AN INTERVIEW WITH
I still remember the day I first heard Napalm Death. I was over at a who I still remember kept his CDs stacked with the rear end to the front. Anyway, those were still the early days of CD so he (and I) still bought vinyl by the wagonload.
"Now this is something you've got to hear," he said as he put on an LP he had taken from a rather ugly-looking greenish cover. That day, April 30th 1988, I heard the fastest drumming I had ever heard, the most hellish voice ever, and generally the most extreme load of noise it had ever been my disfortune to sense.
Little did I suspect then that six years later to the week I would be sitting in the same room as these guys (or at least the respective replacements of the original band members) and meet the band that is probably still one of the most extreme original bands to date.
It is Sunday, May 8th 1994. I get backstage and find that, even though arrangements were supposed to have been made, the bands know of no interview dates. A minor fuck-up on behalf of Earache, but it's the kind of thing you get used to. Added to that the fact that the whole shebang arrived at Tivoli, Utrecht, two hours too late, I think I was lucky to actually be able to have the interview in the first place. After quite a bit of a delay, at 19:30, we are lead into a more or less secluded room with Mitch Harris (guitar) and Shane Embury (bass).
Shane is a hair-standing-out sturdy dude with a fairly heavy Yorkshire accent. Mitch was more quiet, and someone who somehow seemed to use the the word "fuckin'" with same innocense and frequency as "very". The room, unfortunately, was the location of the very (er...fuckin') loud Tivoli doorbell.
Right on. Let's kick off with the most cliché of questions: A band biography in the tiniest conceivable nutshell.
Shane: You probably know everything there is to know about Napalm. There isn't much to tell you, really, apart from that the band was formed 1981 and that it didn't develop a musical style until '86 and with the release of the first album ("Scum", ED.) there ceased to be an original member at all in the band, it was mainly an attitude thing really and then went through several line-up changes, then did "Scum", "From Enslavement to Obliteration", the "Mentally Murdered" EP, the "Peel Sessions", "Harmony Corruption" in 1990. That was the third (full length) album, which is when the Americans joined the band, Mitch, Jesse, and that line-up kinda stayed until late '91, where Micky (Mick Harris, drums, ED.) left before we did a tour with Sepultura in the United States. Hence the third American came in the band which is Danny Herrera, a friend of Jesse's, with "Utopia Banished". And we've done a new one, "Fear, Emptiness, Despair".
What are your places and dates of birth?
Mitch: (A heavy American accent if ever I heard one) I was born in New York, Oct 31st 1970.
Shane: I was born in a place called Broseley, in Shropshire, 40 miles from Birmingham on the 27th of the 11th 1967.
What were the first albums you ever bought?
Mitch: I answered this question yesterday actually. The first album I bought...well I bought three albums in one day actually. It was Pink Floyd "The Wall", a Blondie 7" and Bruce Springsteen "Hungry Heart", and I was fuckin' chuffed. I was, like, 8 years old, 1978, or something like that.
Shane: My mum used to buy me records when I was about 5 or 6. I was into a band called Slade, and Gary Glitter, the Sweet, the Osmonds as well actually, the Osmonds were pretty cool.
Mitch: Yeah, I was chuffed for the Osmonds too. I was younger, you know.
Shane: The first album that I would actually have bought that sortof changed my musical taste was "Never Say Die" by Black Sabbath and "Killing Machine" by Judas Priest, "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy.
What did you do before you entered the music biz?
Shane: Just the usual working thing. I worked in a factory. I left school when I was 16. I did like an eve training scheme for a year to try and teach you a trade, which I wasn't interested in at all. I did this shift working thing in this really crappy factory, like machine metal work, really average stuff. At the same time I'd learned to play drums actually. I started off as a drummer and only later started with the bass. That was kinda what I was doing.
Mitch: Me, I started when I was in highschool still, I started my first band. I used to go to school but in the summers I used to hang wallpaper and also play with the band. I had a band called Righteous Pigs in Las Vegas, and otherwise I would just work, hanging wallpaper, and doing construction work and shit like that before I joined Napalm.
In what kind of neighbourhood did you live?
Shane: Where I was born it was a really, really, really small village, you know, very quiet, the sort of place where you could keep your door open, you didn't need to lock your door. Everyone knows everybody. It's kinda sad in a way, 'cause everyone is sortof very much expected to do the same, you know, sortof tradition. Everybody's expected to be married by 21, they end up working in these similar sort of places. Very narrow-minded, and I found it very racist. In the village I was brought up in actually there wasn't one black person. That was kinda sad actually. I moved to Birmingham about five years ago and since I got out of it I feel much happier, to be honest. My parents are pretty cool and there are a few cool people around, but for the most part it's a very narrow-minded place, very, very small. A countryside type thing, you know.
