Max Cavalera: The Current Q & A
Soulfly, the band led by former Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera, plays at the Korova (107 E Martin) on Tuesday, August 7 (door at 7 p.m.). Tickets are $18-$20 and you can get them at jivetickets.com.
Days before the show, the Brazilian-born Cavalera spoke with the Current from his home in Phoenix, Arizona.
What are you doing in Phoenix? Time to move out!
I’m against the immigration law there. I think it’s a stupid law, I don’t agree with it. It becomes really kind of racist for the state to do that. To just stop anybody in the streets and have to check them, you know, racial profiling, I don’t agree with that. But I’m here not very often, I’m always on tour. I come here for a little bit and then I go on tour again.
Are you still playing with a four-string guitar? Your guitar and your voice are more about feeling than technique.
Yes, I do. I learned guitar myself. I had lessons for a little at the beginning, of course, but I learned everything else by playing along with the records. I like Black Sabbath, Van Halen, and Kiss, stuff like that. And I developed this kind of vocal style. Little by little it was getting better and better, more powerful to the way it is now. I really like my vocals. I like the fact that I don’t know how to sing melodic, but I have a recognizable voice that when people hear, they know it’s Max. I think that, to me, is more important than knowing how to sing. It’s about having your own mark, your own identity.
You know, in South America we like to think that American and British musicians have better technique, but that we are musically more interesting because we grow up listening to all kinds of music. But one day in L.A. Adrian Belew (King Crimson) told me that he thought, especially after working with bands like Mexico’s Caifanes, that Latin musicians are better equipped than Anglo musicians because they can play all sorts of styles and, thus, become better technically. Which is it?
I like to be open-minded. Of course I love metal, that’s my favorite music, but I’m not afraid to go into different areas like someone like Ill Bill. He asked me to do something on his record. I went and did it and it was great.
I’m not afraid to try different things, and it started with Sepultura. Sepultura was really ahead of the times. We did things that people didn’t expect and stuff like “Kaiowas” [from Chaos A.D.] and the Brazilian percussion, and then Roots, of course, which is completely a Brazilian record full of Brazilian influences. It was a way to go back to our own country and rediscover our musical roots. We went into the jungle and recorded it with the Indians. That was an amazing experience, it was fantastic, like National Geographic. It wasn’t even music. It was like exploring, we were being explorers. So I can only say for myself that I’m not scared to enjoy those kinds of music. I think many more people should mix their music with other things. That’s what bands like System of a Down are doing; they’re putting all of their influences in their music and now you hear a lot of stuff coming out of Southeast Asia, like Wormrot from Singapore. Great bands that are playing this kind [of music]. It’s great stuff. It’s cool that music is spreading. In the past it used to be metal rock. It would really just be American and English, and now even the Swedish got a great scene. You got all these great bands from Sweden and Norway and you got some good bands coming out of Italy. So now it’s spreading more.
No matter what the style, it always works better when one tries to be original rather than imitating what others are doing.
Yes, I think so. It’s better when they try to put their own style on it, their own identity. It’s better like that.
Needless to say, you don’t have much use for those who only listen to one type of music.
I don’t think you can develop like that. You become cornered. You trap yourself. Some of my best ideas come from other sources, in Sepultura even. “Refuse/Resist” was a quote I saw in a guy’s jacket in a subway in New York, and he was a Black Panther. So he was probably a guy who had nothing to do with metal and in his jacket, it had the “right to refuse and resist” and I thought that was a great name for a song. So that became an inspiration for a song that became one of Sepultura’s main songs ever. A song like Soulfly’s “One,” which is instrumental, is very influenced by stuff like Peter Gabriel, people who do instrumental music. I really listen to this kind of stuff a lot of times. I listen to a lot of Peter Gabriel, and the soundtrack of The Last Temptation of the Christ. It’s a great album. It’s amazing instrumental music that you listen to and it’s so cool to hear what people can do with instrumental music without even vocals and that’s why I created the Soulfly instrumental songs. It’s on every record. Every Soulfly has an instrumental song on it and now we have eight now, eight instrumentals, and they’re really cool. I get a lot of comments from fans. They love that stuff. They really like it and they want me to keep doing it. You got to hear other things to become more creative. If I only listen to metal, I would only be playing metal. I think I’d be very cornered. I couldn’t really grow.
In the middle of it all, you manage not only to play with Soulfly but with Cavalera Conspiracy. What else you have in the works?
Yes, those are the ones I’m working on at the moment. For the “Maximum Cavalera” tour I play with my kids. Lody Kong is my young kids’ band, and Incite is Richard’s, my older son. They’re going to open the tour and it’s a great package. In November, I take Cavalera Conspiracy to South America. But I do have another project with Greg [Puciato] from The Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s going to be like Nailbomb, a project I did in the ’90s. The project’s going to have a new name and it’s me, Brent [Hinds] and Troy [Sanders] from Mastodon. All of us are going to sing, so it’s going to be three singers, which is really unusual. It should be really cool.
No name yet? Tell me more.
We don’t have a name yet. We’re looking for a name (laughs). We got 10 songs written. I wrote them this year with Greg and they’re really cool songs. It’s very powerful stuff that’s going to come out next year. And we should do some shows with that, some touring, not too much touring like Soulfly, but a little tour. It’s just going to be a project really, like Soulfly.
It’s amazing how people still talk about Nailbomb.
