By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Max Cavalera is one of the most influential and innovative pioneers in the genre of metal music. Born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on August 4, 1969, Cavalera faced much adversity in his homeland, but still managed to form (in 1984) one of the hardest hitting, and brutal bands ever- Sepultura. While in Sepultura, Cavalera recorded six ground breaking records. Sepultura toured the world many times, and sold millions of CDs. Cavalera had beat the odds, and became an international metal superstar. However, in 1996, Cavalera abruptly left Sepultura and quickly formed another band, which he named Soulfly.
Soulfly recently released their 9th album, entitled ‘Savages.’ This is Cavalera at his all-time best. ‘Savages’ is a true metal masterpiece; it is uncompromising, relentless, and contains some of the heaviest riffs that Cavalera has ever composed. In addition to Cavalera, Soulfly consists of guitar-shredder Marc Rizzo, ex-Static-X bassist- Tony Campos, and Cavalera’s son, Zyon Cavalera, on drums.
What follows is an exclusive RMS interview with Max Cavalera. During this conversation, we discussed the new Soulfly record, ‘Savages,’ his new upcoming tell-all book, his take on Sepultura, and much more.
RockMusicStar: Hey Max, I want to start off by telling you how much I really enjoy the new Soulfly record. It’s filled with many heavy, aggressive, and intense tracks.
Max Cavalera: Thanks. I’m glad that you like it.
RMS: Yes, it’s a great follow up to your highly-regarded, prior release, ‘Enslaved.’ How much of a challenge was it to follow up the ‘Enslaved’ record?
MC: It was a bit of a challenge, doing a follow up to ‘Enslaved.’ But, we were in good hands with Terry Date doing production on it. Also, I was working with my son, Zyon, who was playing drums on the record. I felt really good about him. I worked with him at home, and I knew how it was going to sound. I was really inspired about the idea of working with Terry, so I wrote like, a thousand riffs for the album. I went crazy writing riffs, writing non-stop. We also had a lot of special guests on it, and a lot of cool ideas. The album turned out exactly like I wanted it. I really love it. I love the artwork. I love the whole package together. I love the digipak, and all the images of the bones. The songs are cool, the guests are cool. I think it was the right record to make.
RMS: I agree. How many tracks from ‘Savages’ are you playing on your current tour?
MC: We are playing five now, which is good. We are going to try to add “Fallen” in the near future. And, we have practiced “Ayatollah of Rock ‘N’ Rolla.” We are probably going to add those as the tour goes on.
RMS: What was the songwriting process like for ‘Savages?’ Did the other members of the band contribute in the songwriting?
MC: No, not that much. I write most of the riffs myself, at home. I did work with Zyon quite a bit. I wrote the riffs in the morning, and then at night, we would jam to them. This gave us a good structure of the record. Then, we went to the studio with Marc Rizzo (guitar), and Tony Campos (bass), and they heard my riffs and played along. Marc added stuff on top of it, sometimes he will change the riff a bit to make it cooler sounding. Everyone gets involved. Tony put his bass on it, I love his bass sound; it’s so killer. I love to vibe he brings; it’s very powerful. Even though I write all the riffs, it still is very much a group effort.
RMS: So, how many of those thousand riffs that you wrote for this record ended up being used for it?
MC: There are still a lot that were not used. But, I will probably use them in the future.
RMS: Did you record any new songs that weren’t included on ‘Savages?’
MC: No. When we entered the studio, we just recorded the songs that were going to be on the record, and then the two B-sides. We recorded what we needed. We didn’t record a cover this time, because we didn’t need one.
RMS: I love the track sequence on the record. “Bloodshed” is a great opener and really set the tone. I think it one of the best Soulfly songs, ever.
MC: Yes, thanks. I really like that riff, it was one of my favorites. Monte from Nuclear Blast records said it was one of his favorite riffs from me that he’s heard in a long time.
