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Fire in the Belly: Interview With Napalm Death's Mark "Barney" Greenway

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, February 7, 2003 @ 12:20 AM


Peter Atkinson Speaks With Voc

Itís midnight, Greenwich Mean Time, as Friday night becomes Saturday morning. But instead of being out enjoying the start of the weekend, Napalm Death frontman Mark ďBarneyĒ Greenway is hunkered down in his London apartment doing phone interviews. No rest for the weary on this night, Iím afraid.

Greenwayís been a very busy lad of late. Not only does he hold down a day job -- and handle press work when he gets home -- he helped write and record Napalmís latest album, Order Of The Leech, and to put together the bandís new DVD, Punishment In Capitals.

Itís this sort of dedication, however, that has allowed the pioneering English extremists to survive two decades of relative obscurity, lineup turmoil, label troubles, a tumultuous experimental phase and the constant struggle of life in the underground. Most bands would have given up years ago, weary of the steady stream of bullshit and relative lack of tangible payoff. But Napalm Death has soldiered on.

And after righting a sonic ship that strayed off-course in the mid-90s, alienating a good chunk of its audience, and some of the band, Greenway left briefly to join Extreme Noise Terror, then returned -- in the process, Napalm is as strong and savage as ever.

The 1999 EP of death metal and hardcore covers, Leaders Not Followers, brought back the raw, primal brutality of the Napalm of old. 2000ís Enemy Of The Music Business proved to be just that, a flame-throwing assault on mainstream conventionality. Order Of The Leech, issued late last fall, picks up where Enemy left off, offering no mercy and taking no prisoners.

It makes for a perfect studio companion to Punishment In Capitals, an unrelenting DVD featuring two hours of live Napalm -Ė along with a 45-minute, no-frills, backstage documentary. The DVDís centerpiece is a show recorded last spring at the University of London. The cozy quarters, small stage, in-your-face (and in the pit) camera work and the bandís incendiary performance (28 songs in 70 minutes) make for exhausting viewing.

At the moment, Napalm [rounded out by bassist Shane Embury, American guitarists Mitch Harris and Jesse Pintado and drummer Danny Herrara] is on tour in the U.S. as part of an imposing bill that includes Nile, Strapping Young Lad and Dark Tranquillity. And as the band prepares for its third decade of blast-beat powered, million-mile-an-hour metal insanity, it shows few signs of slowing down Ė- literally and figuratively. Hereís what Greenway had to say about the ďgrand old menĒ of grindcore.

KNAC.COM: Wouldnít you rather be doing something else on a Friday night?
GREENWAY: (Laughs) If I could I would do this during the day. But I just donít have the time. I work a regular job, and that comes first. Iím not one to hang about the pubs anymore, so itís not like Iíd rather be out drinking anyway. And Iím always happy to talk to people about our album and the band, whenever that is.

KNAC.COM: What kind of work do you do?
GREENWAY: I work for a video production and distribution company. Doing sales and such, itís all right. I need a job. As a band, we do OK, but when you split everything five ways, and a lot of what we make goes right back into the band, thereís not much left at the end of the day. Even though weíve been doing this for so long, I donít make enough from the band to just do the band. I have to do something else if I want to have a place to sleep.

KNAC.COM: So much for the glamorous rock star life?
GREENWAY: (Laughs) Thatís not really true, believe me. Weíve never been doing this for the money. Although weíve had some success weíve also had our share of struggle because of the music we play.
But Iíd rather do this the way we have and maintained our integrity and kept our music the way it is than have tried to appeal to a mainstream audience and compromised our music. At the end of the day, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. It would have been nice to have been awarded a bit more for our efforts, since we are known as a pioneering band, but the fact that we are still doing this and enjoying ourselves and making music that pushes the envelope is its own reward to a certain degree.

KNAC.COM: Youíve had plenty of band stuff to do lately, and now youíll be going on tour. How do you balance that with your day job?
GREENWAY: You donít get a lot of sleep (laughs). I was able to work out a schedule so that everything could get taken care of when we were doing the album and all that, but it wasnít easy. I will have to leave the job when we start touring, which is imminent, but I can come back, the people there are pretty cool about my situation.

