DATE OF INTERVIEW:
16th August 2008
Pioneers and originators of the grindcore genre, and one of the most influential extreme metal bands of all time, Napalm Death remain a hegemonic force within the scene in 2008. 21 years have passed since the release of their debut album 'Scum', over which time the band have stylistically progressed their sound whilst eschewing metal's ever changing trends, simultaneously managing to sustain their widespread, loyal fanbase and attract a significant number of new, younger fans too, some of whom weren't even born when 'Scum' was originally unleashed upon the world. Currently recording an as yet untitled new studio album due to emerge in early 2009, their fourth release for Century Media, Napalm Death look set to continue for many years to come.
Originally scheduled to chat with both the band's frontman Mark 'Barney' Greenway and bassist Shane Embury, upon hooking up with Century Media contact Sarah Lees backstage, she informs me Napalm's press commitments are overrunning, and that I would just be talking to Shane. Half an hour after my planned time, I evetually sit down with the band's legendary bass player just outside the VIP bar. A very laid-back individual, Shane answers my questions with the enthusiasm of a man who is evidently still as passionate about his music and the scene all these years on. As Moonsorrow can be heard commencing their set over on the main stage, I start by asking him about the band name's inextricable association with extreme music...
METAL DISCOVERY: The name Napalm Death seems to have been synonymous with extreme music over the years, even with people not into metal from the mainstream - the name’s always quoted as an example of extreme music. Do you think the name Napalm Death is more famous than the band and your music?
MD: I guess it’s all good publicity even if people don’t know who you are! I first heard of Napalm back in ‘89 after that heavy metal Arena special documentary. How important was that for you at the time, and did that get you a lot more exposure back then?
SHANE EMBURY: Erm…sometimes…you know, looking at it from the outside and having been part of it for so many years. It’s kinda weird, I mean obviously I joined in ‘87, I remember going to the Reading Festival in 1990 and meeting up with people like Jesus Jones and really commercial bands, and they were into Napalm for whatever reason. Erm…yeah, to some extent, but at the same time, definitely over the past couple of years…we’re living up to the name…maybe a bit more than perhaps the early 90s or whatever. It’s a name that people tend to know; I guess it’s one of those names like probably a couple of them - you know, like Sabbath or something - but that also goes hand-in-hand with obviously the fact that you’re doing something right!
SE: I don’t think it was massively important for the other guys…well, I was probably the one who got a kick out of it the most. Me and Bill came from a heavy metal background, and the other two came from a very punk background and also at that time, it was still kind of like erm…with Napalm as well and most of the bands then, CD was a new format, and just even putting a CD out was almost a bad thing to do. So a couple of the guys were a bit suspicious about doing it, but we kind of did it as a bit of a laugh really. We got to know people at the BBC who were doing the documentary and became quite good friends. They probably ended up giving us a little bit more time on that documentary than we probably deserved, you know, and it caused a bit of a stir amongst the metal community. But at the same time that was funny as well.
(Shane Embury on Napalm Death's re-enactment of the Jim'll Fixt It boy scouts rollercoaster ride for Channel 4 show The Priory)
"It was the cream cakes that attracted me really!"
Shane backstage at Bloodstock, Derbyshire, 16th August 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Yeah, it was a cool programme. Did you hope back then that twenty years later you’d still be doing what you do?
SE: I’ve never really thought about it but, you know, you just take it one day at a time, and one year at a time and I’m happy doing it if I’m happy then. I joined the band when I was 19, and I’m 40 years old now so I’m like, well fuckin’ hell, it’s 21 years and just following your heart for want of a cliché, you know, so I’m quite happy to be where I’m at.
MD: Do you still consider Napalm Death to be an underground band in essence?
SE: I think to some extent, yes, because I mean we don’t follow the conventional methods of most bands. There’s been things we’ve been offered, or certain tours, or particular deals that we’ve shied away from and said no, we’re not doing that. We also try and keep doing it the best we can - we’ve got some of the newer bands that are coming along, and the underground was a big part of my life…so I’d like to think that we still have some sort of link into our past.
MD: You appeared on the Channel 4 show, The Priory, to re-enact the Jim’ll Fix It boy scouts rollercoaster ride while eating your lunch in…was it 2002?
MD: Was that a genuine letter you wrote into the show to ask about that, or did the show approach you?
SE: I think what it was, at the time we went through a bit of a bad patch with our first manager, and then the second guy that took us on, it was a bit of a PR exercise on his front really - he suggested it to us. And, er, what was the girl’s name?
MD: Zoe Ball…
SE: …she seemed very keen on Napalm for some reason, so she suggested it at first. It was the cream cakes that attracted me really!! [laughs]
MD: It was fucking hilarious!
SE: And, of course, I hadn’t really been on a rollercoaster for a while…
MD: …particularly while eating your lunch!
SE: It was good actually. I think Mitch…I shouldn’t say this, but Mitch…it’s pretty unknown, but he basically covered me in fucking milkshake before we even took off! But it was fun, yeah! [laughs]
MD: I was looking for the footage on YouTube recently, but you can’t find it.
SE: No, my mum’s got it actually. She puts it on every now and again for a chuckle! She showed my wife recently which went down well! [laughs]
MD: How was the Neurotic Deathfest for you recently in Tilburg a couple of months back?
SE: It was good. Mitch had got given this new guitar to try out, and of course he never bothered to try it out before. He plugged it in and there was no distortion at all. Plus it was kind of small and looked like it could’ve been made for a hobbit which was weird! But it was good. I think it was the second to last show that we did…
MD: You were on tour with Suffocation weren’t you?
SE: Yeah. It was fun but festivals like that, and at any festival, you meet a lot of friends, and you tend to be rushing around, but it was good, I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say we played the best that we’ve played, but…
MD: …from a spectator point of view it was pretty awesome.
SE: We enjoyed it. Sometimes the ones that aren’t perfect tend to be the better ones.
MD: Do you always get weed thrown on stage when you play in Holland?
SE: We do, but none of us smoke it strangely enough!
MD: I know, Barney said thanks, but…
SE: Mitch used to a long time ago, a few years ago, but if we used to go and tour Japan or the UK he’d get nothing so he’d be pulling his hair out, so he just said “fuck this, I’m giving it up”! Our sound guy, he’s Belgian, likes that, so we said “there you go, have some of that”!
MD: I remember someone shouting as well at the Deathfest - “play something faster and heavier” - is that a regular heckle?
SE: Yeah, you get that as well.