Interview with Mark “Barney” Greenway (Napalm Death)






Rising up from their English roots from the 1980s, we have watched as Napalm Death brought forth a message of perseverance and victory over struggle throughout their career.  Their message being firmly embedded in one of the most extreme genres of the music world: grindcore.  After releasing twelve full-length albums and giving fans hours upon hours of music and political commentary, we were so lucky to be able to catch up with legendary front-man Mark “Barney” Greenway, where he spills his guts to us about their brand new album, “Utilitarian”, as well as other philosophical and political ideals.  Enjoy!

MB: What can you tell us about “Analysis Paralysis” and “Utilitarian”?
Barney: Well, you know, it’s a Napalm album, so when you put it on you know what it is pretty much straight away.  It’s got some extra elements, but they’re influences that we’ve always had like on the ambient side of things, and I’ve just arranged it in different ways, like I use that stuff over the fast stuff, where-as I used to always keep it to the slow stuff because that always seemed like the natural home for it.  I wasn’t sure if it would work at first, you know that kind of ambient vocals with really fast style, but it did…at least for me.

MB: The band is known for political messages in its albums.  Is that the case with “Utilitarian”?
Barney: Basically it’s a philosophical theory that has a hundred different interpretations, so it’s not just one thing.  It can mean, on the most basic level, the achievement of total happiness by any means.  Happiness being subjective, it could be anything, you know, but it also could mean that “good” actions makes for “good” consequences.  On a wider scope, if everybody does that then, in theory, the world becomes a better place, and negative things become minimal.  That’s the meaning of it, and what I wanted to do was to draw a parallel. Although when it comes to myself I’m not sure whether I’m a utilitarian or not, I do see myself as a person that lives quite ethically. I make my decisions on how I live based upon whether it might have a negative impact and, if that’s the case, I generally don’t do it, since I don’t want to cause others any kind of pain.  Of course, one of the things that you have to deal with this type of life is that you go through periods of self-doubt, asking yourself “why am I doing this, why can’t I just go through life doing what people do and just live the way I can and forget everything else?”.  That’s what I try to do, and try to bring it to a conclusion by saying that whatever the actions you choose, you should always persevere, because that sort of ethical living is a form of protest.

There are some forms of protest that involve going out in the streets and showing your discontent, but you can also protest in your own individual ways, and I think if you lose that kind of low level protest then you leave a gap, and you get the very things you were always against that can take more of a hold and create more problems.  I guess it’s the analysis and conclusion to try and stick to what you feel needs to be done.  With the utilitarian thing I didn’t want to just do a descriptive of it and say “yeah, I’m a utilitarian and this is what…” , it’s not that.  It’s bringing a parallel from it and just using it as a reference point.  And the paradox is, of course, that utilitarianism is promoted by very humane people, animal rights people… but that this idea of “total happiness” is also used by very ruthless people who want power and possessions, because that is their total happiness, even if it’s at the expense of other people.

MB: The obvious problem you’ll encounter is that people define their “total happiness” in different ways…
I think that it’s good, when you do music, to leave a bit of space for people to debate what’s going on.  Some people think that when they buy music they shouldn’t have to think about it, that it should be me.  Why?  There should be room for both.  It’s worth getting into books that are many layers and you have to read them, you can’t speed read them, you have to read them properly.  I think it’s the same thing with music too.  There’s no reason why not.

MB: Do you think that pop music nowadays lacks any sort of meaning or message?
Barney: I know my Napalm thing is one thing in that respect but, having said that, sometimes it’s really easy to snipe at certain kinds of music even though, yes, they leave me completely cold, but there’s something for everyone, and of course there’s always the argument that this stuff is so dumb that it makes people more dumb.  I don’t know… I think it’s very easy to do that sometimes and I try to stand back a little and try and take anything from it I try and understand it more.  It’s not my thing, it doesn’t sound like my thing at all, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I would think less of people for being into it.

