As I turn up to Fibbers in York the first thing I hear is ‘Barney’s not here.’ Apparently he’s decided to drive up to the gig by himself, and he’s not quite made it yet. And so for a short while I get the joys of listening to a sound guy checking the microphones by screaming periodically into them, and someone hitting a snare repeatedly. But when Barney Greenway, full throated god of the underground metal scene for over 20 years does eventually show up, you’d be hard pressed to spot him as the legend of extreme metal that he undoubtedly is. In fact he looks like a geography teacher, albeit on stage the angriest geography teacher you’ve ever seen. Given that our interview starts only a scant minute or two after he gets out of his car, it is initially a slightly prickly start, but it’s not long before this most outspoken of frontmen is waxing lyrical about everything from Chris Evans to internet downloading.*
Interview by Paul Stephenson
Demon Pigeon: We’re coming up to the time of year when festival fever starts to set in, and it seems you’ve got a fair few lined up for the summer?
Barney Greenway: People always ask you what festivals you’re doing but you know I don’t read the bloody thing, I do glance at it, I know I’m going somewhere but I don’t know the full ins and outs.
DP: The new album has been out for a while now, and you’ve had the chance to see how it goes over live, how are you finding it so far?
BG: In many ways we’re actually coming to the end of what we might do with this particular album. Not right now, but towards the end of this year, we’re going to start looking at the next album, but so far everything’s been pretty much 100% positive.
DP: The last three albums or so always seem to have nothing but good reviews.
BG: It’s actually a bit unsettling actually, you know? You’re always wondering what’s coming around the corner. But you can’t suck in the plaudits, you’ve just got to get on with what you feel is right for the band. It’s about trying to make as good an album as possible, of course, so as long as we feel we’re doing that, then obviously we feel happy.
DP: As for the next album, have you had any thoughts about how that’s gonna go?
BG: Nothing as yet, I’ve got some titles written down, but they’re only titles that are pending, you know. Something will spring out at some point.
DP: How do you guys set about making an album?
BG: We actually really set ourselves against the clock. It’s like hitting a stopwatch. We’ll set a time for the studio about two months ahead, and that’s how long we have to write it. And I spend most of those two months sweating, through the inevitable mental blocks, but I always get there in the end. But it’s what creates that spontaneity.
BG: That I like. As long as we have the undercurrent of fast and loose sounding, you can still progress in all sorts of areas within that.
DP: It’s not often that you find a band who have been going as long as you guys have who still seem to have that fire in the belly to constantly make it better every time.
BG: I’ve never understood why bands let that happen to themselves. More the fool them to be fair. There’s always this thing in music where bands seem to get a bit of attention, and then they feel that they’ve got to somehow step off the gas a little bit in terms of the impact of the band, in terms of the heaviness or the vitality, and I’ve never really understood why you would want to do that. It doesn’t make any sense to me. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something different, but as long as it’s not lacking in soul.
DP: It’s now coming up to the 30th anniversary of Napalm Death now, any plans to mark the occasion?
BG: It’s been noted, but I don’t really pay much attention to that sort of thing. I’m not really one for these big regal celebrations. It’s just fucking tacky sometimes. I’ve no doubt that someone around the band might try and trump it up or something, but it’s a bit of a nothing to me. It’s good in the sense that you look back and think shit, we’ve been around that long, where does the time go? But in real terms I didn’t join the band until ’89, so in real terms it’s only been 21 years for me. But then I’ve been with the band since ’85 in terms of being friends with them, so it is close to me. But there’s a lot of things that are done within the industry that amuse me, and sometimes make me cringe.
DP: That brings me nicely along to talking about Earache. It seems like you’re really a lot more settled now at Century Media.
BG: We are, and we have been, and I’d like to continue working with them, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with that, because we’re actually at the end of the contract, so who knows? The situation has definitely been 100% better than what it was in the Earache years. But I’m reluctant to keep slagging Earache off, because I feel now like everybody has said what they wanted to say, there are still a lot of things that are done these days that really fucking puzzle me, with Napalm’s catalogue, but it serves no purpose to keep on at it.
