“There’s only one Napalm Death”: Jello Biafra on the grind legends

For our new Napalm Death special issue, we inducted the band’s The Code Is Red… Long Live the Code album into our Hall of Fame. For that story, we caught up with legendary punk vocalist Jello Biafra, who did some guest vocals on The Code Is Red.

Due to the limitations of print, we could only print a bit of our chat with Biafra in the issue. Here’s more from our conversation with the man; head over here to buy the issue.

On how the two met:

“We’d always kinda known each other but never actually met. Napalm Death covered ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ on Virus 100 that Alternative Tentacles put out years ago, so there was already a connection there. Plus, I had known Dig [Pearson] from Earache, at least by mail, for ages. He used to write punk scene reports for Maximumrockandroll. So Napalm Death was one of those first underground British extreme metal bands that came out of the punk and hardcore underground, rather than the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene that was going on. As far as I know, most of the audiences for bands like Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death, and Carcass was probably largely punks, especially anarcho-punks, maybe even more than metal fans. So there was more camaraderie there. And, of course, Napalm Death had topical lyrics and not just gore for the sake of gore; that’s not what they were about. But we hadn’t actually met until I recorded my vocal parts for the song in San Francisco with them.”

On Napalm Death vocalist Barney Greenway’s claims in our Napalm Death issue that Biafra recorded more vocal takes for one song than Greenway did for the whole album:

“That wouldn’t surprise me. I do cut several takes of vocals right in a row then I make a compilation of the best parts, to disguise my lack of talent. A lot of singers do that; the further up the chain you get, that stuff is done. When I’m doing vocals for somebody else, that’s generally what I do.”

On me expressing surprise that he did more vocal takes for one song than Greenway did for the whole album:

“I didn’t do that many tracks! [laughs] I think some of Barney’s storytelling exaggeration is coming into play here. It was analog tape; you just rewind and erase one until you’ve got the right one to work with. I was just trying to do my job and doing what they wanted me to do. They had some direction; maybe one of the reasons I recorded so many was Barney or one of the others was like, ‘No, we want you to do more like this.’ So, okay, I’d try another one, and on we’d go.”

On what it was like coming from a punk background and working on such a metal record:

“I wouldn’t really look at it that way, because we were all the same kinds of people, in a way. It was just an honor to be asked to be on a Napalm Death song in the first place. They do have a very special stature, not just in metal, but in rock music in large. There’s only one Napalm Death, with only one history like theirs. A lot of people would say they invented grindcore, even if that’s not really what they do most of the time now. I’d say it goes all the way up to Barney’s stage presence—he gets up there and delivers the goods but doesn’t do a lot of the wanna-be-arena-rock-star poses or the rock-star stuff that some other people in metal do. They’re just not that kind of band. They’re still very close to their roots and very close to their audience. So, we just had fun, we did it, everybody felt good, and I’m proud to be a part of it. They did ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ on Virus 100 and even released their version as a single, which in one way could be seen as co-opting, but I don’t see it that way because with a song like that, it’s the thought that counts. And with somebody on that side of the extreme metal scene having as little good to say about Nazis, I think that’s awesome. Another part of [doing guest parts] is that it leads to some cool friendships you might not otherwise have. It was kinda something where it should have happened anyway, but we just never ran into each other.”