I think that kick-started the whole song. It got everybody really excited. I didn’t know that was going to be the first song on the album until we recorded it, and when we recorded it, I listened to it back. I was like, “I’m going to open the record with this. This is a great song to open the record with.” It’s got a great vibe. It’s a little bit like ‘Roots.’ It’s got that kind of groove- like that ‘Roots’ kind of groove, and it’s killer tempo to open the record with. And Mark did some amazing guitar stuff. He played some melodic guitar stuff and screaming guitars in the end that make the song really, really great. I did some talking in the end. And then, on top of that, we had my brother, Igor, put vocals on the chorus with me. I needed some kind of punk rock-kind of vocals to go with the chorus. The chorus was very like Misfits-influenced. And I just asked Igor to do a single on it, he did it, and it sounds great. So, it’s a great song. We play it live. We are opening the set with that right now, and it’s getting a great reaction. I get the whole crowd singing the chorus with me. Everybody sings, “Everywhere, there’s bloodshed.” And, it’s great. I’m really happy. I think it’s going to be a great, very powerful song in the future.
RMS: Yeah, and it’s just, you know, the chorus is extremely catchy. Like I said, the riff is just brutal. It’s just a really great metal song, it really is.
MC: Yeah, it was really exciting, working on that song. Like I said, we didn’t know it was going to be the first song. We were just writing all of them, putting them together. When I put it back-to-back with “Cannibal Holocaust,” which was the second song, it was killer, just the two of them together, because “Bloodshed” is a little bit slower, and, you know, kind of a groove tempo, and “Cannibal Holocaust” is a fast ripper- just pure trash metal, death metal; fast fucking song. So, when we put both together, back-to-back, “Bloodshed” and “Cannibal Holocaust,” they go together really, really good.
RMS: Yeah, I agree. I think that really brings the listener right in right from the beginning. You make your statement; it doesn’t take long (laughs). You make your statement with this record.
MC: And we were playing like that live, too, you now. We were playing “Bloodshed” with “Cannibal Holocaust” live on this tour, and it’s great because “Bloodshed’s” a little slower, you get the people kind of used to the sound, and then, when “Cannibal Holocaust” comes in, you can see, the beat starts. A certain beat starts and the whole madness, the whole show kicks off right away from that point on. And it’s great to be like that.
RMS: How has the dynamics of the band changed since bassist Tony Campos joined the band a few years ago?
MC: Yeah, things changed for the better. Tony’s a great addition. He’s a great bass player. He’s been in a great- couple killer bands; Ministry, Prong. We see him play with pizzazz from time to time. You know, he sings in Spanish, which gave me the idea to do the songs in Portuguese and Spanish. Tony brings a lot to Soulfly. It’s great having him; he’s a great guy and I love his stage presence. He gives a lot of power, and he does a lot of backing vocals with me, which is great, which helps me. It makes the show more heavy- more powerful. He’s a great addition, I think this lineup- this Soulfly lineup- it’s a great one. I wanna keep this one for a while. Me, Marc, Tony, and Zyon. We click good together. We got a great chemistry together, and I think we should try to stick with this one for a little bit.
RMS: How long has your son been playing the drums?
MC: Zyon’s been playing since he was little, man. You know, he was really young. He started jamming at home. He used to like, jam up on his chest. He would play drums on his chest all day long, and then he has a beat that he used to do when he was a little kid, and he grew up watching all of the Soulfly drummers. He stood behind Roy Mayorga, Joe Nunez, my brother, Igor. He sat behind them and watched them play during the tours, and got all the knowledge- all the drumming knowledge- from those guys, and added a ply on himself, and became just a great drummer. You know, one day, I was listening to him play at home, and I was like, “Man, you’re getting really, really good.” And, next thing you know, we needed a drummer for a South American tour, and Zyon said he could do it, and he practiced the whole show, got it down, and we went to South America. Everyone in Brazil loved how he played. He gave a lot of youth and energy to Soulfly. It was really crazy. It was like we were missing that, you know? We didn’t have that with Joe in the band, and Dave, especially, cuz Dave plays more extreme metal. He didn’t know how to play the old tribal songs. When Zyon came in, Zyon could play all the old tribal shit perfect, and it was great. So, it was like an injection of adrenaline, of youth, of energy that Soulfly was needing, and he brought it to the band.
RMS: I agree. His drumming is awesome on the CD.
MC: Yeah, he did good. You know, he was a little bit- there was some pressure, first. You know, his first record, doing with Terry Date in a big studio in Seattle, and first album for Nuclear Blast, and all this kind of pressure was building up. But, he put all of that aside. I just told him, “Just play, man. Just have fun and play drums, and just do what you do, and you’re going to be fine.” And, he did that. He ended up recording the drums in like four days, which is really fast. That’s as fast as my brother takes. I told him he could take more time if he needed to, but, he didn’t need to. So, he only needed four days, and did all the drums in four days, and it was awesome. It sounds great, I think. And it’s part, you know, Terry Date also contributed with the drum sound. I think Terry Date’s a master of drum sound. When you hear a Pantera album or Soundgarden or a Deftones album, the drums always sound amazing, you know. He’s really good at drums. And he made Zyon’s drums sound amazing. You know, it’s part that, and part Zyon. I think, both of them together did a great job, and that’s why it sounds so cool.
