If you haven’t already listened to Napalm Death’s absolutely stunning new LP, Apex Predator – Easy Meat, do so as soon as possible. It’s one of the most consistent and diverse albums in the band’s entire catalog and is certainly their most exciting release in several years. Before absolutely decimating everyone’s eardrums at Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem, NC on January 30th, I got a chance to sit down with Napalm Death’s vocalist Barney Greenway and have a brief chat. Ranging from how the new album came together, the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, the subject of consumption and much more, Barney has never been one to be soft-spoken (which is part of the gig when you’re the frontman for the most innovative and lethal grindcore band in existence). Check out the interview below:
You guys definitely picked a great time to tour here, because your new record just dropped! I know it’s only just come out, but has there been any sort of feedback so far?
Barney: Honestly, the feedback has been fucking out of this world. I mean, for a few albums now, that sort of level of appreciation for the band has been growing. With Utilitarian I was like “it can’t get any better than this!”
I’m a bit younger so I only knew about the band around the time that [The Code Is Red]…Long Live the Code came out, but I’ve also noticed in that time was that steady increase in recognition. Especially from publications that don’t typically talk about bands like you guys.
Barney: Exactly. That’s the point. I mean, I have to fucking pinch myself sometimes. I really do! I sincerely mean that. Sometimes I’m just like “this can’t be!” That’s really down to the fact that we’re not doing anything different. Sure enough, the songwriting may have a certain approach, but we’re not doing anything to further ourselves commercially. Arguably the stuff’s more extreme than it ever has been, you know?
This album is definitely not just the 45 second speed drill. Instead it opens up with something that sounds a lot like Swans’ Cop…
Barney: Yeah! Swans’ Cop meets Throbbing Gristle meets all the things that push and fucking hammer into your skull.
There’s obviously a lot of grindcore too, and even some stuff that sounds like Converge to me.
Barney: Of course, because we wouldn’t want to lose that. We love it!
When you were going into this album, I know you were experimenting a lot on Utilitarian, but did you go in with any sort of goals or objectives?
Barney: No! Absolutely not. That opening track was a bass line that Shane [Embury] had, and that whole thing is a bass line. There’s no actual guitar on it. It’s literally just that, and we built the rest from there. All the other stuff on there was just Shane banging around in the studio, banging things and throwing stuff around. I mean, really! And then I came up with the vocals later. It wasn’t formed when we came to the studio, not even close.
Did you just go in with stuff that was more along the classic Napalm Death sound and then experiment later?
Barney: Well, there were certain things that formed outside. There was never an idea of it being the opening track. It was only after it was formed and it developed that it just felt like that.
Now I can’t imagine the album opening any other way. I mean, it’s intense as fuck! It may even be the most intense moment on the whole record for me.
Barney: I totally get that, and I agree with that. Because everybody comes in from different angles, and that’s surely the point. You can get whatever you need from it. You don’t need to take everything from it; you can take what you want from a Napalm album. Well, hopefully. The vocals are worth a mention because I didn’t know what I wanted to do on that opening track. When I sat down and thought about it, I knew I could do just straight up Michael Gira which I’ve done 100 times already. But instead, I wanted to do something that was like John Lydon when he joined Public Image Ltd after The Sex Pistols. I really like his vocal approach. He spits out the vocals; it’s not regular. So I wanted to do that, but amplify the extremity as much as I can.
With your past couple of records, you just seem even more driven than maybe you have been in the past. What’s currently driving you right now?
Barney: That’s a hard one to answer, because actually I think that I wouldn’t necessarily say we’ve been driven any further. It’s just a constant drive. I think we’ve always had chemistry, and you’d expect that after so many albums, but I think it’s become even more compatible. I hope that’s what’s happening. You know what? Sometimes, like a lot of things in life, it’s kind of like riding a bike. When you do it, it’s just there. If it’s a BMX you might learn to do tricks on it. The same kind of principle applies here.
You’re not only a political band, but that’s certainly something that’s been touched on in the past. Were there any sorts of things that you wanted to talk about this time?
Barney: Above and beyond, I get the political thing, and I’ve always endorsed it. I come from the left most definitely, but having said that, I do understand that politics can be very negative as a reputation for being tokenistic. The general interpretation of it can be very divisive, and it’s not my intention to divide. It’s my intention to unite. For that reason, Napalm for me is more of a humanitarian thing, because I think a really important thing for me is the rediscovering of humanity. There are so many dehumanizers in the world right now. The quest for power, religion, the usual suspects. They always deserve to be pointed out.
Maybe political was the wrong word to use on my part.
Barney: I get why people say that though, and I wouldn’t shout it down, but there’s just a bit more to it than that. It’s just more of a humanitarian thing. The catalyst for the album was the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. That wasn’t the only event of that nature, and most of them you don’t even hear about because they’re under the radar. No one wants to hear about it, and it’s kind of swept under the carpet. The Rana Plaza one did become big news, but it didn’t stay big news for as long as it should have, maybe…
I honestly barely remember hearing about it now.