Mitch: I lived in New York until I was 10. I lived in Queens which at the time wasn't a very bad neighbourhood, but by the time we left it was pretty violent, pretty dangerous, a lot of robberies and street crime and stuff like that. It was generally a nice place to grow up though. And then when I was 10 my parents moved to Las Vegas. I went with them, obviously, and then that was totally a shock to the system because it was, like, you live in the desert in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing around. You have your city and then there's nothing around for something like 200 miles. You have to have a car to get anywhere and it's very hot. But now the town has grown a lot and it's easier to get around. When I grew up there there was not much at all for anyone to do if you're under 21.
How did Napalm Death get the first album released?
Shane: Basically just because, at the time, Earache was a very, very small label anyway, and the guy was friends with us. It was like a logical thing. "I've got a record label out and this is my friend's band, I'm into it, I'll release it". No sortof like great demoing. It was just a case of the first year of his record label and, like, the third release. And we knew the guy very well. It was just a logical step.
Did you consciously decide it should be extreme so that it had its own niche in the market?
Shane: It was just kinda the way it turned out. It's what we were doing at the time. The stuff that we listened to resulted in that at the time. Just hard-core sortof death metal, thrash stuff, you know. There was no sort of 'great plan' involved.
Were you angry at the world?
Shane: No, not angry at the world. I just have frustrations in mind, things that piss me off. And obviously I write about them. It's not because I'm angry at the world, it's because I'm angry at certain things.
Doesn't that become more difficult as you go on? It seems obvious that the more music you make the better off you are.
Shane: In some ways it's more frustrating at some points. I mean there's a sheer endlessness of topics for me to write about when I'm in a depressive mood. I'm not a depressive person, I'm quite happy a lot of the time. But the lyrics that I write, or that Barney writes, tend to be those moments when you're at a low point. That's always going to be that way because there's always going to be times when I'm feeling low. It gets more frustrating the more you carry on actually. You're trying to put your music across to people and you get positive reactions and negative reactions. And the negative feedback you get frustrates you.
After "Harmony Corruption", did you feel like outside factors pushed you back into making more hard-core music?
Mitch: As much as it was a negative reaction it was, like, the most successful Napalm album so far. The new album I think will be more successful, but, you know, as much shit as we took, it surely fuckin' frustrated us, you know, to have all this criticism.
Shane: I don't know, the whole thing about "Harmony Corruption" was just the way it sounds. 'Cause sound-structure-wise it's not different in shape or form from "Mentally Murdered". I just think it didn't sound like Napalm Death. To emphasize that point, with "Utopia Banished" everybody thought we had returned to the old style, but in fact that album is far more technical than "Harmony Corruption" but it sounds like the earlier stuff. Not to insult the fans or the people in general, they know what they want, but they hear the sound more than the music that's going on, you know, the beats, I think. People recognize sounds and rhythms more than actual structures of songs. And so with "Utopia" people said "Oh yeah, they're going back to their old style" which really wasn't the case at all. It was more technical but also a bit faster which they recognized maybe as typically Napalm Death. Some people think this new album is more technical than "Utopia" but I think it's a lot more basic.
Mitch: (To Shane) Last night I met someone who said it was a lot more basic.
Shane: The drums are more dynamic, but riff-wise it's much more basic I think.
How do you feel about the time, around when Napalm Death had achieved popularity, when even faster bands proudly proclaimed Napalm Death was like a church choire compared to them?
Share: (Smiles) We're a church choire. It doesn't really bother us. I get flattered when people say that they're influenced by Napalm Death and I get pissed off as well but things like that, well, they're not going to make me lose any sleep, you know, whatever. We're a church choire, great, that's fine.
"Fear, Emptiness, Despair" seems to be an album with a more negative vibe, there's even a song about suicide. Do you agree? And how would you describe the album as a whole?
Shane: You mean "Hung"? It's not really suicidal, just depressed. I wouldn't say it's suicidal. Musically it's more basic and we just tried to progress with the beats and the rhythms. That's basically what we're trying to do, you know, we got sick and tired of playing fast all the time. It's become boring, really. We write albums as a reaction to things, things we're into at the time.
How did Danny's arrival change the band?