DP: My first experience of you, as a band, was back when I saw you on TFI Friday. Watching that back though, it’s hard to tell how much Chris Evans was taking the piss.
BG: As far as I could tell he was really into it. Before we were on he was definitely into the band. I don’t know if he really gets the ethos behind it, or even if knows there is an ethos there, but he was definitely into it. But after that we kind of took a conscious decision to not do so much of that stuff. One show after that asked us to do this kind of parody thing about Westlife, and we thought that was getting a bit much, we don’t really want to do that. It could have gotten us a lot of publicity. But it’s not the be all and end all for us to be on TV. It is a shame generally that it’s only the sanitised end of music that gets any exposure, but at the same time I don’t lose any sleep over it either. I’ve survived long enough without that kind of exposure.
DP: You’ve never been shy about talking about things that are important to you, both as a band as an individual.
BG: Nobody should be shy about that, not just me. But it’s not just about campaigning about issues, it’s about freedom of humanity. But sometimes it gets clouded because it looks like you’re being a bit trite, like ‘this person’s got nothing better to do so he just picks up on a load of ‘issues,’’ And that’s when things start to get a bit political, and politics is bollocks. The mainstream politics is a load of old fucking tosh, and more so than ever. What I try to push is that I don’t want to tell people how to live, but people should be aware that as a human being you can do what the fuck you want, you can say whatever you want, it’s only the rules and regulations, the if you like Orwellian forces that will stop you from doing what is your right as a human being, as an entity on this Earth on the top of the food chain. So all the things I raise are humanitarian, they’re human rights based, because that comes above anything.
DP: You’ve always had a lot of issues with the way that the music industry conducts itself. Do you look at what’s happening now with the decline in the industry and what’s happening on the internet with regard to piracy with relish?
BW: Well they dug their own grave with the way they treated people in the first place, like a big old gravy train, much like the politicians. And like the politicians, it’s coming home to roost. To be fair not everyone in the industry is like that, and there were a lot of people trying to do good things that were maybe hamstrung by the way the industry works. I haven’t got this great seething hatred that makes me want to see everyone who ever worked in the music industry stoned in the streets. I mean we have a certain interest in this because obviously there are people out the downloading our albums, but I don’t mind it really. But what I would say is that when you download it before it comes out, that can be a problem. Because the money that comes in doesn’t go to the band, it goes to the record label in terms of recouping back what they spend on the album and in promoting it. And that’s quite important. It’s not some industry sham, and if you’re a small to medium sized band that’s important. So all I ask is that people refrain from doing that, but if later on, once it’s out if people download it, then that’s the only way people can get it sometimes.
DP: Do you see it affecting how you do things in the future?
BW: We’ve thought as a band about completely going DIY, but I must admit I couldn’t handle it right now. I have enough duties with the band, doing the gig stuff and all the behind the scenes stuff I already do. I just aint got the hours to be able to oversee a Napalm release. So I need the label, no question. But a lot of bands can go their own way, and that’s a good thing for them. And you’ve got to remember with the internet, with Myspace in particular, that Rupert Murdoch owns it, and that really puts me off it. Talk about Orwellian figures.
DP: Obviously we’re in the middle of election fever at the minute; it would be remiss of me not to ask you your opinion on that.
BG: Well I’m an ex Labour party member, but it’s a difficult one because as much as I can’t stand the whole thing about politics right now, there’s still just a big part of me that wants to keep the Tories out. And for all their problems I think the only way to stop them and keep things in a reasonably fair way is to vote Labour. I usually vote Green. But it’s fucking tedious, a load of tedious people banging on, but we’re in a system, and it ain’t gonna shift any time soon, so all I can do is what I feel to be the best.
*I had promised Dan that I’d ask Barney about whether he misses being a much loved children’s entertainer, but to my eternal shame I completely forgot while I was sat with the man, and only remembered ten minutes afterwards. Sorry Dan.