Kerrang! (UK) - - The K! Interview - Words: Alistair Lawrence

Max Cavalera is some­one who prefers to look for­wards in life. It helps when it comes to throw­ing him­self into new projects, which he does reg­u­larly, but it’s less than ideal for re­flect­ing on a ca­reer that spans over three decades.

Es­pe­cially when his work still tends to be di­vided into the ‘be­fore’ and ‘after’ of his sud­den, bit­ter split from Brazil­ian metal kings Sepultura in 1996.

Sharon Os­bourne fa­mously tipped them to be “the next Me­tal­lica”, but the rift that caused Max to leave ran deep. And it was messy, bound up in fam­ily – his brother Igor re­mained Sepultura’s drum­mer for a decade after his de­par­ture – the grief caused by the sud­den death of Max’s step­son Dana, and ac­cu­sa­tions from other mem­bers that the band’s then man­ager – and the vo­cal­ist’s wife – Gloria, was pri­ori­tis­ing her hus­band’s pro­file ahead of the group’s. Inevitably, var­i­ous ver­sions of what hap­pened have been aired, as well as Max stat­ing he’s tired of talk­ing about it.

This decades-old drama threat­ens to over­shadow Soulfly, the group he formed the fol­low­ing year and still fronts, who have con­tin­ued to evolve his ‘tribal metal’ sound for 20 years and count­ing.

There’s also his two other bands: Cavalera Con­spir­acy, which re­sumed his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Igor in 2007, and the su­per­group Killer Be Killed, formed in 2011, be­cause Max work­ing with mem­bers of Mastodon, The Dillinger Es­cape Plan and Con­verge was never not go­ing to be a good idea.

The im­mi­nent, mam­moth reis­sue of Sepultura’s clas­sic 1991 al­bum Arise has brought an­other in­ter­est­ing chap­ter of their his­tory into fo­cus. It cap­tured a unique young band about to gar­ner wide at­ten­tion – and change the face of metal for­ever. It’s also a great ex­cuse to dive into Max’s sto­ried his­tory – back to a time be­fore he’d made com­bat fa­tigues, foot­ball shirts and dread­locks an un­likely uni­form for met­al­heads, when he was in just the one band (sort of) and rel­ished the op­por­tu­nity of see­ing the world for the first time, hav­ing ex­pe­ri­ences along the way that still in­flu­ence his writ­ing style and mu­si­cal out­put.

It’s also a nat­u­ral en­try point into what came next. Be­cause a lot came next.

There are 28 bonus songs on the up­com­ing Arise reis­sue. There were just nine tracks on the orig­i­nal al­bum. Where have they all come from?

“You gotta get those things out there and let peo­ple hear them. There’s no rea­son to keep it guarded. The fans love it, and I think it’s cool. I en­joy bonus tracks my­self. I buy a lot of re­mas­tered stuff from other bands – I love Black Sab­bath and AC/DC bonus stuff. It’s al­ways great to un­earth re­ally ex­clu­sive things to help show how we got to that point and made that record. Arise is my favourite thing we did of that era. It was the best at mix­ing death and thrash metal, which a lot of peo­ple are do­ing even now. It sounds a lit­tle tribal, too. Our ro­mance with tribal can prob­a­bly be traced back to Arise.”

What was the record­ing process and ex­pe­ri­ence like on that al­bum?

“We were com­ing off the back of Be­neath The Re­mains, which came out good, but I be­lieved we could do bet­ter. We went to Florida to record at Mor­risound, which was the tem­ple of death metal. Loads of great bands recorded there: Death, Obit­u­ary, Mor­bid An­gel, Sadist. It was Mecca. There was a lot of par­ty­ing on Arise, though. I don’t know how that record got made (laughs)! Mor­bid An­gel had a prac­tice place next to ours in Tampa. We showed up in 100-de­gree weather in shorts and san­dals and they had their full re­galia on, all dressed in leather. We were like, ‘Those guys are the real deal, man. They go to prac­tice like that? Holy shit!’”

Were you draw­ing from any other mu­si­cal in­flu­ences at that point?

