Photo courtesy of Century Media
Napalm Death vocalist Barney Greenway has long been—and probably always will be—one of extreme metal's most vital voices; his caustic bellow packs a vicious punch, but his biting sociopolitical lyrics hit even harder. From the band's earliest beginnings back in grimy 80s Birmingham to their current incarnation as one of the genre's most trusted stalwarts, these paragons of British grind have spent the last three decades churning out quality extremity—and still bash out a Dead Kennedys cover on every stop on their exhaustive global tour schedules. Greenway's own Napalm Death debut (on 1990's classic Harmony Corruption) was a turning point for the band, and they really haven't looked back since. The band's 15th full-length, Apex Predator - Easy Meat, is out 1/27 on Century Media, and Noisey took the opportunity to nab a candid interview with Barney Greenway about metal politics, sticking together, and dealing with skinheads.
Noisey: So first off, I was told that I need to ask you about your Justin Bieber T-shirt.
Barney Greenway: Yes, I do have one, I wore it in Russia because I thought it looked quite effeminate, and I wanted to look quite effeminate because they just passed that stupid law to ban promotion of non-traditional sexual practices. It’s quite silly, and I wanted to let them know how stupid their law was.
How did people react to the T-shirt?
Yeah, I mean, to be honest, most of them were just laughing. What can you do, you know?
At least you put it out there.
Well, sure. You know, I’ll always try my best!
I’ve seen you guys play loads of times, and you always come out with the anti-fascist speech before “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,’ which is still such an important message to send. Have you ever gotten into any trouble for playing it?
I actually think that if you take away the cultural definition or whatever as being a metalhead or a punk, most people in the general scene are actually really quite humane. I actually think they do, they know what they feel is in their eyes the right or the wrong thing to do and they do actually think about these things. You know, I’ve traveled the length of Britain and to the States. Apart from some particularly ugly incidents in the early 90s—when white supremacists participated in the latest trend, which was very disturbing—apart from them, there’s really been a comparatively small amount of negativity since I’ve been out of the States. And you know, not to be funny but, even playing more of the typically conservative settings, even then, never too many problems.
Have you gotten any shit anywhere else you’ve been?
I just get a few stern looks from outright absolutes at a couple of places. There was a little bit of it in Croatia, actually; there was a little bit of right absolute, just a couple of kids in the crowd. Most people just kind of looked up [during "Nazi Punks Fuck Off"] and went, “Shut up!” We haven’t had any violence either, which is fine. They just kind of stared. Didn’t even have to intervene.
At this point, if you’re going to see Napalm Death, you probably already know what you’re in for.
Yeah. I mean, to be honest, some of those people come to try and stir things up a little bit. I’ve seen it on a million occasions. It’s ugly. It’s really ugly. You really despair when you see that stuff. Some of them have got quite a set of balls on them, me being quite the opposite; I would never dream of going into a white supremacist gathering because I’d get the living shit kicked out of me.
Most bands are content to just go up there, do their thing, and get out, but Napalm Death has always made a point of going up there with a real message.
Don’t waste your opportunities, you know? At the end of the day, I’m not trying to hit people with a big stick. because I think if you force people into it, the psychology is you’ll turn completely against the things that you’d quite like to look at and consider. So I just always try to put stuff on the table you know? I always try and tell them,'Look, guys, this is happening, take it, chew it over, consider it, and form your own judgments.' Over in the States it’s always a little more aggressive, you’re in the heat of the moment, so you’re always arguing. I just want people to know, you can be into this music and you can still be a human being. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive. We’re a double-seated vehicle. Let’s not forget: music is important. We’re not just standing on soap boxes, you know? There is still an entertainment value in it, of course. But there is a particular thrust of the band lyrically, and for me, it’s always been more about that. It's not just having as it as a convenient hook for something to sing about, either— it’s a genuine statement of analysis, critique, and exposé.
Photo courtesy of Century Media
It must be a a funny thing seeing people moan that the PC police are taking over metal, just because more bands are becoming aware of certain issues and have become more willing to speak out.
I think that the whole term itself, “PC,” has always been a very convenient term to attack people that actually care about people, and care about treating other people with dignity, you know? It’s absurd. Don't get me wrong, people are entitled to their own opinions; everybody should have one that wants one. I don’t really mind too much about that, but I actually laugh because it's just so strange that people hold those views. Even in heavy metal, for example, you find some of the most homoerotic imagery, and you think that would really be a bit of a sticking point with a lot of those people. Go figure.
You've never slowed down, either; the past few years have seen a lot of big name reunions and comebacks, but Napalm Death has always just been out there killing it.
We’ve always had a problem with spontaneity in terms of writing music, and we always appreciate the value of noise and chaos. And that helps us; if we record something and it sounds too stilted, we’ll just ditch it and find something that’s a bit more chaotic. We love it, we like that freedom, of almost going off the risers.
We matured during the 90s, when if you played extreme music you couldn’t get arrested or anything [laughs]. You’d show up at some of the places in Germany and there’d be like fifteen, twenty people, but even so, we’d still play for the fifteen or twenty kids who didn’t have to spend their money to go into those gigs, and so they’d get the same as they do now—a hundred percent gig. Nothing more, nothing less. I can’t just do something and go through the motions, I have to do it properly. It’s just a given for us, really.
After all this time, do you still feel like a DIY band?
We’ve got that mentality. Sure enough, we’ve got a record label, we’ve actually got a manager as well, but we’re not dummies; we don’t sit there and take whatever people say. We actually get involved; we live and die pretty much by our own decisions, you know? It's a good thing to have, that kind of control. Lose sight of it, you’ll have your penalty, is what I would say. Because that’s when things start to slide, when people lose them. Kim Kelly is revisiting 'Scum' on Twitter.