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This week we caught up with Napalm Death vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway to ask him a few of your burning questions about touring Europe and the UK.
Napalm Death are an extreme metal band formed in Birmingham, England in 1981. While none of its original members remain in the group, the lineup of vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway, bassist Shane Embury, guitarist Mitch Harris and drummer Danny Herrera has remained consistent for most of the band’s career.
Napalm Death are credited with defining the ‘grindcore’ genre by incorporating elements of hardcore punk and death metal, short songs, fast tempos, deep guttural vocals and sociopolitical lyrics. Napalm Death have released fifteen studio albums.
Here is what we chatted about…
Q – What would you recommend for new bands to do to prepare for their first ever tour?
Get some warm ups first of all in your local area, get the feelers out and bombard it. You can’t expect an unknown band to get a huge audience. It’s hard enough for established bands like Napalm Death. The last time we plugged a gig in Birmingham we actually pulled it, it was a really bad time. Get your friends and family down, get used to playing in front of an audience. In conjunction with that, go flyering and spread the word. Go to the places you think your audience might be, make it a free gig too, as you are a new band people might not be too interested in paying a cover charge, try to make it accessible.
Q – OK, for example, let’s say there is a band, they have a fair bit of buzz in their hometown, but they want to get out to other venues and expand to a tour…
Firstly, does there need to be a reason for a tour?
Circumstances are different if you are a new band, established bands or semi-established bands usually have a reason, with us we usually try and tie it in with something. The way things are right now and even world wide actually, you need to be getting out there. Gone are the days where you go on tour in Europe, come back and say we’ll do another one in three months or something, well it may happen, but you’ll get half the people coming out to your gigs.
That’s just because you simply can’t over play, it’s a real tactical element. If you are in a new band, you are almost more better off in some respects. This is simply because if you do have a buzz, people haven’t seen you yet, you’re fresh and the want to see what you have to offer, so then you can actually get out there and do the circuits, keep pounding and pounding.
Q – Is it better to build out out slowly?
That’s definitely a better option, in a centric circle. There is nothing stopping you if you do get a good opportunity and a decent offer from somebody to do a support slot, if that comes up the do that too, there is no harm in dipping your toes in the water. Well if you are doing Glasgow and Edinburgh, stay up there the night, and perhaps do Newcastle on the way back. There is no point doing 5 or 6 days playing in a row, do 2 on and 3 off and so on. Just see what the feedback is from that, because if you do it a couple of times and there isn’t any noticeable shift, then you kind of have to think if it is actually worth it, especially on a really limited budget. It can really cost.
Q -Do you think it’s worth bands to invest time in trying to connect with other bands that are a bit further up the ladder and within a similar genre?
Well that’s like the traditional model of the scene, there wasn’t as much emphasis on the scene when I was really young, scenes weren’t even talked about. Back in the 80s you were in a scene if you were in a big band or in a small band, there almost wasn’t an inbetween. Well, I don’t really think it was as active, it was definitely more genre based, someone might correct me on that. Then the ‘Do It Yourself’ followed on from that.
Q – Managing a band now, and being in a few bands, what I find is this competitiveness between some of them is this common?
You gotta sort of, this is personal, well I may be digressing slightly here but you know the whole ego side of things, I can’t stand it, you have to be realistic and be nice. Co-operation between bands is a great thing, say you do a favour for a band, say they come to your town and they need to borrow an amp or a cab, if you do someone a favour, help them out, then they will always borrow you a bass or a cab if something goes wrong when you go to their town.
Q – Gig swapping? Does it happen? For example; Getting in touch with bands to trade towns, so like getting in touch with a band from Birmingham, supporting them, and when they come to London, they can support you?
This does actually go on, where i know that sort of thing from is from the hardcore underground, and people do do it. It actually transcends borders I know a band that sorted out a tour for a Canadian band over here, and then the Canadian band returned the favour, so it does happen.
It may be a bit scene genre specific that, It also depends on what kind of music you play, because there are different sub-cultures in different music scenes, for me, if you can , always try and make a network of friends that connect to other band of other bands. There was hundreds of bands around when Napalm were first coming up, and it really did help me.
Q – What expenses to bands need to look at if they are going on a week long tour? What do they need to look out for?
Lets just say this, above and beyond anything else make sure everyone on the band is aware of what the obligations are. because lets face it, if you are in a new band and you’re not going to have a pot to piss in to be honest. You better make sure that everyone else in the band understands that if you don’t break even, because let’s face it you probably won’t, you all have to put your hands in your pockets unless you have an alternative agreement, then so be it. Just make sure everybody knows, because there is no foot worse to start out on than when you start going out gigging and everybody imagines you are going to get one thing out of it, sometimes the reality is different. Make sure you know who your band mates are.
Q – Is it worth sending contracts to promoters and venues?
If somebody takes exception to that then they may have something to hide. They may not be playing it straight. It’s a risk for bands to go out on the road as much as it is a risk for a promoter to put a gig on. All the gigs that Napalm Death have had are very hands on, very self contained as a band and it always has been. I want to keep friendly with promoters, I want them to fulfil their obligations, i’m not going to give it to them on a plate but I know gigs are hard right now, i’m not going to put the pressure on them.
Having said that, if a young band or any band, they don’t have to be young, any band going out on the road, what you need to do is make sure both parties know what their obligations are, and what is the problem (if there is one), it becomes stigmatised but you should have an agreement in place.
Q – Does it show a level of professionalism?