RMS: Four days? That’s pretty incredible to get the drum parts. How long did it take to make the whole record, from start to finish?
MC: Probably a month and a half with the mix, because Terry mixed the two. We recorded in a month in Seattle, and it was a great studio, the same studio that Soundgarden did their last record in. It was called “Studio X.” It was in downtown Seattle, and it was amazing. Really high technology studio, a lot of really good gear, and great guys working there. Terry had an assistant called Sam, and Sam used to do stuff for “Halo,” the videogame “Halo.” He ended up doing all the sounds that you hear between songs in ‘Savages.’ All the Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, kind of electronic sounds that you hear in record. It was me and this guy, Sam, that did it. So, it was a great vibe in the studio. So, a month and a half to pretty much do everything.
RMS: Now, you’re on a new label for this record. You went from Roadrunner Records to Nuclear Blast. Has that been a noticeable change, or are they pretty much the same? And, does Nuclear Blast get involved in the creative process at all?
MC: Yes, they get involved, but in a very positive way. They love the record. They’re excited for the band. They’re really excited to sign Soulfly, and they loved the album when they heard it. They did really special things, like the digipak looks amazing. The vinyl version is so cool with the different vinyl colors. They got blue vinyl, white vinyl. I think they were one of those labels that do a lot. They do bundles with t-shirts. We gave them the album cover t-shirt for them to use it. They’re very excited to have Soulfly. They work really hard. The album debuted at number 84 on Billboard, which is really good for us, for America. They’re very excited about that. It’s going to be a good relationship with us and them. I think we got really good people, like Monte Conner, Gerardo Martinez, and Charles Elliott. You know, it’s a bunch of really good metal guys that love metal, and they’re very excited to have Soulfly, and we’re excited to be with them.
RMS: They definitely seem very passionate about whatever they release.
MC: They are, man, and I think they’re one of the few labels that pays attention to details, like vinyl. You know, they know there’s a bunch of people that still like vinyl, so they made sure they release it on vinyl for people that like vinyl… Digipaks; special people like special digipaks. They do all these things that fans like. They know fans like different things. Fans are attached to special edition-type things. They don’t care how small- maybe, like with the vinyl- there’s only a thousand vinyl; but, for them, it’s worth it to do it just for the special thing they are doing for the fans; the fans can get it. So, it’s a cool label; they pay attention to detail like that, and I think that’s really great.
RMS: Oh, absolutely. You’re right about the vinyl- it does look really cool. Have you listened to the vinyl yet?
MC: No, not yet. My vinyl player is broke. My son’s got one in his room. When I get home, after the tour, I’m going to pop it in to see how it sounds. I’m very excited. I still got a lot of vinyl stuff, especially a lot of punk and trash; all the old Kreator and Destruction and Metallica and Slayer, you know. A lot of like, a lot of the punk stuff, too, like Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys; I got a lot of that on vinyl. So, I can’t wait to hear ‘Savages’ on vinyl. I think it’s going to sound great.
RMS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of odd, I guess- well, not really odd- but, is it uncomfortable at all being on the same label that Sepultura is on?
MC: No. I’m used to it. We worked together with Road Runner Records when the first Soulfly came out. It doesn’t matter to me. I really don’t care what those guys do. I got my own thing going. I love Soulfly, Soulfly’s got fans all over the world. We’re growing and growing and growing every day, and the fact that we share the same label, it’s indifferent to me. I know they’ve got work to do, it’s professional, and they have to promote them. Sometimes we see ads in the magazines together- our ad is one page, you go to the next page, it’s their ad. It’s fine, man. You know, it doesn’t really bother me at all.
RMS: Are you at the point, right now, where you hope that people would just forget about the whole Sepultura thing, and just concentrate on Soulfly?
MC: Pretty much. You know, I really want that to happen. Especially, Soulfly, now, has got nine records. I did seven with Sepultura, and Soulfly has nine records. It’s more records than I’d done with Sepultura. I’ve been with Soulfly longer, and it is my band from my heart. It’s what I put my heart and soul into, is Soulfly. It’s what I live for. Above all of the other projects: Cavalera Conspiracy, the project with Greg that’s going to come out next year, those are all great stuff, but my heart lies heavy on Soulfly.
