Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interview with Napalm Death from 2001

Napalm Death is coming to Helsinki on Monday... so this week, I think I'll reprint my earlier Napalm Death articles. This one was printed in October 2001 from LotFP Weekly #1:

Ironic that the first interview presented would be with NAPALM DEATH concerning their latest album, Enemy of the Music Business. But it’s fitting. There wouldn’t be any Lamentations of the Flame Princess without NAPALM DEATH. Hell, there wouldn’t be a lot of things without NAPALM DEATH! The flagship of Armada Earache as it exploded in the late 80s/early 90s, NAPALM DEATH is a highly influential beast in the most extreme of metal. Not only did the band serve as proving grounds for musicians who went on to form bands like CARCASS, CATHEDRAL, GODFLESH, SCORN, and more, but the sound… the sound! Crafting not just extreme noise, but songs out of it, that still stand to this day, such as Suffer the Children, Unchallenged Hate, Scum, Siege of Power… some written as the extreme metal scene was still delineating itself from the thrash movement, and NAPALM was there on the ground floor. Fast forward many years, and some not so great albums in the interim, and we have a phoenix rising from the ashes. NAPALM DEATH had become something less than worthy of such a name, but somehow, even retaining the same lineup from the previous five albums, came crushing with Enemy of the Music Business, a genuinely angry, destructive album that wasn’t just NAPALM DEATH, but NAPALM FUCKING DEATH! It was my honor and privilege to be able to speak to one of my heroes, vocalist Barney Greenway, for a lengthy discussion last summer, which is probably for the best as just like my first talk with him was dominated by speculation about the then week-old Columbine incident, this probably would have been talking about terrorists if the interview was done this month. But music counted here, and for sure, the message behind NAPALM DEATH is surely more relevant now than ever…

(interview by James Edward Raggi IV)
So how are you this late evening out there?
Yeah, I’m pretty good man. A rare moment of relaxation to be honest with you. I’m just taking advantage of a few hours to myself. We just did a British tour. The European tour was a few months before that, and we just did Japan and Malaysia.

How is Malaysia for playing shows?
Very sort of strange at first. There’s all these typical garish horrible multinational signs like in Tokyo. And then you’re in the jungle! It was good. The gig itself was great because not too many bands get down there at all. We were one of the first since FUGAZI got there.

Did you get a taste of what the local scene was like there? I suppose you got handed a lot of tapes.

Actually I’m surprised I didn’t get too many. I got a couple I haven’t listened to yet, because frankly I’ve still got half the tapes and CDs in a stack from when I was in Europe! I do listen to everything but it takes time. I’ve still got a couple things to listen to. We played with one band, I can’t remember their name, they were silly crazy! They were full percussion, bongos and everything, and a seik playing the bongos and they played metal over it. But proper percussion!

How many dates can really compose a British tour?

You can do two months just in Britain if you wanted to. People just tend to play in pubs. We just did eleven shows.

In the US, you’re in one spot one day and 500 miles the next.

People complain here if they have to drive two hours to a show, and in the States you have those crazy 15 hour drives!

I guess we should get properly into the interview here. I’m at the point where I have well over a thousand CDs. Not counting cardboard sleeve promos, not anything I’ve traded away. Just full CDs in my collection now. And through it all, the band I have the most CDs from, is NAPALM DEATH. I’ve got 15 NAPALM DEATH CDs plus the split with COALESCE. It’s amazing how you’ve just kept going through the years.

It’s been a real up and down, to use the horrible cliché, roller coaster ride. There was a point for me, the Harmony Corruption time, when we heard that America for us had exploded. It was a crazy time. And then the last few years before this album when the label had completely given up on promoting us. We were going to places and people didn’t know we were still together or that we had any albums out since 92! It’s been a mixed time, that’s for sure!

The first time I saw you was on the OBITUARY tour in 94…


MACHINE HEAD didn’t make it to the Atlanta show so we got MEATHOOK SEED.

Ah yeah, that’s right, they did an impromptu thing.

And then there was the last tour for Words From the Exit Wound where there was hardly anybody there, that goes with what you said…

It’s funny. Was it at the Masquerade? Some years we go there and have these huge crowds, and then we go there another year and that’s it! It’s kind of weird.

You’re not coming to Atlanta on this coming tour. [Talking about the summer tour.]

We might at one point. What we’re doing, because of all the damage that had been done with the label situation and the management situation, is just dipping our toes in the water again and see how it is when we get out there. We’ll play anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. We’ve done that in the past and we’ll continue to do that, but we want to gauge exactly what’s going on.

Let’s back up and do some history. The last I saw of any historical perspective was five years old so I want some current perspective on how you view the history. What was the time like when you were first becoming aware of what NAPALM DEATH was?

For me, probably around 1986, 1987. I actually saw them more or less the same time Shane did. I saw them at the Mermaid, at an all day show with bands like, well nobody you’d probably know, just obscure sorts of bands. Just this crazy noise! It was an all day gig for a couple of pounds, all sorts of memorable bands from the scene. I’d known about them before that. They were a crass band, I don’t know if you were aware of the crass movement? It was like a socialist-anarchist type of moment. CRASS was a band also that put out these ultra political albums and NAPALM was part of that. I knew them through that. When I saw them for the first time I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it totally blew me away. I saw them around that period as a three piece, they played a gig in Birmingham in this place with these big windows and they were rattling so hard I thought they were going to go! From way way back I remember them.

From that time they were signed to Earache, you always read ‘innovators of this, innovators of that’, how was NAPALM DEATH different musically from the whole scene they were a part of at that time?

Well, yeah, before 86-87, they were more punkified. They were not super fast at that time, just a real dirty sort of gutter punk. Not particularly fast. Still totally political. When Mickey [Harris], the drummer, came into the band in 86-87, is when they started to speed up and that’s when it started to become a semblance of what you know as NAPALM DEATH today. It was still innovative. You could tell when you watched them that there was something different about this band. It wouldn’t necessarily be different stylistically but there was this spark about NAPALM DEATH. They were so vibrant. Even then they were completely fucking noisy and people would be captivated by them.

Scum itself, it’s been out 14 years now and you put it on and it doesn’t sound old!

No no! From a fan perspective, which I was before I joined the band, it’s still this great thing. You listen to it and it’s one of those albums that just takes your fucking head off your fucking neck! Definitely! Both the first two albums.

