Napalm Death interview – 1997

Cover of “Inside the Torn Apart” by Napalm Death

Originally published in ‘zine issue #19, 1997

Recently I was able to sit down* with Jesse, the guitarist, and Barney, the vocalist, from Napalm Death. The band’s new album, Inside the Torn Apart, is out now on Earache, and the group is touring for it as well. Napalm is one of my favorites.

D.U.: To use cliché comparisons, the last album, Diatribes, had a Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth influence. I think the new album sounds like a really extreme indie rock album.

Barney: Right. That’s an interesting point, actually. ‘Cause although you said that, not a lot of people do actually come out with that, and, to a certain degree, I guess that’s pretty accurate. I mean, those aren’t my influences, to be honest. My influences are still the same as what they were, like, fuckin’ eight years ago. As you pretty well know, Shane and Mitch in particular are really into that kind of stuff. But yeah, as long as it’s kind of really extreme and that, then that’s what counts, you know.

Jesse: Um, I think that’s pretty good, I suppose. I think Napalm’s always kind of been on the edge of things, from the first record onward, whether it’s playing 1,000 miles an hour or 1 mile an hour, and there’s really no formula to it. Every record’s different, especially some of the earlier ones, there was different line ups and things. It gets kind of twisted, you know. I mean, sometimes you get tired of the same beats, so you bust out with, like, yeah, I know what you mean by indie beats and more alternative beats. And also, the guitars, they just veer off in different directions, which gives them this, I dunno, that Sonic Youth fuckin’ discordant sound. But at the end of the day, as long as it’s still pretty heavy and extreme, you could call it I guess anything, really.

“Prelude” and “Low Point” off the new LP sounded like they were in the same vein as “Antibody” off the Greed Killing EP. Do these songs just come out that way, or do you try to write a couple that are total grind all the way through, so that style is represented on each album?

Jesse: Nah, it’s really hard to, like, find weird ideas to that sort of style of music, ‘cause it just ends up sounding really bad. I mean, we’ve tried to combine, like you say, noisy bits and Youth parts and whatever to blast parts, and it just does not work. We’ve tried and tried. And basically, it’s just the traditional way, that’s the only way it works. And you try to put, you know, some slightly different or more complicated riffs or whatever it is at the time, but for that sort of song it’s gotta be straight up, really. And that’s why you get to mess around with the other songs. And we always try to, you know, bust out with some slow shit, especially like on the last track on the record.

It sounded like there were two rhythm tracks on the Diatribes record, not counting the “random guitar noise.” Is that right?

Jesse: Pretty much. I mean, there’s bits and pieces like that we overlaid guitars, but very minimal, really.

So on the new record, I can’t tell, it sounds like three or four rhythm parts? Or is it just two again?

Jesse: Actually, on all the records we do four rhythm tracks.


Jesse: Yeah, but there’s only one or two left and right that stand out, and the other ones are, like, halfway in the background. I dunno. It’s just a producer’s little trick.

Does he put two mics up to the amp, or do you actually go and record four tracks?

Jesse: You have to record four tracks.

I never realized that.

Jesse: Yeah, I mean, Mentally Murdered had five. The way we do it, we record four, but mainly it’s two, left and right, and the other two are left and right, but, like, halfway the volume, but it gives it some sort of a [pause] it builds a little bit of a wall behind it. It sort of backs it up, the main ones. I dunno. It’s kinda technical fuckin’ producer’s sort of trick.

I feel that Utopia Banished is a very underrated album. I think you guys went for a serious blast on that record.

Barney: Yeah, me and you both. You know, as I’ve said to other people, my two favorite records to really make, in terms of actually enjoying the albums, was definitely Utopia and this record, because it’s kind of a new start.

Why don’t you ever play songs off that album live?

Barney: Yeah, I know, it’s weird. I mean, I’ve always pushed for it. We tried to play “Judicial Slime”—

Oh, really? I love that song.

Barney: Yeah, I know, but for some reason Danny [the drummer] has trouble getting to grips with it. I don’t know why. It’s a mystery to all of us. I’m gonna definitely suggest that we do start playing some more stuff on that record. It’s a very valid record. I personally had a fucking blast making that record.

Photo of Napalm Death

Is there a lot of difference of opinion with you guys in terms of you, for example, pulling for more stuff off the Mentally Murdered and Utopia records in the set? Are you guys like, let’s play this and let’s play that?

Barney: Well, yeah, the important point is that everyone’s got an opinion and everyone’s opinion counts, you know, referring to, that’s one of the reasons why that whole split came about, for me. Because I felt that my opinion wasn’t being listened to in a lot of ways, shapes, and forms. Um, it’s very important now that everyone has an opinion as to what we play, as a band, rather than just five people. We try to get the best set, mix, and balance possible.

Speaking of the split, my experience has been that when there’s a split in a band and a person leaves or is kicked out, and they later rejoin the band, the old problems that caused the split in the first place come back again.

Jesse: Yeah.

Will that happen with you guys?

Jesse: Uh, I’d like to think not, because [pause] really what happened was, after we did Diatribes, we did a long fuckin’ tour, like close to eight months, and at the time I don’t think Barney was into the musical direction we were going, like you say, the more indie fuckin’ groovy whatever. So even in a magazine he started slagging the record off and shit, and we were like, “Eh, you don’t want the frontman slagging your own record.” So the whole time he was more into his journalism, took his computer on tour, never showed up for soundchecks, and little by little his interest was totally not there. And we’re like, “Oh shit, you know, this dude’s not into it anymore.” And the last shows were in Japan, and he more or less said, “I’m going to college, I’m gonna pursue my journalism career, bla bla bla.” And we were like, “Oh, he’s totally not into it.” So we kinda like covered our butts and started looking around, and we’ve known Phil [Vane from Extreme Noise Terror] for a long time, and he was on the same level we were at, and we’re like, “Yes, that what we wanna hear. Someone who’s totally into it.” He came down, rehearsed with us for four months. And basically, what happened, when it came down to recording, he just couldn’t do it, physically. He has asthma, then he got a vocal throat infection, and the whole thing was downhill for him. Going over and over the stuff, his voice just kind of broke down. And we had all the music recorded, nothing with vocals, and, what do you call it, everything was on schedule, and we’re like, “Oh shit, we’re falling way behind here.” And we just called Barney up. And he started a new band in between those six months [during which he was out of the band]. And that kind of tripped us out. We’re like, “I thought he wasn’t into it no more.” And the whole time he said he missed it, and he wanted to be into it again. So he came down to the studio, heard all the music, and he just said, “Damn. I’m blown away. I though you guys was gonna cheese out and come out with some corny shit.” And we’re like, “Well, that’s all we always wanted to do, just kinda mix it a bit.” And from there, he just said, “Yeah, I’m into it. Let’s do it.” And I think the whole time, all we wanted to hear from him was, like, “I’m into it.” That’s it. ■

*in separate phone interviews, combined here

Photo: Napalm Death on what looks like the set of the “Greed Killing” video shoot (courtesy Earache)


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