While Mitch Harris is best known as the longtime guitarist of pioneering grindcore act Napalm Death, there’s more to him than just that. In fact, the axeman’s side project, Menace, just released its first album, Impact Velocity, back in March. And really the only thing the album has in common with his more well-known band is that they share a guitar player. The album is a proggy rock record that has more in common with Killing Joke and Mastodon than Napalm Death (in fact, Mastodon’s Brann Dailor was originally going to contribute). We spoke to Harris about the project, which he calls a culmination of his life’s work, his decision to handle vocals on it, his dream collaborators and tours, how a legacy band like Napalm Death continues to sustain themselves over a quarter century into their career, and literally being threatened with physical violence by Napalm Death fans over the Menace album.
So let’s talk about Menace. I’ve read that you said the album is kind of a combination of your life’s work. Does that mean there’s going to be a sequel?
Oh yeah. It’s going to be at least a trilogy. I’ve been putting these songs together since ’97 and they sort of came and didn’t really fit anywhere else. I had the hopes of adding orchestral sounds and melodic vocals and finding the right singer eventually, in the end I decided I would sing myself. There were lots of emotional things I went through, a lot of experiences I learned, different things about dynamics and things that needed building on. I thought that was a perfect opportunity to put together in one album. I wrote another six to seven songs to bring it all up to date. It’s funny, some of the older songs people say sound pretty modern and I’m like ‘wow, that was ’97 what would they think then?’ They just wouldn’t have gotten it at all maybe. I don’t know.
Have you talked to any vocalists? Would you be open to collaborating with vocalists in the future?
I’ve spoken to lots of people and a lot of people were like “Yeah okay I’ll do it!” or “I’m busy” and they’re all in other bands, and everything was up in the air. I’ve been more interested in working with female vocalists because I kind of found my way toward the end of the record, but I did ask a lot of people to do guest spots but in the end they were kind of too busy. So I said ‘You know what let’s just keep it simple.’
Who are your female dream vocalists?
Bjork, and Nina from the Cardigans, Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries.
Were you able to speak to any of them?
Yeah, I was speaking to Nina from the Cardigans, and she was going to do something back about eight years ago, but she busy at the time. And I was speaking to Anneke van Giersbergen, who did some vocals with Napalms, and was in The Gathering. And then I thought about Christina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil, but at the end of the day you gotta do what you can, and there’s always room for later.
Have you written songs that would be for another Menace record?
There were probably another 20 songs that were out of place on this one. I think I needed to establish the root, the ground base of what it is that makes a logical conclusion and progression to what I’ve already been doing and then branch out slowly but surely in a way that makes sense to people, because if they heard the other songs they would be like “what the hell is this?” Acoustic ballads that ends with orchestral strings.There’s not even any guitars. It’s hard. It’s more like drum and bass, or dubstep or something.
Do you listen to electronic music?
Yeah. I prefer music with vocals but I do like that kind of music. I prefer bands like Pendulum and this band called Mode Step and Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails and things like that. I like electronic in there somewhere, Its not solely electronic – all these bands use guitars as well. I listen to the radio and flip through, and there’s songs I’ll like, I’ll be like ‘Woah, I love this Rihanna song,’ and Adele and Muse and Biffy Clyro, and Green Day.’ There’s just different kinds of emotions projected through the vocals, which is one of the things I wanted to do in music, which I thought was already emotional but you could just as easily scream all over that and lose the connection that’s already there.
Where do you live now?
I live in Birmingham, U.K.
Radio over there is definitely different than America. How long have you lived in the U.K.?
25 years now.
So I guess you knew the importance of coming over to America in Napalm Death.
Yeah. At the time when Harmony Corruption first came out, that was the first domestic release where it was made, manufactured, distributed and advertised nationwide, whereas before it was only in the bigger cities and underground record stores. You had to be in the know and looking for things to actually find the good stuff. It was cool to see a whole new wave of music coming with a big push behind it. When we did our first tours it was really exciting and it was like “who knows how far we can go?” It’s gone already much further than it should have, considering the content is so extreme. But to me it was just a logical progression of music, the time came and we went through the ups and downs throughout our careers there’s been a lot of changes musically, in the scene and all these trends that came and went. Somehow we’re still here doing our thing, so I guess we stand out at this point.
