Coming from a punk background and fronting Britain’s noisiest band, Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway has always been vocal about what’s on his mind. Here, we chat to the barking Brummie about his views on modern politics, staying healthy, the concept of religion, and why they’ve always told the music business to go fuck itself.
“You’re supposed to get more conservative in your tastes as you get older, but I tend to go the other way. I listen to stuff that’s two steps away from white noise. But I must admit that I’ve been so busy with Napalm and personal things in recent years that I’ve not dug down into what’s going on. I’m a little disconnected at the minute but it’s not through choice, it’s through circumstance. Generally speaking, anything that’s nasty, horrible and confrontational is my bag.
“My dad got me into heavy music. He was a big rock fan when I was younger, and he was always looking for something heavier – less so than me, he stopped at Metallica or something of that nature. He helped me discover Motörhead which was the band for me when I was young; I liked other bands but they were out there on their own.”
“Politics is a bit of a misnomer really. Politics as we know it in everyday life has a lot of tokenism and hot air involved. If the object of the exercise is to make life better for those from the bottom upwards, which would be my thing, then there’s not a lot of it about. In one sense I’m on two stalls. If you ask me on somedays I’ll tell you I hate politics and it’s better if we break it all down, but I do come from the left, that’s where I come from as a person. My dad was a trade unionist, I’ve been a trade unionist, my brother is a trade unionist… and I’ve always considered myself to be a humanitarian. Not in the commonly perceived sense of the word, but the actual root and base of what it means to be a human being, that’s always been my start and end point. It’s a mixed thing but if you were to pin any kind of colours to me, it would be left – very left.”
“I think part of the problem with this world is that we’ve forgotten how to be human beings and what humanity actually means – I think religion dehumanises people. At the base of it, it tells you to believe in something that isn’t flesh and blood, that isn’t a solid form, so straight away it’s taking you away from what you are chemically, physically and biologically. For many things I’m quite passive, but in my ideal world there would be no religious schools. You can teach RE at schools in an informative way, that’s fine, but I don’t think you should mix religion with curricula. I think it’s dumbing down kids, it’s feeding them with storybooks that have no basis in fact. And when you widen that out to a civic society that needs to feed its people, religion cannot provide that. If you’re a religious person and want to do good things in the community then fine, that’s not a problem, but you can do those good things without being religious. Soup kitchens are fine, but you shouldn’t bring religion into the soup kitchen either, they shouldn’t be trying to convert those people unlucky enough to need a soup kitchen in the first place.”
“I’ve had periods in my life where I wasn’t healthy, for most of my life I’ve been vegetarian and vegan, but vegetarians can still be unhealthy ha ha! For me, health is really important and it’s not an image thing, it’s a necessity for me just to feel content. And when I say that, I mean my body can do what it needs to do and I’ve got energy. With Napalm Death it’s so ultra-energetic you have to maintain a certain level of fitness or you’re going to die on your arse.”
“We never were shaped by anything. The music business as a large behemoth entity told us what we should be, so we went in the other direction. We do what we wanna do, we’re self-confident, we wanna put ideas on the table we feel are important, we wanna play music that’s aggressive and confrontational but at its heart humane. People at the top have told us over the years that we should be doing other things, and you should never be arrogant enough not to listen to people, but after you’ve considered things if you feel it’s not the right thing to do on principle then don’t do it. Live and die by what you think your own band should be, and that’s what we’ve done. We never had ideas above our station, we never had ideas to be the biggest band in the world – we wanted to make a lot of fucking noise, satisfy ourselves and the people that come to see us. We’re high energy, no fucking around.”
“I think everybody thinks about death, but I’m not afraid of it. That’s one thing about this society – why is death a taboo? When I die I know I’m going back to the earth, I have no illusions about that, I don’t believe in an afterlife – it’s a natural, biological and chemical process to disintegrate back into the earth. If I die and people want to come to a small gathering to mark my life, people can dress and behave however they want. They can play table tennis on my coffin if they want, I’m just a vessel that’s going back to the earth. It’s the cycle of life.”
“Sometimes people think we should be the great big overlords, standing over the scene with a big stick ready to hit anybody who doesn’t conform to the genre, but the whole strength of any scene of music is the people that progressively come into to it, who bring their ideas into it. Like anything else, within the genre there are some bands I really like, some I like a bit, and some that don’t do it for me – that’s the way it should be. Our part in it is to continue to make the very best albums that we can, that don’t skimp on the very best elements of Napalm. Fast, furious, noisy, nasty, but also with a real essence of humanity behind it.”