Mitch: When Danny came in the band we got back some of the faster stuff. We told him to play fast and he didn't complain. Mick left because he wasn't into playing fast any more. We still had "Utopia Banished" in our system. That's what we wanted to play at the time. We got 22 songs written, totally extreme, fast intensity. That's what we wanted to do and Mick left.
Shane: I don't know if it was the right album to do or the wrong album to do, but it just happened that we had 22 songs, you know, and we're not one of these rock bands that scraps an album. These were the songs we got and we were into, so do it. Mick left and Danny came in. That was, like, two years ago and it's out of our system now. With "Fear Emptiness Despair" we had this new, well, concept, where we first pick up beats and then do the riffs. It gets sortof more accessible beats, really. We still keep the riffs really heavy, you know, intense.
In the "FED" liner notes I read something about it having been remixed. Was someone not content with the original mix?
Mitch: Yeah. The first mix was a little disappointing, you know, we spent a lot of time on it and we got home and it didn't sound right.
Shane: It was kinda strange, we were almost fighting an up-hill battle from day one of mixing. We were racing against time, straight away. You have to be critical but I think maybe we were too critical, you know, analysing things and re-analysing, and, you know, you think you got to a point where you'd mixed a track and get back after while and say, "Nah, let's do it all over again". So we took Colin (Robertson, ED.) in. He was, like, an old friend of ours, a producer who's done quite a lot of stuff with us, and kinda let him get on with it, which was better I think. We're probably too close to the sound to be judgmental about it.
Some people say Napalm Death should have changed their name because there's only one original band member, Shane, left. Have you ever considered changing your name?
Shane: I wasn't on "Scum" actually (even though his picture is on the CD liner, ED.). It was kinda hard because Micky wasn't the original drummer. Before they recorded the B side of "Scum" - because the A side was actually kindof a demo at first. There just ceased to be an original member before "Scum" even was released.
Mitch: When the B side of "Scum" was recorded the original members of Napalm left and Mick went on with Lee (Dorrian, vocals, ED.) and Bill (Steer, guitar, ED.). And Shane wasn't on there, it was Jim. But Shane did the tour for "Scum".
Shane: They asked me to play guitar for Napalm Death on the B side of the "Scum" album and I turned it down and Bill jumped in. When it came out, that's when I joined and I decided I wanted to play bass.
But what about those people claiming you should have changed your name?
Shane: I can't see why actually. Why is it that in millions of other bands line-up members come and go, there's bands that have changed totally. Pantera is a classic example, right, they were a glam metal band for something like six albums and all of a sudden they go "Yeah, we're heavy now". If I was into Napalm Death, which I am, I was into Napalm Death even before I joined the band, members could come and go. If it's very frequently then something's wrong, but if a band retains its core and style, and it's still extreme and still heavy, why change the name? We could change the name, but we'd still sound like Napalm Death.
What's your most favourite Napalm Death track?
Shane: I don't know. Probably, the one I'm into at the moment, is "More than Meets the Eyes". A little different for Napalm. I like "Contemptuous" as well.
Mitch: I like "Hung". That's still my favourite.
Shane: I like "Hung" as well.
And what is your least favourite track?
Mitch: "Unfit Earth".
Shane: "Unfit Earth". We'll never play it. Never have, never will.
Why did you record it then?
Shane: I don't know. (To Mitch) Why did we record it?
Mitch: Micky wrote it, Micky played it, and we just went with the flow. We didn't realise how fuckin' weak it was.
Shane: At the time we did "Unfit Earth" we didn't even think about it. It just happened, I guess. By the time we recorded the album we decided we didn't like the track.
What do you think is the most underestimated aspect of your music?
Shane: The potential to cross over. The potential to be accepted by a lot of different trends of people. I think we could branch out to an awful lot of different styles of fans, really.
Mitch: I'd agree on that.
Which item of your CD collection now left at home do you most sorely miss on tour now?
Mitch: (Smiles smugly) I brought it with me. I brought thirty CDs and, right now, my favourite is Björk. I'm totally into her. I only got into her recently.
Shane: I can't really think of one now. I think I brought most.
Mitch: The new Soundgarden. I'm glad I brought that with me too.
Shane: I went through a period where I haven't been playing much music recently. Usually I always get a need to play a Cardiax album, which is one of my favourite bands, totally unknown sortof weird punk progressive band. There are always some points in a tour when I want to play the Cardiax. I didn't bring it with me this time so that's probably something I'm going to miss.
What are your favourite bands?
Shane: Hard to say. I've got too many. Bands like Sonic Youth, Cardiax, Skinny Puppy, Cocteau Twins, stuff like that really.