KNAC.COM: Whatís on the agenda?
GREENWAY: Weíre flying out to Finland, then come back, then fly to Europe for like three weeks and then we do the American tour, which is short and sweet. I think weíre past the point of doing 7-8 week tours now because weíve done so much of it. Mentally, going out for 8 weeks is too much, physically too because our music is very demanding. I never like to gauge things on age, but because we put 110 percent into every show as much as you try and push yourself forward, keep going and keep going, eventually you burn out a little bit. I wouldnít want to do a show that I couldnít put everything I had into it.

KNAC.COM: What can you tell me about the DVD?
GREENWAY: Itís a good value, DVD. Itís basically got like two full gigs. Itís got the show we did especially for the DVD in London, a benefit gig for this animal rights organization. And then weíve got footage from shows we did a few years ago in Chile and Japan and thereís also a documentary that we did before the London show.
Itís basically us getting ready for the gig and the preparation all the way up to when we go onstage. You get a lot of history and insight into us as people. And itís not the usual crap, like people fucking chugging bottles of whiskey or lighting their farts and stuff like that. Itís literally a day in the life of us as people, and itís funny but itís very dry. Itís a good little documentary. And thereís some interviews with the fans that are pretty amusing. Thereís some real nutters.

KNAC.COM: Iíve seen this one referred to as the ďauthorizedĒ Napalm Death DVD. Whatís up with the other one you did with Earache?
GREENWAY: We had nothing whatsoever to do with the Earache DVD, itís just footage of a couple concerts from like 10 years ago. This DVD is sanctioned by the band, itís something we put together.
When the Earache one came out a year or so ago, I was fairly outraged. Iím not naÔve enough to understand that a label wonít exploit a band, but the point was Earache never did shit for us except make money off our backs while we were with them. And now theyíre still doing that after weíve left.
In the end, itís the fans that get hurt because theyíre buying some half-assed thing Earache slapped together. But since itís our name on it, weíre the ones theyíre gonna think are cheating them when they see what a piece of shit it is. We made sure the new DVD was done right and the people will get what they pay for.

KNAC.COM: Do you still make regular music videos?
GREENWAY: Nah. Weíve made videos, but not what youíd consider MTV-style videos. They were really grainy and raw, and weíve done some live videos. I donít think that kind of thing really suits Napalm because itís too glossy.
Napalmís strength is its music and the very strong lyrical angle. Some of these kind of fanciful video concepts just donít sit right with what Napalmís about. We did a couple of videos back in the day, this guy came up with these kind of screenplays. And after we did it, I looked at it and laughed. It was so stupid, so we donít really do MTV videos.

KNAC.COM: Are you talking about ďPlague Rages?Ē I still remember Beavis & Butt-head giving that one a hard time.
GREENWAY: (Laughs) Thatís the one I thought was bollocks. I wasnít a fan of that. The Beavis & Butt-head thing is actually quite funny. And basically everything they had to say was true. It was a load of crap.

KNAC.COM: Since most of the DVD was filmed at an animal rights benefit, is there a political angle to it?
GREENWAY: Nah. I think that comes through on the albums, definitely, because the lyric sheets are on there. And to be honest, I donít think with Napalm we need too much explaining these days because people know what weíre about and consequently people can get pretty irritated about what we stand for because some people take exception to what I or we say.
On the DVD there is some stuff about animal rights, that was the point of the gig itself, it was a benefit and it did give us a good chance to speak out about animal rights and animal testing and expand on that a little bit more. But thatís not the reason behind the DVD.
It was a good gig to film, it was a nice, small venue, the crowd was right in our faces and it was a one-off show where we could really let it all go. So it made for some real energy and raw intensity. And thatís what comes across most on the DVD.

KNAC.COM: Corruption and anti-fascism are big topics in Napalmís music, but what about animal rights?
GREENWAY: From a personal standpoint, Iíve been a vegetarian for 19 years, so Iíve got strong personal interests in the subject. But itís not something we dwell on too much. Thereís a couple songs, like ďFood ChainĒ from a couple years back, using the song to put a human in place of an animal in the slaughterhouse, getting a bolt shot through his head, which is supposed to be the ďhumaneĒ way of be prepared to be cut into pieces. Not everyone in the band is as staunch about it as I am, Iím the only vegetarian in the band, but I think to a point everyone agrees with the concept of animal rights. I donít think anyone in their right mind agrees with something like fox hunting, badger baiting or hare coursing where hares are basically chased by hounds and ripped apart.
Weíre all equal, thatís the way we do it in this band. And everyone has their opportunity to express themselves. Thereís none of that ďOh, Iím the main songwriter.Ē Weíre a team, a five-headed monster.