“I spent some time at home with [Arise pro­ducer] Scott Burns, go­ing through his record col­lec­tion. His favourite type of mu­sic is hard­core punk, so he had lots of Black Flag, Cir­cle Jerks and Mi­nor Threat stuff. He was al­ways like, ‘Max, you gotta lis­ten to punk, man – the lyrics of that mu­sic is what’s re­ally cool and you’ve got some of that vibe in you.’ One of the bonus tracks is our cover of Dead Kennedys’ Drug Me ac­tu­ally. It’s fast, nasty and we did it in a Sepultura style. Jello [Bi­afra, former Dead Kennedys front­man] loved it as well. I love the Virus 100 com­pi­la­tion record we recorded it for, too. Faith No More’s cover of Let’s Lynch The Land­lord is amaz­ing and Na­palm Death’s ver­sion of Nazi Punks Fuck Off is great. I got to sing that with them live a cou­ple of times.”

The Arise art­work is pretty mem­o­rable, too…

“The artist, Michael Whe­lan, did a lot of [in­flu­en­tial hor­ror fic­tion writer] HP Love­craft books – he was a fan­tasy painter who I re­ally loved. The Arise pic was kind of done, but orig­i­nally in­stead of a brain in the cen­tre it was an egg. I had to tell him to switch the egg to some­thing more metal, be­cause eggs aren’t metal! You eat eggs for break­fast, chick­ens lay eggs, it’s not metal. I man­aged to do it with­out hurt­ing his feel­ings. He came up with the idea of the brain and I told him, ‘Al­right, a brain is metal.’ So we set­tled on that. [Late Death front­man] Chuck Schuldiner said it looked like a ‘seafood night­mare’. That’s why I love it. There are lots of lit­tle de­tails in­side the de­sign. You could spend hours look­ing at it.”

Not long after Arise you em­i­grated from your na­tive Brazil to the U.S., where you still live to­day. What prompted that de­ci­sion?

“Brazil is kinda de­tached. When you live there you re­ally don’t know or care what’s go­ing on in the rest of the world. We wanted to be able to live for mu­sic, but at the same time we didn’t want to move to a big city. Phoenix was per­fect. It’s in the desert, it’s quiet. I still love go­ing back there after tour. I think the desert has some magic in it – it’s mys­tic. We moved for the band. That’s what made us dif­fer­ent. Other bands won­der why it didn’t hap­pen for them – it’s be­cause of that. You’ve gotta go the ex­tra mile and do things oth­ers don’t want to. You gotta get your hands dirty and we were out for blood at that time.”

Arise also prompted the long­est tour you’d ever done, tak­ing you around the world. How did that change you?

“We did shows with Sa­cred Re­ich, Na­palm Death and Sick Of It All called New Ti­tans On The Bloc tour. We couldn’t get on Clash Of The Ti­tans [co-head­lined by Me­gadeth and Slayer], so Gloria had the great idea of do­ing our own tour, kind of mak­ing fun of it. We ended up play­ing In­done­sia, then Russia. Over there, the tour was called Mon­sters Of Rock In The Ru­ins Of The Evil Em­pire. We played to 3,000 peo­ple in Moscow and we be­came much more aware of the world around us. What you see on CNN is dif­fer­ent to what you see when you go some­where your­self. It’s a big pro­pa­ganda ma­chine. In Russia we saw lines of peo­ple queu­ing to buy bread. In In­done­sia, we saw the power of the po­lice. When it was get­ting too crazy they stopped the show, bam­booed the kids and made 40,000 peo­ple sit down and be quiet. I’d never seen that show of force in my life be­fore. It was in­cred­i­ble. I think all of that cul­mi­nated in Chaos AD – the fruit of all that travelling. It opened our eyes and we ended up writ­ing a much more po­lit­i­cal record. We also did some tours with Ozzy Os­bourne. Zakk Wylde was rem­i­nisc­ing with me a few years ago and said he used to tell peo­ple, ‘Sepultura play the heav­i­est stuff in the world, then you go to their tour bus after, and the mu­sic they’re play­ing on their stereo is some­how 10 times heav­ier.’ Our bus was al­ways rock­ing. It was so loud, peo­ple couldn’t even talk – it was an un­com­fort­able place to hang out. It was great…”

When Chaos AD was re­leased Sepultura be­came even more suc­cess­ful. What was that like?