Mitch: It's hard to say, too, man, I've got like a list of like 30 or 40 things that I totally totally love, you know. There's Soundgarden and Björk but there's also Jane's Addiction. I always loved Jane's Addiction. And Smashing Pumpkins.
Shane: Too many bands.
Mitch, what's your favourite guitarist?
Mitch: Probably...I like Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction. His style is pretty cool, pretty unique. As far as my influences go, you know, from the beginning, there's Slayer, Metallica, Venom, Exodus, Destruction, Kreator, Sodom, all that shit. Pentagram from Chili that's my all-time favourite, the guy that I developed my guitar style around. They had some demos out and stuff, but they never had an album come out. And your favourite bass player, Shane?
Shane: I like the guy from Primus (Les Claypool, ED.), and I like Geddy Lee as well, from Rush.
Mitch: (Sounding suggestively evil) Cronos...
Shane: I sortof modelled myself on Cronos 'live', probably. Not to the point of sticking my tongue out, but I mean, you know.
Is the story true about his having left the music scene and having set up a fitness school?
Shane: Yeah, pretty much. He still does his band, you know, kindof, but he's into the fitness thing now. I guess, you know, shit happens. I guess you get bored maybe.
What are your favourite drinks?
Shane: Diet Coke during the day and beer at night.
Mitch: Water. I love water.
What's the worst food someone ever tried to have you stuff down your throat?
Shane: I love cauliflower.
Mitch: My dad fuckin' shoved cauliflower right down my throat. Since that day, man, I hate the shit.
Shane: They have this stuff in England called Piccalilly. It's this relish kind of thing, the yellow stuff. I hate that shit, can't stand it.
Is there something you particularly dislike about the music industry?
Mitch: I hate to see a record company spend so much money on a band that's just a pile of shit, you know, something they think is gonna be huge but could never be huge, and they spend all this time and money on a band when there's, like, lots of bands that are very talented and deserve the push.
Is Earache guilty of this, too?
Mitch: No, Earache pretty much pushes the right bands. Besides Napalm they push, like, Carcass and Entombed and Godflesh and stuff, and they release other stuff where they put out a little press for one month and that's it.
I had a question specially for vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway. Perhaps the others could answer it for me. Does Barney use any sound effect machinery on his voice?
Shane: Not really, no. He tried a couple of effects for the weird spoken parts, but the actual growly voice is going natural.
Do you bite your nails (referring to the "FED" liner picture)?
Mitch: I always do.
OK, now for the "words to react to" section. If you have something to say, just burst forth. But keep it short.
Mitch: I don't know much about Yugoslavia and I don't know much about politics. I am glad that most of it is over and the place is free now. At least we get to play in Slovenia and stuff like that.
Shane: The same as any other politician.
Mitch: One more liar to add to the bunch.
Shane: A waste of time.
Mitch: Same thing in America.
Shane: You can't expect one person to make the right decision for the entire population of as nation. How can he make the right move on exactly the right moment for every single person?
Mitch: The government in America is just run by the CIA, basically.
So Rage Against the Machine is right?
Mitch: (Snorts) They're just fuckin' trying to milk the whole political thing and try to make it a fashion.
Shane: Rage Against the Machine are really popular but they're not saying anything that I haven't known for the past 10 years.
Shane: We played South Africa last year. It's a pretty cool place actually, I really enjoyed it. It wasn't like I expected actually. I really enjoyed the place. It's really cool that Mandela is going to be prime minister.
One politician that might not be a liar.
Shane: Yeah, definitely not. But it will take more than just him to put the country in shape.
The ozone layer.
Mitch: Fucked up.
Shane: I think it's fine. It's just all a lie. It's fine actually, I think. It's just a whole consumer thing really.
Mitch: I think it's fucked up. Noone really knows if it is. Acid rain and all that stuff, I don't know. Isn't there a place in Australia where the ozone layer is burned out? Certain places where gasses meet and, like, open a hole or something. We need the atmosphere to keep us from the radiation and stuff.
Shane: Fine if you take care of each other, but not fine if you're irresponsible to the crowd that you're with. In '86/'87 Bill used to stagedive and we used to help each other. There are certain places where people dive in feet first. That's the wrong way to go about it. I cringe sometimes. I see someone dive and the floor opens up and I cringe because I know he's gonna smack his face on the ground, you know.
Mitch: I had an experience last night with a stagediver where I fuckin' smacked my nose on the back of his head and shit. Blood all over, pouring down my face, but I must have hit it not that bad. I've done my share of stagediving.
Shane: I was too scared to do it myself.
