Napalm Death interview (10/2003)

With: Shane Embury [bass]
Conducted by: Justin
Published: 02.10.2003

Band profile:

Napalm Death

Napalm Death have certainly had plenty ups and down over the course of their twenty-one year history, but the pioneering U.K. grindcore act have proven beyond any doubt that they're certainly survivors. When their genre defying debut album 'Scum' was released as far back as 1987, most wouldn't have predicted what an influence it would have over the metal scene, and continue to do so to this day.

Over the next eleven years, Napalm Death continued to release a string of extreme albums on the well renowned Earache Records, before parting ways under less than friendly terms [Following the release of 1998's 'Words From The Exit Wound']. Napalm Death continues to release further albums for Dreamcatcher Records [1999's 'Leaders Not Followers' and 2001's 'Enemy Of The Music Business'], before setting up their own label Feto Records [2002's 'Order Of The Leech']. In a strange twist of fate, [And after a long and very public bitter exchange of views], Napalm Death and their former label Earache Records have decided to get together, settle their differences and released what can only be called the definitive [And mammoth] Napalm Death compilation, 'Noise For Music's Sake'.

I caught up with bassist Shane Embury to find out how the compilation came to be, where they stand with Earache Records and what fans can expect from Napalm Death in the future.

- While there is no shortage of rumours as to why Napalm Death and Earache Records split in 1998, I thought I would ask Embury himself to explain just where things started going wrong for the partnership.

Well, in 1998 I think we had one more album to possibly finish up our contract, after our last album 'Words From The Exit Wound'. I guess it's kind of like a marriage in some respects. We started finding faults with the record label, and the record label is probably disillusioned with the band because the last couple of albums didn't do as well 'From Enslavement To Obliteration', 'Harmony' Corruption' and 'Utopia Banished'. There's a whole mixed bag of emotions going on. I think for us, we felt that one of our main gripes was that we felt the finances of Earache Records were going into funding music that didn't really belong on Earache Records' roster. Whether we had the right to say so, I don't know, but it's is an opinion that we all shared. I think, just in general, we weren't getting along at all. In think in 1999, we did a tour in the U.S., and we let them know that we were going to do one more album with them, and we wanted better promotion. We thought that the promotion for 'Words From The Exit Wound' wasn't very good at all. We felt it was a little unfair, and they then let us go. That's kind of what we wanted anyway. It's a tough one. I think that these things had been going on for quite a few years. I can kind of look at it from both angles in retrospect, from both the bands angle and the labels angle. I think we had just been together for too long, and they weren't like they were back in the early days. The relationship just got really sour. That's the best way of putting it.

- With that in mind, it was hardly an issue that could be solved overnight. What actually did bring both parties to the table was actually another Napalm Death release that the band was less that happy about!

I think they initially brought a D.V.D. [2001's compilation 'The D.V.D.'], which pissed us off a little bit because they didn't really ask for our involvement. I guess you could put it down to miscommunication in some way. Over the past twelve months, we've been sorting out our differences, both personally and financially. Particularly the financial aspect, as we had royalties that had been outstanding for a long period of time really, which had really sort of pissed us off. We managed to get around that particular obstacle. I think I just came to the realization that they were going to put out this compilation album out anyway. I still remain really good friends with Dan Tobin, who was the label manager for all those years, and we still remain good buddies. So anyway, it was going to be released anyway, so I suggest we bury the hatchet, try to get together to sort out our differences and try to make this compilation as good as we can for the fans of the band, as opposed to being whatever they wanted. So it was a combination of a few differences being worked out. So on my part, it wasn't really reluctance, but more the acknowledgement that they've done it with the bands consent.

- Most compilation released long after a band has left their former respective label leave both the band and fans wondering why they even bothered in the first place. However, Embury is more than happy with the outcome of 'Noise For Music's Sake'.

It's turned out pretty good. I'm quite happy with the layout and the family tree. There's a lot on there for people to sort of get their teeth into. It's not some flimsy two-page booklet. There's quite a lot of information on there, and a lot of tracks that add up to over two and a half hours, so there's a lot there for people to listen to. The rest of the band was pretty much happy to leave it up to me to help out on the compilation. Barney did an interview for the record, but it's usually up to me to do the promotion and organise that stuff, which I don't mind doing anyway. I'm quite happy to do it, and it's always been my sort of role in the band anyway. In regards to the family tree and stuff like that, I was pretty much the only one who could help with the backtracking of events and find all the historic moments with Napalm Death really.

- 'Noise For Music's Sake' isn't just some simple compilation that has been put out to tie up the loose ends with Earache Records. The informative liner notes, in depth family tree and care taken in compiling a definitive track listing all add up to be something worthy of the fans respect, making this certainly one of the best of its kind I have personally seem in some time.

That was pretty much the thing Dan and myself talked about it. I said that if he was going to do this, then it had to be done properly. I managed to win out on a few things, especially with the family tree. Initially, they were only keen to do the Earache Records timeframe, but I said they couldn't do that. Obviously there was a cut off point, but I wanted to mention as many bands as possible because it's all part of the history, and you have to show where people were coming from, and where they ended up. So I kind of really put my foot down in regards to that. I knew the guy that was doing the layout for the album anyway, and I went through the interviews and the notes quite heavily, and corrected things that were wrong. There was quite a lot of hectic work over a good month to five weeks really. There were a lot of e-mails back and forth. Like I said, both Dan and I have remains friends for a long time, so it was quite easy going. There was no stamping of the feet or anything like that. Compromises were sorted out rather gentlemanly like. I was very keen, especially with the family tree, to get it as exact as I could possibly get it.