“I think the band got big­ger after [the orig­i­nal line-up] broke up. It never felt like we were do­ing amaz­ing, it ac­tu­ally felt like we were al­ways strug­gling. Chaos AD came out on a ma­jor la­bel in Amer­ica. They sent a guy to lis­ten to it and he thought it was go­ing to be some rock shit he could play on the ra­dio. We played him Refuse/re­sist and Ter­ri­tory and I think those are great songs, but he said he couldn’t do any­thing with them. Chaos came out in the era of grunge, when ev­ery­body was wear­ing flan­nel shirts. But Dave Grohl was a big Sepultura fan – you can see him wear­ing our merch in some Nir­vana pho­tos. He came out to our shows in Seat­tle all the time. I liked Nir­vana. The early stuff was very punk and Dave said in the in­tro to my book that we were cut from the same cloth. I also liked Soundgar­den’s early stuff, which had more of a Black Sab­bath in­flu­ence. I never re­ally liked Pearl Jam, though. For me it was a bit soft. Dave and I have never talked about each start­ing out fresh again, but we know the feel­ing be­cause we’ve both done it in our ca­reers. It’s not easy at all, and I’m happy for him do­ing re­ally well with Foo Fight­ers.”

Did you feel un­der ex­tra pres­sure on 1996 al­bum Roots?

“Yeah. When you have Sharon Os­bourne

say­ing stuff like, ‘They’re about to be­come the next Me­tal­lica’… But when I think of Me­tal­lica, I’m glad we never turned into that. I like their first four records, but after that, not any­thing at all. Their early stuff – Ride The Light­ning, es­pe­cially – is what that kind of mu­sic was and never was again. If I’d stayed with Sepultura, maybe it would’ve turned to shit. Suc­cess can de­stroy peo­ple. You don’t get an­gry any­more, be­cause you’re too rich and you have noth­ing to com­plain about. You’re left with noth­ing to rebel against. What are you go­ing to rebel against – hav­ing too much money to count? That’s fuck­ing stupid.”

Do you think your split from Sepultura after Roots would’ve been harder now, in the age of so­cial me­dia? You would’ve likely re­ceived mes­sages of sup­port and of abuse…

“I don’t know. It would def­i­nitely be a lot dif­fer­ent. There would’ve been a lot more talk about it, for a start. At the time, a lot of peo­ple didn’t even know I had left. I wrote a letter and sent it to mag­a­zines ex­plain­ing why I was leav­ing and even to­day they still don’t get it right. They say I left be­cause Gloria was fired and that’s bull­shit. That never ac­tu­ally hap­pened. Her con­tract was done. I left ‘cause they wanted things that were not what we were about – big LA man­agers and rock­star stuff that I never thought we needed. I don’t dream of hav­ing rock­star things. Even to­day, I don’t give a shit about that stuff. My songs are not on the ra­dio and it doesn’t bother me one bit. I don’t write for that. I say GRAMMYS are like haem­or­rhoids: even­tu­ally ev­ery ass­hole gets one. It’s up to you, man. Your ca­reer is up to you. Some peo­ple get blinded by those things. They do ev­ery­thing to chase that. I’m not one of those peo­ple. I don’t dream of own­ing the big houses or rid­ing the ex­pen­sive cars. I like spend­ing my money on head­phones and mu­sic. I don’t have that prob­lem.”

Last year you did a tour where you played songs by your first ever side-project, Nail­bomb. The venues were the po­lar op­po­site of the big shows you’ve played with Soulfly and Sepultura...