I like the first one better, I don’t know if it’s because the sound on the second one seems to be a bit rougher.

I like both of them. They both have their own qualities. I like them both equally. People always point to as the definitive album but I think they’re both of equal merit, both Scum and FETO.

From Enslavement, a lot of my favorite songs off of that are on Death by Manipulation and the Peel Sessions so when I want to hear those songs it’s usually not the second album that I pick up.

That’s fair enough. Horses for courses.

How old was the band when the photos were taken for Scum?

I would imagine about 19 or 20 or something like that. Bill [Steer] was younger. Bill might have been 16 or 17.


I formed BENEDICTION, it was me and the guitarist and the bass player. We got together and did it.

How might history have been different if Nuclear Blast was as big then as they are now?

No, when NAPALM came along… BENEDICTION was a straight up death metal band as you probably well know. To be honest, when I got the chance to join NAPALM, the whole essence behind it interested me a lot more. That’s no disrespect to the BENEDICTION guys at all, but the politics and stuff like that as well as the music… The music was more extreme in NAPALM, that appealed to me more, and the politics and being able to incorporate that into the music appealed to me a lot more as well because that’s the kind of guy I am. Even if BENEDICTION had picked up a really big deal, I still would have gone with NAPALM. In fact, I did BENEDICTION and NAPALM for awhile but there was too much going on with NAPALM, I couldn’t cope with the two bands. I’m not one of these guys who can do a band and have umpteen projects going on. I have got a project going at the moment, or about to start, but that’s enough for me. It’s been a long time since I wanted to do another project because of the work involved.

How did you get the opportunity to join NAPALM DEATH? What happened with Lee Dorrian?

They went off to Japan, the Lee and Bill lineup, and there were some disagreements there. I’d rather if you talked to Shane [Embury] about that because that’s their personal stuff. They came back and very soon after Lee and Bill put their heads together and decided they wanted to leave. I’d been working with NAPALM in terms of roadying, which basically translates into lifting a few cabs and then getting totally fucking drunk! I’d fall over and watch the gig. I used to hang with them and all the rest of it. They knew what I could do because they’ve heard my BENEDICTION thing and Mickey produced the first BENEDICTION album. They knew what I was capable of. Straight away, they asked me to join. I was riding around, the only mode of transport I had at the time was a BMX bike, I pedaled down the road, I remember this quite specifically, totally euphoric and crashed into a postbox! Totally wiped out. It was kind of funny at the time. Also kind of painful.

It just seems that from going back and getting the albums that suddenly the singer’s gone, the guitar player’s gone, and here’s a new vocalist and two guitar players.

In America, I think most of the American kids that liked us, their first introduction was the Harmony Corruption lineup. That made things easier for us in America.

The Death By Manipulation CD was just a compilation of EPs, but when was that whole thing actually released?

91. Death By Manipulation is an old NAPALM track from the demo days.

I know this wasn’t a song that you wrote, but when I say I like NAPALM DEATH, and when I wear my NAPALM DEATH shirt out, people look at the words NAPALM DEATH and it puts these images in their head that it can’t be anything good and it can’t be anything intelligent. I try to show to show them the lyrics to show them what you’re about, and they skim through the booklets and the one thing they always do is stop in the Death By Manipulation booklet on the song Unchallenged Hate, they always see the word nigger. Have you ever gotten flak as a band…?

Absolutely not. If you look at the way it’s used, in quotes, “in a life of unchallenged hate, it’s you who’s the nigger.” In other words, it’s saying to a bigot, using the word nigger as meaning outcast. By you being a bigot, it’s making yourself the outcast. You know that and I know that…

People into the band will know that, but it will be people on the outside that don’t have a clue.
It’s up to us to explain ourselves then. I never have a problem justifying the lyrics. I’m just happy that people are intrigued enough, or questioning them enough to want to know. As far as the name NAPALM DEATH, we were supposed to go to Vietnam at one point. We didn’t go, I’m sure we will at one point. Imagine what that would be like taking that to Vietnam. NAPALM DEATH was and is an anti war statement. That’s what it’s accentuating. The absolute depths that man will sink to.

So many of the really extreme bands these days come up with these shocking images that are just there to be shocking. NAPALM DEATH, there’s something behind all of it.

That’s the thing. We get shit for it. There’s the thread on the Metal Maniacs board about an interview I did talking about Kerry King wearing the [Resistance Records] T-shirt. It’s become quite the infamous statement I made. People saying “Yeah, you’ve got a point” and people on the opposite side of the coin to total personal abuse. At least it’s provoking thought. Some of the things I’ve read from people, sometimes in the extreme music scene you’re not allowed to be compassionate. As if you have to resort to the bad things in life because it goes hand in hand with extreme music. My reaction to that is “I’m sorry.” That’s all, you know?

I think that goes back to black metal. In death metal, in the early days they’d do interviews talking about playing shows, then kicking back and doing whatever. And black metal, your music has to sound this way and then your personality had to be hard as nails. All that crap.

Don’t get me wrong, I like some black metal. I certainly wouldn’t give money to a band that’s openly fascist for sure, that’s a principal thing. I like some black metal. But I treat it like I would death metal. It’s entertainment. Like Hammer horror. I like horror entertainment. One of the classic bands, DEATH, look at the imagery they used to use. OBITUARY as well. Classic bands, and yeah, lyrics that don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but very, very entertaining.

How many times are the Peel Sessions going to be re-released?

Oh I don’t know. They just put the one out where they had all the radio sessions so it’s a little bit different.

I’ve got the CD that was released in 1993 that has three different sessions on it including the one from 1990, and I see they just released one that has Greed Killing on it.

On the end of it there’s some other radio stuff that was never released.

But if I buy that one now, in four years is there going to be even more released?
It’s Strange Fruit, who can tell?

Harmony Corruption was the big breakthrough. Listening back, everyone says that Scott Burns was a great producer. But there are so many albums, including Harmony Corruption, that don’t sound the greatest.

You’re absolutely right.

What happened to going all the way to Florida to record the album?

