Silence the Tyrants
CoC chats with Barney Greenway of Napalm Death
by: Jackie Smit
"I lived through Thatcher's Britain. I come from about as working class a family as you can get, and I lived through Thatcher's Britain and I can tell you right now that I never want to go through that again."

Barney Greenway is in a reflective mood. He fronts perhaps one of the most influential bands to grace the extreme music spectrum and has never been shy in expressing his opinion. But these are especially trying times. The world is in global economic meltdown. Poverty and crime levels are out of control -- and in the midst of it all are politicians who don't seem to have the first clue about how to dig their countries out of the mess they had a dab hand in creating. It's surprising therefore that Napalm Death's fourteenth full-length would focus its considerable frustration on modern man's inability to appreciate the seemingly insignificant things in life, rather than rail against the powers-that-be who have for such a long time been caught in the cross-hairs of their ire. Still, make no mistake: _Time Waits for No Slave_ is one of the most vicious and punishing efforts you will hear all year, and while it may be a slight departure conceptually, I soon discovered during my discussion with Barney that time has not mellowed the Birmingham quartet one iota.

CoC: With _Time Waits for No Slave_, it seems like you took a fairly similar approach, on paper at least, in how you went about recording the album. Can you talk me through how you put this record together?

Barney Greenway: Well, with a band like us, who play the way we do and who uses such a high level of distortion on our guitars and whatnot, it can be difficult to achieve the balance of live sound and actually getting the riffs to come through. But once we started going to Foel studio we all just felt that it suited us to a tee, you know. We found our place. So I think that and the combination of feeling very comfortable with the surroundings -- which are very, very basic...

CoC: You're right outside of Wales, aren't you?

BG: Yeah, and it's really quiet. I mean you don't even get phone signal up there. So yeah, we've kept going there because we know what to expect. Also, I mean, the only thing that we really ask of ourselves when we've done an album is whether it's live sounding, if it sounds spontaneous and if it has the Napalm Death spirit. There's no sitting around a table and planning anything beforehand. There's nothing of that. We take the best songs that we could possibly come up with at the time and we go into the studio and we fucking bash them out.

CoC: Listening to _Time Waits for No Slave_, it feels to me like the band has become a little braver again, in the sense that you've brought back some of the experimental elements from the mid-Nineties albums that for a while it seemed you'd removed from your sound permanently.

BG: I think it's probably best to explain it this way: if you make a comparison with this new album and _Diatribes_, the difference is that while _Diatribes_ has undeniably got some good stuff on and even I acknowledge that, being the person that had mixed feelings about that album. But I think that _Time Waits for No Slave_ works better because it has that experimental edge without losing the elements of traditional Napalm Death. _Diatribes_ strayed too far from that for my taste when it came out, and therein lies the difference, and that we can mix the Sonic Youth, Swans and My Bloody Valentine elements in there with the traditional stuff and it sits together really well.

CoC: Some of the clean vocal bits on this album actually make the songs heavier in my mind.

BG: Absolutely. There are a couple of bits where I deliberately sang off-key and when you layer that over my usual vocal that makes for something seriously disturbing. Most producers, if you did that, would be like: "What the hell are you doing?" But we're lucky that we have Russ Russell, who understands what we want to do and is up for anything we want to try.

CoC: You also have a relationship with him that stretches back long enough to where he's nearly a fifth member now?

BG: Yeah, I mean Russ actually used to do live sound for us long before he came in on our albums. He really understands the band's sound and there are a lot of producers out there who, I think, would have an inkling of what we wanted to do, but whether they had the wherewithal to get us to the end result is debatable. Russ is a vital element in Napalm Death, without a doubt.

CoC: How much of a voice would he have creatively in the band?