- The same meticulous care that was given to 'Noise For Music's Sake' packaging was also taken in the track selection for the second C.D. rarities set as well.

Well I think for the most part, Napalm Death were really one of those sort of bands that released everything that was recorded. I knew that with the 1994 album 'Fear, Emptiness, Despair' we had an original mix that I had always been keen to release a couple of tracks from [That's Pete Coleman unreleased mixes of 'Remain Nameless' and 'Twist the Knife [Slowly]']. A lot of the extra songs that we recorded from 1996's 'Diatribes' and 1997's 'Inside The Torn Apart' came out, but they're quite hard to come by. I guess right towards the end there are the live tracks that I recorded. I had those sitting around for years and years, and I always wanted to put them out. So that was the general idea. The initial first [Best of] disc came about really easily. It was just a case of putting your hand into a magic bag and plucking out what came randomly.

- Those live recordings that Embury spoke of are the 1986 bootleg recordings of 'The Traitor' [Prior to him joining the band], 'Abattoir' and 1987's recording of 'Deceiver' [Recorded at Wacken with Mitch Dickinson of Unseen Terror on guitar]. All three cuts were recorded by Embury himself, and offer a glimpse into Napalm Death's early beginnings.

I've got about forty-five to fifty live tapes sitting around my place. I have the original three piece playing [Bassist/vocalist Nick Bullen, guitarist Justin Broadrick and drummer Mick Harris]. I was a massive fan of Napalm Death before I joined the band. I was part of the early tape trading scene, and I guess my friends and myself single-handed tape traded the A-side of 'Scum' around everywhere. I think at that time I was trading with about forty or fifty people, and obviously those forty people would trade with a further forty to fifty people. So in the space of eight months, we managed to trade 'Scum' everywhere. I was lucky enough to go to rehearsals, and became really best friends with all those guys well before I joined the group. I'm still good friends with all of them now. I knew that as soon as we discussed this compilation that there were a couple of things that I could put my hands on straight away. I think the live track 'The Traitor' is the one that was really never ever recorded, and was the last thing with Broadrick. That was quite a key point in Napalm Death's history because that is the last thing that you really hear around the time of the A-side of 'Scum'. After he left, obviously the sound did to. The B-side to 'Scum', for me, is a different shape and form compared the A-side. That is a really important track, and I'm pleased I still have that. You can just hear Broadrick's guitar sound. I hadn't heard it in a long time, and hearing it with fresh ears, I'm thinking of suggesting to the guys about recording that song properly. Just to give it a real proper production. It has such an A-side feel. It hasn't been really captured much over the years, and that's speaking honestly as a fan and a member of the band. The essence of Napalm Death is still there completely, and the riffs on the last album are riffs that would definitely be on the 'Scum' album, and the sound of that particular live track within Broadrick's guitar sound. Guitar sounds are quite hard to replicate over the years, so it's an important thing to be on this compilation I think. I know Nick Bullen, the original Napalm Death singer, was totally gob smacked! He wasn't aware that the song even existed. He even asked me where it had come from. It's quite good from that respect, because I keep in touch with a lot of the old members. Jim Whiteley, who played bass on 'Scum', is down here in Birmingham every other week, and we go out drinking. We recently got him down to play some bass tracks on this new covers album that were doing at the moment. The compilation album seems to have brought together a lot of old friends in the Birmingham scene. There are a lot of old faces, and it's pretty cool.

- Turning towards the future, and as just mentioned from Embury himself, Napalm Death is currently working on another covers album, the sequel to 1999's 'Leaders Not Followers'.

We recorded nineteen tracks, and were currently mixing the album. It's a very rough and ready affair. All the tones sound fresh, live and very heavy. We're not entering into a laborious mixing thing. It's going to be a very live sounding affair. We wanted it to sound live, which reflects the fact that we recorded it in a week! [Laughs] There are some great tracks on there from bands like Cryptic Slaughter, Agnostic Front, Anti Cimex, Sepultura, Hirax, Dayglo Abortions, Hellhammer, Kreator, Massacre and Discharge. There's a whole mix of metal and punk really. It's sounding really nice, and there's a nice nostalgic kick to it all with Whiteley there [who plays bass on the Discharge and Anti Cimex covers]. It's all been a nice fun affair, apart from sweating to death in a small studio in Birmingham. That's part of the fun of it though. That should be out in January on our own label [Feto Records]. At the moment we're just discussing distribution deals to try and get the album out to as many people as possible. As for a new album of originals, we will be possibly having something out there early next year.

- As for touring Australia anytime soon, Embury is optimistic at the prospect of coming down around the same time as their Japanese tour.

Well we have a tour in Japan in January next year. I just got off the phone with my manager, and he was trying to tie in some Australian shows around the same time. It's been too long since we last came down.

I would like to personally thank Shane Embury for his generous time. I would also like to thank Joanne Girardin at Earache Records for making the interview possible.


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