I’m certainly not going to point the finger at Scott for it. When we went to Morrisound originally, we had an idea in our heads. There was a breakdown in communication before we went there. When we went to Florida, we liked the sound that was coming out of the studio. But we still wanted to retain the Napalm sound from the previous records, just have it in a better studio. And just build on it a little. What happened was, the thing that we hadn’t taken into account, if you’re not careful you can come out of there with a really compressed sound. That’s exactly what happened. We didn’t communicate with Scott properly what we wanted, so he started laying down the sounds that Scott will do, like any producer will do if he’s not briefed. What came out, came out. It was very thin, very muddy sounding. I like muddy, but it wasn’t powerful muddy, it was slopped back there in the mix. I knew straight away that the sound wasn’t too good. The album itself, it’s great! I like it more over time than initially.

It had the all time classic NAPALM DEATH song, Suffer the Children.

We still play that song live, that’s one song that’s never been off the setlist. It’s one the kids always want to hear.

How much did you have to record in Morrisound?

Quite a bit of time, about a month. That was back when Earache was bothering to do anything for us. Maybe it was three weeks?

Why was the Harmony Corruption song not on Harmony Corruption?

I don’t know why. We might have specifically recorded it for the Suffer the Children EP. Harmony Corruption was on the b-side.

So the song Unfit Earth. I understand some members of the band aren’t too fond of that song.

No. There’s quite a funny story behind that actually. Glen Benton came in to do some of the lyrics. Back then Glen was pretty cool. He hadn’t said some of the fucking things that he has said. He’s ragged on us in the past, but this isn’t about that, this isn’t a tit for tat type of thing. I gave Glen the lyrics and he did a doubletake. I asked if something was wrong and he said “I can’t sing these lyrics. They’re not evil enough!” or something like that. They are very environmental. He didn’t think he was going to get something like that. He did it, so fair play to him, but it was kind of funny. Going back to the question you’re asking, Mickey wrote that song, and none of us could get on with it. The start riff just doesn’t go anywhere for the first minute and a half and it just drags.

I can’t think of a single other metal song with the word dioxin in it.

I’m sure you will with the punk or hardcore bands.

For that late 80s, early 90s period, the whole connection with Earache and NAPALM DEATH, when you thought of one you thought of the other at that time. The whole thing, NOCTURNUS, ENTOMBED, CARCASS, MORBID ANGEL, all of that. That was the ‘it’ thing in the underground. And you were spearheading everything. Most of what I listen to isn’t real upfront in the underground. What was it like being the thing in underground metal?

You know what, man? We had the same attitude then as what we do now. We knew things were really starting to happen in America. We knew that. The important thing for us, which in a sense is what’s kept us alive, we never let it go to our heads. We never put ourselves on a pedestal. We just got on with what we got to do. Coming to America, doing the tours, making powerful music, making powerful lyrics, powerful statements, and having the audience there to listen. We try to do it with integrity. We treat it exactly the same.

You had an insane touring schedule during that time. How do you survive on the road with the grind of waking up in a different city every day?

We’ve learned a lot as people over the years. You learn to live with each other and each other’s habits. We’re not the most extravagant band in the world. We’re still down there scrapping around in vans, sometimes in America on a bus. But we’d have another band with us and it’s kind of crowded. You learn to live with each other’s habits. The other guys in the band are my friends. We all have our down days and our disagreements but I love the guys. You try to keep yourself occupied and try to keep yourself stimulated. The way I do it, I gave up the drink years and years ago, I’m totally straight now, I try to keep my mind stimulated by reading books, playing video games a little too much, just keep generally stimulated and educated.

Was Harmony Corruption and Utopia Banished the sales peak for the band?

I believe so. Harmony Corruption was the biggest selling NAPALM DEATH album to date. It did about, all told, 130000.

Certainly not bad at all!

No, not bad, even though we never saw the fucking royalties, or at least most of it.

I remember seeing a press release where the band’s sold over a million copies of everything, all told?

Maybe not quite that much but close to it. But as I said, we certainly haven’t seen the royalties. But that’s an ongoing issue!

Between Harmony Corruption and Utopia Banished is when you lost Mick Harris. People thought of him as the last original member, even though he wasn’t an original member. Did that create any problems?

It was less of a problem than the Lee and Bill switch. Mickey was a colorful character, not that he just was an old member, but he was a colorful character. He could be funny as hell, but he could on the reverse side, he was completely schizophrenic, he could be the biggest asshole. Not just to us, but to the kids who would come to the shows, and that was out of order. Danny [Herrera] just stepped into the breach, he could do the shit, you know? He can thrash that kit like crazy just like Mick did. It was a natural transition for us.

Where did Danny come from? For the past lineup changes since NAPALM DEATH became a recording band, all the replacements came from bands that already had albums out like TERRORIZER and RIGHTEOUS PIGS. Where did Danny come from?

Like we got Jesse [Pintado] and Mitch [Harris, no relation], it was just a phone call away. We were thinking about people and Jesse said “I’ve got this friend in LA.” A lot of bands will think “Oh, we need to get a guy that’s got pedigree, oh yeah we need someone in the band to give it a boost a little bit.” We’re more interested in getting someone that was up to the task and Jesse said “I’ve got this friend in LA who isn’t doing anything, he’s not working but he can blast on the drums like crazy” and we just said “Get him in!” He came over, no auditions, we just said “You’re in!” And that was it right there!

If Lee Dorrian, Bill Steer, Mick Harris, and Shane Embury made an album now, what the hell would it sound like?

Ahhh, I don’t know! That’s a real difficult question to answer. If they’d have stayed together, they would have been in agreement. Lee and Bill got a little bit bored with the musical format and wanted to go do something else. Bearing that in mind, I don’t know what it would have sounded like because all those guys have moved in different directions.

That’s what made me wonder. A 70s grinding electronic groove? To the album that got me into metal. Utopia Banished. How powerful an effect that album had on me, there’s no way I could ever exaggerate that. I got Utopia Banished, Seasons in the Abyss, and Peace Sells that same day and Utopia Banished had the way more developed lyrics. That’s what got it. That something can be so raging and yet so intelligent…

Yeah, yeah! You’ve just hit the nail on the head there. You can still be completely extreme and totally harsh on the ears and have a brain and sense between your ears.

How was the writing for the album done considering you just lost a powerful songwriting force in the band?

We were actually on the up. I equate it to this. Say losing a soccer team’s manager, if you’ve been going through a tense period, the aftermath of that is the guys on the team get hyped because it’s a fresh start and they want to get on and improve if they’ve been going through a bad patch. So that’s exactly what it was on Utopia Banished. We’re all hyped up working with the new guy. Danny was obviously hyped to be in the band and as a result Utopia came out the way it did.

