Godfathers of grindcore, NAPALM DEATH, are still going strong after more than two decades of churning out loud, fast, conscious music. Their latest album, Smear Campaign, is a solid continuation of their perennial effort to unsettle the common individual’s mental indifference through the intensity of their words and music. Barking against the common “enemy” of religion, NAPALM DEATH, rile with the same ferocity in 2008 as they did in 1987. Frontman Barney Greenway took some time off their last U.S. tour to talk to APESHIT about their undying craft, conservatives in metal, the digital future of music, and more.
APESHIT: Your new album, Smear Campaign, is another great album from you guys. What was the band’s attitude/approach to writing and recording the album?
Barney: To be honest, nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the mechanics of it. We don’t mess around too much when we’re writing an album. We know what we want to do and what we need to do and we just kind of get it done really. That’s why we can get an album together in two months from scratch. So yeah, we don’t mess around. So that’s the mechanical approach.
In terms of the music, I guess just after [the last album] The Code is Red, Long Live the Code, we just wanted to make a continuation of that really. Not make it sort of sound the same but take the elements and add a few nuances here and there and it’s quite simple really. And of course of the concept of the album is generally about free thought and this sort of denial of anything remotely religious. [Laughs]
APESHIT: Smear Campaign and The Code is Red are pretty consistent in sound and that’s probably because both were recorded not to far apart with the same producer at the same studio.
Barney: Yeah, yeah. If you sort of focus on that a little bit, you will notice that…a slight sort of refinement in the sound from Code to Smear. Yeah, you’re totally right. Generally, in the grand scheme of things it’s very similar. That studio where we did it, I love that place. We’re gonna go back there for the next album whenever that may be and use that for a large part. There’s another studio we’re gonna use.
APESHIT: You guys had Anneke van Giersbergen, formerly of THE GATHERING, make an appearance on two songs. How did you guys hook up with her?
Barney: What is was was that the songs were written in a particular context, and we felt that we needed that sort of vocal. First, it wasn’t necessarily gonna be her. It was just going to be someone who could do that sort of vocal. But the unique thing about Anneke is that she’s a soulful singer. What we didn’t want was someone who was gonna come along and warble like all this operatic metal stuff. That wasn’t the approach. The approach was to actually get someone that was melancholy, yeah slight operatic, but soulful.
APESHIT: The title track is particularly interesting because it’s slower and doomier compared to the rest of the album.
APESHIT: It’s similar in style to “Our Pain Is Their Power” and “Morale” (from The Code is Red, Long Live the Code). Do you guys ever think about expanding more about these types of songs in the future?
Barney: Yeah. If you go down through the ages like on the second NAPALM DEATH album, there was a song like that actually opens the album. That’s way back in ‘88. We got plans to sort of expand on that but primarily, we’re a fast band…hardcore fast metal, whatever you wanna call it. But that’s what we are. I mean there’s certainly areas and if you put your mind to it, there’s all sorts of things you could do. Everything is limitless, ultimately. So yeah, we’re gonna work on that and actually, maybe incorporate that into the faster songs this time instead of having purely stand alone tracks like that. We’ll see once we get to that point.
APESHIT: After releasing so many albums, how do you guys continue to come up with fresh new ideas and stay hungry?
Barney: It just is. I guess we can be creative as individuals and the chemistry is just really good between all of us. Yeah, whatever happens happens sort of thing. You always gotta think before you make an album, “Now what the fuck am I going to do this time?” But it just seems to come together.
APESHIT: Are there times when you guys will scrap a song part or lyrics because it was too similar to something you’ve already done before?
Barney: No. What I would basically do is lyrically, is to work on it. I don’t mind writing about the same sort of subjects because the same subjects sort of keep coming up. It’s topical, generally so I’ll take something and rework it. And it’s the same with the other guys. Yeah we’ll occasionally get caught but it’s purely by accident. They just rework them. I wouldn’t necessarily throw something away if it was a good idea at the nucleus of it. I think that [throwing it away] it is sort of overreacting.
APESHIT: NAPALM DEATH’s lyrics of the very core of what the band is all about. Do you guys ever get into disagreements about the lyrics in terms of those words not representing what a band member may believe in or agree on?
Barney: To be honest, we’ve never really had that. In general, everyone sort of agrees. We’ve never had that at all. At least no one has come to me and said that. If someone did say that, then of course I’d listen. But no one has said, “That’s not cool.” It’s never been an issue thus far. I guess I look at this stuff as common sense. I guess common sense is in the mind of the person. [Laughs]
APESHIT: I don’t think your music or lyrics is about preaching to people or telling people what to necessarily believe.
Barney: No, that’s the point. That is the point. I do encourage people to scratch the surface at the very least. I know that it’s hard for people to do that sometimes because people are, by their very nature, apathetic. I think that’s something you can actually chastise for them. That’s just the way things are sometimes. Yeah of course, I might be generalizing. Some people are deliberately apathetic but you have to wonder, “Why?” Human nature is, I think, to sweep things under the carpet. People don’t realize that people don’t ask questions and don’t scratch the surface and it can actually be affecting their lives even though they may not see that or recognize it. Everyone should do that. People take the effort to do ridiculous things in life. Why can’t they take the effort to do something that might benefit them?
