Chuck Schuldiner Project

Monday, April 28, 2014

Interview with Mitch Harris of Menace and Napalm Death

So just a few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting down with Mitch Harris after a killer Napalm Death show and talking a little bit about Napalm Death as well as his very cool new project Menace. We also get into some of the more spiritual aspects of his work, something that Mitch and I bonded over on a very personal level. I've always been struck by how compassionate and kind this man is, and I feel like this interview really proved the inner beauty of this grindcore legend.

Be sure to check out Menace on Facebook:

So, after you played a great show like tonight, how do you feel?
Punch drunk. Like I've been in a fight. It's like a lack of oxygen but also with adrenaline, and a non violent sort of meditation a test to the body and mind. trying to do your best but also feel it and try to project some kind of energy which helps people connect with how it was written and something like that. It's cool to unwind and talk to people. That's my highlight of the day, after a show. All the traveling and all that stuff in between and waiting around in soundcheck and everything, it builds confidence. But when you get away from the venue and have a shower if you're lucky, then you realize that there's civilization. Try to make the most of why you're there and when its done the responsibilities finished and at some point you can begin to enjoy life from a different angle, with a sense of achievement. It was as good as it could be, under the circumstances. It might be better or worse tomorrow, which makes life interesting.

This desire to reach out and impact people in a positive way, was that the founding idea behind Menace?
Well, I guess it all starts in a personal way. First you have to please yourself and if that represents where you are at this point in time then that's something to put all your energy into. Even if you're going into something negative that's a way to turn things around, for myself and for those people I love around me. Then the rest of the world comes into it. It was therapy for me, so hopefully it can be therapy for someone else. Hopefully it will at least comfort them for a while and make them feel that they're not the only ones that feel like that.

Stylistically it's very far from Napalm Death, was this kind of music what you've been into for a long time or just, what came out?
Both. I haven't really heard a band that does the odd combination that Menace has. I grew up listenign to all kinds of music in my moms record collection with the Beatles and then the Stones and Hendrix and hearing all this stuff. My cousins played Kiss and AC/DC. My other cousins played Pink Floyd and Yes. I liked all of it. Years later I got into Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Cryptic Slaughter and DRI. I got into heavier stuff, that was the next logical step for me. I closed the door on lots of styles of music. I still love the stuff I grew up with, but a lot of my friends got into this hippy phase, and I was like "No I don't want that to influence what I'm doing". By 88 or something I heard Janes Addiction and I was like, this is a way more interesting and rocking. It opened my mind to a lot of things with the different vocal styles and drumming styles. There was a lot of interesting stuff in the 90s too.

By that point we (Napalm Death) were already doing Utopia Banished and there was this whole wave of death metal, thrash, grindcore whatever you want to call it. To me it sounded like they all had the same influences, like they all went to the same record stores and bought the same records. I always tried to push away into different areas. The other kind of music I listened to like Ministry and Smashing Pumpkins, The Cardigans, and Skinny Puppies and how that applies to what we're doing because it's kind of abstract to begin with. After a while it just evolved.

Was there a message you were trying to get at with your lyrics?
It was more... I like symmetric poetry and things that are visual when you read them. I don't know if it's adjectives, or finding how words fit within a song, but when poetry gets brought to life by stringing melodies out with different notes, there's a way of making the poetry way more meaningful. Screaming on it just wouldn't give that sense of connection with what's being said and talked about. The vibe could be intrusive. Putting other instruments in like violin and strings and adding atmosphere. Using electronic bass too was helpful. Not that we don't do that stuff in Napalm but it was a way of highlighting what's being said and creating a storyboard. It carries a video, the lyrics and the meaning behind the songs. The insight is projected in the song in a way that hopefully makes sense to other people.

It can be very self indulgent. I was very isolate when I put it together, with very little interaction from anybody or constructive criticism. I don't know, I like it I think it helps the song go along and pushes it in different directions. Sometimes that's needed, to create an album that tells a story from start to finish and leaves room for the next chapter.

So there will be a next chapter?
I believe in trilogies. There's a lot to be said. There's a lot of stuff that didn't make the record. The combination of the spontaneous stuff. I'm going to start with the vocals next time as a different approach. Trying to understand minimalism and dynamics. How to use heavy guitars as a sort of dynamic to make it heavier and bring in different instruments. When you take the guitar and drums out it's a completely different style of music really.

Originally you were supposed to work with Max Cavalera, but that didn't happen. Why didn't it work out, and will you potentially work with him in the future?
We've always been closed and always talked about doing something together. I don't know, we've been tlaking about this project for 10 years. 6 years ago I had a collection of songs that I thought would work. We were going to work with Igor Cavalera and that didn't work out. So he saved a bunch of songs and I saved a bunch of songs, then years went by and he got so busy with two or three bands, and I was also doing stuff. Our schedules conflicted to the point where... we just didn't have time. I thought of the idea of doing different songs with different musicians but... It's nice to have a team of people that can focus on it though.