I don’t know if this is off to the side, but one of the things I loved about Utopia Banished, I first became aware of the band from MTV of all places, The World Keeps Turning video. The middle of the Triple Thrash Threat!

Oh god…

It was a performance type video, very grainy, you couldn’t see the band members at all. I bought the tape and there’s no band photo on that version at all. It was a force of nature more than a band! Is there any sort of image that really could have fit the band at that time?

I don’t know! The video we did on the hand cam, we did it ourselves. As we do now, we started doing our own videos. We’re not paying a fucking production company 20 grand to do nothing but sit around, take the money and run. We did it ourselves. I guess we were the same as any other time, striving to do some creative work.

Now looking back, “Oh yeah, there’s the picture of the band,” but at the time I was thinking there was no way human beings can be doing this!

We worked so well together as a unit, and we bring out the best in each other. Again, we all have our disagreements at times, but when we work together as a musical unit we just feed off of each other. We’re able to come out with what we come out with. It’s not being as calculated, not having a master plan, and just letting it flow.

I guess it was a little bit after that that the Nazi Punks Fuck Off cover was done?

A little bit after that, yeah.

What are your thoughts on the lawsuit with Alternative Tentacles and DEAD KENNEDYS?

Obviously I don’t know the guys personally, I’m not aware of the full facts. But for the ex-guys to want to take Biafra to court in order to use DEAD KENNEDYS music in a Levi’s ad, it’s like hello? What exactly was DEAD KENNEDYS about back in the day? A lot of stuff has been said about Jello Biafra in the past, and various criticisms leveled at him. Like the guy acts like a rock star, flying to his own gigs while the rest of the band traveled in a van. I can’t really comment on that, but I do know the guy used most of the money from his label to fund a lawsuit, which he didn’t have to do, and he took the censorship people to court over the Penis Landscape. He fought the case with his own money. If it wasn’t for him there’d be a lot more constraints on what we can and can’t do with album artwork. People should think about that. I have total respect, I absolutely love the DEAD KENNEDYS.

It was around this time that Columbia Records stepped into the picture with Earache?

Oh yeah. It was a great period.

How did that get started and when did you first become aware of it?

I wasn’t aware of what was happening until too late. Digby [Pearson], in England, the guy who basically formed Earache thought it would be a good idea to sell us to a major for distribution. I was totally against it obviously, and I guess a couple of other guys in the band were as well. This goes against everything the band was about! Consequently things broke down. I will say that the press girl that worked there, Jocelyn, was fantastic. She was brilliant and she cared about the band rather than the label. That was the only positive thing that came out of it. That and I got to meet Steve Perry from JOURNEY as well! It was just a crazy time. I think that was the turning point because it didn’t do us any good and it lasted six months and we were back on regular Earache.

It was weird at that point, because when the Columbia logo started appearing on the Earache CDs, all of the bands were in this process of growth so everyone was like “Oh, see what the major labels are doing to them!”

Yeah! Exactly! I fretted a lot throughout that time.

Would you agree with me if I said Fear, Emptiness, Despair is the best NAPALM DEATH album just in terms of having a clear difference between the songs on the album?

I would say from a personal perspective, absolutely not! That album was a nightmare to make, honestly. It took forever. The recording was all messed up. It was the only time since I’ve been involved in bands that I had to struggle recording the vocals. We went to a studio in Liverpool and the room I was singing the vocals in was completely arid and it just dried up my throat. I had little bowls of water around the room trying to put more water back into the air. My throat just completely seized and I was going completely crazy in my mind. Consequently we ran out of time in the studio and I had to book another session in another studio elsewhere. It was just dragging on forever and ever. And there were obviously stylistic differences which split the band a little bit. The other guys hadn’t consulted me on the direction they wanted to go in at that time and I just heard it when we went into the rehearsal room. It took me aback. I’m quite a traditional guy. I like my NAPALM to be fast, progressive, but fast and furious. Some of the thing on the album I was like “God, I joined the band for this?” I hate to be negative now because it’s water under the bridge and I don’t want to piss the other guys off. That was where it started to cause friction between us which came to a head a few years later. I can’t say it’s my favorite. It’s some people’s favorite.

It’s not my favorite but I like the variety of the songs on that album.

We lost our edge a little bit. One thing with NAPALM, it should have that certain degree of impact and we lost it a little bit.

Didn’t you get the gold record then for being on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack?

Well, yeah, but whether it was anything to do with that record or not… We just kind of got picked for it and it kind of happened. It’s neither bye nor bye to me.

One thing about Columbia at that time, I saw a lot of reviews and press for the album in places you wouldn’t expect like the newspaper. This must have been on the press sheet, because these people for Fear Emptiness Despair was calling NAPALM DEATH the ‘fastest band in the world.’ At that late date, that definitely wasn’t true. Where did that tag come from, anyway?

You’re aware of the NME newspaper, in England? NAPALM got the cover there at the time which was a big coup. The headline was ‘Is this the fastest band in the world?’ Although somebody would have come up with that sooner or later. Obviously NAPALM at some points was the fastest band in the world. I think there was such a buzz on the band that even without Columbia, we would have gotten press in the newspapers and other places anyway. We still do get reviews in major newspapers. People are still intrigued by the band.

After that, we move into what I consider a down period for the band, the Greed Killing EP. The song Greed Killing itself, I think it’s a killer song but it’s not what I think of when I think of NAPALM DEATH.

I just want to make one point before I get to the main body of the answer. Greed Killing is still in the set. Like Suffer the Children, it still gets a lot of requests. That’s from oldschool kids as well as newschool kids. But yeah, internally within the band, the rot was really starting to set in. Not only was support from the label now that we were back on Earache diminishing, because the state of mind had come in where Digby was thinking “Oh, it’s another NAPALM DEATH record, we don’t need to promote it, we’ll just throw it out and see where it sticks.” Internally within the band, it just got to the point where I was personally unhappy. I didn’t have a problem with everything the band was doing, but there were some things, looking back to be quite honest I was disgusted by. I was! I genuinely felt that way. I felt a little bit betrayed, it had become a bit undemocratic as well. NAPALM was always supposed to be a band! My mood just went down and down and down. It came to the point on the Japanese tour, we did a lot of press in Japan. Shane and me were actually sitting together at a table for the first time in a long time, doing interviews. They journalist would ask me my opinion of a certain track and I’d say “You’d better ask Shane because I really don’t like that track.” Being as we just released the album, that obviously didn’t go down too well. But I’d said it all along! I did put that point across. I certainly didn’t change my mind because my opinion certainly didn’t change. After the Japanese tour we didn’t communicate for awhile and the guys just decided amongst themselves they would go on with another vocalist.

