Thinking Out Loud: Barney Greenway
The Napalm Death frontman on love, fame, punk rock and Jeremy Corbyn
Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway joined Napalm Death in 1989 and has fronted the seminal British grindcore band on the 14 studio albums they’ve released across the past 27 years.
He's also recorded with Benediction and Extreme Noise Terror, and made guest appearances on albums by Ginger, Volbeat, The Haunted and Dream Theater among others. One of the most articulate, thoughtful and outspoken musicians in the business, the 46-year-old Birmingham-born singer has never been shy of confronting prejudice, injustice and bigotry, and remains a passionate advocate of independent thought and action. On June 12, alongside fellow British rock institutions Iron Maiden and Saxon, his band will headline a stage at the Download festival, fitting recognition of their significance, influence and continued relevance at the forefront of the extreme music scene.
Speaking to TeamRock while on holiday in Japan, Greenway, as always, has plenty on his mind…
"Punk rock has always meant a lot to me. My first exposure to punk rock was what people would call the third wave of punk, with bands like The Exploited, GBH and Discharge, which then led me to bands like Crass, Flux of Pink Indians, Rudimentary Peni, etc. I wouldn’t say that punk rock dictated my decisions, but the point of punk, to me, is to encourage free thought and promote humanity, and obviously that’s important to me. Napalm Death has always been a punk band at heart, since the very beginnings of the band as Civil Defence, albeit that it also took influence from everyone from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Swans, via industrial, metal, post-punk and even post-pop. Punk as an ethos has always been with us, but to me we’re almost like an art collective now. Certainly calling Napalm a metal band is far too narrow a definition."
"I have conflicting views when it comes to politics. On one hand, I obviously believe in social justice, and will support politicians who have the desire to genuinely make things better for people, but on other hand I believe that if you really want to change things you have to break the system down and start again. People always roll their eyes when anyone says that capitalism is bad, but essentially capitalism perpetuates the idea that it’s okay for some people to be at the bottom of the pile, and to exist accordingly, and that cannot be right in a world where we’re supposedly civilised. I think society as it stands needs to be broken down and we need to start again. I was a Labour Party member for many years, but I gave up my membership even before the [Tony] Blair years, when I could see the party heading in directions that I didn’t like. I’ve voted tactically for Labour in national elections to attempt to keep the Tories out basically, but I’ve voted both Labour and Green party locally. I think Jeremy Corbyn being elected as Labour leader has been a bit of a shot in the arm for Labour – I’m encouraged by that, because he’s a person who’s echoed many of the things that I’ve always thought and felt – but I don’t think I’ll ever tie myself tribally to one particular party again."
"I was brought up a Catholic, but I turned completely against religion. I came to realise that I was really only a Catholic to please my grandfather. When I really looked at the core of what the Catholic religion is about, there were too many things I couldn’t come to terms with, and I could never remain within the institution while fundamentally disagreeing with its stance on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. The sheep-like mentality really put me off. People can believe what they want to believe, but I have a problem with religion when people try to enforce it upon civil society, and try to impose conditions that affect people living with dignity and happiness: then I think it’s disastrous and should be shunned."
"Football has always played a big part in my life, but there have been developments in the game that leave me cold. What particularly disappointed me was some of the stuff around the World Cup, with land reclamation - people who have nothing to begin with being thrown out of their homes to make way for stadiums – that left a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t wear football shirts onstage anymore, because I learned more about practices in the sports garment industry. I’ll always be a Villa fan, though. You get what you deserve in football though, and [in getting relegated this year] Villa got what we deserved. I’m disappointed, but I can’t say I’m surprised, because it’s been coming for about six seasons. We escaped in past years by the skin of our teeth, but your luck runs out in the end, and we’ve only ourselves to blame."
"Napalm Death has never really been a part of the music industry. We’ve always been sceptical and cynical, and we never ploughed the same furrows as other bands did, but we’ve been mindful of the sharks circling at points when albums have sold well or been well received. We’ve had people who didn’t give a shit about us for 20 years suddenly making promises, and we’ll be, like, ‘Mate, go away, we don’t need you.’ We’ve never been completely DIY, because we know that the task would be too big, but we’ve tried to pick and choose independent labels that wouldn’t question the way we guide our music and our artwork and how we conduct ourselves as a band. From time to time labels get eaten up by bigger labels and people try to change the rules, but we will always do what we wish to do and no-one will ever dictate to us. And if people don’t like that, then fuck ‘em, quite frankly. You’d be a fool not to listen to other perspectives, but we know what we’re doing."
"I believe in love, but I think love can’t be defined as a strict set of guidelines. It’s an emotional, chemical and physical response, and I think love is whatever two people or three people or four people decide it to be for their own happiness and well-being. I’m a romantic in a sense, but I think romanticism has to be linked to freedom, so I get angry when people try to dictate to others what their love and relationships should be. It’s one of those clichés that this lifestyle makes relationships difficult, but I think when two minds and hearts come together you can make it work, it’s not hopeless. I’m pretty comfortable and philosophical about love and relationships, I’ve had some good relationships while I’ve been in Napalm Death and the quality of them has been as good as if I wasn’t in a band who’re always on the road, and I’ve also had long periods of time where I’ve been single, or been in open relationships, and that’s fine as well."
"I’m very comfortable and confident in who I am, but I hope no-one would ever mistake that for arrogance. I’m in a situation where I’m doing something that 99% of the world will never do, and I have the freedom to express myself and my ideas, which many people can’t, so I never take this life for granted. I don’t care about ‘celebrity’, and I’ve no delusions about thinking I’m too special to walk out among music fans at our concerts or talking to people or whatever. I feel we’ve made a contribution to music – other people might disagree! – and I’m delighted to be a part of this band."
"Rock festivals are special things, and they can be really enriching, life-changing experiences. I went to the Monsters of Rock festival at Donington for AC/DC in 1984, and then ZZ Top in ’85, and I got to see the likes of Metallica and Accept in their early years, when they were as ‘extreme’ as metal music got at the time, so I guess to some extent music festivals have played a part in steering me in the direction I’ve taken in life. I like the communal vibe of festivals, people coming together from all over the world and making friends for life. I’m a bit too diva to sit in a field for three or four days listening to music these days, but I’ll allow myself that! It’s great that we’re headlining a stage at Download this year, but quite honestly we treat every single gig exactly the same – whether it’s a Download headlining gig or a show for 100 people in a bierkeller in Germany – and if we didn’t, it’d be a reason for Napalm Death not to be around. We’ll never be half-arsed about this."
Napalm Death headline the Maverick stage at Download on June 12. For more information on Download Festival, visit their official website.