MB: Speaking of revolutions.  What’s your opinion on what’s happening in the world, with the riots in the EU and the US, the Arab revolutions, etc.?
Barney: I take a different view to it than some of the British media and the politicians did.  There’s difference of opinion… generally speaking they were very “oh it’s just people stealing goods”, but there’s two points to that.  The first point to that is, yeah they stole some goods, but who started this race to the top of the consumer pyramid? It was the governments we have in place, and they are criticizing people for going out and trying to obtain the goods in a society that the politicians have been pushing for decades.  So there’s a certain contradiction… nothing wrong with contradiction, but in things as serious as this you kind of have to look at the wider picture.  Second, and even a more simple point, if you treat people like “animals” by keeping the people right on the very bottom part of society, they are going to act like “animals”, so there’s a certain rapid response to it sometimes.  I don’t promote violence, I don’t like violence, I think violence really solves nothing, but I can really understand sometimes when people reach a boiling point and they just snap.  Yes, the actual things themselves I might find not particularly great, but I understand why it happens sometimes.
As far as the other things you said, like Greece and stuff, that’s a bit more… it’s been happening for a longer time.  The root of that problem doesn’t rely within Greece, it relies within the speculators that overstep their mark, but they’ve always been given carte blanche to do so, they’ve effectively condemned a lot of people to a rudely troubled future on many levels, and it’s quite interesting to see that the people who caused it never answered for it in a significant way, but it’s an easy way to turn people against people and that’s what government like to do to keep us distracted.  I know the financial things are slightly different, but it’s not a national governmental issue, but there is some kind of parallel.
And, you know it comes back to something that’s very simple: If you and I did something quite insignificant out on that street, that was considered to be a small form of social disorder we’d be carried off to jail, spend the night there, be fined and end up in Court. And yet, the financial institutions did things that effectively condemned countries where  1 meal a day is the norm, to a crippling 1 meal every 3 days due to the compression of resources. And when you think about things like that… nobody has answered for it! Have you seen any credible admission or actions aimed at making someone answer for it? Nothing! I haven’t seen anything.

MB: Yeah, I know what you mean. At the most, as it happened in the US, people were dragged to Congress where they gave a half-assed apology, and then went to use the bailout money to give themselves bonuses. It’s really fucked up.
Going back to your music, last week you made “Leper’s Colony” available for streaming. Have you heard any reactions from the fans yet?
B: Surprisingly, I haven’t, but then again I’ve been doing press for the last few days, so I’ve been isolated in the sense that I’ve only been hearing from journalists (who have heard the whole album). So I haven’t heard from the kids out there… maybe a lot of that stuff is on sites like Facebook, but I must admit that I don’t go anywhere near it. Shane [Embury, Bassist] looks after that stuff. I do things like Twitter, but I don’t really post there… only when things are very fucking tedious and I just go there and post “I’m bored” or something like that. Right now this whole thing does not have a huge appeal to me.

MB: Do you think that things like Facebook and Twitter make us more vain?
B: Well, it’s not for me to dictate people’s habits and what they’re interested in. To me it seems tedious, which is why I say the most tedious things in there, because I have that type of sense of humor. But, don’t get me wrong, I love social interaction. I don’t really phone people anymore, it’s all about e-mails and text messages. Twitter and Facebook are just one more thing… I don’t really need to do it.
People take a lot of pleasure in doing these things, far be it from me to piss on their fucking peace but it’s just not for me. Maybe it’ll catch on for me in the future, but right now I have so much on my plate that I wouldn’t like to do something, like on facebook, and not get back to people, especially if it’s a Napalm thing… it wouldn’t feel right. I leave it alone, but Shane’s great at it, he loves doing this stuff.

MB: As an animal rights’ activist, what issues concern you the most right now?
B: There’s a number of things! I mean, factory farming is something that really has to change, I really think that it has to be completely turned on its head. I mean, I know farming is one thing but… I mean, I’d love if everyone in the world was a vegetarian, but it’s not a realistic prospect overnight, but I think that the abolition of factory farming in the way that we know it has got to go. If we are going to have farms, everything has to be organic with freedom for the animals. I know that it doesn’t mean that they won’t be killed but If we can make small steps that’d be at least something.
Factory farms are just brutal; the animals that are born there don’t have a “diminished” quality of life, they don’t have any quality of life. Some of them are kept in stalls for basically their whole life. Milking stalls are one thing, since I don’t think that the animals are kept in those for 24 hours a day, but some animals are confined like that.

