Interview By: Simon Lukic< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Transcribed by Narg
Synonymous with the word extreme, Napalm Death has been grinding away since 1982 and is showing no signs of slowing down if the release of 13th album Smear Campaign is any indication. I had the opportunity to talk with guitarist Mitch Harris and was able to cover a few things such as the current tour, the new album and their progression as a band.
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So how is the World Domination Tour been going so far?
Really positive reactions all across the board. There has been a lot of people coming out – lots of full venues and there’s been a lot of interesting bands that we’ve played with. It just kind of went from one album to the next and it’s like the touring blurred into itself. It seems like we’ve been on tour for two years.
So, we played with Kreator, Obituary, Black Dahlia Murder, Finntroll, Vader, Hatebreed, Exodus and I don’t know…lots of bands. Really it’s been fun and the album’s been well received. People seem to be into the new songs when we play them live and apparently it’s done as well as THE CODE IS RED if not more. So in this day and age I think we’re doing ok, actually, considering all the downloading and internet scandals and all that stuff you know?
How have the tracks from Smear Campaign integrated into the set?
Really easily actually. We can play two or three in a row sometimes and people don’t even notice you know? It seems that there are quite a few new people coming to the shows as well so it’s all new to them. You know the songs we chose to play off the record kind of break up the set a little bit and it stands out as fresh and different from the other songs. It really helps everything flow and an hour goes by before you even know it. We don’t tend to play more than an hour and ten minutes because there is a point where it reaches its peak and it’s all downhill from there. So we just make it short and snappy to keep the crowd happy.
How long did it take for the band to discover that an hour was your peak?
Um, probably about 10 gigs.
Yeah, when I first joined the band, Napalm was one of the bands that had lots of short songs and gaps between songs. It was fast and intense, with lots of heavy breaks, and at the end of the day when the crowd’s going nuts for an hour it really does show after a while. People do get tired and depending on when you play…if you play at two in the morning after like ten bands with people drinking all night sometimes it really seems to drag. But it’s good if we support bigger bands and we play for 45 minutes. It’s enough for the crowd really. I mean, they’re pretty much finished after that, you know?
As a band, how do go about putting a set-list together? It must be a mammoth task.
Yeah. It’s nothing less than a pain in the ass to be honest. (Laughter) For example, we’ve done one kind of set for like a long time and then we decided, ok it’s time to branch out and play some songs we’ve never played. It’d be good to play that again and get to play this again. Then we get in the rehearsal room and we play everything and it’s like, “Oh, that sounds like crap nowadays…forget that one and this sounds better than ever…let’s try this and this….,” and then we throw it all into a set and before you know it’s an hour and thirty minutes and we still haven’t even finished. Its like, “Mmmm, well, we’re kind of breaking the hour and ten minutes rule here,” you know? So it’s hard, we tend to chop and change songs as well. We’ll do two songs this night and the next night we’ll do another two songs instead. They’re equally as good and it’s a shame because I’d like to play even more, but it could be an anti-climax too you know. People shout for songs all across the board so they’re never going to hear everything they want. It’s up to us to determine the classics I guess and just live with that. Concentrating on the new record is always really the most important thing that we’ve got to remember that because there’s no point in going out and doing the HARMONY CORRUPTION tour at this point really, maybe in 20 years you know?
What are the ones that continually pop up in the Napalm set?
Well, ‘Suffer the Children’ is always expected as well as much appreciated, you know, and ‘Scum’ of course.
And those are the only two that are always going to be there really and everything else kind of chops and changes. It’s always one or two of each record and that’s all we can do really, that’s 24 songs right there not including the new songs. So yeah those two are the most important songs I think a Napalm set wouldn’t be without. Oh, and ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ of course, that’s a cover song but that’s become some kind of an anthem for Napalm and, you know, everybody loves Dead Kennedy’s so it’s important to do that one.
Very true. So what’s it like when your putting an album together?
Well sometimes it gets frustrating to know that, “Oh this is a great song but we’ll probably never play it live,” you know?
And then it’s hard when we’re done with the record and we get to go out and we know that like, “Mmm, what are we going to choose…which one of them?” We kind of squabble quite a bit over that but there are always the obvious few which usually stick for a couple years. Writing wise, we were all happy with the way CODE IS RED turned out and the response that it got. We knew that there was room for progression. Obviously we prepared material before we went into the rehearsal studio and it came naturally, like in three weeks and the album was done and recorded in two weeks. Really, it’s just a quick process nowadays because we’ve been working together for so long and we all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We work around that and try to make the heaviest and most intense record without repeating ourselves. I tend to hate when a lot of bands just make the same record again and again, or keep trying to make the first album again or keep trying to make their classic record again and again. It’s never quite the same you know? You can’t recapture that energy so you might as well just do what comes naturally and take it to the next level from where we left off. When that gets old, it’s time for another radical change which we have done in the past and I think that’s important, you know?
So the direction of the album basically works itself out?
