Napalm Death

By Mark Derricutt

October 4th sees legendary grindcore pioneers Napalm Death return to New Zealand. It's been two years since Napalm was last here; then joined with Carcass, and now with Brujeria, Lock Up, and local support by Malevolence for what will surely be one the last shows of its' ilk at the equally legendary Kings Arms Tavern.

It was a cold dark Tuesday morning as my phone chimed with words I never I thought I'd see: "Mark 'Barney' Greenway has accepted your request" and there I was, on the phone with none of than the voice of the legendary Grindcore heavyweights - Napalm Death.

Barney Greenway performing at the KIngs Arms in 2015 - Photo by Mark Derricutt

Barney Greenway performing at the KIngs Arms in 2015 - Photo by Mark Derricutt

Hello is that Barney?

Yes, how are you doing mate?

I’m good how are you?

I’m not too bad, a bit in the dark as Hotmail’s gone down so I’m waiting to hear from people I’m clearly not going to hear from today…

That’s ironic, my day job is email and one of our (NZ’s that is) largest ISPs just decided to close their email services…

Hotmail has done the same, in just a less than… permanent way.

Ok, let's segue this into the interview, Napalm Death has been around for almost 30 years now.

Well officially the origins are ’81 so that's, what is it…36 years since the very origins of the band which not many people are to au fait with probably the very early days but pretty much that kinda time.

Just thinking back over that 30 years or so how has, obviously technology has changed how we do interviews, organise gigs, and stuff, but how do you see the technology changing the day to day operations of a touring, working band?

Obviously I can only speak for Napalm, and it hasn’t really changed for us, it hasn’t changed anything. Ok yeah, emails something that’s been around for a long time and that’s something that we utilise like anybody else. But I can say that certainly in the music scene - the internet and sharing, it hasn’t really changed the way Napalm operates.

Not even with connecting with fans? Facebook/Facebook Live? Have you considered doing live streaming stuff?

We haven’t taken it as far as some bands have, but sure in terms of being able to get information out there then obviously Facebook, Twitter and stuff like that. I have to say that specifically I don’t, I don’t do that side of things - the bass player Shame Embury handles that stuff. I’m not personally on social media myself you know, I’ve kinda purposefully kept away from it really because... just simply because I’ve got so much going on that I just don’t have time to deal with that stuff. Friends of mine, since they took on social media have gone from having comparatively serene you know, like smooth lives and now it seems like they’re just stuck on social media like all the time. And I don’t want that - it’s just not for me.

Much rather get out there and see people face to face, connect with fans in person.

Yeah, don’t get me wrong - the getting information out there to kids who are following the Napalm Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or whatever else - for that it’s great, it’s fantastic. But otherwise beyond that, I couldn’t be bothered you know? It’s not because I’m, I’m not worried about the abusive side of things, that doesn’t bother me personally so much. But it’s just the time you end up getting tied up with this stuff, I’ve got other things to do. What little time I have I like to go and breathe in some fresh air in my lungs you know?

So you guys have just come off touring with Brujeria and Lock Up across the US.

No, it was a European tour back in May, so a couple of months ago now. Obviously we’re doing a sort of variant of it in New Zealand/Australia.

Yep, so you’ve got 7 dates kicking off in Auckland, at The Kings Arms - possibly one of the last big shows as it’s unfortunately been sold.

Yeah we’ve done it four times now? Something like that…

The last time I saw you here was in 2015, shortly after the Apex Predator release with Carcass.

Yeah and Extortion were on that as well I think - Australian band. I remember it, it’s a good place, it looked like it kinda needed a bit of love and attention that place…

It’s one of those venues… it’s a midsize venue that seen a lot of action, it’s not the most glamorous place but it’s got its own vibe.

It’s got a character.

…bands can really connect with fans, you’re pretty much in-your-face with the audience, during and after the show, a lot of bands like that…

Definitely, I’m on that page, we had a great time at that place.

So what’s new in Napalm Land? I hear rumours that you’re working on a new album that’s possibly coming out late 2018.

Yeah that’s it exactly. It’s in the preliminary stages at the moment. Basically, Shane the bass player laid down some of his stuff, some of which may not be used, some of which will - we don’t know what exactly. And I gotta be honest, I’ve only heard… I’ve had fleeting listens of it up until now so we’ll see. But realistically that’s about the time frame, like late next year.

So what’s your actual writing process, is Shane doing most of the writing, then the rest of the band comes together?

Well it was Shane and Mitch Harris, and always has been Shane and Mitch share the writing, and obviously Jesse when he was aliv. And lyrics is me, mostly, 95%, basically the guys write the tunes or the riffs and bring them into rehearsal studio and Danny will be some ideas to them. Or Shane/Mitch will already have their idea of how they want the rhythms to go and I will write lyrics at the same time, pretty standard way of doing things.

I understand with Apex you took a slightly different approach by doing it in kind of segments to give distinct vibes to different parts of the album and I see that in Hierarchies, which includes kind of - I wouldn’t say melody and harmony, but it has melody/harmony in some of your vocal groans and guitar solos.