“Play­ing for 200 peo­ple a night on the Nail­bomb tour was fan­tas­tic. Peo­ple asked, ‘You’ve done all those big shows, how can you come to this club?’ But that’s ex­actly why – be­cause I did those big shows, and I en­joy go­ing back to those small venues. They’re at the heart of it, and why I liked metal in the first place. It’s about what the mu­sic gives me. We were never in it for the money, girls or fame. I’m kinda glad the split from Sepultura hap­pened and I had to go back and start again with Soulfly. It was great for my ca­reer, to go back and have to do it all over again. It made sure that my mu­sic stayed con­sis­tent, I didn’t have to sell out and the anger on the first, self-ti­tled Soulfly record is real. It’s the 20th an­niver­sary of that al­bum later this year. We haven’t pre­pared any­thing spe­cial for it, but the new Soulfly al­bum is out in July and it is re­ally a throw­back to the first record. There are a lot of mo­ments that are tribal on there and that’s our way of com­mem­o­rat­ing it.”

The first Soulfly al­bum also con­tin­ued the trend of col­lab­o­rat­ing with a wide range of peo­ple, which be­gan on Roots. You’re prob­a­bly the only per­son who can say they’ve col­lab­o­rated with Mike Pat­ton, on Roots’ Look­away, and Fred Durst on self-ti­tled’s Bleed…

“I love that. It’s one of my favourite things to do. Also, on side-projects like Killer Be Killed there’s a real freedom. You’re not at­tached to any­thing and there are no ex­pec­ta­tions. It is what it will be. Plus, I love talk­ing to mu­si­cians, jam­ming with peo­ple, know­ing their se­crets, and find­ing out what they lis­ten to. They give me great tips. I don’t judge col­lab­o­ra­tions by fame. I judge them by the artist. That way I can work with Sean Len­non and Tom Araya on the same record [Soulfly’s Prim­i­tive].”

How does it feel to be on the other side of that ex­plo­ration into mu­sic – to have young mu­si­cians ask you for your ad­vice?

“I’m lost for words. Of course I can tell them the ba­sics: work hard, and fight for your dreams, but I don’t know ex­actly what to tell them. There is no man­ual ex­plain­ing how to be­come suc­cess­ful. We did it by trial and er­ror, good de­ci­sions and bad de­ci­sions. We made them all to­gether. I’m so proud of play­ing with Zyon, my son [and cur­rent Soulfly drum­mer]. It’s one of the best feel­ings in the world. It’s over­whelm­ing. We opened Chaos AD with an ul­tra­sound record­ing of his heart­beat, be­fore he was even born. Now we get to jam to­gether. A lot of young fans come to our shows now, too. I pull them on­stage, be­cause I can’t help it. I want peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence that feel­ing. On this tour, one kid was six years old and he sang the Eye For An Eye cho­rus with me. There was a lit­tle girl who was eight years old, wear­ing a Soulfly shirt. It’s crazy. Then you get all the old farts who grew up with my stuff. You see them with their white beards and you know they’ve been there from the start!”

When you look back on your ca­reer so far, how does that shape what you would like to achieve go­ing for­ward?

“I’m proud of the records we’ve made to date, but the one thing I don’t do is let them stop me. I’m al­ways look­ing for a bet­ter al­bum. I still think I haven’t done a real mas­ter­piece yet. I think that’s still to come at some point. I know it will prob­a­bly sound crazy for some peo­ple, after Soulfly, Roots and Arise, but in my search I think there’s still more to do. It’s a never-end­ing search. The com­ments I’ve had from peo­ple who’ve heard the new Soulfly record make me think I must be do­ing some­thing right. I still get nerves be­fore shows, be­lieve it or not. But I think that’s a great thing. Nerves are good, be­cause they’re cathar­tic. I think it’s good to be like that, it shows you’re still ex­cited.”


ARISE: EX­PANDED EDI­TION IS AVAIL­ABLE ON JUNE 15 VIA RHINO records. the new soulfly al­bum is set for re­lease in july this year

Oi, Max – you got enough wrist­bands, mate?

Cavalera Con­spir­acy: so much camo

Sepultura: such early days it may as well be morn­ing

“A yel­low T-shirt? You can stand at the back, lad”

Soulfly in Russia: not im­pressed, ap­par­ently

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