RMS: Speaking of other projects, I just read recently that you have another project- Killer Be Killed, that’s signed to Nuclear Blast Records. Can you tell me a little about that?
MC: Yeah, that’s gonna come out next year. It’s all recorded; the music’s all done, except for some of Greg’s vocals. It’s me, Greg from Dillinger Escape Plan, Troy from Mastodon, and Dave Elitch from Mars Volta. It’s a great project, man. The three of us are singing on every song, and we got some really great songs. We share vocals on all of them. So, it’s a lot of my riffs- I used a lot of my riffs in the project. A lot of the songs have fast parts and heavy parts and really killer grooves. It’s kind of a mix of Soulfly, Mastodon, and Dillinger Escape Plan. If you can imagine the collision of these three bands, you can get a picture of what this project is going to sound like. So, it’s pretty chaotic, but in a really good way, and it’s going to come out on Nuclear Blast next year. We’re going to do a couple of shows, not too much. Not a long tour, but a couple of “Special Event” kind of shows, maybe some festivals. Stuff like that. But, I think it’s going to be a really cool record. A lot of people are going to be surprised by the mix of heavy stuff and melodic stuff. And, the fact that the three of us are singing on every song, that makes it really special.
RMS: Were you apprehensive at all to start this project with everything going on with Soulfly?
MC: There was a time where all of us had off, and I already got done recording ‘Savages,’ so I had some time off on my own. And Greg had some time off, Troy had some time off, so we all decided to meet in Los Angeles. We picked the producer, Josh Wilbur. He did the last Lamb of God, and he’s a great producer. It was great, we had some really- Tony came and visited a couple of times. He plays bass for Soulfly, and he’d pop in the studio to see how we were doing. And, he got really excited when he heard the stuff. We also had Juan play guitar- he used to be in Torche. He did some amazing guitar stuff on the album. Juan Montoya, he plays in Monstro right now with Kyle, which is Troy’s brother, from Mastodon. But, he used to be on the band, Torche. He’s a great guitar player, and he did a bunch of guitar stuff on the record. So, it was a great vibe, you know, and I had time- I had a lot of riffs that I wrote. This project has been going for two years, now. So, I wrote a lot of riffs a few years ago with Greg when we first started, and when I got together with Troy, we wrote some more new songs. There’s a song called “Forbidden Fire,” which is about how music is forbidden in countries like Iran and Syria and Iraq, and how the fans still listen to metal even though it’s forbidden by the government. They still listen to metal, so we did a song about that. Troy also did a song about robots- well, it’s like a futuristic song called “Save the Robot,” and he does like, robot voices on it, and it’s pretty fucking cool.
RMS: Wow, it sounds great, can’t wait to listen to that. You have also recently written an autobiography, when will it be released?
MC: Yes, it’s coming out in February in America. It’s called “My Bloody Roots,” and it’s out in Brazil, already, and Poland, and it’s going to come out in America in February. I’ve been working on this book for the last three years. I did thousands of interviews, and Dave Grohl did the introduction of the book. He wrote a really cool introduction, it’s really funny. It’s a great book; it’s got a lot of cool people in it, like Mike Patton, David Vincent, Sharon Osbourne. It’s an amazing book. It’s gonna tell my whole story. It’s gonna tell about the split; I finally tell the truth about why I left Sepultura. All the stuff that happened, all the tragedies that happened, and then there’s some funny stuff, like puking on Eddie Vedder, and shit that happened in my career and my life. They’re all crazy stuff. Everything’s gonna be in the book, and it’s going to be great for people to read that.
RMS: Wow, I can’t wait. That’s awesome. How is it doing in Brazil?