KNAC.COM: Especially now that youíve all been together so long.
GREENWAY: Yeah. The five of us have been together 11 years in this incarnation, and me, Shane, Jesse and Mitch have been together almost 14 years. And the band in itís entirety, youíre talking 21, even though the first few years it was a bit of a revolving door. We had our tough times, to be sure, itís never been what youíd call easy doing this, but weíve persevered and weíre still like one of the craziest bands on the scene.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, the new albumís absolutely ferocious.
GREENWAY: Thatís definitely the general idea (laughs). We did that on the last album as well, and the EP [Leaders Not Followers] before that. We went through a period of experimentation, like the mid-90s, that went down with some people and didnít go down with others and equally within the band structure it caused some tension because some of us were into it and some of us werenít.
But I have to say that period, even though some people didnít like it, no one was doing what we were doing at that time. I wouldnít go so far as to call it revolutionary, but it was quite unique. And a few bands seem to have been influenced by it.
But what we do best is manic, sort of balls out if you like, just total take it to the nth degree. And the nice contrast is youíve got the message of compassion. A lot of negative points are raised in the lyrics, but hopefully with an ultimate goal in terms of peace and compassion and understanding and tolerance and respect.

KNAC.COM: As balls out as you guys play, thereís still a musicality that keeps it from just being noise.
GREENWAY: We have the capacity to make noise if we want, complete fucking noise. Sometimes noise is good, I like it because of the irritation factor, which I get a perverse sense of enjoyment out of it.
The guys in the band like to write and make it as crazy as possible. But write the classic riff structure. You can be as manic and uncompromising as hell, but still have structure, be catchy if you like, even though youíre playing 3 million miles an hour. And the secret to doing that is to make it organic and not be too polished in the production. Because then it just sounds sterile.

KNAC.COM: Could you make polished record?
GREENWAY: If we did that then it would probably be the end. It would just take the impact out of it, the sense of the rush would be gone and it would bankrupt the whole essence of it. Once you get used to something and you believe that your band is doing something above and beyond even some of the bands who are thought of as the most extreme in terms of manic delivery, itís a real satisfying thing.

KNAC.COM: It seems Napalm has come full circle. You invented a genre of music and now youíre about the only ones left playing it?
GREENWAY: These days, thereís a lot of bands playing fast, but I think Napalm does sound quite unique. But what you have to remember was there were bands before us playing fast music, not to the nth degree like us, but there were a lot of bands that influenced us.
Iíll just reel off a few. Discharge, they were real heavy punk, not wishy-washy punk, real brutal. Thereís a real small band from Boston called Siege, they had a demo that lasted 11 minutes called Drop Dead that was a massive influence on us. There was a death metal band that was very fast, very organic, very messy from Michigan called Repulsion.
And weíre very influenced by punk and hardcore and weíve got that ethos, that political message. All that we took bits from Ė- we brought it forward, speeded it up a bit and you get what you get, continuing through to today. We wouldnít be where we are unless they were there in the first place.

KNAC.COM: You can still hear some of your influences poking through, like that Celtic Frost ďProcreation of the WickedĒ section on ďContinuing War on Stupidity.Ē
GREENWAY: I put that in there on purpose. When I was writing that song I was looking for a lyric to come straight in with, and that whole bit was so Celtic Frost to begin with. And I thought, ďYou know what, this fits perfect, with the subject matter of the song itís totally in context.Ē And since it comes straight in after a fast bit itís really clear as well.

KNAC.COM: Celticís making a new record now, are you excited about that?
GREENWAY: Itís been a while for them, but if they come up with another fucking To Mega Therion, Iím gonna be a very happy bunny (laughs).

KNAC.COM: How long do you see Napalm continuing?
GREENWAY: Weíve never set a limit on ourselves, but obviously thereís going to come a time when for whatever reason itís just not happening any more, so we just take it year by year and see what happens. You know what happens, personal circumstances come into it, one of us gets married or something like that, we just have to see.
I guess we do do it part time to a certain extent because we donít do as much as we used to, so I think weíll be around for a while. Weíve not lost the fire in the belly sort of thing.


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