I’d heard that the band lived in one place, except for you?

They still do! It’s the same setup.

Did that have anything-

No, that has nothing to do with it. It hasn’t affected us any other time. The guys do it for practical means. I love the guys to death, but I don’t want to live with them when I come off tour. It’s not a personal thing. If it was with them or four completely different guys. Everyone needs their own degree of space. I need to be alone to collect my thoughts. I do live with someone else, because I don’t like my own company 24/7. I do like to be with other people but when I come off tour I need to be with different people.

To me, Diatribes is the least NAPALM DEATH NAPALM DEATH.

I think it’s still raw and a little crazy. But it’s not got the vibe I don’t think.

Which is weird. Didn’t everyone have other side projects at the time that would have been draining off the non-NAPALM influences?

Yeah, you’d figure that but it didn’t quite work out that way. I could never and would never stop any of the guys in the band from doing their own shit because you shouldn’t prevent musicians from coming up with music. They had their minds set on bringing these other influences in and that was that right there, really.

What do you think of a band’s right to experiment and grow versus a fan’s perspective of wanting to be able to trust a band’s legacy?

A band has a right to do what it wants depending on the opinions of the members in the band. They can experiment as long as it retains the core elements and vibe of the band. You don’t lose your edge! Once you lose your edge, your impact, whether you are the most melodic band in the world, whether you are the craziest band in the world, once you lose your impact and your soul, then you’re in trouble. I don’t think we ever lost our soul, drive, and motivation, but we were a little distorted on the impact.

You could always tell it was NAPALM DEATH, but it wasn’t sounding like NAPALM DEATH!

Just from the vocals!

It’s cool because you still have one of the most distinctive vocals out there…

I get my influences from other places. I’d never deny that. I got my influences from Kam [Lee] from MASSACRE, Chuck [Schuldiner] from DEATH, to more punk things like Cal from DISCHARGE, SIEGE from Boston, early hardcore bands. Japanese punk and Japanese hardcore. But people think I have quite a distinctive voice. I know I like doing the things I do well and what does it for me.

How did you end up doing the EXTREME NOISE TERROR album?

Dean [Jones] asked me outright if I wanted to join the band. To be honest man, I’d just stepped out of a situation that had been going beyond a democratic sort of practice. I knew Dean and Ali [Firouzbakht], who was the guitarist had a real controlling influence and I didn’t want to step into that situation again. I’m sorry, but no. So they asked if I’d do the album. Yeah, I’ll do the album! I was a hired hand, really. I had fun, it was good fun, but looking back, if I could have had some influence, I would have done it differently. I’m a big fan of early EXTREME NOISE TERROR, the real chaotic stuff. I don’t know if you’ve heard that…

I’ve got Retrobution, that’s about it for early stuff.

I’m talking about the Radioactive split they did with CHAOS UK and that sort of stuff. I’m a big fan of that stuff. I went in to do the album, and it kind of sounded like NAPALM. It was tight, but almost too tight, and it was a little bit sterile. Dean wanted every vocal pattern on the nail. I was going “This is how I do it with NAPALM, I do my lines, if it comes out with a vibe and it’s organic, then we keep it.” Even if it slips off-time. He said “No, I want everything right on.” I said “Right, it’s your band, your album, I’ll do it your way no problem at all.” That was it.

They didn’t last too long on Earache.

They fell to the usual Earache sort…

Part of the problem you had with NAPALM is that you didn’t have your say. But walking back into NAPALM for Inside the Torn Apart, wasn’t that album completely written?

True. I was quite happy to go along with it because it was completely written. My thinking at the time was I had a week before going into the studio. I can’t write ten, eleven tracks worth of lyrics! No thanks! I kind of went with the lyrics that were there. They weren’t bad. We couldn’t change the music because it was already on tape and we didn’t have the budget. We haven’t gotten these astronomical budgets that some bands have had. We had to make do within the constraints. I just went in and did it and that was that. I was back in the band.

Looking objectively, and I’ve been doing a big crash course in NAPALM DEATH again the past few days, I hadn’t listened to Inside the Torn Apart and Diatribes for a few years. Objectively, the band gets tighter and tighter, they’re expanding the sound, not doing anything to suggest a sellout, basically everything you’re supposed to do with a band, and yet I’m liking it not as much as the early stuff.

The obvious thing to point to would be the production. It’s still raw, but it’s a very clean production. Colin’s production had become very clean by that point. Again, I’m not going to point the finger at Colin because Colin is a very good producer. But as we were talking about musicians experimenting and moving on, Colin had also progressed as a producer. He was looking for the premium sound on record, a real high grade sound. Which isn’t necessarily is right for NAPALM. Thus the production values on those are a little too polished, that might have something to do with it. At least that’s my theory.

What was so bad about the Breed to Breathe video that it had to be banned on seven continents?

A guy jumped out the window like a suicide. Nothing you don’t see on the news but you know how freaked people get.

I was wondering how tough those Antarctic broadcast standards were.

I think we actually re-released it with the scenes still in.

The other thing on the Breed to Breathe EP was the covers competition winner. How fun was it going through those entries there?

It was Earache that chose the tape at the end. We weren’t told about the number of entries until the end and at that point it was too late. The concept was great. To say to an underground band, “Here you go, do what you will.” It’s a fun thing.

What confuses me, some of those bands that sent songs in must have gone on to be signed, and must have gone on to do something. I’m surprised the NAPALM DEATH Tribute Album hasn’t shown up using the entries from this covers compilation.

Right, I guess. I don’t think even Earache would be so crass about it! Or maybe not. Don’t give them ideas! NAPALM’s on another label so here’s a bonus album for you of all the cover tracks you never fucking heard on one CD!

They’ve done that with every other band that’s left the label.

They’ll do it with us as well. Digby is sore because we left the label. There’s a Best Of NAPALM DEATH coming out, I know that for a fact.

