your songs being politically motivated, have you ever been frustrated or felt as though you have hit a wall lyrically?
Barney Greenway: It comes down to trying to look through other people’s eyes. Because politics as an everyday thing, as a mainstream definition of it you could say, is fucking nonsense. Very often it’s self-serving, it’s tokenism and that is surely not what we want. We want a world that is more equal, fair, tolerant, and all of that stuff and you don’t necessarily achieve that through politics as we’ve seen. So it almost becomes apolitical in a sense. Really what it is beyond that is humanitarianism in its truest form. This, again, is not the governmental definition of humanitarianism, which is very different. If you manage to get that while writing lyrics, then you are kind of seeing through other people’s eyes. Let’s be honest, if you ask most people about the mechanics of politics they either don’t understand it or they don’t give a shit. So you have to come in from a slightly different angle. That is coming from somebody who well, my family history is on the left. My family were all on the left. We were all trade union members or reps, and I still believe in that stuff and that does come up in a way.
Scene Point Blank: How would you describe your most recent record, Utilitarian, both musically and conceptually, and how do you feel it fits in within terms of your recorded works?
Barney Greenway: Musically it’s really just a step forward, it seems really obvious to say but, that is all it is. It’s taking all of the traditional stuff that is fast, furious, and chaotic and the fringe influences like Swans, Joy Division, The Birthday Party, I could go on. The difference I would say is that this time I worked out that fringe stuff and managed to work it into the faster side of the band whereas, in the past, I might have made a distinct differentiation between a melancholy Swans-type part and “this is the fast part” and, even though they may be in the same song, they would be very separate parts. Now I’ve applied the Swans-style vocals and what the other guys do with their guitar work, I’ve let that go together and so it sounds a bit different. I was afraid to do that before because I thought it might sound a bit, just not right, but now we’re kind of doing it. So that’s it. The album is really just a step in the same direction. I have read that people say that no two Napalm Death records sound the same and I feel like that is sort of a personal achievement.
Scene Point Blank: In regards to utilitarian, you managed to get a guest spot from John Zorn. How did this come about and are there any intentions to bring more guest musicians in on future recordings?
Barney Greenway: The big thing is we don’t set limitations on ourselves. For that reason we don’t really see Napalm as strictly a metal band, we obviously have metal influences without question. Aside from that there’s punk, hardcore and the no-wave stuff we’ve talked about. We don’t set limitations on ourselves as many metal bands do. That is where we seem to get a slightly different feel. And I’m quite happy for us to not be known as (strictly) a metal band. Yeah, of course we have tons of metal fans and I don’t want to isolate them or make them feel as though I’m looking down on them because that’s not the case at all. I think stylistically and creatively we do a lot more than to be labeled as just a metal band.
Scene Point Blank: In regards to this, you guys had John Zorn on this last record. On the record prior to that you had a few guest vocalists. Is there anyone that has stuck out to you as someone you would like to get on a record but hasn’t worked out for some reason or another?
Barney Greenway: No, I don’t think so. Unlike some bands that say, “We must get guests on our record just to boost our profile,” we don’t do things that way. We tend to look at what the part may require and then go, “It would be nice to get someone else on here, but who can we get who suits that part?” We don’t just get a vocalist and go, “Oh we have got this track and we want you to sing on it, just to have your voice on it.” With “Everyday Pox”( the song with John Zorn), Shane [Embry] said “I’m hearing John Zorn sax on this” and I said, “Yeah, you may be right.”
So none of us were like, “Let’s call John Zorn and just have him throw some sax on the album.” That wasn’t it. The thing we didn’t dictate is to tell John what to do. You really don’t need to tell John Zorn what to do. Much like when Jello recorded with us, I didn’t tell Jello what to do, I just gave him the lines and roughly how they went and he just fucking went off. He did like 300 takes, I’m not kidding, it blew my mind. Really, how the fuck am I going to direct someone like that?
Scene Point Blank: Having made so many records, are there any of them that stick out as particularly significant? If so what are they and why?
Barney Greenway: I think Enemy Of The Music Business because, well, there was nothing in the recording process that was particularly out of the ordinary but it was just pivotal time for us. In the ‘90s we had done quite a few experimental albums some of which, at the time, I had a problem with. I didn’t have a problem with the experimentation. I thought that if we needed to retain anything it was the fast and furious edge and I think we had lost it. I never kept that a secret and that is my problem sometimes but, when I look back at that period now I have changed some of my opinions. Some of I think is really good, some of it still isn’t quite what it could be. I have a much greater appreciation for it than what I did at the time. Enemy, coming straight after that period, was almost like revving up the fucking beast you know? Like revving up the motor and just taking off like a dragster at 300 miles an hour. I remember I had this conversation with Shane on the phone before we did that album. I said, “Shane, you know what my opinions are on some of the stuff we’ve done recently. Honestly I just want to make an album that just comes out of the gates and doesn’t stop.” And luckily he said “Yeah, you might be right.”
