Exclusive interview for hellfest.fr : Barney Greenway (NAPALM DEATH)
“Some festivals are too corporate for my taste. Hellfest, at least, is still independent”. – Barney Greenway
How’s the tour going so far?
Good. It’s going very good, man. Getting all these four bands (Napalm Death, Carcass, Obituary and Voivod) together isn’t something that happens every day, you know? People have responded to it and it’s going really well. Each band does its own spin. So yeah, it’s been really good.
There have been two events happening on that tour so far. The first one in Stockholm on Nov 19 when Bill Steer (Carcass ex-Napalm Death) joined you on stage to play “Deceiver”…
Yeah! Very briefly! (laughs) But it meants a lot to us, as a band.
Why doing it only once then?
Just for the spontaneity. I mean, we’ve always tried to be a band that didn’t do things in a robotic way. We just asked Bill if he wanted to do it. We asked him ages ago but I think he was nervous, truth to be told, about doing it. It was good and maybe we’ll do it again. I don’t know, we’ll see (smiles – Bill Steer joined Napalm Death on stage once again a couple of hours later).
The second event is Napalm Death playing two shows without you (Bologna on Nov 17, Pratteln Nov 19). This was probably the first time…
No, there’ve been other times actually but very rare…
Did you consider not playing at a certain stage?
No. Because the attitude of the band is “why sitting around doing nothing when you can get somebody in to cover?”. And it’s OK. There are people that might not be 100% with that but… I mean, that’s life sometimes. It’s like if you are on tour, in one place, sometimes life events catch up and you have to do something, you know. And that’s what happened. We figured out that because there was a guy who could stand in (Chris Rees from Corrupt Moral Altar). OK, it wasn’t exactly the same as me but he was reasonably close enough, I would say. And he did a good job, by all accounts. I’ve seen little bits and pieces of it. Like I said, doing nothing is the last option. Doing something is always preferable.
So it was only 50% of the current line-up playing these two shows. Can we expect Mitch (Harris – guitar) to come back in the short term?
No, not in the short term probably. But yes, it’s an ongoing situation and we’re still at the same point as what we were earlier this year. So no real development with that. We’re leaving him doing what he needs to do and then, we will revisit the situation when me, Shane (Embury – bass) and Danny (Herrera – drums) feel that it’s right to deal with it. And Mitch too, of course.
I’ve had a bit of a silly thought the other day. Napalm Death has already played shows without you, without Shane, without Mitch…Could we imagine in the future Napalm Death becoming like a franchise?
No! That’s a horrible thing actually! (laughs) The only thing I would say: no band members are irreplaceable. And I don’t mean that in a sinister way or a bad way. But clearly there are people that can come in and do an approximation of what I do. And clearly there are people that can come in and do an approximation of what Shane does. Same with Dany, you know? And when I joined (1989), let’s be honest, when Mitch joined (1990), when Jesse (Pintado – guitar (1989-2004)) joined, people said that it would never be the same again. That it wouldn’t be the same band. But of course, we’ve through the years proved that we do what needs to be done. So nobody is bigger than the band. So we’ll see, you know. Like I said, there are temporary things so there’s nothing to worry about. People have a tendency to blow things up sometimes. OK, it’s widespread but what we can do is do what we think is the right thing. I’m going back to the initial point: Napalm would rather do something than do nothing.
You’ll be on stage in a couple of hours. Does it represent a very special moment after what happened 10 days ago in Paris?
Yeah. It was very special in every time since then. It’s solidarity with people worldwide who don’t want to be oppressed by any kind of neo-fascist bullshit basically. It was a very violent act, of course. You can’t deal with these things in isolation. You have to look at it on a wider scale: it’s about violence the world over and people sometimes forget what it is to be a human being and are willing to do very unhuman things to other human beings. Like I said, there are many situations I could bring to compare it with – which is not to justify what happened in any way. You’ve got to look at violence as a worldwide problem. It’s no good the States say they hold the moral ground because, of course, they go on military adventures in other countries where they use weapons and kill other people. Very often, they kill innocent people. So there is no difference in that respect. All violence of the nature we saw last week is not acceptable. As a human being, it’s not.
Do you feel that by playing tonight you’re putting yourself and hundreds of people in danger?
Yeah. But you put yourself in danger every day of the week, you know. So what do we do? Give up? Not do anything? I suggest not. That would not be the thing to do. So yeah, of course, I’m nervous. We’re nervous. But we’re prepared. This is what it is. The biggest thing to protect is humanity. Everything else is secondary to that. And so, I try not to get hysterical about these things. What happened is very sad, but I try to take a wider view. Like I said, dealing with it in isolation doesn’t solve it.
