A Chat With Mark "Barney" Greenway of Napalm Death
Talking to Mark “Barney” Greenway of Napalm Death is far less intense than his lyrics or being in one of his pits might suggest. Speaking honestly, intelligently and, most notably, with compassion marks him easily as one of the most caring people in metal music. Be it about animals, people, human rights or the industry, Barney cares.
The experience of being at one of their live shows, by contrast, is one of high energy, with a whirling pit and the occasional elbow to the face (thank you retainer for protecting my teeth from going through my lip). On the heels of one album, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, and leading right into their next, Resentment Is Always Seismic…A Final Throw of Throes, Napalm Death set out on their most recent tour with GWAR, which was, needless to say, a blast all around.
“The good thing about that tour was we were the support band so, you know…you should never feel pressure when you play a live show but there is a certain thing about being the support band,” Barney spoke of his time on the road with GWAR. “It's a little easier. You’re not doing a full set so it’s a little bit more relaxed, not that Napalm Death is particularly relaxed, but you know what i’m saying. So, yeah, it was good. It gave us a chance to grease the wheels a little bit and it worked out pretty good I think. There were obviously people on the tour that didn’t really know Napalm Death and some people seemed to go away quite interested in what we were doing. So, that’s all you can ask for, really.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, the longevity of the band, the crowd at a Napalm Death show is one that brings together people from multiple generations and all walks of life. In the pit you might find a 10-12 year old boy throwing down alongside those of us in our 30s, all getting fired up together.
“The gig in Portland, if I’m correct, was where the room was split between the bar…between the adults and the children? Which I think is ludacris. I don’t think it's necessary. But there was a little kid at the front of that show, and I was commenting about it, that he was actually flipping me the bird during the show. But it was in a fun way and it just cracked me up.”
“I just find it really crazy that you’ve still got those archaic kinds of separation laws in the US. If a kid is going to go to a bar, you just ID them. What’s the point of splitting people? I don’t like that. I’m not big on 18 and over shows. I just think music should be for everyone.”
The energy is not limited to the crowd. Napalm Death has been giving their all on stage and in the studio for over 30 years. Nobody could ever accuse them of phoning it in during a show. He may jokingly refer to Napalm Death’s music as “our horrible noise”, but Barney is enthusiastically proud of everything they have accomplished, and how his love of Napalm Death stops him from getting fatigued.
“Yeah, I’m not interested in doing that
Everything’s always subjective, but we can always do the best that we can do and that’s just it really. I love it. I love Napalm Death. It was my favorite band before I joined and I think it still is. And for that reason, I’ll do my very best. I mean everybody has their off days, don’t get me wrong, when you’re not feeling so good. Everybody’s human. You have days where stuff’s going on maybe back home that you can’t really be involved in because you’re away. But I think, in the main, when Napalm Death goes out on stage it's got to be 100%, nothing less.”
In the past few months, Napalm Death have certainly given their all. We have been graced with not one, but two albums, the latter of which, the mini-album “Resentment Is Always Seismic” was a delightful surprise announcement at the end of 2021. For Napalm Death, the mini album was something always in the works, and a callback to days when they would find new EPs at underground shows.
“We’d been talking about it for a long time. Way before even this album session. It was just a general conversation. “We should do a mini album at some point.” It wasn’t any real absolute planning. It was just we decided that we were going to do it at some point. But it just so happened that when we recorded the latest full album, as is usual for us, we made sure we got extra tracks…Because I think it's nice to give people extra stuff that’s not going to be on the standard release later down the line. I like doing that, giving people stuff like that.
“But even with that, we found that we just had so much extra stuff that we thought, “Well, now we do it. Now we can do this mini album.” And rather than having it be, sort of, trumpets blaring months in advance, we thought in the spirit of when we used to go to gigs, underground gigs, back in the day, and you’d just all of a sudden see perhaps an EP or a mini album and there was just no announcement. We were just like “Well let’s do it! Let’s just put it out.
“But still, it's not a second thought thing, it's not an afterthought. The production quality is what the album is and the artwork and stuff. It's more stripped down in terms of how much artwork and packaging there is, but that was the point. The album artwork is still really strong, but we wanted to make it a more slimline package you know? Not too complicated, but still had what we would expect from ourselves in Napalm Death. The very best and nothing less.”
Often thought of as a “political band” Napalm Death goes beyond the petty divide to simply speak about humanity and human rights issues where these things have often been forgotten or politicized in a way that is unproductive and backwards.
“I understand that Napalm Death is tagged as a political band in a lot of ways, but I think more than that, it’s purely human stuff that we deal with. It's not necessarily politics whether people should be able to control their own bodies. It's not really politics that there is so much resentment in the world, and very often, people don’t understand why they resent others. They don’t really understand why in the first place, it's just because it seems that they should, to protect “their own” from newcomers. Those aren’t necessarily political issues. Yes, they have been politicized, but they are human issues.