Mitch: I used to do it a lot until I landed on my ass three or four times and fuckin' landed on my tailbone and shit. It's not a good feeling when noone catches you. When they catch you it's cool.
Shane: I hate Abba, actually. I've always hated Abba.
Mitch: I like some Abba. If I'm at a club and they're playing it I'll be singing.
Shane: It kinda bugs me that Abba has this second wind. Everyone's turning back into Abba or something, whatever, you should get into it when it's around.
Shane: I'm not a big fan of religion too much.
Mitch: Me either. I'm not against it if it works for some people, it's cool you know. As long as they don't try to push it down my throat.
Shane: That's the main problem. If religion works for you that's entirely cool. Danny's father is really religious and that's cool because he doesn't force it down anyone's throat. When the scams come in and the people start making money that's when it becomes a problem. Religion, like anything else, is just a marketable form of making cash.
Mitch: It's sad for me to see when people aren't strong enough, mentally, to realise that these people are taking advantage of them, taking their money for the love of god or whatever.
Mitch: Good label.
Shane: Pretty good label. Sometimes I have some arguments, sometimes we have problems, work them out, and carry on.
Mitch: Good thing with us is if something goes wrong we could just go over to their office in Nottingham and throw the fax machine out the window. So we don't usually have problems with them.
Shane: I've known Dig (Earache main honcho, ED.) for a long time and he'll try it on sometimes but I can make him realise to some extent that he should get his fuckin' act together. We have our problems but we work them out. It's probably still one of the better record labels to be on, in my opinion. I'd rather be on Earache then I would be on Roadrunner, to be truthful.
Righteous Pigs (Mitch' previous band).
Mitch: We just played a show the day after New Year's Eve this year. We never, like, officially broke up, I just moved to England and everyone else just sortof did their own thing. When I'm back in Vegas sometimes we'll rehearse for old time's sake. We even played some new songs that we've never recorded. A new album is not priority now, though. I'm happy to leave it un-stress-related. There's no point in doing a new album. Maybe in four or five years' time or something, for fuckin', for laughs or something.
Shane: Good friends of ours.
Mitch: I'm glad for them for their success.
Entombed (the band they're touring with).
Shane: Pretty good friends as well.
Mitch: Same shit.
Carcass (the band that ex-Napalm Death guitarist Bill Steer is in).
Mitch: Same shit.
Shane: I have no problems with Bill. We see each other from time to time, you know. As a matter of fact I probably get along better with Bill now then when I was in the band with him, because we really didn't see too much of each other.
Cathedral (the band that ex-Napalm Death singer Lee Dorrian is in).
Shane: I'm not a big fan of their music but Lee is one of my good friends. I like the fact that he's gone on into doom metal stuff. He's always liked it so it makes sense for him to be doing it. I kinda wish him all the best 'cause he's a good friend of mine.
Mitch: I'm not into their music either.
Scorn (the band that ex-Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris is in).
Shane: Musically really good. I like the whole thing they're doing. Nick Bullen (the other member of Scorn, ED.) is a good friend of mine. Micky I haven't got time for anymore. I find him very confusing. But the new album's a killer.
Mitch: We've been dying to start touring actually, 'cause for the last year we've been rehearsing and recording so now we're just very excited. Hopefully we'll tour until December non-stop. We're gonna give it our best tonight.
I wanted to ask Danny a question, too, but you probably know the answer too. His drumming is extremely fast, but what's the trick? Is it a nerve system disorder perhaps?
Mitch: It's probably not that hard, it's just the endurance, the ability to fuckin' keep it up. So I guess he practises, exercises all the time, to stay in good shape all the time. If he doesn't practise for a long time he's gonna lose the coordination of the double bass and the fast beat and stuff.
Shane: It just comes down to a lot of practice and stamina, I think.
Do you think he's a better drummer than Mick?
Mitch: I would say, technically, yeah, but I like Mick's drum style. Mick had a killer fuckin' unique drum style, but technically Danny can do any beat that you show him. But sometimes he doesn't come up with the perfect beat straightaway.
Shane: Danny's really good but he's really hard to jam with, to do sortof spontaneous stuff. Micky was pretty good doing the spontaneous stuff, but Danny's really a better drummer, yeah.
How would you label your own music as a whole?
Mitch: We prefer not to. I guess we throw in different, new elements to make it harder to classify, basically. I'd like to call it just "Napalm Death". In the future, with the progression of the next albums we'll be even harder to classify but still very heavy, very extreme. We'll have a little bit of everything.
Written May 1994
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