The ever so lovely Coop caught up with Barney Greenway from Napalm Death on their recent tour. Here's how their chat went…
Mark Cooper: Was Sheffield last night the first one in this country?
Barney Greenway: Well we’ve been doing bits and pieces really; it’s all over the place.
Coop: It’s a good thing though?
Barney: Well were not doing blanket tours at the minute-in other words-huge amounts of dates; because I’ll be honest, in the week at the minute, wherever you are a lot of places are dead. No-one can afford it.
Coop: Because of the economy.
Barney: Keep it to the weekends like.
Coop: People pick and choose their gigs carefully.
Barney: They definitely have been.
Coop: You have another show after this one?
Barney: Yeah York.
Coop: Then Mexico?
Barney: Yeah later in May.
Coop: That’s kind of putting you all over the place, is there much difference?
Barney: To be honest the crowd is fairly uniform, across the world, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Coop: That’s in the belonging sense.
Barney: Yeah, yeah, people are people at the end of the day; but yeah the places are different, obviously you know.
Coop: Is it the whole Henry Rollin’s thing of ‘You never get to see the culture of the place’?
Barney: I try to, I don’t always to be fair, sometimes I do-you get out and about y’know.
Coop: That’s got to be important.
Barney: Of course, I think culture's a good thing; I also think it’s a bad thing-because cultures divide people. I think the art of culture is a very good thing.
Coop: There’s always a productive side of it, but like anything taken to the enth degree, there’s always going to be a bad side to it.
Barney: Yeah cultures divide people, theres no mistake.
Coop: One of the things I’ve kept seeing written about you is this ‘Godfathers of grind’.
Barney: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Coop: I mean how do you feel about that?
Barney: Well what I do think about it, is it’s nice when people say that, I’m not going to sort of kick dirt in their face, but at the same time how can you sort of-you can’t base anything on that-your only as good as your next album, or your next gig. People that rest on their laurels like that end up making music that’s not as good as it could have been, to put it mildly. We just do what we think is right at the time, and try and be spontaneous.
Coop: Is it because of that honesty and integrity-sometimes to a fault-I’m thinking of decisions you’ve made, because you’ve said ‘That goes against my moral ground’ or what you believe is right?
Barney: Well yeah, yeah-I don’t have a moral compass to be fair-moralities a fucking sham, but I get what you’re saying. Most of the things I don’t have any regrets, certainly not on the principle side of things, certainly got a lot of regrets of things we’ve done, for want of a better word on the business side of things; but anything done on the point of principle usually I’ve looked back and gone ‘Yeah, I’ve done what I thought was the right thing’ y’know?
Coop: You only have to answer to yourself. More of a common sense thing.
Barney: Yeah. Living your life as you see fit. All these gigs are, when you put all these people together-it’s a microcosm of what’s there outside. What we intend to do is use the language we use, and use it creatively-it's not meant to be an intellectual study, or to put us on some kind of intellectual pedestal. It’s not like that, it’s purely creative. I hear a lot of musical stuff and think yeah they could have done better with that, they could have stimulated the listener y’know?
Coop: Do you think that there is sometimes a dumbing down of the process?-that they think ‘We should say this, but were going to say a slightly lesser version’
Barney: I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t claim that people are somehow less capable. I just think it’s the natural way-it can be quite formulaic y’know, when you get bands that follow on from other bands that are quite stylistically close. That’s an unfortunate by-product, things get quite generic. I could try and do something different, not sounding elitist or anything like that.
Coop: How do you challenge yourself?
Barney: Well to be honest we don’t, it just all meshes together in the end. I can’t tell you how it’s shaped, but it just literally comes together….
Coop: …everybody wants to know the secret sauce…
Barney: …and there ain’t, that’s the thing, there aint one. To be honest, maybe in the nineties, at some point when I really tried and tried and tried, and I came out with a load of fucking word salad-I mean really unbelievable.
Coop: There are so many artists out there would say everything they’ve done is fine.
Barney: That would be really arrogant. I’ve learned, everyone learns, learn for themselves, everyday of their lives; and there are points, when I kind of just took a shot in the dark, and come up with a load of lyrics, and used really complex words. I look back and think why the fuck did I use those words? when I could have said it in a non-generic way, using a more direct way.
Coop: Is that because people might not be able to understand you?
Barney: Too wordy man.
Coop: Looking back on some of your influences, Swans, Sonic youth, one of the things I read about Judas priest was that they took the slow metal and they just turned up the tempo’s-is that what you did with some of the stuff you heard?
Barney: Yeah, a lot of it is to do with the guitar work, more than anything .I mean Mitch especially has a really good way of writing that style into Napalm sound, and obviously we interpret stuff in our own way –we don’t directly copy.
Coop: Looking at some of the things you’ve said and some of the overt political stuff have you ever thought about standing for office?
Barney: You know what , obviously the politics is the big buzz word that always comes up-and in a sense politics is fucking nonsense, it really is, because it’s tokenism a lot of the time. Does it really, does it ever really bring about radical change? Things that do really need to be radically changed?-not really.
Coop: We had an historic debate with the three party members-which essentially became about personality.
Barney: A lot of tokenism.
Coop: Zappa used to say that the only way real change could be brought about was to infiltrate the establishment.