I was hoping if they were going to do that, they’d remaster the first four or five albums.

No, they’re going to put out a best of.

Crap. I’ve already got everything. Next, Words From the Exit Wound. I don’t know. How do I put this? It didn’t seem like it contributed anything to the scene.

That’s got more to do, if I’m going to singularly blame Earache, then I would on that album. They didn’t do jack shit for that album. Let me tell you about the promotion budget for that album. Me and Shane were at the Earache office just before the album was about to get mastered and pressed up. Digby says to us “Right, you’ve got a choice, we can press up 1000 sampler tapes and you can hand them out yourselves, or you can do a video. Which do you want to do?” What about promo tour to get all the kids together and hang out and he says “No, we can’t do that.” We ended up playing a gig in our hometown where I had to build the stage myself. I have no problem doing that, but to think that represented the promotional activities for that album.

You guys built that label! Shit!

They did for us in the early days, but that doesn’t make up for the times they were relying on us for a crutch alone.

What the hell keep bands like CATHEDRAL and MORBID ANGEL on the label?

It’s a psychology. CATHEDRAL are off the label now.

I did not know that.

That’s official. I don’t know what the deal is. Earache has MORBID ANGEL on the label, but Digby will actually look after MORBID ANGEL because he knows if he loses them then he’s pretty fucked. So he can’t afford to mess with them.

Here MORBID ANGEL has the tours with SLAYER and PANTERA in the big arenas.

I like MORBID, I’ve always liked that band. David Vincent, I knew him before, he never was like this, but he’s turned into a raving, crazy bigoted fucking Nazi! But I like that band. It is a great band.

I’d read in Terrorizer not too far before you left the label that you’d signed an extension with them.

Yeah. Stupidly, we signed a two album contract extension.

How did you sign that and then leave right away?

We covered the extension.

Is that where Bootlegged in Japan comes in?

I think so, yeah. It wouldn’t be right for a band like NAPALM, even to get out of a contract, to stick something out even if it was complete crap. We wanted a live album, and Bootlegged fit the bill.

Now you’re on Dream Catcher in Europe and Spitfire in the US. I had originally set up this next question as a joke, but the more I think about it, it’s not a joke. How does it feel now to be a real English classic rock band?
Oh God! You mean being with the rosters on those labels?

Not only the rosters, but just the fact that you’ve been around forever. You are a classic band.

Uh, yeah, I guess. I can’t say “Yeah, I agree” because that would be very arrogant. You know what, man? What separates us from a ‘classic rock band’? We still challenge convention, we don’t rest on our laurels. It separates us a little from the perceptions of what people think of as a classic rock band. That’s where we differ. As for the label rosters, yeah, OK! I don’t care, I’m a fan of classic rock. But the main point of being on those labels is that they’re independent.

I like a lot of those bands. You’re labelmates with YNGWIE and IMPELLITERI! That’s a lot of good shit! You’re in good company, just a little weird for the rest of the roster.

It’s cool man. I have no problem with that at all.

You guys have done a lot of tours, seen a lot of trends come and go. What are your thoughts on being on the top of the heap at one point and now opening up for a lot of these bands like MACHINE HEAD and CRADLE OF FILTH?

Maybe slightly, we’d wondered how things have come around, but at the end of the day it doesn’t pay to get down about it. You just get your head down and get on with it and let the band stand on its own merit. A lot of bands would have given up the ghost a long time ago given what happened to us as a band. We were really on shit’s row! At one point we were so poor we couldn’t afford to take another tour. I’ve mentioned this in a few interviews, the tax authorities were thinking of hijacking the name from us so we couldn’t use it because we owed the money we owed.

Holy shit!

We just kept our heads down and did what we had to do, said what we had to say, and consequently we’ve come around a bit now.

How closely do you follow the underground scene nowadays?

I still do. I love hearing new bands. But sorry to say, the underground isn’t as vibrant as it was in the mid to late 80s and early 90s. That’s a fact. In terms of the extreme side of things, it isn’t as vibrant. I’m still into my extreme hardcore, the crazy and fast stuff. There’s stuff like that still around, but you really have to dig deep for it. That’s kind of what interests me.

Not even counting the actual music, how has the vibe changed?

The tape trading days in the 80s was so, you used to look forward everyday to having a new tape on the doorstep, a new REPULSION rehearsal demo. A fucking DEATH demo recorded in Chuck’s bedroom. There were so many bands, but most of them had quality and it was so exciting. The underground just isn’t like that anymore.

There’s so many small labels now, all the bands want to get signed and act like a big band.

To be fair though, there is a merit to that. Whenever someone has a small label, it makes people realize you can do things on your own. You can put an album out which takes the onus off of signing to a major, or even a major indie that’s going to cause you some problems.

Now, more happier stuff. Leaders Not Followers. Just that name, coming from NAPALM DEATH, when I heard it was coming out gave me goosebumps just for the concept of what it would be. When I got it, it was insane NAPALM DEATH shit coming out of my speakers! I was like “Ooooh, glory!”

Yeah! I had that feeling of relief as well! The Leaders Not Followers thing has two meanings. It’s a take on the KORN album Follow the Leader. It was a parody of that. But more pertinently. It wasn’t a statement of arrogance from NAPALM DEATH saying we’re the leaders and not the followers. What it was saying was that bands that we covered on that EP were leaders. They weren’t the only leaders, but they were amongst the bands that were really doing something great, stretching back to 1983. RAW POWER was 1983. That was what it said. A lot of bands are happy to act like sheep and jump on a bandwagon, these guys were true pioneers within their field, and they did it on a shoestring. It can be done. I wanted to make it clear that you can make great music on a shoestring budget in the underground.

I loved the double meaning. The bands you covered were pioneers for a lot of the extreme music, but the there was also the meaning of “God damn it, we’re NAPALM DEATH, we’re not going to sit in the back anymore, we’re putting our foot down!”

I can honestly say that we didn’t intend it to be that way. If that’s people’s perceptions outside the band then obviously fine, but we really didn’t intend to make a statement like that. It would be arrogant, and we’ve never gone about our business being arrogant and I wouldn’t want to start now.

How is it working with Simon Efemy?

He’s a colorful character to say the least! This is the contrast with Colin. Simon’s attitude is ‘Go into that studio, go bang it down, if it’s right in one take and it’s good then we’ll keep it.” I’ll tell you what, that was music to my ears! If you do it and it’s in and it’s done and it sounds good, we’ll keep it!