The primary position for Napalm Death has always been a human one. And, it first and foremost, should be a human one. Because I think human beings, humanity, human rights, however you want to put it, transcends politics, it really does.
Sure enough, I grew up as a person from the left. A lot of the ways I think, there are definite parallels to the left, but I do also realize that it's more important to come in from the human angle. Because the trouble with politics is, a lot of the time, it's so divisive, that very human issues, that people could agree on, get lost in the mix. You know what I mean?”
And it is very easy to see what Barney means. Over the past couple of years in particular, issues simply became issues because they were tagged either “right” or “left” instead of simply being tagged “human”. But having an outlet and a platform such as what Napalm Death has, issues are able to be brought to the forefront and discussed through the catalyst of heavy music.
“We have a certain vehicle with Napalm Death that we do it in our own way. I’m not saying that puts us above anybody else in music and arts saying similar kinds of stuff to what we are, but again, we try our best. And it's really important. One of the things I know I was mentioning during the gigs, the fight for women to be able to control their own bodies, it's really important. It's a human right fundamentally, therefore men and women should both be really concerned with this. Why should it be that 50% of the population should have restrictions on what they can do with their own body. It's absolutely absurd. So, that’s really important and I think that has to be addressed, first and foremost, on a human level because it is a human rights issue.”
I remember vividly the moment he is speaking of at the Portland show. As Barney openly spoke about women’s rights being under attack, the audience came together. For a moment, a room full of 1000 people forgot about the “politics” of it and were all on the same page.
“My sort of mindset, I try to have a general view of everything. It's nuanced depending on what you’re talking about, but I think that particular issue right now is really important because it's live right now. You have, all across the world, not just in America, you have women’s rights under threat again, whereas there was a period where it had subsided, that whole furor about 50% of the population controlling their own bodies. Now, the assault on women’s rights is again coming to the forefront when we thought we had put it to bed. We clearly haven’t. So this is really important right now. It's really vital. I’d say it's a matter of priority.
“I mean, I am a male. Obviously I’m a man, and the very notion that men think they should have an opinion telling women on how they can control…I mean, it’s fucking ludacris. Absolutely ludacris. Not to sound cliche or anything, but I stand with my sisters. Every man should that believes in human rights. The right to choose.”
The arts and music have always been one of the safe harbors of free expression. Open critique of the establishment, open thought and discourse, and creative commentary and communication are, more often than not, tenants of the arts and facilitate discussion and change in ways other avenues cannot.
“I cannot gauge above and beyond, necessarily, the people who come to one of our gigs or buy our records, that we provoke conversation. I’m not naive enough to sit here and tell you we are the agents of change, the prime agents of change, because of course we’re not. We’re just a small cog in that machinery. But small cogs are important. They help the big cogs kind of turn and that’s what we will continue to do. I can be hopeful and I will be hopeful. And a voice is a voice is a voice. That’s important. That’s really all we can do and that’s what I’ll continue to do because I think it's important.
“In the grand scheme of things, we are just one vehicle. There are many different groups out there. I’m not talking about musical groups now, I’m talking about people on the ground that work this stuff day in and day out and they are equally as valuable if not more valuable than we are. We are just one thing and we try our best. And we’ll just keep doing that because it's instinctive, at least for me.”
Outside of politics and the societal discourse music stimulates, Barney celebrates some of the turns music has taken over the past few years. While not ideal in all ways, no industry is, the rise of the independent artist, and artists taking ownership of their careers is something to behold.
“There’s been a big debate about streaming and artists really getting stiffed because of that, but I think the independence of artists is continuing and I think long may that continue. The stranglehold of really big record companies needed to be broken. I know Century Media is owned by a big company, so it sounds a bit odd me saying that, but Napalm Death is still a really independent band. We live and die by our own decisions. We will not be dictated to be anyone and in all fairness Century Media don’t do that. They know that if we want to do something or we don’t want to do something then that’s it. We will always discuss people’s ideas, but if we think something is not right, we just won’t do it. But, yeah, the continuing independence of artists and bands and people is a good thing. Long may it continue.
It’s always been there in all fairness, but not as widespread as it is now. One good example, look at Melvins who we toured with a few years ago, they put stuff out on their own all the time and they really are good at it.”
As important as the message behind Napalm Death is, and the musical innovation they represent, on a personal side, Barney is also one of the most approachable people in metal. Always willing to have a chat, meet fans, and does not place himself above anyone else.
“There are no little people. I joined a band 30 years ago because I liked that band. It doesn’t make me any more or less of a person because of that. It’s just what I do and it worked out well. It doesn’t elevate me as a person. In fact it would be really sad if I was to the point where I felt I was slightly elevated above others. That’s just not the case. I’m just a person like anybody else. I have to go to the shops like anybody else. I really am no different.
Just in a touring environment, if people want to come up to me, it's not like I can’t give them five minutes of my day. That’s ridiculous. Anybody ever wants to speak to me that feels like speaking to me they don’t even have to give it a second thought, just come up and speak to me.”
