Cause for Alarm
CoC chats to Barney Greenway of Napalm Death
by: Jackie Smit
Whether you agree with his political views or not, you have to hand it to Barney Greenway: he most definitely walks it like he talks it. Where so many other figures in the metal scene appear to have absolutely no qualms about running their mouths on topics that they clearly know very little about, Greenway and the rest of his band's track record of social and political activism speaks for itself; and for better or for worse, it is that hard-edged approach which has in many ways been responsible for Napalm Death's tremendous longevity. Not to discount the music, of course; Napalm Death may have been left for dead (no pun intended) at the tail-end of the Nineties, but 2005 sees them firing on all cylinders -- a fact which their latest effort, _The Code Is Red, Long Live the Code_, amply proves.

CoC: _The Code Is Red..._ is the first record that Napalm Death did as a four-piece, after Jesse left last year. Did it feel any different to you doing it this way?

Barney Greenway: No, because in the studio the general rule is that unless you're recording completely live, then you tend to do it in layers anyway, while obviously at the same time trying to keep it sounding as live as possible -- and as far as Napalm's music is concerned, I think that people don't always realise that there are quite a few layers to our music. If you listen carefully, there's a lot of stuff going on somewhere underneath, so for that, Mitch [Harris, guitarist] did all those parts himself, as opposed to Jesse coming in and laying his track down separately. Of course it's always better to have an extra man in there, but you know -- Jesse hadn't recorded with us as far back as _Order of the Leech_ for a number of different reasons.

CoC: As far as Jesse's leaving the band, I remember you saying when it was initially announced that it was a temporary measure and that he'd be back within a matter of months. What's the status on that at the moment?

BG: It was a temporary situation, but it's now permanent. What we did was to send Jesse away for a while and we told him: "Look, go get yourself together, and we'll carry on without you for a while." Then once we had let that period pass, it just appeared to us as though Jesse hadn't really done anything to try and help himself, which was the point of the whole exercise to begin with. So, we felt that we hadn't really moved anywhere on that situation and we had to make the situation permanent, because the last thing that you need when you've just signed a new record deal and it actually looks like things might be looking up -- it's bad enough not to be working together properly, but with the way things were, we had no choice but to make the decision that we did, because it was bound to happen sooner or later, and it's better to do it sooner than to be in the midst of some major things and you can afford even less to lose a member.

CoC: What prompted the decision to go back to Russ Russell for the recording of this album?

BG: Well, he's been with us for a couple of albums, if you're anal enough to remember that sort of thing. <laughs> So yeah, Russ has been with us for a while and he initially did live sound for us, which he doesn't really do anymore. And he was with us just as a co-producer for a short time, but we felt confident enough later on to use him as a full producer, which basically stems from the fact that when you've been with someone for that amount of time, who has developed a really strong understanding of the band's sound and the band's sense of direction, then it's really advantageous to keep that person around over someone else. I mean, after they've done that first album and they've really got a feel for the band, then they know what's what and that's when they truly start to click. One of the other things that keeps us with Russ is the guy's work ethic. I mean, this guy is literarily working day and night; he really applies himself.

CoC: Unusually for a Napalm Death record, there are a lot of guest appearances scattered across the album. What made you decide to do this and what made you decide on the likes of Jello Biafra, Jamie Jasta and Jeff Walker?

BG: Well, first of all, it's like you said, we haven't really done this sort of thing before, because our process is really down to... Well, we've got to take care of things, you know? And for that reason, the organizational side of things is always pretty hectic and so the last thing that you really need is to try and decide how to get outsiders into the studio, when you're trying to be creative. But Century Media sort of said: "Well, sit down and come up with a list of people you'd like to get for the album and we'll do our level best to get them into the studio without you having to go out of your way." So we came up with our list and they got them into the studio for us and then applied the finishing touches so far as their bits on the record go. And the good thing is that Jello has a strong connection to the band with the whole "Nazi Punks" thing, but also just in general with his political views. Jamie has a connection because he's always been a good friend of ours and he used to actually put on gigs for us a long time ago with Hatebreed. And Jeff is closer to home for obvious reasons -- there's the Carcass connection, he did the artwork for _Scum_ and he was going to come down to the studio anyway, so we just said: "Well, come down and do some vocals." And he was happy to do that.

CoC: As far as Jello and Jamie appearing on the album, I know that there were some murmurs of discontent on a few Internet forums. Was the possibility of a backlash something you had in the back of your mind when you decided that you were going to bring them on board?