Yeah, where that came from - the direct reference point for that song, and I’m certainly not ashamed to admit it was Killing Joke, it’s very Killing Joke actually, that whole refrain, and certainly the chorus part, that’s where it comes from - yeh you’re right it does have strains of melody but it’s a very twisted melody, it’s not conventional.

It’s not “Napalm Death are going Clean Vocals”

No, but it’s like I say it’s Killing Joke and a lot of post-punk, a big influence on Napalm and that again, they also had a dark distinctive sort of melody, so yeh we like that, so we try to bring a bit of that into the mix.

I always kind of thought that Grindcore isn’t really a genre that leaves a lot of room for experimentation in music but you guys seem to actually pull that off quite well, every song seems to their own unique nuance, their own riffs and drum patterns and vocal patterns as well, and there is actually a lot of room in there.

Yeah, that’s a fair point - but if you really dig down into the genre you’ll find some quite interesting oddities, if that’s the right way to describe it. You will find some bands who are doing some weird and wonderful stuff, like for us - we do not want to ever dispense with that chaotic, fast and furious core of the band because that’s what made the band appealing to people in the first place. But that doesn’t mean to say you can’t evolve - everything can be evolved as long as you don’t lose the feel and the abrasiveness of what you do in terms of ourselves, and I think you can go all kinds of places without edges off yourself.

A question that was rattling through my mind earlier, and I’m not sure what your response will be but I was wondering what Brexit has, how that’s affected the music scene, both in the UK and general, or the life of a working musician, has there been any on flow of that for bands?

It remains to be seen what’s going to happen with that, but I think there’s a very good chance that in two years time we could be some really ?!?!??!?! pain in the arse territory in terms of needing to have work permits for basically even going to France, which is our closest EU country. I remember in 89, you know I’ve been gigging when we did need permits for certain places, and it was; when you're trying to do a 10-11 country tour of Europe for example, and you start needing to get permits it's just a total…. Mate, you just don’t need it! I’m worried that it’s going to go down that road. Above and beyond the band stuff - the big concern for me with this Brexit thing is that it’s the separation between peoples.

It’s this isolationism that’s going on at the moment. When you look at the history of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s when Europe again was very fragmented, you allowed people like General Franko from Spain, Mussolini from Italy, and of course Hitler from Germany, to do the things that they did, cause people took their eye off the ball. And um, that’s what troubles me about the situation. Not only in the UK but in other countries in Europe. It’s starting to become very fragmented you know, and um, I think there could be some pretty troublesome times ahead - we shall see. The whole financial aspect of the EU is not something that particularly concerns me but I think, if you were to ask me - I’m not nationalistic, I’m not patriotic or anything, never have been, it doesn’t mean anything to me. But I do feel, and I have enjoyed the very mixed experiences I have as, I guess being within proximity of the European mainland, you know I like that sort of freedom to travel. And not have to fucking deal with borders and passports and stuff like that - so to turn the clock back with that it’s going to be a little bit depressing.

I was just thinking about the irony, now we have Twitter, Facebook, and everyone's communicating freely, we can’t travel to see people freely…

Sure… my whole thing to be perfectly honest is to do away with passports altogether. And I believe that people should be able to travel and/or settle wherever they want in the world. Borders were the product of peoples - the powerful, protecting their own interests, that’s what it was. That’s what borders are to me, they are the folly of rich people. And when I say rich people I mean just people who are lucky enough to have a firm hold on resources, and the ways and means - I would do away with borders completely, and I believe if you did that, we’d see far less conflict in the world. I think you’d see far less of people basically committing heinous acts and losing all sight of humanity, I think that you would see a better world if you got rid of borders.

So we mentioned Mitch before being one of the main songwriters, whats current with Mitch? Is John Cooke still touring musician or?

John Cooke is touring guitarist for Napalm Death. There’s no change in the situation basically. John Cookes touring guitarist, Mitch is - he’s still in Napalm Death, he’s on hiatus but he is a part of the band - he’s not out of the band. Whether he goes on the road with us again I’m not sure, it doesn’t look like it at this point but you never know, so what we’re doing right at the moment is we’re trying to figure out about Mitch obviously working on the new album with us.

So Mitch is still actively writing music with the band?

As far as I know, again - as I kind of alluded to earlier on, we’re at the stage now where the individuals are writing music. So Shane has written the stuff that he has written which I do possess, but haven’t listened to yet. So in other words it’s a very individualistic process at this point, so whether Mitch is, whatever/however much Mitch has got - I don’t know at this point, he kinda mentioned that he has some stuff. But I couldn’t say for sure what he’s got or hasn’t got, so now it’s just a matter of figuring out how we do it with him at this point.

Right, I think that’s all my questions and I think we’re almost out of time so it’s been great talking with you and I look forward to seeing you guys at The Kings Arms on October 4th.