We found our feet, we found that mix between experimentation and then we still had that really chaotic edge. So that’s when we had found our chemistry in terms of that. From then on we’ve been pretty consistent.
Scene Point Blank: How did the split with Converge come about and how do you feel about it in retrospect?
Barney Greenway: During the album session I was struggling a little bit. During the last album I had felt a bit spent creatively. Afterwards I was like I need to not be writing anything for a little while and let myself refresh. The Converge thing, of course, was a good idea. It just came down to coming up with something for that. I managed to in the end; it just took me a little bit longer than I might’ve liked it to. Shane really drove it and it all came together in the end. It was just a matter of us doing tracks and then them doing their tracks. Of course you’ve got Jacob [Bannon] who is very prolific artistically doing the artwork and away we went.
Scene Point Blank: Are there any plans in regards to a new record and, if so, what can we as listeners expect from it?
Barney Greenway: Not in the near future. I can tell you now that it won’t be until next year, middle-to-late next year. Having said that, we are actually doing some prep work very soon because, instead of doing it all in one month, we’re going to stagger the sessions over a year and a half or something like that. We’re just trying to do it differently. I’d like to—and I don’t know what’s going to happen, and we did this a bit on Smear Campaign—I would like the album to have different production in different parts, rather than a lot of bands that just come in, hit the button and play around. I want to bring a bit of creativity into the production side of things. It’s always going to be harsh and abrasive but there are many different ways to be harsh and abrasive. I’d also like to do more ambient recording. I’m a big fan of analog and just room mics and things like that. But that’s always a bit of a struggle you always fight with your other band members.
Scene Point Blank: Does it become frustrating having not broken through into a more public consciousness after all of these years?
Barney Greenway: Really, I don’t care. Ok, the band has gotten bigger over the last few albums, noticeably. It really happens on our own terms. One of the lessons I’ve learned in life is, if you try to be something you’re really not or, this is better, if you try to be something that doesn’t come from your creativity your independent creative side then you’re going to take a big fucking fall. I don’t want to do that, I’ve spent too long on this band. The other side to it, as well, is I wouldn’t sell the band down the river to get a bigger audience. I had never started the band that way I’ve never felt that way throughout the tenure of the band. If that were the case, if anybody did have those expectations, I would just say I’ve done what I needed to do and if someone else wanted to carry the band in that direction that would be up to them.
Scene Point Blank: You guys had recently had a show scheduled at the V&A Museum as part of an art piece. Were you upset that it was cancelled and are there any plans to attempt such a thing again in the future?
Barney Greenway: I don’t think the museum thought it through properly. They never anticipated the potential damage. Just millions of [British] pounds worth of really quite antiquated pieces. I laughed, actually, when it got cancelled. I was disappointed but I laughed. I’m picturing this whole museum staff standing around terrified, that all these priceless Ming vases are going to fall to the floor, and all the kids getting damaged by falling artifacts and such. It all just sounds so bizarre like some Indiana Jones type of thing. We’re going to do it again. Me and Shane were just talking upstairs there have been a couple of other dates come up so were going to do it. If we do it at the V&A again cool, they’ve just got to fucking plan it better.
Scene Point Blank: Having come up in a time when the physical medium of music was the end-all be-all in regards to music, how do you feel about the internet as means of finding out about music distributing music?
Barney Greenway: It is really just one more thing. I don’t really place any significance on it other than as another thing. I don’t really have feelings either way. It is what it is. Sure I love vinyl and all the rest, but I’m not the kind of person that goes, “Well, fuck it.” I’m not a purist in that sense. I understand that everything has its place so it isn’t a problem for me. I don’t do a lot of social media because Napalm is very self-contained and one or two of the members are very active. One of us does the social media stuff, which is Shane. I do other stuff behind the scenes which is more like the logistics of the band. So we each have our very definite roles. So he knows that stuff pretty well. I’ve got a Twitter account which I very rarely update, and somewhere in the ether I have a Facebook account—once again, I don’t really use it at all. There are all of those false sites that I don’t bother with. It just makes me laugh, really.
Scene Point Blank: Are there any bands that stick out to you that inspire you?
Barney Greenway: Nails, I really think they’re a really good band. Retox and Converge are really one step ahead right now. And then you’ve got things like Trap Them and then you’ve got more obscure things like that Norwegian one-man band Parlamentarisk Sodomi. Then it really goes back to the old days like Heresy, Siege, the whole Scandinavian scene like Mob 47 and antic cimex, the Japanese scene like S.O.B. and Lip Cream. Then there’s Minor Threat, The Necros, and death metal like Death, Celtic Frost, Massacre, Insanity, Repulsion, Swans, Joy Division, Psychic TV—anything and everything.