APESHIT: We saw you guys play in LA back when George Bush was running for re-election as president, and you had some negative comments about him during the show. We noticed that there was quite a number of boos coming from the crowd that didn’t seem to appreciate what you had to say. Do you think it’s a bit ironic of conservative people to be at a NAPALM show and listening to extreme music?
Barney: Yeah, that’s a tricky area. I’m not for censorship or restricting people’s rights to explore things generally on what they want to do. I do, in a personal sense, find it slightly strange. But I wouldn’t go up to them and say, “Why are you people here?” [Laughs] As far as I’m concerned, if they’re there and they can perhaps learn something like I can learn something from other people at times, that’s all good to me. From a personal perspective, can I understand why people vote someone in or not vote someone in as the case may be? I’m sure you know what I mean. Someone who can vote someone in is basically restricting their lives in many senses by various ways… I could run the gamut really. Why is it that people continue to support people like that? I find it really strange. That’s one of the things about being apathetic, not nothing really knowing that you’re putting pen and paper for. The thing that I’ve found really strange is that I know Dave Mustaine, the MEGADETH guy, had done this thing a few years ago [called] Rock the Vote, where he said that you must vote, you must put your pen to the paper no matter what it is for. Why should you, you know? How can you vote for…If you feel that all politicians are just a) out for themselves and b) not doing anything that could be constructive to your life, why should you vote for them? You shouldn’t be forced to do that. Why should you? It would actually be good for politics if no one voted because then that would show the people in power that people have really had enough.
APESHIT: I just find Dave Mustaine to be a conservative guy in many respects.
Barney: Yeah. In some ways, that guy actually tries but he can never let go of this establishment, the thing that’s always there in the backside. He’s actually making these big standpoints from like a moral standpoint. I personally think morality is a sham. The whole concept of morality is a complete sham. He’s actually cooperating with the moral standpoint which actually doesn’t do anything because they are sort of allied to an establishment view to whatever degree. So what he’s actually doing with that Rock the Vote thing is just rolling along with the establishment as it is.
APESHIT: Are there times when you feel like the man depicted on the cover of the From Enslavement to Obliteration album?
APESHIT: I often feel like that and think that the album cover captures my feelings perfectly.
Barney: Yeah, yeah, yeah like the silent scream almost. Absolutely, yeah. But the thing is, in the long run, not to be demoralized. There’s a lot to be said for doing your thing. But people always say, “Yeah, I would be more concerned about things but I’m only one person.” But that’s not the point. From one voice to two voices come three and four voices and things build. As long as you have that feeling, they can put you in prison for whatever reason but they’ll never stop you from thinking and doing. They’ll never shut you up. It might sound a little melodramatic but you get the point I’m trying to make.
APESHIT: I wanted to ask you about the time period of Inside the Torn Apart and Words from the Exit Wound. Those two albums were starkly different from the albums previous to that. What was the mentality of the band in those days?
Barney: It was a pivotal time. It was quite an experimental time for the band. At the time, I was probably unsure of what was going on with those albums. I just thought maybe that it kind of took the edge off the music, which some points still I look back and think, “Hmmm, maybe we shouldn’t have done that.” But that’s said with hindsight, and there are a lot of things from that period which I think were really good and actually really innovative. I think from those albums, there’s a couple of scenes that sprung up like that mathcore scene. You can attribute a lot from those albums to that particular scene, at least that’s my view anyways. Some of those stuff from those albums are really good undoubtedly for me. Definitely a part of the history of the band. I look back on them, and its something still significant.
APESHIT: I think for many diehard NAPALM fans Enemy of the Music Business was not only one of the best NAPALM albums but kind of a turning point for the band. Do you guys feel that way as well?
Barney: Yeah, I would say so. I would recognize that point as being, not necessarily rediscovering ourselves, because I think we really weren’t in a bad place creatively but just sort of refocusing, tweaking on things and getting back to the point where the albums hit the “go” button. Yeah, definitely. A lot of people saw Enemy as one of the classics almost in line with Scum and From Enslavement. What can you say? I certainly recognize that as a refocusing point.
APESHIT: Speaking of music business, I want to talk about the current state of the music industry. Obviosuly, as a whole it’s been suffering for quite some time now with things like lack of consumer interest in buying CDs, birth of the mp3 generation. I don’t know about how things are over there in the UK but every kid here, whether they are in college or in grade school, is walking around with an iPod. You have albums that are available for illegal download even before promos are manufactured. How do you guys feel about where the industry is heading?
Barney: It just depends on how you roll. In a sense, we were kind of prepared for it anyways because we were always very self-contained. Yes, we use record labels but our expectations were still met. In terms of downloading, you know what? People must understand that for a band like us the first few weeks of record sales are really important. That props us up for quite some time. Forget all the stuff about making profits for a minute. Those initial weeks of sales are really important. In that sense, I do wish people wouldn’t do that. But, I don’t really have a problem with that because actually where our band’s at, it actually helps to promote us in a certain sense. So that’s my view on it.