He’s worked on a lot of different things lately like AMORPHIS and DECEASED lately.

That’s the thing with Simon. Where Colin has one certain way of doing things, Simon will adapt. He knows if he goes and works with AMORPHIS, he knows that band expects more premium sounds and production. More separation and definition. And then he’ll work with NAPALM and put his organic hat on again and he knows we need one take, distorted bass, all that sort of stuff. Bulldozer bass!

Moving on to the masterpiece that has just been released in the US, Enemy of the Music Business. Why didn’t you just call it Gods Again?

God! Honest, we wanted to accentuate the bad times that we’d had. When bands talk about their bad times, I know bands have the capacity to fucking cry when they’re sitting there counting their millions. But we really were on shit street. We really were on shit street. We just wanted to accentuate that whole vibe and the time we went through. But to be productive and tell younger bands “Look, when the sharks are circling you have to know who the sharks are and how to avoid them.” I’m very very proud of it, I’m very happy about the album. I can tell you in advance that the album is going to be even crazier. I’m hyped again, I’m loving the album!

So from your perspective, what’s the difference between the last album, and Spitfire working you in the US now?

We’ve come to a new team of people. The guy doing the press at Spitfire, Jon [Paris], it’s good that we’ve got him because he knows us and he was one of the guys in the final days of Earache that was one of the people trying to help us on a limited fucking budget! Trying to doing things for us. It’s good that he’s there, he’s spreading the word and trying to get people talking about us. We can only sort of gauge what happens here on in. The proof is in the pudding!

You guys are in your early 30s?

Yeah, we are.

Where do you get the fire to make the music this intense?

I do not believe with age that you calm down and become less angry or less concerned. That to me is a fucking load of bull! I still feel the way I did when I was 19. I’ve still got the impetus, I’ve still got the drive, I’ve still got the verve. I don’t listen to an album I listened to 10, 15 years ago and go “Oh shit, that’s a bit too painful on the ears!” Fuck no, man! It’s still the same for me!

Usually bands, even when they have angry ideas, become moodier instead of becoming all out violent. And this is the most violent thing you’ve done in a decade! Another thing, you often refer to your fans as ‘the kids.’ And yeah, that’s the reality so it can’t be criticized, but does it feel weird that you’re writing music for what can be considered children?

Well, when I say the ‘kids’, I mean we’re very ordinary people. Working class kids. We’re basically kids that sprang out of the scene together. But essentially we’re five kids doing our thing. We’re very much the same as the kids that will come and pay for the gigs and buy the records, etcetera etcetera. Yeah, that’s it there. It’s on a level playing field, the same as us. We play to people of all different ages.

One recent interview I saw with you, you said rock, metal, and hardcore was supposed to be “alternative and liberal.” I was disappointed, I understand what you meant but I don’t think of creativity and politics together. It’s one thing to have political lyrics…

What I meant from that, I meant the whole ethos behind it, as a scene, that we should be compassionate, we should try to erase bigotry and prejudice. Music is supposed to break down barriers. It really is. Let’s be quite frank about this. The whole point of music is to be accessible for everyone. There was a big Nazi come-together in Birmingham once. Obviously we were a bit vigilant about that and this Nazi skin came up to me on the street and said “Man, I’ve read some of your statements. You’re a nigger lover! Why don’t you let niggers have reggae and hardcore is white man’s music!” And that sums it up for me right there. The stupidity of all.

I admit, I end up doing it once in awhile because it’s become so ingrained in the way things are said, but when people in metal don’t like something, it’s ‘gay.’ That word there has become the go-to word. Instead of saying it sucks, you say it’s gay.

People confuse being politically correct with being compassionate. “Oh, you’re offended by me using the word gay, you must be PC.” It’s not the fact that you use the word gay, it’s the fact that you’re using it to say something’s fucking bullshit. You’re equating it with totally derogatory things. Like they’re dirty fucking entities or amoebas. Why don’t you just say it’s fucking crap? I do want to say that a band does not have to be political. I’m not saying that at all. But when you are a scene, if you’re challenging a mainstream as I want it to, then surely you have to oppose conservative values which form the census of the rest of it. Surely you have to oppose that. And it doesn’t help by putting up barriers where you don’t have to. I saw on a website “Do blacks belong in metal?”

Hmmm, a lot of things on the internet are people trying to cause shit more than actually trying to say something.

I’ve been to America enough times. A lot of the kids are hardcore about this stuff. We’ve had a lot of aggravation at gigs. Fights where we’ve had to jump in. Riots. All kinds of stuff. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear bigotry at gigs. I don’t want some guy coming in, whether he be Chinese, or mixed race, I don’t want this guy coming in and being intimidated by these meatheads!

You say values in the music have to be fighting against the status quo as a reason to be underground. How do I say this right? I think that would prevent creativity when more of the sheep minded musicians that want to be cool and impress their friends are better regarded than some guy doing his own thing that hears something from say, pop, and wants to pull that in and use it.

Yeah, I get what you’re saying. I certainly wouldn’t put a curb on creativity. I look at it like this. If something’s got soul like I was talking about earlier. If it’s the mellowest, or the craziest, music, as long as the general motive is to make music first and commercial considerations later. I like JOURNEY, man! They were the biggest band in America! But if you cut all that away from them and just have the band in the center, as a band of musicians and the ability of that band to put emotions on the listener, they were so fucking talented!

I’m listening to a lot of lighter, proggier stuff these days too.

I like some of that. Not all of it, some of it bores me. I like a lot of that stuff.

Didn’t you write the review for Change of Seasons in Metal Maniacs? Isn’t that a bit cheating considering you performed at the gig, even if you weren’t on the CD itself?

No, I didn’t do Change of Seasons. I did Images and Words and I did something else as well. I definitely didn’t do Change of Seasons. [Not to be an asshole but I have the Feb 96 issue, and, uh, yeah you did.] When I write, I’ve got a certain code. I won’t write about anything that’s on my own label, or I won’t write about what I’m on obviously, or what any of the other band members are involved in obviously.

The one METALLICA song you did with DREAM THEATER is a perennial favorite on the local metal show here.