Barney: Yeah, well you do, you do.
Coop: Do you think that’s the way to go about it?
Barney: Well the thing is we are living in a certain system right now. We can’t turn the system on its head as much as we’d like to sometimes, so there is a certain amount of that, that you can infiltrate within the system; but you know speech is not free, it hasn’t been for the last 200 years, and people always bang on about how we have free speech, but we haven’t really, and so until we have that really, you’re not going to be able to make the drastic changes.
I mean it’s weird for me, because I’m stuck between two places, I’m an ex labour party member, I didn’t like the way the party went, with like Blair and all that stuff, and before that actually.
In another sense though, I want to keep the Tories out. I don’t hate people as such, I just don’t like this conservative ‘I’m alright-fuck you’ mentality do you know what I mean? I’m not classist really, people are people to me, I don’t like the monarchy, doesn’t mean I’d go up to one of them and hit them with a brick. I think the monarchy’s actually a sham.
Coop: There’s a strong sense of in-justice in your work, was there anything that kind of instilled that in you?
Barney: The miner’s strike. I’d known about apartheid from an early age, y’know South Africa. I’m not one for regionalism, but I always liked the way Liverpool stood up to the Tories, and the Sun newspaper and things like that.
Coop: Scousers have a very clear sense of what’s right and wrong.
Barney: Yeah. From an early age I hated the way companies and employers wanted to mess with peoples working pay and conditions.
Coop: There are certain events that have led to the beliefs you have, like vegetarianism.
Barney: Yeah, but there’s also a self realization in it that doesn’t involve any events, in a sense that you know what, when you really sit down and think about it-really-you realize you don’t have to conform to any or morals that society puts on you, You can be whoever you want to be. You can be yourself and understand that life and happiness is a really non-materialistic thing, and it’s actually better to be happy than to have loads of stuff and be really unhappy.
Coop: You used to review yourself-for Kerrang?
Barney: I used to do all the bands and stuff yeah.
Coop: Not anymore?
Barney: I’d wrote some stuff many years ago, and someone picked up on it, said ‘Do you want to job?’ and I was like ‘Fair enough yeah’. I stopped doing it like, because I didn’t feel it was appropriate in the end, because I’m always really honest, if I didn’t like a band I’d say so, and it got me into trouble a few times. Well it wasn’t the fact of me getting into trouble, I just thought to myself ‘I don’t want to really do this’, and it was really just that.
Coop: So the album’s been out since 2009?
Coop: So what’s the reaction now it’s been out a while?
Barney: 100%, it’s been 100% positive.
Coop: So are there any clear favourites coming through live?
Barney: Were an established band I think. I hate to sound so robotic, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s just really works. Once we start work on a new album it will change-this time were going to go out with two set-lists, rather than do the same one every night. Keep it fresh y’know? I like to do old stuff; I don’t just want to just do new stuff.
Coop: So the album ‘Time waits for no slave’ its title, the conception behind it is about finding your own personal time.
Barney: Yeah, yeah-that’s really important. You spend a very finite time on this earth, what do you want to do?-get through not thinking about yourself, and I don’t mean that in a hedonistic way; I mean in a real simple, basic realisation of living life. You should live it; you should have an appreciation of what it is to be you-you and the world around you, putting it really simply.
Coop: In this age there doesn’t seem to be any scope for that.
Barney: Yeah. Consumerism is rampant obviously, it goes without saying. It puts you on an artificial plane. They live around parks, and they never go to them.
Coop: Museums that are free.
Barney: Real basics, like parks with trees and lakes are just one example. You pull off the motorway, you drive through the fucking Pennines, like we did today and people go ‘Fucking hell, I haven’t been to anywhere like this for ages.’
Coop: You guys existed pre internet. What was it like before, and then after?
Barney: To be honest, I don’t remember-we just accepted things the way they were.
Coop: There was that symbolism of tapes and vinyl you just don’t have anymore.
Barney: No, you don’t. I don’t really have too strong point of view either way on that to be honest, I think if people want music they will get it how they need it.
Coop: There’s a guy who can record his band in his bedroom, and he can put it on the internet.
Barney: Very handy.
Coop: Maybe that’s that freedom of speech we need?
Barney: Yeah, the internet is free, but not entirely.
Coop: The set list for last night/ tonight is it similar sort of thing?
Barney: It’s the same.
Coop: What should we expect?
Barney: Aw, it’s a mix of everything, every era of Napalm, what we like to play as well.
Coop: I read one of the opening songs is ‘Strong arm’, and you do ‘A man’s’ world’.
Barney: Obviously it’s from the second album, it’s a great song, lyrically it’s very important thing to talk about, abut seeing life in a balanced way, not treating people any differently because they are female or have different coloured skin or sexuality or whatever.
Coop: You work with the musicians union?
Barney: Yeah, I sit on the committee.
Coop: What does that involve?
Barney: It’s as it is really, because there are a lot of kids in bands or older people in bands, whatever style of music, really have a hard time of it y’know? So I try to represent them and look after their interests.
Coop: That’s really grass roots.
Barney: Yeah, it’s like what we talked about, union representation y’know? For people that wouldn’t have representation.
Coop: Think that’s a really good place to end, thanks.
Barney: Thank you.