Do I like the whole proposal of coming down on downloaders? No, I don’t purely because I don’t believe in pure totalitarian tactics. That’s basically my thing with that in a nutsell.
APESHIT: I think it’s interesting how there are so many people who find that there is absolutely nothing wrong with downloading music for free. I know that they are not aware that they are breaking copyright and trademark laws.
Barney: Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying. What can you do? Can you sort of crucify someone for clicking a button on a computer? Let’s look at this in proportion. I think you can’t [crucify someone]. I think the system has to be refined, reworked a little so that it helps everyone out because otherwise, I don’t see a solution to it in the long run. It’s really something that I have an answer to but not a definite answer to, to be honest. I really don’t sometimes with all that stuff. But I do think in the lighter sense, in a bigger sense like everything, the record industry needs a wake up call. It needs to understand that it can’t monopolize people’s lives and rip people off like they did for many tens of tens of years in the way that they did with there being some sort of combat. Things go full circle. They always come out to roost. The record companies, perhaps, didn’t full understand the implications.
APESHIT: What do you think about the direct methods of music distribution that RADIOHEAD and NINE INCH NAILS have experimented with?
Barney: Go for it. I can only say positive things about it really. It seems to be a really good deal for people and more power to them. It can be very effective. I know that NINE INCH NAILS actually salient, common sense points that I want to make and the way they’ve done things, they can achieve quite a lot, make a lot of noise with what they’re doing.
APESHIT: Do you guys think that NAPALM DEATH would experiment with something like that in the future?
Barney: Undoubtedly because I think there will come a point when every band needs to do that. I think it really will get to that point. The only real problem right now with really going out there on your own is you need to have the capital to really do it. That’s the other side to it. NINE INCH NAILS has the capital to do it. NAPALM doesn’t. So at this point, it’s not really an option for us. That’s the thing that is stopping a lot of bands. I think in time, the whole system will be refined so there will be a way for us to do it.
APESHIT: I was wondering if a mainstream fest like Ozzfest or Gigantour would be something that you would be interested in at all.
Barney: We’d look at it but the outlie of what these kinds of festivals ask from you upfront and also the way you get treated, I don’t know if I could be bothered with it to be honest for the minimum amount of albums sales that you get from it. Do I really want to put up with that sort of grief? No, not really. I don’t really want to put myself into that kind of machine. I really don’t know. We’d certainly look at anything like it and judge but its merits. But I’m always uncomfortable with getting involved with this whole corporate merry-go-round. There are certain things about those festivals that I find really distasteful like the whole thing about not being able to bring your own food and drinks or to pay the absolute extortionate prices for refreshment and stuff. The whole thing about Ozzfest about not being able to take photos. Was it last year? I mean give me a fucking break! That’s so fucking stupid, you know I mean?
APESHIT: At this point in your career, you obviously have all the diehard NAPALM fans but how important is it for you guys to reach new audiences with each new album, each new tour?
Barney: Absolutely…I think for every band, it should be absolutely essential. We see a lot of kids out on this tour that have really never heard anything about us before. As far as I’m concerned, with the music comes the lyrics…the kids, to be able to talk to them directly and suggest certain things….Music shouldn’t be bound by age or stuff like that. The idea of music is always breaking down barriers. I think to be able to have fresh ears and to be able to get your point across, you can’t really put a price on that. It’s absolutely priceless. Definitely, we need to not just preach to the converted.
APESHIT: I was wondering if wouldn’t mind sharing a cool story or memory that you have of Jesse Pintado [former guitarist who passed away in 2006] so that fans could get a little insight into what he was like?
Barney: Yeah, Jesse was a funny guy. He was pretty goofy actually. So that’s a lot of things that I always remember about Jesse. I remember the first time he showed up. We had to go and get him from London. They actually deported him the very first time he came [to the UK]. They just didn’t like the look of him. [Laughs] He actually showed up in a suit that didn’t fit and a pair of, we used to call them “monkey boots.” I don’t know what you call them in the States. All the punks used to wear them back in the day. And Jesse showed up in this really ill-fitting suit and these monkey boots because he thought the customs in England would deal with him a little better if he wore a suit. But he just looked really stupid. [Laughs] They deported him. He didn’t care. He was just really mellow and just kind of sat there. And when he came back, they let him in. That is just one thing.
APESHIT: I know that Shane [Embury (bass)] is in many side projects and that him and Danny [Hererra (drums)] are in VENOMOUS CONCEPT. Are there any other side projects that you guys are involved in?
Barney: Shane always has like two or three bands going on. [Laughs] He’s always got stuff going on. He doing another VENOMOUS CONCEPT album. He’s got a couple other bands. I think he’s got a side project with one of the guys from DIMMU BORGIR. I don’t think he was doing a punk album. I don’t know. I lose track. None of us have anything really going on at the moment. NAPALM is kind of enough for me right now. I’ve got other stuff going on at home that I do like I volunteer.