While I probably could have continued speaking with Barney for another hour or more, eventually our discussion did have to end, but not before asking the “most important question” of the interview: what is his favorite dinosaur?
“That’s a good question because I'm big on evolution and dinosaurs. I would probably say diplodocus. Big, mellow, plant-eating dinosaur. Very, very gentle and some might say lumbering, but very peaceful. It seems! As far as we know in the dinosaur world.”
Napalm Death’s mini-album, “Resentment is Always Seismic…A Final Throw of Throes” came out on Friday, February 11th, so definitely go check it out if you haven’t already. Napalm Death will also be doing an insane amount of touring over the next year or so with dates all over North America and Europe, including headlining dates, dates with Arch Enemy, Behemoth and Unto Others, and MORE headlining dates, in that order - so grab your tickets and say hi to Barney if you can.
Napalm Death – Live 2022:
Fri 04.03.2022 Leeds (UK) - Boom Leeds
Sat 05.03.2022 Leeds (UK) - Boom Leeds - Sold Out!
Fri 11.03.2022 Oxford (UK) - Academy 2
Sat 12.03.2022 Buckley (UK) - The Tivoli
Fri 18.03.2022 London (UK) - The Underworld
Sat 19.03.2022 Liverpool (UK) - Academy 2
Fri 25.03.2022 Torquay (UK) - The Foundry
Sat 26.03.2022 Wolverton (UK) - The Craufurd Arms
Arch Enemy & Behemoth + Napalm Death, Unto Others – "The North American Siege 2022":
Sat 16.04.2022 Tempe, AZ - Marquee Theatre
Mon 18.04.2022 San Antonio, TX - The Aztec Theatre
Tue 19.04.2022 Dallas, TX - Amplified Live
Thu 21.04.2022 St Petersburg, FL - Jannus Live
Fri 22.04.2022 Atlanta, GA - The Eastern
Sat 23.04.2022 Charlotte. NC - The Fillmore Charlotte
Mon 25.04.2022 Toronto, ON - Rebel
Tue 26.04.2022 Montreal, QC - Mtelus
Thu 28.04.2022 New York, NY - Terminal 5
Fri 29.04.2022 Philadelphia, PA - The Fillmore Philadelphia
Sat 30.04.2022 Worcester, MA - Palladium
Mon 02.05.2022 Chicago, IL - The Riviera Theatre
Wed 04.05.2022 Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre
Sat 07.05.2022 Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot
Mon 09.05.2022 Seattle, WA - Showbox SoDo
Tue 10.05.2022 Vancouver, BC - Vogue Theatre
Wed 11.05.2022 Portland, OR - Roseland Theater
Fri 13.05.2022 Berkeley, CA - The UC Theatre
Sun 15.05.2022 Los Angeles, CA - The Hollywood Palladium
Napalm Death - “Campaign for Musical Destruction” – European Tour 2023:
Thu 09.02.2023 Eindhoven (The Netherlands) - Dynamo
Fri 10.02.2023 Köln (Germany) - Essigfabrik
Sat 11.02.2023 Berlin (Germany) - Astra Kulturhaus
Sun 12.02.2023 Wrocław (Poland) - Concert Center A2
Tue 14.02.2023 Budapest (Hungary) - Dürer Kert
Wed 15.02.2023 Wien (Austria) - Arena
Thu 16.02.2023 Brno (Czech Republic) - Sono
Fri 17.02.2023 Magdeburg (Germany) - Factory
Sat 18.02.2023 Hamburg (Germany) - Gruenspan
Sun 19.02.2023 München (Germany) - Backstage
Wed 22.02.2023 Besançon (France) - La Rodia
Thu 23.02.2023 Marseille (France) - Le Jas Rod
Fri 24.02.2023 Biarritz (France)- Atabal Biarritz
Sat 25.02.2023 Quéven (France) - Centre Culturel Les Arcs
Sun 26.02.2023 Paris (France) - La Machine du Moulin Rouge
Tue 28.02.2023 Oberhausen (Germany) - Kulttempel
Wed 01.03.2023 Leipzig (Germany) - WERK 2
Thu 02.03.2023 Paderno Dugnano / MI (Italy) - Slaughter club
Fri 03.03.2023 Mannheim (Germany) - MS Connexion Complex
Sat 04.03.2023 Hüttikon (Switzerland) - Meh Suff! Metal-Festival
Sun 05.03.2023 Utrecht (The Netherlands) - Tivoli
Tue 07.03.2023 Bristol (UK) - O2 Academy Bristol
Wed 08.03.2023 Manchester (UK) - Club Academy
Thu 09.03.2023 Glasgow (UK) - Classic Grand
Fri 10.03.2023 Kingston Upon Hull (UK) - Tower Ballroom
Sat 11.03.2023 Birmingham (UK) - O2 Academy The Institute
Sun 12.03.2023 London (UK) - Electric Ballroom