Comprehensive though it may be, there wasn’t quite room for everything in our landmark Napalm Death special issue. Here, rescued from the cutting room floor, Venomous Concept/Corrupt Moral Altar member and Napalm Death touring guitarist John Cooke talks the wonder and honor of serving a long tour of duty with your favorite band…
Tell me a little bit about your first encounter with the music of Napalm Death.
That must have been when I was around 14 years old—I heard “The Infiltrator” on a old Earache compilation CD and was blown away. A few months later I managed to find Mass Appeal Madness on 12-inch vinyl in a old record shop in Birmingham. The aggression and guitar tone on that record was miles away from the thrash bands I was listening to at the time. So, yeah, it had a massive impact on me. Mass Appeal Madness is still one of my all time favorite sounding records.
Me and one of my oldest friends from school, David Flower, used to trade music all the time. We originally were into like Nirvana, discovered the Exploited—the Beat the Bastards record was it for us—then kept seeking out faster angrier stuff: We got into thrash—Exodus, Slayer, Zoetrope, Flotsam and Jetsam—which led us to Carcass, Electro Hippies, Sore Throat, and, of course, Napalm Death.
We were both really into art and actually went to the same college for quite some time before we both dropped out and started playing music together—specifically grindcore. We used to cover Carcass and Napalm Death; play the odd gig here and there. I guess from there I wound up at music college. And through one way or the other ended up working at a recording studio. But playing guitar—specifically in a grind band—was always what I wanted most in my heart.
How did you end up landing that dream gig?
I’ve known the Napalm guys since around 2006 or 2007. I originally met Shane and Danny when I used to work for a recording studio in Birmingham. I had to drive them to Russ Russell’s studio as they were recording the second Venomous Concept album. We got on really well—geeking out on Star Wars stuff—and became friends. I ended up selling merch for Napalm on tour and did countless tours for them as driver/tour manager/merch/tech and actually ended up living in the band house around 2009. I filled in for Shane on bass when he was sick and had to miss some shows in 2012 and also I also sang some songs filling in for Barney on the Euro tour in 2010, when Barney was sick as well. [Laughs]
Does playing these songs live give you a new appreciation for the band’s genius and songcraft?
Yeah—I know the songs so well from being a fan and working for them for so many years, [but] it’s awesome the way the little intricacies become more apparent when you play the songs.
Is it surreal at all to play with this band you’ve loved
It is quite surreal sometimes and of course I’m honored they asked me to play with them…It’s been great, we’ve toured a lot over the last three years and been to so many places I’ve never been before—India, Armenia, Georgia.
Can you tell me a bit about day in, day out touring life with these guys?
Depending on where we are in the world everyday is different, apart from the probably seventy-five percent of the time we spend traveling. [Laughs.] We just got back from Australia and New Zealand—the shows were killer but we were pretty tired as we would normally get back to hotel around 1:00 a.m. after show then be up at between 4:00 and 7:30 a.m. to go to the airport—as we flew everyday—get to venue or hotel and try to nap before gig then repeat the cycle again.
On a organizational level everything is kept pretty in-house—the band is very self-sufficient. We try to take the same sound engineer everywhere—Simon “The Arse” Efemy—for both his amazing engineering skills and the horrendous smells he is capable of producing!
Anything people would be surprised to know about the band members’ normal, everyday lives?
You would probably be surprised to know that Danny makes amazing Indian food! I live with Danny and he has recently been cooking these amazing curries!
As a corollary, have you learned anything interesting on the road about the Napalm fanbase?
There are so many dedicated Napalm fans out there who follow the band everywhere! I’ve made some lifelong friends through meeting these people and its amazing to see how much joy Napalm has bought to so many lives. There are too many to name but they know who they are.
Oh! I also discovered that several people have done a masters degree on Napalm Death lyrics and music! That blew my mind! [Laughs.]
Interview edited and condensed for clarity.