BG: We always listen to him, but at the same time he's not the kind of producer where he's actively helping us to write our songs. He thinks there's no need for that. What he will do is to suggest that we simplify a guitar line for example or play it in a different way, or that I phrase a vocal differently. We'll take that into consideration and change it if we need to, or if we disagree, we'll show him why, and he's man enough to admit when he's wrong. He's really flexible and a lot of producers would never be like that. Producers aren't always right. I mean, there are several albums over the years that were heavily producer manufactured and turned into absolute abominations. I can think of one certain album by a big band from San Francisco that was absolutely hideous. <laughs>

CoC: Between the four of you, how harmonious is studio experience in comparison to the way it was when you were recording _Fear, Emptiness, Despair_ or _Diatribes_?

BG: On a musical level, there's an amazing chemistry between all of us where we just seem to click. At least from my perspective. I mean, I hope it doesn't sound too pretentious, because I feel really fortunate to be in that position. It's hard to dissect it too much, but for whatever reason it just works. Of course, everyone is capable of making crap albums too, make no mistake about that. It doesn't matter who you are.

CoC: So, in that sense, how hard are you on yourselves when it comes to quality control within the band?

BG: Massively. I mean, there's no masterplan before we go into the studio, but if we have a sense that things aren't working the way they're supposed to in a song, we'll bin it straight away. We would never put out something that we thought was crap, you know -- absolutely not. The big thing for us is if a track is dragging. If it's too slow or it has the same beat going on for too long, then it has to change.

CoC: With _Smear Campaign_ you moved the lyrical focus of the band away from the politics of some of your previous records and started to talk about things like organized religion. What themes have you explored on _Time Waits for No Slave_?

BG: Well, first of all I think that politics is sometimes a real nothing term in some ways. I mean yes, throughout the Napalm history, there's been a connection to political observations with eyes wide open, from a humane perspective. But I think that's because politics is so closely linked to the big power base in the world and the fact that certain people often get away with things that they would never have gotten away with under normal circumstances. So it's not politics in the strictest sense of the world; it's more about taking a humane perspective on what's happening in the world and having a real gut feeling for human rights. From that point of view you could tie something like _Smear Campaign_ to previous albums.

CoC: And what about _Time Waits for No Slave_?

BG: We've always had the tendency to delve into some fairly grand concepts -- just because they always turned out that way. With this record, I did tell myself that I wanted to be a little looser with the way that I was writing lyrics, but lo and behold, it turned into another typical Napalm album. I just couldn't get away from it. So, this record is really about a notion or a thought that we all can't get away from: we seem to work all our lives and work ourselves into the ground for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's because we're conditioned to believe that if we're not busy, we're not doing something. That's not always the case, of course, but that's what society has forced many people to believe. Secondly, some people work to attain status symbols of some description, which are just totally superficial. There are a lot of reasons for it, but when you take it as a whole you realise that a lot of people go through life lacking an appreciation for the simple things in life. For example, perhaps you live in an apartment and there's a park down the road, but for the ten years that you've been living in that neighbourhood, you've never once set foot in that park. You've never once sat underneath a tree and simply watched things happen around. I think that's symbolic, because I think that if you don't have an appreciation for the simple things, then you can't expect to fully grasp the more complex problems or issues that you'll be faced with during your lifetime. So that's what is at the core of this album, and I think that it's something that everyone has been faced with, and it branches off into other things like marriage. Why is marriage treated in such a moralistic way when it shouldn't be? Another example is religion, and specifically personal faith, which forces people to live in a really insular tunnel where they can never experience the fullness of life around them.

CoC: For me, what you've said there also ties into the fact that now the Internet has given everyone the voice to have an opinion on what the people around them do with their lives.

BG: Absolutely, but maybe that's how it should be. People talk about freedom and it's an ongoing thing and that hopefully we get more of it. But the fact is that we're actually getting less at the moment. I mean, you can see the things around you -- the fact that it's been reported that the UK has the most CCTV cameras of any country in the world. I mean, we're the most fucking surveyed nation on the planet. Does that seem right to you? It doesn't to me. This Orwellian vision used to be fictional, but there's nothing to say that it won't come true. I think the good thing about the Internet is that it's so vast that it can't be controlled quite as easily, and that's a good thing.