Apex Predator was released about a year ago. What’s your personal appraisal of it now. Are you 100% satisfied with it?
Yeah, absolutely. You know, many albums you come to after you kind of think “I could have done differently”. But not with this album. I think it’s pretty complete, you know. So yeah, I’m pretty satisfied with it and I couldn’t really say anything.
Are you still in the mood of defending it on stage? Your mind hasn’t shifted to the next release yet?
Well, that’s a good point because Napalm has always been about what qualities we can have in the future. We do not want to stand still on the praise, the good comments. We understand that, to be a thriving band, you need to keep moving forward. That doesn’t mean thinking ten steps ahead. It just means that you can’t live and die by your past glories.
The critics have been very good. Were you expecting such a response?
Well, we kind of knew in ourselves, without wishing to sound arrogant, that we achieved something quite good, you know (laughs). But you just don’t know. You can’t predict how people are going to take these things. It’s pretty satisfying. I haven’t seen anything negative to be honest. And how often do you see that these days? Never, I would suggest (smiles).
You’ve been quite active over the last few months with a couple of split-releases. To the eyes of many, the split-release is a format from the past. Why doing so?
It’s about the spirit of cooperation. Of cooperating with other people. To make it complete. It cannot belong to the past. Napalm is very self-sufficient. We all do what we want to do. People don’t tell us what to do, they have never done. So we live and die by our own decisions, like I was saying before.
Another “tragic” issue – I’m a bit sarcastic there: Aston Villa Football Club…. I know you’re still a fan…
Tragedy comes in very relatively, you know! (laughs) Yeah, the team has cheated relegation for four or five years now and honestly, I always try to be optimistic but…I think this season could be too much. Rémi Garde is a very good manager for the future but I think that the spirit of the team, the lack of… I’m not saying there’s no team spirit but the team coordination is not working what it needs to… And I feel we’re too weak right now. I fear the worst, put it like that. It doesn’t look too good, really.
Last question before switching to Hellfest. To you, who’s the greatest British person ever?
Well, see… I don’t really look at things by nationality. That’s actually one of the points of the whole thing that happened in Paris. I think that when you start waving flags… I couldn’t pick up a particular British hero, if you could phrase it that way. But somebody from the past… (thinking) I always have ten or twelve people on my mind but I can never come with one at once (smiles)… I would put some… Just thinking of the top of my heart, it is not necessarily the greatest … It would probably go to the unnamed people who stood up in times of war and refused to fight against other human beings and were shot for that, for real convictions. Things like that: it’s acts rather than individuals. Or in the times of the British Empire, when Indian activists stood up, knowing that they were gonna get killed. They stood up and would not move and were shot. Things like that. African Americans in the 1960s, resisting the segregation. And in South Africa too. All those are real human beings, not celebrities. It’s humanity that matters, not the persons.
Hellfest now. Here’s the current line-up for 2016. Anything to say about it?
OK, I haven’t seen that yet… They should have put us on that stage (pointing at The Warzone). It’s more our stage. Sorry, I’m just looking down the list. Discharge… Earth: I’d like to see them. And Entrails, actually. I don’t really like death metal these days but they’re quite good.
Have you ever enjoyed festivals as a simple festival-goer?
You know, I used to enjoy festivals back in the day. I went to some of the classic Reading festivals. I saw the last Thin Lizzy appearance… I went to free festivals, hippy festivals and stuff. I really enjoyed that. That was interesting. But I’m talking about a long time ago. I don’t go to these big music festivals anymore so much. The Hellfest is good but some of them are too corporate for my taste, you know. I’m getting sick of that. Hellfest not so much and at least, they’re still independent.
Last word to conclude?
I just wanna say: how can people not be intimidated? Going back to what we were saying: I don’t want people to be scared. Like I said and I’m going to say it again because it’s worth repeat: I think that violence needs to be dealt as a whole issue, not just as one big thing. Again, it’s not to justify, but the one thing that needs to get resolved in the Middle East is the situation with Israel. I think it’s a by-product of what happened (in Paris). People can say otherwise but it’s a fact. I completely agree with Israel’s right to exist. It’s about human beings who settled after being oppressed. They obviously have the right to exist without harassment but they also do not have the right to treat the Palestinians the way they do. That has to be resolved, you know. The Palestinians have to be given a freedom of movement and freedom to live as Israel does. That has to be resolved, you have to. You can’t go on with that, it’s endless. It will never be resolved unless someone makes a serious effort. Otherwise, you will get things like what happened here, what happened in other places. OK, it’s not the only reason but it’s definitely quite a big factor, you know…
La Cigale, Paris – 11/23/2015
Many thanks to Valerie (Nuclear Blast) and Roger (Base/Replica).