Yes, it works itself out I mean, it’s quite obvious you know? The times when we did really adventure outwards there was just an over-abundance of bands playing the same kind of music and we didn’t want to get caught up in that mess really. A lot of people just classified music as one thing and we were still trying to innovate and do something fresh and new, you know? Whether it worked or not doesn’t matter really, we tried and we learned from our mistakes and from our progressions. You know when it’s getting old, if we were to try and make SMEAR CAMPAIGN again it would just be like, “Well, ok, people are going to get burnt out on hearing this and we’re going to get burnt out on playing it.” We always leave a few openings on each record where we can actually go in that direction if we want to. If something weird comes up we’ll never be afraid to try it because Barney’s actually experimented a little more with his vocal styles and that’s one of the surprising things that have kept things interesting too. It adds a few more dynamics with extra backing vocals and lots of screaming because monotony’s not a good image for us.
Do you see those experimental albums as crucial to the band’s development?
Crucial? I don’t know, we could have just carried on doing UTOPIA BANISHED part 2, and 3 and 4…and at this point maybe we would still have this totally stable fan base or maybe it would have just sort of disappeared. Band members may have lost interest or people would have just said, “Oh yeah, it’s just a one-dimensional sort of music.” It was important to venture out and I always thought of Napalm Death like a band like Rush in a weird kind of way. Even though some people might think, “What?”, I mean that’s a band that can reinvent itself within it’s own realms of extremity, you know? That’s important I think, to see the bands that have a long term plan, and vision, that can still make something cutting edge and hard hitting after so many years. You know, extreme is only extreme as long as it’s something you didn’t expect. If you expect it then it’s just going to be the norm really, so it was always searching for something like that really, until the point when it was unexpected to come back with a more faster and intense record. We fine tune that style quite naturally, I mean that was fun as well as interesting so, who knows really?
Yeah I always found it surprising that the band received criticism for experimenting when Napalm, from a personal point of view, was always about pushing the envelope.
Yeah, I mean it’s frustrating and limiting, you’re always limited by your first album in a way.
The whole thing was, in the beginning to appreciate a band like Napalm Death you had to be open minded. It got to the point where there was a set style and classification and people got comfortable with that. A lot of people grew up with that and just refused to venture out. I’m sure nowadays they listen to lots of different things…you grow up don’t you? And we grew up within Napalm Death because we were just teenagers when we started the band. They have to appreciate the fact that we need to explore our own tastes as well as influences and newer influences. A lot of people are close minded and just wanted to keep it one style of music and you know there are a few bands that managed to do that but is it really interesting and cutting edge? I don’t know, but a lot of people are just stuck in that one frame which is fine but I grew out of that mentality when I was about 18 so, it depends on what you want really want out of music.
Do the expectations that people place on the band wear thin?
Well, we can make a record that’s just like FROM ENSLAVEMENT TO OBLITERATION and a lot of people would be happy and they’d be like, “Yeah it’s like old school, back to the roots,” and then there’d be the other half of the crowd that’d be like, “Well I was into what they were doing before that.” So it doesn’t really matter, the most important thing is that we’re into what we do and we can stand behind it 100% no matter what is. I don’t care about people’s expectations as long as we’re excited really. (Laughter)
Is there life outside of Napalm Death for you? Your history began with Righteous Pigs, Defecation and then you involved yourself in Meathook Seed. Will that continue for you or do you just not have the time?
Both. All of the above. Ok, well, it’s always been important to me and other members to branch out and do other things you know? I did a second record with Defecation which I kind of regret doing now because it would have been better to just leave it as the one classic sort of album…it was what it was. There’s no trying to remake it, there’s no trying to beat it and in the end it was too close to Napalm for my liking anyway. With Meathook Seed, I branched out with that and half the people liked it and half the people hated it with a passion so…maybe I regret doing that as well. Even though I don’t regret the music I did, I’m totally into that, but I’ve really progressed musically since those days anyway. That’s been like 15 years ago so my musical tastes have totally changed and I do a lot of electronic music and still some quite heavy stuff that’s unlike Napalm. I’ve been working on something for years that will show its face in the near future but Napalm’s been really busy and I just had a new baby boy so everything’s chaotic right now. I do have a lot of songs so we’ll see what happens. But it won’t be Righteous Pigs, Defecation or Meathook Seed it’ll be something else, it’ll be something more interesting. (Laughter)
In regards to the second Defecation album you just spoke about, were there tracks on it that were going to be part the original second album?
Yeah, half of them were and the other half were new…and the other half that I didn’t use were songs that I actually used in Napalm on UTOPIA BANISHED. You know the band broke up and was finished and I was like, “Well these are great songs and they’d actually be really sweet in what we’re doing in Napalm,” so some of it got used in Napalm. But of course I adapted it to fit with what we were doing and it did change a lot. It was important to make something fresh and new as well but, I don’t know, people just aren’t interested. They don’t have the attention spans and, like I said, have a lot of expectations so…it’s just pointless really, it’s frustrating. When you make something that you believe in and people just turn their nose up…it makes you feel like you’re shooting yourself in the foot, you know? But it’s all right, you learn from your mistakes.
I would assume that whatever you do will ultimately have to live in the shadow of Napalm Death?
Yeah, well, especially doing something more standard rock-based or maybe more commercial or something with totally weird vocals or whatever. It’s weird man, you’ve got marketing people and half the people that are interested are looking for something else, something totally different, and the other half are going to expect something the same to add to their collection of classics. If it’s advertised as “Members of Napalm Death” then they’re going to expect some sort of crazy, blast…extreme sort of thing. So maybe it’s not a good idea to even tell anyone you’re in the band so there are no expectations. Labels like to try and sell albums as easily as possible so we get stuck in this Catch-22…but it’s ok, I don’t regret anything.