BG: We always make decisions in terms of what we think is best for the band, and of course everyone is going to make mistakes from time to time, but on that point we definitely don't think that's the case. I mean, there's more problems with Jamie being on the record than Jello, but if you just touch on the bone of contention of Jamie being some sort of poster boy for hardcore -- I mean, this guy has been there for years and years. The guy has been putting on shows for Napalm as far back as ten years ago and supporting us with Hatebreed. I know that Hatebreed have come along in leaps and bounds and are pretty popular at the moment, but it's ridiculous to slam a person because of the size of the band that they're in. I respect people's opinions and it's fine if they want to think that way, but from a factual point of view it's really not the case that the band have all of a sudden just come around.

CoC: That's just one example of a lot of close-minded attitudes that I think is becoming more and more prevalent in the underground scene. Given that this isn't the first time that you and Napalm Death have come under fire for completely asinine reasons, is that something that's ever bothered you in your time involved with this music?

BG: It does, I mean not necessarily this issue, because it's something that I can just brush off. I do listen to people's opinions on the band, because I think that it's their right to express that and we've always been a very inclusive band. But stuff where people have said that we've sold out, it's really a case of: "Sold out to what, exactly? Just give me what you're trying to say, because I don't know what you're trying to say exactly." It's stuff like that and there are generally quite a few negative elements in the scene, and the scene can be quite conservative, which we aren't at all. And there have been issues arising from that, which I have had to deal with in the past, and it's something that I'd never shut my mouth over. Of course there's always going to be criticism of the stuff that we do, but we can only do what we do and we try to do the best, and if people don't like that -- well, we can only do what we do and we're very aware that you can't please all people all the time. At the end of the day, I will always respect everything that anyone's got to say, but we have a duty to push the band forward and that's something we'll always do.

CoC: Well, now that you mention it, I think a classic case is the fall out from an interview you gave prior to the US election, which was posted on Blabbermouth. You said some disparaging things about George Bush and a million Internet nerds were crowing about how "fucked up" you are.

BG: <laughs> Yeah, I'm fucked up because I've stated the complete objective truth. I always find that analogy funny. I mean, before one even gets into that, what do people expect? Napalm Death have always been like that and it makes me laugh and it surprises me when people are shocked by a statement like that. Even taking George Bush out of the equation, we've always been this way. Take South Africa for example. We went out there in '91 and the whole Apartheid thing was pretty much gone and forgotten by then, but the whole crux of the issue was to speak about equality and that sort of thing should never happen again. And while we were there and we were talking about stuff like that, I actually got physically threatened and verbally abused on South African national radio by some pretty uptight Afrikaners. I was pretty prepared to take that. I mean, I was always going to respond to that, but I was prepared to take it. The point I'm trying to make though is that that was 1991 and this is 2005, and big issues on the same level of importance as Apartheid are still here. So are people expecting that I'm not going to talk about it? You know, at the end of the day, the idea is to make people aware, and while a lot of people that listen to Napalm Death might already know about everything we're speaking about, the view needs to be reinforced. People of a wider spectrum need to know about what's going on around them. The concept behind _The Code Is Red..._ is that we have this government-run security system in place in the Western world that's leading us to believe that we should be afraid of our own shadows, basically. And I find that completely exaggerated for one. For two, where it's leading -- we have things in British parliament right now that would be absolutely unheard of a few years ago. They're making motions toward getting a system in place whereby they can place suspected terrorists under house arrest. If they only think that a person might do something, then they can execute this power; and that, to me, is just really, really ridiculous. That sort of thing reminds me Nazi Germany, and that sort of thing is completely unacceptable to me. I think that in this day and age where governments are arguably more powerful than they have ever been and where big corporations like the oil and natural resource companies are posting record profits -- all of that profit of course equalling power -- in that situation, we have to have more human rights. Because, how are we going to defend ourselves against these people if we're in a martial law-like situation, for example? So, for these kids on the Internet to be banging on about how fucked up I am when I'm outlining all these things -- they should be worrying about their own futures, not about mine. They should take a hard look at themselves and wondering why they're not coming to the same conclusions that I am, because it really goes far beyond politics and into common sense, and the right of a human being to walk this earth without being oppressed. And yes, it's an age-old argument, but situations like these give us new reasons to argue. I mean, it's not just Bush and Blair -- it's happening all over the world, where governments are trying to exact more and more authority. So, the thing about the new album is along those lines. It's about people's diminishing power to deal with the government. I mean, if you would go to your local government and tell them about something that you don't like, do you think they'd listen to you?

CoC: Well, I think that point was most apparent in the run-up to the war in Iraq, where you had upwards of two million people protesting in London alone and several million elsewhere in the world and they may as well not have bothered.

