Interview: Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway of NAPALM DEATH
You have just played at Hammerfest in Wales. How did it go for you guys? I believe you had to stop your set for a bit due to an incident.
Yes, it went well…in the end. A guy in the crowd hit his head. We heard he was epileptic and he might have been fitting after that, so there was a fair bit of concern for him. We decided to break off while he was tended to, as his welfare was obviously the primary concern and we wanted to clear the way for the medical people etc.
That aside, I might be wrong, but It seemed like most people were there for the more traditional metal stuff. So the raucous reaction for us was definitely a pleasant surprise. We were also playing with a fill-in bass player, Jesper Liverod (ex-Nasum) while Shane was unavoidably busy with another band, so you’re hoping that it’ll all come together well. And it did all go swimmingly in the end.
You are a band that are known for breaking records or being the first band to do something. You are also known for the shortest ever song recorded, and the first band to perform in South Africa. Have you got any more record breaking plans for the future?
These don’t tend to be pre-calculated things. They just kind of happen. Apart from ‘ethical’ objections, when you’re a band who is very open to stuff, you tend to find the unlikeliest things land in your lap sometimes. We like to be adventurous – we find just doing the same things all the time to be a bit pedestrian and the offbeat things help to keep up the enthusiasm. Similarly with making the actual music, we have little desire to be just a cut and paste band.
Napalm Death were first formed in the 1980’s, however, none of you are original members. Even so, although there has been quite a few changes over the years, this present line up has been together for quite sometime. What is the secret to your success at sustaining the same line up?
We are realists and know that we need to tough it out together when needed. And after all these years of managing to keep ourselves together as a unit, we know to respect each other’s differing traits and ways of doing things. This is essential when you are going to be living in assorted steel boxes on wheels for weeks on end with the same people. Napalm Death is an incredibly important part of all our lives. None of us, I don’t think, would be prepared to give up on it easily at this point.
You must have played in some amazing venue’s over the years. What has been your favourite?
Hard to recall overall, but I do remember playing in a small hill fort in France where the back of the stage gave way to a fifty-foot cliff dropping into the sea. One overzealous stage move in the wrong direction and you’d be in the drink! We were also the first band to (independently) play in the Soviet Union and headlining two nights at a national ice hockey stadium was quite bizarre and surreal – especially back in 1991 and in the largely undiscovered Soviet Union.
Is there a country that is your favourite to perform in?
In terms of approaching gigs, we go to it 100% – every gig like it’s the last – no matter where we are. I do love Japan though. It’s kind of a second home for me as my girlfriend lives there and also Napalm has a big network of friends there in the music scene. Korea, a very short hop away, is also quite an interesting place to play given the depressingly tense situation north and south. Both Japan and Korea also have wonderful natural environments outside the big cities.
When you’re in a band travelling around, you may as well try to get out and about where you can – not many people have the privilege to do so in life, so I certainly don’t take it for granted.
What has been your hardest time in the band, and how did it come out on the right side?
The nineties was a testing period, as this kind of music lost its appeal a little bit. Touring was pretty challenging in terms of getting people out to gigs and inevitably it maybe rubbed off on the band a bit. I was actually ejected from the band for a little while over a few things, but it all got sorted in the end. Generally, you just have to plough through things and if you’ve tried your utmost to make the music forthright and the gigs intense, then you can’t say you didn’t give it your best shot. We’re pretty resilient as bands go and, as I said previously, we don’t give up easily.
Even though I’m 12 years of age, I have already experienced how cut throat the music business can be. Have you ever been a victim of this or witnessed anything?
We always tried our best to move outside of the accepted big music industry. Consequently, we didn’t really end up in any situations where we were knocked down by it, as we always decided what we wanted to do first and foremost. At the end of the day, when you’re told by some big mover that a situation might be good for you when you feel deeply uncomfortable about it, well, that’s not particularly inspiring. The only times we really got caught out was on stupidly signing bad contracts, or being sold into situations where we had no control because the person we put our trust in decided to cash in without paying us that much heed.
Barney, had you always wanted to be a singer in a band or did you have any other careers in mind? Maybe Politics?
I never planned to be singing in any band. At all. Ever. It really just kind of happened after a series of circumstances. I never viewed it as a career either because when you start to think of your band like that I believe you start to make pedestrian choices. My opinion.
Back in the real world, I was actually an engineer in the car industry beforehand. In future, I’d quite like to be a Soviet era historian – that’s a period of history that fascinates me. Or an evolutionary biologist because that area of science is just…everything. I’m asked pretty frequently about getting into mainstream politics, but the system as it is would probably not let me achieve my goals of pure social justice or equality. So for now I’ll jostle for change around the edges. Ha!
You’re last album was in 2015. Any plans for a new one in the near future?
We have ideas for music and lyrics, but no fully formed music as yet. We’ll start to work a lot more seriously on it in a couple of months or so.
Could you come to my school and play there? They could do with some more windows !!
We’re more likely to break windows with the violent noise than give you more of them. But yeah, maybe I’ll at least drop in for a friendly chat sometime.