CoC: Given our previous discussions and your fairly vocal views on the Bush administration, I was wondering what your thoughts were on Barrack Obama's presidency?

BG: I have a few trains of thought on that. I think that it's hard to reconcile what my feelings are toward a certain person with the fact that the power base in the States is so vast and has such a massive impact on the rest of the world. Politicians... I have a huge mistrust of them most of the time, because they do seem to be very self-serving, regardless of what angle they come from. They engage in a lot of tokenism, where they talk about how they're going to tackle poverty and climate change, but do they really ever make any radical changes to alleviate the suffering in the world? I would say that they don't. It's very, very rare if they do. So I'm naturally cynical in that way, in as much as I would like to see certain institutions of power change, but I realise that it's never going to happen overnight. Focusing on the positives, if you do get someone like Obama who talks specifically about helping people in same sex relationships, people who are unemployed, people who are under-educated -- I think that's a great thing when you compare it to the sort of thinly veiled bigotry we had during the Bush administration. He's a man who opts for diplomacy rather than war and violence, and people have wanted that for so long. I mean, that's why unfortunately a lot of Americans have had to take shit for so long when they go travelling, because Bush has created this impression about them all over the world and made people really angry as a result. So those bridges need to be mended. But at the same time, Obama has also come up with some real fucking nonsense. He loves to play the religious card for example, and I think that whole thing about religion having no basis in fact, yet intelligent people still bang on about it. I mean, when are people ever going to learn that mixing religion with the process of life and living side by side in peace and harmony with your fellow man is never going to work? So there is that. Also, as a side-note, Obama has spoken about things like censoring video games and things like that. That's just a big pile of shit. People coming up with all sorts of stupid theories about how things like music or video games motivates kids to go out and kill each other, yet they gloss over the fact that these people had a serious mental imbalance in the first place. So why should all the mediums be censored just because there's the potential that something that's hard to detect in certain people will be triggered? It's just nonsense. But we'll see how things work out. The American political system is full of bluster and drama and it doesn't do any of the politicians any favours, because it just sets the expectations so high. If Obama tackles things like the ghettos and really rebuilds America from the bottom up and makes everyone realise that they need to contribute rather than doing favours for the corporations, then things should work out for the better.

CoC: Last question: what lies ahead for Napalm Death in 2009?

BG: Lots of touring. <laughs> We're going on a European tour, we're going on an American tour, and then see how it goes from there. Nothing is set even vaguely in stone aside from those two things.

(article submitted 30/1/2009)


CHATS
9/12/2006 J Smit Napalm Death: Blunt Against the Cutting Edge
5/13/2005 J Smit Napalm Death: Cause for Alarm
1/10/2001 P Schwarz Napalm Death: Killing Is the Business of Their Enemy
1/17/1996 A Bromley Napalm Death: On A New Plane of Existence
ALBUMS
1/23/2009 J Smit 10 Napalm Death - Time Waits for No Slave
8/22/2006 J Smit 9 Napalm Death - Smear Campaign
4/7/2005 J Smit 9.5 Napalm Death - The Code Is Red... Long Live the Code
7/29/2004 J Smit 8 Napalm Death - Leaders Not Followers 2
6/23/2003 J Smit 9 Napalm Death - Order of the Leech
11/20/2000 P Schwarz 9.5 Napalm Death - Enemy of the Music Business
5/19/1999 A Bromley 8 Napalm Death - Words From the Exit Wound
9/1/1998 A Wasylyk 8 Napalm Death - Bootlegged in Japan
5/13/1997 A Bromley 8 Napalm Death - Inside the Torn Apart
2/5/1997 A Bromley 8 Napalm Death - Breed To Breathe
12/13/1995 G Filicetti 8 Napalm Death - Greed Killing
GIGS
1/16/1999 P Azevedo Cradle of Filth / Napalm Death / Borknagar The Smell of Napalm in the Dark
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