Yeah, a couple of years ago in Europe, I won’t go into too much detail, the promoter hadn’t actually signed the contract, he said he got it late and didn’t have time, he then told us at the end of the gig that he didn’t have the money to pay us, but he’ll promise to get it for us. The promoter had actually put on gigs for our agent before so I was more inclined to give him a bit of rope. Unfortunately we rolled out of there and we never received the cash. It was a long way away in Europe, and it cost us a lot to get there, and it was a real problem. We really needed the cash, we had to resort to certain things, and yeah we got some money in the end but it was a real problem.
You don’t want to be awkward with somebody, but it also works the other way. Like I said, If somebody takes exception to you requesting a contract and that sort of thing then they may have something to hide. The point to make is that the MU can help with that sort of thing now.
Q – As you mentioned, potentially you won’t be making a lot of money, when it comes to new towns and you are trying to build a presence…
The reality is you are going to be hard pressed to make some money even when you are a established small to medium sized band.
Q -So how important is merchandise?
Oh yeah it’s very important, don’t get delusional, some bands say ‘yeah we got this merchandise and it’s 2000 shirts for £2 a time’, but if you don’t shift them you are stuck with 25 boxes of rotting t-shirts, you got to think about storage and things like that, be realistic. Order small numbers.
Oh, this is a personal preference, make sure that the t-shirts and merchandise are not from sweatshops, it’s really important, we are talking about potential exploitation, it’s important on the merchandise side of things it doesn’t come through exploitation. I would encourage to look into fair trade clothing, it can inccur more costs but that’s just personal preference.
Q – What is your earliest memory of touring?
One week in July 1989 I was working in a car factory. We supplied Jaguar and Land Rover with small parts, because Birmingham is the home for that sort of stuff, I was an engineer basically. I had been friends with Napalm Death for a few years, especially with the drummer and the bass player, well all the band really. I was also in a band at the time, so Napalm knew what I could do, so as soon as the singer and the old guitarist from Napalm Death left, I was basically in the right place at the right time to replace the singer, then we got another guitarist from America. So one week I was underneath power presses and stressing over production lines being delivered with parts.A week later I was playing at the Manchester International, in front of 1200 people, I had never played a big gig like that at all, it was a 5 part tour, the first gig at Manchester did not work at all, we all got really pissed, which was the worst thing to do (before going on). The drummer got really exasperated because we just fell apart, he through his stick as I turned round and it hit me square in the face. A disaster. The next night in Glasgow we were brilliant, but the first one was a disaster. So one week I was engineering, the next thing you know I was playing festivals to big crowds. It just kind of happens.
Q – Who was responsible for booking your gigs when Napalm Death was smaller?
Napalm was always 100% completely self contained before I joined, but the band got screwed on a couple of things, by the old label and gigging. That’s probably one of the reasons why the previous two members left, they still thought they could do it without a manager. Realistically we needed one, we actually found somebody who was completely independent. There are ‘managers’ and there are managers, know what I mean. We wanted to have somebody that has this Napalm ethos.
This is an important thing to mention, if you want a manager, but you want to be a very free independent kind of band, don’t go looking for someone who is purely a business manager, if you want to stay independent and there are certain ethics you have with your band and there certain things you won’t do, for example; I would never go and play a corporate gig. You have to instruct him on what you want, talk to them. Make sure you have an understanding, lets face it, you have to establish those ethics and make sure you are both thinking along the same page. Napalm Death got a really independent manager first off, there is no other way of putting this, but he cocked some things up big time actually, mainly financial, inland revenue, so that was problematic to say the least. The second manager, had some similar issues, but it was a learning curve. In the end just because things never seemed to work out I took those sides of things away from managers, I now handle all of that, this is the thing a manager will do what you instruct him to do or whatever you come to an agreement of.
There is no such thing as a carbon copy manager, you want to know what he is doing, best case scenario I would elect a representative of the band to keep on track with the manager, and then agree with the rest of the band, or you could hold a bi-weekly band meeting, make it official, even though you want to be independent it doesn’t mean you have to loose track on what is going on. You can still be independent and do all these things.
Q – In terms of bookings, how important is it to do your research on venues and promoters?
Yeah it is important, because there are some venues that are really good for certain types of music, there is nothing wrong with that. It is also probably worth not booking a gig that’s in a little village, not meaning to be disrespectful but the chances are, being in a stater band you won’t get anybody to your shows. Don’t get me wrong there are some fantastic satellite towns that have a reputation of getting people in, they got more life than the big cities, just do your homework first. It’s all about research, especially if you have nobody to do the bookings for you. For example; The Purple Turtle in Camden, I’ve never been to there but I’ve heard all about it, it’s a great place, because you have a captive audience, you got the Camden crowd and they are like ‘oh, there is a gig on there tonight’, just loads of traffic there, I’ve heard of gigs there that bands will get over 50-60 people a night, just because there is a captive audience. Napalm Death did a few gigs in Spain, when a town has a holiday for a couple of days they just have festivals and stuff, Napalm go over there, we will do gigs because the townspeople are just around. There is always things like that to do, if there are free festivals going on in your local town, just try and get on it. There is no harm in sending your card, demo or whatever to them.
Q- If there was a band here right now thinking about going on tour, what would be the one piece of advice you would share with them?
Well, this is more of a personal anecdote. If somebody offers you the World on a plate it’s usually rubbish.
From the start don’t be awkward, if somebody suggests something to you don’t be afraid to question it. Make sure everybody is on the same page, and everything is understood when there is an event or a gig, don’t just assume. Yeah, never just assume.
Thanks Mark, for taking time out this morning and good luck with the tour in Korea.
Mark Greenway interviewed on 20th July 2012Tweet