MB: There are rumors of a third “Leaders not Followers” album
B: Yeah, they’re still rumors at this point. But we really do want to do it at some point, but we haven’t had the time do it, since we’ve been doing a lot of shows scattered here and there. We simply haven’t gotten around to it.

MB: I’m sure you’re planning a ballads album with that one.
B: Yeah,exactly… ballads!

MB: Any headlining shows in the foreseeable future?
B: Well, there are headlining shows. In terms of a tour, if you mean like a band package, there’s nothing planned at the moment. We have been talking about it, but we haven’t passed that talking stage. We will do groups of dates, which is just flying to a country and doing three or four shows, rather than the pack of international bands that you get with the 5 or 6 week tours.

MB: Not long ago a Dutch Court ordered two Internet Service Providers to block the access to The Pirate Bay. Even though this won’t stop the trading of MP3s, what’s your take on this blockage as well as MP3 sharing in general?
B: First of all, I think that blocking, no matter what I think of anything else, is just not the right route, it can never be the right route for anything. I think that kind of extensive censorship is just  wrong, under any circumstances. So that’s a very simple thing for me to answer.
The MP3 trading is a little different; the only thing I would say about it is, in the case of Napalm Death, that when people start sharing the album in the first 3 months of its release, that’s a prime selling time. It’s not a profit time, it’s a selling time, so we can pay back [the label] Century Media for the money they’ve put into us, so that then they can give us more money so that we can continue doing the things that we need to do, and if they can’t do that because a large percentage of that profit is taken away due to downloads, then that’s a problem for us, no question about it. And I’m always very free and easy about a lot of things, but that does hurt us. A year after the release, no problem; also, if a kid in another country, with very limited resources… I rather that kid get the music that way than not being able to get it at all.

MB: Do you think that it’s difficult to convey a meaningful message through a genre like grindcore?
B: Well, not really, it’s only as difficult as you make it. Of course, there’s always an issue with the clarity of the voice, but sometimes you can’t control everything and you have to accept that. This is why there’s a lyrics sheet, and it’s pretty easy to read, we always make it quite easy to read, so people just have to go and look at it.

MB: Any final words for your fans?
B: In terms of messages for the people that follow us, well, it’s a simple thanks. It’s been 23 years since I joined the band, and playing the sort of stuff that we do and with the quite penetrative message we have, you wouldn’t think that we could last this long, rather that we’d fizzle out at some point.  Wherever we go, people always turn out and that’s pretty amazing when you think about it, that a band of our nature can still come here and play, go to Germany, Switzerland, America, Southeast Asia, Japan… it’s amazing!
A lot of bands simply fizzled out, or rather the interest fizzled out. I can’t put my finger on it on why this is but, of course, it’s great.
I guess my final thoughts, as an extension to the album and all things in general, are that I hope that, although I know it’s a complex thing and that I’m always quite forthright in the things  I put out there or that I want people to know about or understand, but even if people don’t agree with it, the only thing that I ask is that people open their minds and don’t accept everything that’s put to them. I don’t want a robot army of people that listen to Napalm Death. It’s nice of people just look for themselves.

MB: I hope you don’t feel offended by this, but you’re a very well-spoken and even soft spoken person. How did you end up choosing Heavy Metal, and grindcore in particular, and the means through which you express your ideas and art?
B: Well, to say that would be to say that maybe I started at a point where I had an ethos that I wanted to put out and I just picked a band to do it. I joined Napalm Death because I wanted to join Napalm Death. If it had been another band I might have never gotten involved in music to this extent; it’s purely a matter of circumstances. And don’t forget that Napalm Death was like this, ethically speaking, before I joined the band, it wasn’t like I sowed the seed for that. It was very much that, coincidentally, I was of the same opinions in the same general area, and I was at the right place at the right time to join the band. It was all coincidental and circumstantial.

J Salmeron
J Salmeron
Lawyer. Civil Libertarian. Published photographer and writer. Passionate about Free Speech, IP, and Heavy Metal. Guilty of thought crimes.
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