So, will we get to see Menace live?
I think by October I'd like to have something up and running. It would probably be in America because to start it in Europe... I don't know, we could only do like two weeks, whereas in America we could probably tour for six weeks. It will take a while for it to get to the point of maturity where it really works live and has an even better energy than the album.

I want to quickly touch on the new Napalm Death stuff, you said earlier progress was slow. How's it going overall? 
A lot of times it's stuff that's born out of spontaneous riffs and isolation, either with Shane and me or whatever. Everyone hears the tracks and we choose the ones that will be best for the record, things that are hard hitting and tense. It's more like documenting rehearsals and jams, catching it as it happens, otherwise it can become stale. The approach is a spontaneous one, there are ten songs recorded already, I have another six, Shane has a whole shit load so there will probably be a bunch of material documented and we'll choose a lot of shit.

My approach was a lot different for this one even though the songs were written at the same time as Utilitarian and the tail end of the songs from Menace. I wrote about a hundred once I edited the riffs into basic structures. About forty of those go in the garbage, but the ones that stick in my head... I had a different for Utilitarian than for this. In some respects I was trying to push the boundaries and also find a way to use everything I love in Napalm as well. After having menace and building on what I learned from the Napalm records I was like, well these things would be better for clean vocals and no distortion and separated it that way.

The new Napalm should be intense and fierce and concise and to the point, but still dynamic and groundbreaking. That's a lot to achieve right there. Not going backwards, but also tipping your hat to the past, but in a way you've never done it before. Barney tries vocals and we talk about it. We try to make dynamics because its kind of hard when everything is 100% distorted at maximum speed and the vocals too. Dynamics is a tough one!

One of the things I've always really admired with Napalm is how you always keep it underground. What inspires you to keep going in a van and keep it low maintenance.
It's not a case of trying to keep it underground, not at all. We've got like, one five piece drum kit, a half stack, one guitar, one bass, we don't even need a bass amp. We can fit in a van, or double up on a tour bus. We could play with a band that has massive production and then we'd get to some venues where they would never be able to pull off their show. We do great because we don't need shit to do what we do.

I would love production but it complicates things. Why would you spend a shit load of money hiring a tour bus and then flying in for weekend shows. We've got a small team. A guy that sell t-shirts, drives and tour manages as well as a sound guy, we always take sound, we don't compromise there. We did this Roadburn show the other day, and it was most of the slow songs from the discography. There was a video projection behind us and it worked really well. It's kind of DIY. If we go on a three week tour we'll definitely bring someone to help with the gear because if you get injured you could fuck up the rest of the tour, just by crunching your finger loading in. It's basic and it works for us. The less complicated the better. It's hard enough with personalities, everyone has different schedule. There's strong personalities in the band but we get by, it's like a marriage. Then the years fly by and before you know it we're talking about the next record.

Finish this sentence for me "I've never told this story before, and probably shouldn't but..."
Man, that's personal! (Laughs) Once I was in Vegas, where we used to have desert shows because there were no all age venues. There was a free thinking scene of people, three or four hundred people every weekend who came to metal and hardcore shows. There was a band who sounded like DRI, a band who sounded like the Misfits, they said my band sounded like Cryptic Slaughter. All these local bands. I looked up at the sky and saw a satellite or something and my eyes focused on it and then I saw that it was moving. the sky started to spin around it, because I didn't know it was a satellite, it was 1987 or something. Then I saw the sky start to crack. It looked kind of like the Death Star or a planetarium. I thought about the universe and space, I was the size of a bacteria in my own body, even smaller than that. It seemed like the answer to all my questions came in one heartbeat of understanding, everything I wanted to know in one instant. I never tried to explain it to anyone because I couldn't understand it and they would have thought I was crazy, but that's what Multiple Clarity is about.

So what do you love so much about music?
It's a way of documenting a time in your life and a way that people connect. Some people listen for talent, but for me its about something that stays in your head and change your mood. Having the freedom to listen to it at your own volume and sharing it with other people and sharing it on a soul mate level. It's a reference to a point and time and feeling. Capturing that, that's the challenge.

Any last words of wisdom?
I would start with the word 'wisdom' and be like what? It's a way of learning from mistakes and that's what music should be as well. Half the things weren't planned or shouldn't have been. Learn from your mistakes and your parents mistakes too. Sometimes they had talents they didn't use and just never followed up on their dreams. Try to live your dreams as hard as they are and dedicate your life to that.

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