Nailbomb was short. We only had two records, Point Blank and Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide. We killed it. Alex [Newport] and I decided to finish the band, but so many people still talk about Nailbomb today. Yeah, it’s amazing. That’s why I decided to do this new project because of the amount of people that wanted to see Nailbomb back together, that wanted me to do more stuff with Nailbomb. It drove me to actually do a new project, which is going to be very similar to Nailbomb. We’re going to use some machinery and some electronics, so it’s going to be very cool like that. I think it’s going to be good and I enjoy it. But that’s not all: next year my main project will be the one I have with Greg and a book. I’m publishing an autobiography that’s going to come out in 2013. The writer is Joe McIver, an English writer. We’ve been working for a year and a half now. It’s going to be great. The introduction is going to be by Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, who is a big fan. And it’s cool because next year it’ll be 30 years since I started Sepultura. Perfect timing.
The obvious question: will Sepultura reunite?
I don’t know. I think so. I hope it will happen someday, but it depends on very different factors. It’s not simple. It’s a lot of complicated details, but I hope those guys get their shit together and can call me and say, “Hey, we want to do it,” because all the fans want to see that. My kids want to see that. They don’t remember that because they were very little. When I was with Sepultura, they were only two and three years old. They only see videos now on YouTube and they say, “Wow, that’s fucking great, wish we could see that again,” and I would do that for the fans because a lot of fans want to see the real band play and the real classic lineup playing together. It was one of the most important bands in South America, so it would be great. So let’s hope and see, but if it doesn’t, I got great stuff that I’m doing. I got Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, and the project with Greg, so I’m keeping busy anyways (laughs).
Did you ever see Sepultura becoming so big on an international level?
I felt we had something special when things started happening, when we got attention from a lot of people around the world. When Roots came out, it became a very massive record and I felt we were on to something real big and really cool. I think the split made the band even bigger (laughs) because of the split, so many years of talking about the reunion. That creates a legend. And then the band becomes bigger than what it really was. Now even today, I think Sepultura is bigger than the original lineup. In people’s minds, it was this huge band, but it was actually getting there. Roots was a big tour. We were playing in big places like Brixton Academy in England. That’s 5,000 (seats). Some places in Holland that was like 7,000 people so we were on the way up. So it’s cool.
You’ve played here in San Antonio before. Anything special about this place?
I remember a lot of great fans, especially our Spanish-speaking fans, Mexicans, and a lot of the Latin crowd that comes to see the shows. They’re really great, really loud and awesome. I love all of the Texas shows that we do. They’re always packed. I always refer to Texas as the “Germany of America” because they love metal. In Germany they love metal and Texas is the same. It’s always fun to come to Texas and play, so I’m excited.
Talking of global metal, what do you remember of Poder Latino, the album you co-produced for Argentina’s A.N.I.M.A.L.?
It was cool. They were really big fans and approached me to produce the record. They [were] a really good band. I thought they were really cool. I wanted them to do a metal version of “Guantanamera.” I thought that would’ve been great, but they didn’t like that idea (laughs). I don’t know why, maybe they thought it was stupid. I always thought if someone made a metal version of “Guantanamera” it would be really cool. That would be really Roots style, but they didn’t like the idea, so we skipped it. Nevertheless, I had fun working with them. They’re cool guys.
Do you feel as good about producing as you do about self-producing?
I’ve produced some Soulfly stuff and some Cavalera stuff, but I would like to work with other producers. That’s probably the truth. By myself, I think I would do good, but that’s really not my calling. I’m a musician, so I prefer to work with other producers. It’s difficult (to produce). You got to be really on the ball and you got to separate the musician from the producer. It’s two different things. I did it with Soulfly and it was great. Soulfly’s last record was [co-produced] by Zeuss. I work well with producers too. I get along with them. We work as a team and producers can get a lot of stuff out of me. If it’s a good producer, that guy can really get a lot of cool stuff out of me that would not come out naturally.
You’ve said a lot of things about organized religion. How have your spiritual ideas changed through the years?
I’m really open-minded. Music is my true religion. It’s what I believe in. It’s what I love. It’s what I worship. It’s music. But I do have a spiritual side. I believe God has really given me a lot of strength through the years, to get through what we went through with Dana [Wells, his stepson murdered in 1996] and with the split from Sepultura. It was a lot of real hard times that a lot of people cannot overcome. I did overcome that and I feel very blessed about that. That’s why Soulfly has a more spiritual side to it. But, like I said, it’s not religious, we’re not a religious band, you know? We’re not like Stryper or anything like that. We’re not preaching religion to people. Religion is a spiritual thing. I think you should find it yourself and if you find it, good. If you don’t, that’s OK with me. You know, I actually wear denim shirts. My wife, she’s more Russian Orthodox. She always gets mad at me because I wear all those shirts, but I tell her, “I fucking love metal, I’m not gonna stop wearing denim shirts because I’m spiritual.” To me, it’s all the same. Music is music. That is my religion.
I don’t get tired of saying this: people who sing about peace and love are often assholes, while metalheads are always nice. You find that to be true?
I think so. In metal you’ll find a lot of really good people and a lot of really cool people, really helping each other and trying to get united. We’re in kind of the same boat. I think it’s cool. I think what society sees from metal is completely wrong. The idea that we’re a bunch of just druggies and troublemakers, that we’re a bunch of criminals, that’s completely fucked up and wrong. We’re not that at all. I actually think we’re a really friendly group of people. If there were more metal people around the world, there would be less wars, less problems in the world. We’re not into that shit. We use the music for our anger. Music and lyrics. That’s our only way to express our angers so we don’t have to go bomb some place and we don’t have to go kill somebody. — Enrique Lopetegui