BG: Yeah, I mean, Blair is listening now because of the legal challenge. But was he listening to the people? Not a chance.

CoC: Getting back to the music and your current label situation: this is the second album that you've done for Century Media and it's very well documented that you guys have in the past had a lot of problems with other labels. How are things working out from your perspective this time around?

BG: Well, I've got to say that I've been quick to take issues with other labels in the past, and rightly so. But credit where credit's due, Century Media has been fantastic so far; there are a few issues that need to be ironed out, but overall it's been great. They've put us in the situation where we don't feel like all our hard work is going to be for nothing, and they've really gone all out to take a lot of work off our shoulders. So, from that point of view, I can't complain at all. Obviously there's a lot of time ahead us, but I can't complain at all.

CoC: The one thing that really stands out for me about albums like _Enemy of the Music Business_ and _Order of the Leech_ is that they really brought Napalm Death back from the dead, so to speak, after a lot of sources in the media and whatnot had really gone all out to slam your mid-Nineties output. Do you feel like this latest effort is still continuing the momentum?

BG: I think so, but it must be said that those mid-Nineties albums -- as much as people were critical on the outside, I was critical in the inside. At the same time though, a lot of people like those albums and a lot of scenes like the American art / noisecore scene with bands like Converge were very influenced by those records. I think a big part of that whole period stems from the fact that extreme music as a whole was dying and we were riding the wave. Then _Enemy of the Music Business_ came along and it really revitalized what was a very bad situation, and this record I really think pushes that forward. I mean, _The Code Is Red..._ has a lot of very experimental and unique sections, but I think that it really fits into the overall feel of the record and it drives everything forward.

CoC: Well, I think a big thing that sets it apart from a lot of the stuff you guys have done over the last decade or so is the noticeable punk and hardcore influence that's running through a lot of the songs.

BG: Absolutely, and I think that comes from the rawness of the production and the spontaneity in the sound. And that's something that I've always wanted to achieve: that spontaneity. And to be fair, Napalm Death has always been influenced by punk rock and hardcore.

CoC: Napalm Death have always been pretty trailblazing as far as touring goes, and we've already mentioned South Africa, which unfortunately I was eleven years old when you were there...

BG: <laughs> Well, I actually went there with the backing of the ANC, because I went there to do some workshops with young kids, and that was really one of the highlights of my time with Napalm Death. Of course, there was the negative side, because I was threatened at a signing we did, where a couple of [Eugene] Terreblanche's lot showed up and just sort of lurked in the background. But that wasn't going to intimidate me, and overall the experience was amazing.

CoC: Just in terms of touring though, are you planning on hitting anywhere off the beaten track for this album?

BG: Well, we've already been to Indonesia, but I don't know what else is on the card. I would love to do a lot more though. I'd love to play as many far flung places as possible.

CoC: On the topic of Indonesia, how successful was the tsunami benefit CD you guys brought out at the beginning of the year?

BG: Oh, very much, and there are some on eBay now, which are selling for €50,00 and things like that, and that's definitely raising some cash. But in terms of the money getting through, which is great -- I just want to make a point in that I hope that all this fund-raising for the tsunami benefit doesn't create an imbalance, because there are people all over the world in desperate need of help. I mean, you have people in Africa who are in dire need of aid. There's Iran, who had that earthquake last year. All over the world, people are desperate, and I don't want to preach here, but I wish that people would start getting more involved in causes that help these places.

CoC: So, what's on the cards for Napalm Death over the course of the next few months?

BG: Well, for this year at least, we have a lot of tours. We have the European tour, which will last two months. We'll be hitting Japan and the States and maybe a couple of other places, and that will take us through to the end of the year. And to tell you the truth, I've been having itchy feet over the course of the first couple of months of this year, and even though we've been really busy working on getting the new record out, a lot of it involves sitting at home, and I just really want to get out on the road again, and take the music to the people, because we can talk about ethics and politics all we want, but it's the music that matters at the end of the day. And even if you're a humanitarian band, you can still entertain, you know, and that's the whole point. So yeah, I want to get on the road and take it to the people.

CoC: Anything else you want to add, Barney?

BG: <laughs> No, it's definitely been interesting and I just want to say thanks to all the people that have stuck by us and to all the people in countries like South Africa -- it's been far, far too long, so we'll hopefully see you guys again soon.

(article submitted 13/5/2005)

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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
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2/5/1997 A Bromley 8 Napalm Death - Breed To Breathe
12/13/1995 G Filicetti 8 Napalm Death - Greed Killing
1/16/1999 P Azevedo Cradle of Filth / Napalm Death / Borknagar The Smell of Napalm in the Dark
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