Napalm Death's Barney Greenway Speaks to Being Loved by Indonesia's New President

Joko Widodo
Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo gestures after delivering his victory address aboard a traditional commercial boat in Jakarta's port district of Sunda Kelapa on July 22, 2014 as the General Elections Commission declared Widodo the winner of the presidential elections.

The reformer likes his music brutal... not his government.

Last week, Indonesia -- a country long embattled and embittered by corruption and violence -- elected Governor Joko Widodo of Jakarta as its new president. His favorite music? Metallica. Slayer. Napalm Death.

During his tenure as governor, Widodo undertook a series of reforms in an attempt to undercut the corruption in his country, including banning family members from bidding on public works campaigns, implementing a universal healthcare program and making officials' salaries public. In a story last year, The Economist reported that "the nearest Jokowi has come to being accused of graft is in accepting a gift of a bass guitar signed by a member of Metallica, a heavy-metal band (he has a penchant for loud rock music)."

We here at Billboard were curious what it felt like to be on the receiving end of Widodo's adulation, so we rang up Barney Greenway, vocalist for Napalm Death, one of extreme music's most influential, foundational bands, about how it feels to have a world leader rocking out.

Billboard: Were you at all familiar with Joko Widodo, the president-elect of Indonesia?
Barney Greenway, Napalm Death: I heard about it a few months ago and kind of laughed it off. If you know anything about Napalm Death, you know we are very critical about the mechanisms [of politics]. I didn’t really know too much about it -- it was really a long shot that he was going to get anywhere near [election], so I don’t think anybody really took it too seriously. He was very much an outsider and then, all of a sudden, he was getting close and they were saying he was going to win. It’s quite curious.

I'm familiar with Napalm Death and its general stance towards politicians, but this guy, in a dramatically corrupt country, appears to actually be attempting to fix things.
I tell you, that would be a first. I’m not talking about Indonesia, I’m talking about the whole world over because everywhere has their issues, and some places have more to do than others. It seems as if, with all due respect, there’s a lot to deal with in Indonesia. The human rights issues are quite a big one there. Of course, the historical stuff that has to do with jobs and some other places. Also, of course, big ecological issues with the deforestation. So if he can really get to groups with that, and push aside some of the more dictatorial elements of politics over there, I think he’ll be one of the first politicians that I’ve really felt quite warm to, so we’ll see.

Xavi Torrent/Redferns via Getty Images
Mark 'Barney' Greenway and Shane Embury of Napalm Death performs on Stage at Sala Razzmatazz on February 16, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.

As a general observation, I think it’s probably wrong to say that all politicians are foul creatures, but I think what happens is that there are a few out there that go in with the best intentions, but they just get hamstrung and they find themselves having to conform where they really wouldn’t want to. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the corruption in Indonesia. Although corruption is rife in every government, certainly in the U.K. and also in the U.S.

The thing that stuck out to me aboiut Widodo is that he’s not military.
Which is wonderful in itself. Apparently, he’s a guy who came from the slums, which is pretty remarkable -- I would wave that flag quite hard. That would [seem to] diminish the militaristic tendencies in that kind of position. We’ll see what happens to him.

Napalm Death has been to Indonesia a few times. We were actually the first of this kind of genre of music and the people were fantastic, they were brilliant. You did not have to scratch the surface to see that there was some fairly sort of sinister things going on. One thing he’s got to tackle, in my personal opinion, is striking the death penalty. I would direct that at any country aspiring to make a more humane place for everybody.

In 2004, was that the first time you’d been there?
Where we actually were, you couldn’t see that much of the action. But, it was really strange because at the time, there were people like Avril Lavigne and Simple Plan who played right before us, and we actually drew twice as many people as them, which goes to show people’s music agendas [there] are a little bit different. It was fantastic, the people who were there went out on a limb to make us feel welcome. We don’t ask for much, but they really tried their best and it was a really good gig. It was the first time I left a gig in a speedboat.

What are you guys working on now?
We’re working on another album actually, doing it a little differently this time. Recording it in bits and pieces -- what we wanted to do was get a lot of different production on the album, from track-to-track. We always try and move on a little bit with each album. One of the things it is hard to get away from is you get a 15, 16-track album and every track is produced at similar levels. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Amphetamine Reptile? A lot of their bands have very dry and varied production, so that was in the back of our minds.