Barney: This is really one of the reasons why I wanted it to be a catalyst. Of course there are many disasters around the world from year to year, and a lot of them stay on the news agenda for days on end, but the Rana Plaza thing slipped off really quickly. That to me was fucking disappointing, because it was the whole issue of exploitation of slave labor, and this was the epitome of why this culture needs to change. It almost seemed as if because it slipped off the agenda so quickly, those people’s lives seemed cheaper than other people’s. Part of that is because of this realization in the West that these are the people that supply cheap goods. So that was the catalyst, and then it became other things like manufacturing, consumption, and disposal. Manufacturing in some of the poorest countries in the world with all the pollutants and bad working conditions that are then consumed in the West, and then sent back as fucking garbage to toxify those places even more! It’s that inequality, and most Napalm albums deal with inequality, and this is just another case of that.
I definitely got the “consumption and waste” message immediately with just the way the artwork looks. It’s pre-packaged and it’s supposed to look nice, but it’s totally disgusting.
Barney: Exactly, it’s just cheap and nasty. The point is that just because something is cheap, whether it’s food, clothing, technology or whatever, somebody always pays a price somewhere down the line. And actually a far worse fucking price than you and I know.
Another thing I saw a couple of days ago was something that you had written to the president of Indonesia. Could you elaborate on that some more?
Barney: Well, I thought I’d just take an opportunity. There’s not often where I get to do things where I’ve got an “in.” We’d heard that this guy was a fan of Napalm and it’s been pictured all over the place. And maybe a lot of bands think that’s great, but to me, I’m a little more cynical than that. I’m suspicious of all politicians and leaders generally speaking, and I think justifiably so. But just because he’s a Napalm fan and puts on our shirt doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to embrace him. I’m not that fucking shallow, I’d like to think! So this issue came up with these guys on death row, and I’m against capital punishment full stop. I think it serves no purpose in terms of rehabilitation and in terms of a better understanding of what drives certain actions. It doesn’t solve anything. So I got asked by the Have Mercy campaign in Australia to write a letter, and how could I not do it? How could I not at least attempt to help in that situation? It would be fucking negligent, of me or the band not to do so. So I just wrote an open request to him, and to be respectful, not because he’s a world leader but because I think it needs some careful words. I’m not saying it’s all down to me; because of course there are many people that are fighting hard around the world to stop capital punishment in general. It’s not looking good right now for those guys…
What are the time limits right now?
Barney: Well, there were two guys on trial for heroin smuggling, and don’t get me wrong: the heroin trade is a terrible thing. But if you’re going to deal with people, you fucking deal with the kingpins. The gangs that are turning over millions and millions of whatever currency you care to mention every year. Scumbags that would fucking kill people and terrorize villages where the the manufacturing is and forcing people to comply with the drug trade just to stay alive. That’s what needs to be dealt with. In the same token, you could deal with that, but look at some of the things that governments are doing in the name of furthering their own ends. These things have a balance.
Have you gotten any sort of response or feedback yet? Are you anticipating anything?
Barney: I didn’t see anything. I would hope that if this guy means what he says. He came in on a platform of a less corrupt and more humane approach to government, so show your colors! There are other things as well. I hope that he would deal with the big fucking problem in the food industry with palm oil. Basically a lot of jungle is being taken away and sold off to private companies in Indonesia and a lot of Southeast Asia because the land supports the farming of palm trees. The thing is, once you plant palms, the land is gone. You can only use it for palms, because the root is so toxic for the earth that you can’t do anything else with it. It becomes dead earth, effectively. Unless you want to cultivate it with more palms. It’s killing off natural habitats, orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and a whole list of really endangered animals. Not just animals that have a big presence. So that’s another thing I want to approach him about if I can.
Do you think that’s something you’ll be doing soon?
Barney: Well, I’ve already been approached to do something, and I will. I can’t say with whom just yet because I don’t want to say something before it’s all set up. But it’s with some ecological groups in the UK and internationally.
Another thing that I find interesting with you guys and even though your subject matter is really serious and deals with corruption, any time I’ve seen you guys play or do interviews there’s always a sense of positivity there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad interview with you guys. How do you guys help retain a sense of positivity while constantly trying to go after people and issues like these?
Barney: We have to, and there are two levels to that. On the musical side of things, advancement within music is a positive. How could it not be a positive?! On the ethos side of things, if the desired end result is a more egalitarian world, then there’s your positivity right there before you even go into specifics and break it down. It’s right there, so enough said really.
Well we can wrap this up. I can’t wait to see you guys tonight! Is there going to be a lot of new material being played tonight?
Barney: Yeah, a good five or six tracks. We like to play our stuff. A lot of bands might do one or two songs, but we’re like ‘fuck it!” We made the album, it seems good, and people are into it, so fuck it. Let’s play the stuff. Thanks a lot! I appreciate it.