Napalm Death is one of the most well-known names in grindcore, but given that it’s definitely such a niche kind of music, does the band generate enough income to just support itself or do you have other things that you need to do to support it?
I was teaching full time, teaching video-editing, at a college for a while, which was something I really wanted to do, not just for money. In the industry climate these days, it’s not like we can live off royalty checks considering labels do what they can to not pay as long as they possibly can. So what you do is you just tour and sell T-shirts and do whatever you can to keep yourself going. We’ve managed to keep ourselves going, and hopefully think about a long-term future but sometimes we just have to do day to day things.
Do you plan on doing anything with Menace in terms of a touring entity?
I’m looking towards the end of October. That would be a good time. I’d like to do a U.S. tour so I’ve been speaking to some management and booking agencies trying to get that up and running. That would be a good time I think.
Do you have a band, a backing band yet in mind?
Everyone who played on the album. It’s a little tricky considering, people are in different countries but we’ll make it work. That’s why it’d be better to do a long-route tour to stop all of the crazy, Expedia, multidimensional flight routes and stuff like that.
So how have you found the reaction to the album?
I think it’s been well received for what it is. The way it was presented is kind of a tricky thing to even describe the sound of the style. The words Napalm Death keep popping up, so those people are obviously interested, so maybe a small percentage of them would like it. It’s gotten a better reaction that it seems. It’s been on mainstream publications and web media and social media and there are other people that probably would like it but they may be put off by the word Napalm because they automatically assume that it’s going to be some kind of thing. It’s kind of a catch 22, so the best thing to do is perform live and reach those people that are like “Who is this? What is this?” and not thinking about who is it is, and actually more about what it is.
Who would you want to tour with? It’s definitely not the kind of there where you could go out opening for any really, really extreme bands.
It sounds unrealistic that there are a lot of bands like Ghost, Alice in Chains, Deftones, Jane’s Addiction, Muse, Radiohead, Gojira, Devin Townsend. There’s a few bands that we would definitely work with, even Nightwish. It’s just the case of anyone who appreciates music with a bit of singing in it should find something in there.
Yeah a lot of people do too.
We’re all middle aged men now so were slowly branching out I think.
Has there been any backlash from Napalm Death fans?
Yeah, I’ve even had physical threats. At the end of the day music and art are supposed to be about self-expression, and feeling self and expressing what you feel and trying to bridge a connection between you and your listener, so if people don’t get it it’s not a reason to hate you. They should be happy that you’re actually doing something that you want to do. If they were a real fan, real fans don’t criticize music they support it. You can’t compare to anything you’ve done, and if you do, well that’s why it’s called Menace.
You’ve been working on these songs for a long time. How long did it take for the actual idea to record an album? When did it become a reality? I know that the album just came out this year but you’ve been working on the songs forever and you were probably like “hey, one of these days I’m actually going to do this” so how long did it actually take for it to become a thing?
Before we did Utilitarian, which was almost three years ago, that’s when I decided I do have a lot of songs and I want to also approach that at the same time so basically I would record and I would be like ‘Yeah this is what I was thinking for that other thing and this fits more with Napalm.’ So basically it all kind of came together knowing that there are different outlets for it. It’s frustrating when you do something and you can’t find a place to use it, especially if you feel strongly about it. So around that time, three years ago, I sent some demo tracks to Michael Berbarian from Season of Mist. It was a long process working around the Napalm schedule and everything. Musically I knew what I was doing to do but vocally, until we did Napalm and until I tried something on the song called “The Wolf I Feed,” I thought ‘Wow this is something I would like to explore’ but not in Napalm. You can’t really overdo it, because that not how it seems. I like little things that open doors to the next logical step and for me that was it. I said ‘Okay I’m going to sing’ because it’s another thing when you write lyrics because there’s a lot of things I need to vent and say and get out of your system and I always feel good about it but then you give it to another vocalist and it’s hard for them to feel the emotion, or it just doesn’t translate sometimes, so even with the quality of talent skills, it’s not about that, it’s about feeling. I went forward in confidence, just trying to do my own thing and at the very least, as long as I was happy with it, then hopefully others would be too.