Fire in the Belly: Interview With Napalm Death's Mark "Barney" Greenway
By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, February 7, 2003 @ 12:20 AM
It’s 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 “Barney” Greenway is hunkered down in his London apartment doing phone interviews. No rest for the weary on this night, I’m afraid.Greenway’s 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 Napalm’s latest album, Order Of The Leech, and to put together the band’s new DVD, Punishment In Capitals. It’s 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. 2000’s 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 -– along with a 45-minute, no-frills, backstage documentary. The DVD’s 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 band’s 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 –- literally and figuratively. Here’s what Greenway had to say about the “grand old men” of grindcore. KNAC.COM: Wouldn’t 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 don’t have the time. I work a regular job, and that comes first. I’m not one to hang about the pubs anymore, so it’s not like I’d rather be out drinking anyway. And I’m 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, it’s 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, there’s not much left at the end of the day. Even though we’ve been doing this for so long, I don’t 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) That’s not really true, believe me. We’ve never been doing this for the money. Although we’ve had some success we’ve also had our share of struggle because of the music we play.
But I’d 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: You’ve had plenty of band stuff to do lately, and now you’ll be going on tour. How do you balance that with your day job?
GREENWAY: You don’t 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 wasn’t 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: What’s on the agenda?
GREENWAY: We’re 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 we’re past the point of doing 7-8 week tours now because we’ve 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 wouldn’t want to do a show that I couldn’t put everything I had into it. KNAC.COM: What can you tell me about the DVD?
GREENWAY: It’s a good value, DVD. It’s basically got like two full gigs. It’s got the show we did especially for the DVD in London, a benefit gig for this animal rights organization. And then we’ve got footage from shows we did a few years ago in Chile and Japan and there’s also a documentary that we did before the London show.
It’s 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 it’s not the usual crap, like people fucking chugging bottles of whiskey or lighting their farts and stuff like that. It’s literally a day in the life of us as people, and it’s funny but it’s very dry. It’s a good little documentary. And there’s some interviews with the fans that are pretty amusing. There’s some real nutters. KNAC.COM: I’ve seen this one referred to as the “authorized” Napalm Death DVD. What’s up with the other one you did with Earache?
GREENWAY: We had nothing whatsoever to do with the Earache DVD, it’s just footage of a couple concerts from like 10 years ago. This DVD is sanctioned by the band, it’s something we put together.
When the Earache one came out a year or so ago, I was fairly outraged. I’m not naďve enough to understand that a label won’t 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 they’re still doing that after we’ve left.
In the end, it’s the fans that get hurt because they’re buying some half-assed thing Earache slapped together. But since it’s our name on it, we’re the ones they’re 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. We’ve made videos, but not what you’d consider MTV-style videos. They were really grainy and raw, and we’ve done some live videos. I don’t think that kind of thing really suits Napalm because it’s too glossy.
Napalm’s strength is its music and the very strong lyrical angle. Some of these kind of fanciful video concepts just don’t sit right with what Napalm’s 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 don’t really do MTV videos. KNAC.COM: Are you talking about “Plague Rages?” I still remember Beavis & Butt-head giving that one a hard time.
GREENWAY: (Laughs) That’s the one I thought was bollocks. I wasn’t 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 don’t think with Napalm we need too much explaining these days because people know what we’re 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 that’s 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 that’s what comes across most on the DVD. KNAC.COM: Corruption and anti-fascism are big topics in Napalm’s music, but what about animal rights?
GREENWAY: From a personal standpoint, I’ve been a vegetarian for 19 years, so I’ve got strong personal interests in the subject. But it’s not something we dwell on too much. There’s a couple songs, like “Food Chain” 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 “humane” way of be prepared to be cut into pieces. Not everyone in the band is as staunch about it as I am, I’m the only vegetarian in the band, but I think to a point everyone agrees with the concept of animal rights. I don’t 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.
We’re all equal, that’s the way we do it in this band. And everyone has their opportunity to express themselves. There’s none of that “Oh, I’m the main songwriter.” We’re a team, a five-headed monster. KNAC.COM: Especially now that you’ve 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 it’s entirety, you’re talking 21, even though the first few years it was a bit of a revolving door. We had our tough times, to be sure, it’s never been what you’d call easy doing this, but we’ve persevered and we’re still like one of the craziest bands on the scene. KNAC.COM: Yeah, the new album’s absolutely ferocious.
GREENWAY: That’s 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 didn’t 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 weren’t.
But I have to say that period, even though some people didn’t like it, no one was doing what we were doing at that time. I wouldn’t 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 you’ve 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, there’s 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 you’re 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, it’s a real satisfying thing. KNAC.COM: It seems Napalm has come full circle. You invented a genre of music and now you’re about the only ones left playing it?
GREENWAY: These days, there’s 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.
I’ll just reel off a few. Discharge, they were real heavy punk, not wishy-washy punk, real brutal. There’s 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 we’re very influenced by punk and hardcore and we’ve got that ethos, that political message. All that we took bits from –- we brought it forward, speeded it up a bit and you get what you get, continuing through to today. We wouldn’t 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 “Procreation of the Wicked” section on “Continuing War on Stupidity.”
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, “You know what, this fits perfect, with the subject matter of the song it’s totally in context.” And since it comes straight in after a fast bit it’s really clear as well. KNAC.COM: Celtic’s making a new record now, are you excited about that?
GREENWAY: It’s been a while for them, but if they come up with another fucking To Mega Therion, I’m gonna be a very happy bunny (laughs). KNAC.COM: How long do you see Napalm continuing?
GREENWAY: We’ve never set a limit on ourselves, but obviously there’s going to come a time when for whatever reason it’s 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 don’t do as much as we used to, so I think we’ll be around for a while. We’ve not lost the fire in the belly sort of thing.
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