That was so funny! It was a lot of fun doing that, you should have seen the other guys’ faces. You should have seen John Petrucci’s face when I kicked in with the vocals. We didn’t rehearse it, we just did it straight. John Petrucci’s face was a fucking picture! He was laughing! He was taken aback by these crazy vocals coming out of his monitor! He’s always worked with James [LaBrie] who has always been more, shall we say, restrained.

I know it made it onto the live video, but I haven’t seen it. What was the crowd doing when you were on stage?

The same as John Petrucci’s face actually! There were a lot of old prog lovers there.

Hearing that finally made me not like METALLICA. What had happened, when METALLICA does the song, it’s a completely raging song. When DREAM THEATER does it, it’s still completely raging but you can just tell everyone’s just holding back so much to do the song the way it’s written.

Oh, happy days, the memories of that song and that period. Certainly beyond anything they’ve done since, apart from And Justice and bits of the Black album, not all of it. Load and Reload you can sort of take them and throw them in the bin for me.

How long do you think your throat can take the NAPALM style?

For me, the throat will be the last thing to go. If they can take my throat in a little cryogenic chamber and hook it up to the electrics or something, it’ll be OK. But it’s the rest of my body that’s falling apart! But my throat is absolutely fine. No problems whatsoever. The thing that gets me on tour is the fatigue. When we play, we give 110% every gig no doubt about it. To play that fast for that amount of time, you get just a little tired.

You canceled appearing at the New Jersey festival this year. I don’t know how much of a straight answer I can get from this, but was it really because band members were sick?

Danny was ill, yeah. But I kind of added something to that which is how I felt, on the NAPALM website. I wouldn’t lose any sleep by doing it. I do not like Jack Koshick and the way he goes about it. I think he’s a fucking scumbag. I really do. I don’t think he’s good for the scene. If he thinks he’s helping the scene then he’s got some crazy ideas. You know about the play to pay thing? Charging even the bands that get 10 minutes $1000 a pop to play. He got his comeuppance this year because I heard this year he barely drew 1000 people. Maybe not even half that.

Last year at that fest he had the two stages in one room separated by a curtain.

Now that is a good idea. Really good for acoustics!

I would guess you’re familiar with the band AYREON?

Yeah, I know that guy. He sent me the CDs. I like that.

I was wondering, he’s used growlers before, ever thought of asking him for a part on his next album?

Funny you should mention that, I read in one of your magazines where you asked him the same question about me! [Oh I am so BUSTED!] There you go, I do pay attention! I’d do it if he asked me to do it.

Have you been checking out any of the extreme progressive metal bands coming out of the woodwork lately?

As in?

OPETH is the big one now…

Oh yeah, great album. I like it, yeah. And it’s a matter of taste again, but I got that one week and thought that was fucking brilliant, but then I got the KATATONIA album and I didn’t like that at all. It just bored me. I think the songwriting was far better on the OPETH album. Have you heard that band ARK? It’s not really extreme but it’s fucking great!

I have the debut, it’s not my favorite, but I can tell there’s some serious shit going on. I’m waiting for the new one, I know on the first one the vocals were thrown on at the last minute. So as someone into the prog stuff, how do you keep that out of your own music?

This is where I make the separation. What drives me, what influences me, and what I like to listen to are two totally separate things. I am physically driven by getting up on stage and screaming, you know? Screaming in someone’s face. But I wouldn’t necessary be driven by playing melodic rock on stage. I appreciate the talent of the people, but I don’t have any desire to do it myself.

Looking back, what is your absolute favorite NAPALM DEATH song?

I couldn’t give you one song. I could give you a collection, but I couldn’t give you one single song.

Could you give me top five?

In no particular order, I would say Lucid Fairytales from FETO. Can I scrub that and put Practice What Your Preach.


Inner Incineration from Harmony Corruption. I Abstain from Utopia. And two from the new album because I’m so happy with it, Next on the List and… let me grab the album real quick to jog my memory. [It was well after midnight by this time in the UK…] Oh, god. Probably Constitutional Hell.

My favorite is Can’t Pay, Won’t Play. Aside from the new one, what is your favorite NAPALM DEATH album?

I would probably say Utopia Banished. You mean what I’ve been on? I would say FETO and Utopia.

What is your favorite band from an ex-member of NAPALM DEATH?

I’d probably say UNSEEN TERROR but Shane’s still in NAPALM so I’ll say CARCASS.

As a whole I’d say CARCASS but those early CATHEDRAL albums are the ultimate.
Have you heard the new one? I liked that a lot.

I didn’t like that as much. I thought they were going too far into the sludgy stuff. I don’t like Billy Anderson’s production style.

That’s fair enough.

So I notice in the photos for the new album you’re wearing a NASUM shirt. Is that a fucking incredible band or what?

Absolutely! I love that band! That band just reconfirms for me how vital this kind of music can be. We took them out on tour in Europe because me and Shane said “That band has got to come out on tour with us.” It was cool, they were great, great guys, great band. If you let me carry on praising them I’ll praise them forever.

When their debut album came out, just the idea that it was that good and that fresh…

That well played!

Hope for the world again!

I fucking freaked when I heard that album! Shane played it to me. He winked at me and said “I think you just might like this album.” Stuck it in and I was like “Fuck!” and running around and screaming.

Any other lesser known bands that you’d recommend to people into NAPALM?

There’s an English band called SCALPLOCK. DROP DEAD, a Canadian band. Three bands I suggest you should listen to even if you have to kill yourself to get a hold of them, historic bands, REPULSION’s Horrified album, SIEGE Drop Dead which I think you can get on CD, a band called INFEST from California, the Slave 12”. Beyond essential.

So where can people get NAPALM DEATH or CIVIL DEFENSE demos?

I don’t know. I don’t have any demos from back then. I got the NAPALM demo, before they did Scum.

Well I have finally gotten to the end of questions I have. I hope I didn’t bore you too much. Any final remarks you have for the reading public?

Thanks a lot for supporting us. I know every band says that but it’s very applicable in our case because we’ve been around. The band’s in its 20th year. I’ve been in the band for 11 years. I want to thank everyone for supporting us even when times were down there were always people there to give us a kick in the ass if we needed a kick up the ass. It helped us. Obviously we’re indebted to those people.

1 comment:

Chris T said...

Yeah Unfit Earth is a weird track. Maybe a bit more convoluted than it has to but I don't mind it. You can see the beginnings of the stuff Mick did on the first Scorn album.