MC: It’s doing really good, man. It’s gonna probably make the best-selling list of the Brazilian books, and we’re very excited about that. People in Brazil are very excited, they are reading the shit out of it. I get a lot of comments on Facebook, from my wife, she does Facebook, and gets a lot of people talking about how much they love the book, and has really, really great reviews. A lot of people especially like the part when I talk about the split from Sepultura, because it really explains my side of the story, about how I really felt, and why I left my own band. And a lot of people, after they read that, they will understand. And, for them, it makes sense that I did what I did, that I left Sepultura. They would have done the same. After they read it, they understand why I did it, and it makes sense after you read what I said about the split, you’d think that it was the rational thing to do, for me, was to leave them, you know. Even though it was my own band from the beginning, it was kind of like, all of my integrity, you know, and that’s why I decided to leave. It’s going to be great. It tells all of those stories, and puts kind of a final stamp on the whole “Sepultura split” shit, and talks about Soulfly and how it was created, and how cool Soulfly was building over the years, and the cool people I worked with. Sean Lennon is in the book, Corey Taylor is in the book, all talking about how it was to work with me, and I think it’s going to be great. I can’t wait for people in America to read it. It’s going to come out through a company called “Jawbone.” They’re going to distribute the book in America.
RMS: I always wondered about the Sepultura thing. I always thought to myself, I mean, I don’t know the all the little nuances about the spilt. That’s why I’m looking forward to reading your book, but, I always wondered why you didn’t just fire everyone from Sepultura, keep the name, and find replacements.
MC: Yeah, I couldn’t do that. There were contracts and there was a bunch of legal shit like that. My only options were, at that time, was to stay with them and do what they wanted me to do, which was fire Gloria, which I thought was the wrong thing to do, or me leaving. And I was left with no choice, so I ended up just leaving it. I had faith in myself that I would do something else. I didn’t know exactly what it was, what I was going to do right away. It took six months to get Soulfly going. But, I knew in my heart, I always want to make music and I was going to continue making music, and I was going to try my hardest to make whatever band I was going to make next be as powerful as it could be. I’m, you know, in a way, kind of now looking at how it turned out. I’m actually really happy, because, I think maybe, if I would have stayed with Sepultura, maybe it wouldn’t have been that good, you know? Maybe it would have been too hard to maintain the high caliber quality that we were used to in all the Sepultura records. And Soulfly is really great for me, because it’s really a freedom band that I can do all kinds of stuff that I like to do with metal. I like metal to be different; I like to push the boundaries of metal. I like to bring all world music themes, I like to do all these guest songs, and Soulfly lets me do all of that. So, in a way, I think it was a blessing in disguise that I ended up leaving Sepultura.
RMS: I do, too. I just don’t understand why they go after you in the press, and say things like you “turned your back on them,” and things like that.
MC: Yeah, that’s all propaganda. Everybody that reads the book will understand why I did it. And, you know, everybody that knows what’s going on knows that that band is actually taken hostage by Andreas, by guys that weren’t even there in the beginning. They were not there in the beginning. Sepultura was formed by me and Igor, it had all different people. Paolo and Derrick are not former band members; they are not original band members. The way I see it, they took the band hostage, and they are just using the name, promoting themselves. But, they’re dragging the name down, because they’re getting less and less popular, and I don’t really hear anything good about their records. So, it’s like, to me, I don’t really care what they do. You know, for me there’s always the classic Sepultura that I love. I think we did some amazing records, but it’s all in the past.
RMS: Ok, my last question I have for you, Max, is: I always wondered, when you moved to the United States from Brazil, why did you pick Phoenix, Arizona to move to?
MC: It was not really a choice of mine. My wife was living there, and all of the Sepultura roadies were living in Phoenix, and we spent some time there, and we really liked it. I particularly like the desert. I love the area of America with the desert, and it really kind of reminds me of Jim Morrison’s movie, “The Doors,” the beginning of the movie when he’s in the desert. I like the mountains, I like the valley. I think the sunsets are fucking amazing; they’re almost like, fake, like pink and purple. If you can deal with the heat, because it’s really hot in the summer, the rest of the year is fine. The only hard part is the summer, but, it only goes for a couple of months. And, most of the time, in the summer, we are traveling, anyway. We’re probably out of town, we’re probably in Europe or playing somewhere else in the world, so it doesn’t really bother me that much. I’ve been in Phoenix for twenty years, and I really like it. I like the vibe; I like the peace of mind that I get there for my writing. It’s very, very good for me to live in Phoenix.
RMS: Very cool. I want to thank you again for your time, and best of luck. And again, I just wanna tell you, as a fan of yours, I think ‘Savages’ is an incredible, incredible release, and you should be very, very proud of it.
MC: Thanks a lot, man. Appreciate it, alright?
RMS: Thank you, best of luck to you.
MC: Alright, brother.
Special thanks to Charles Elliott and the amazing Dana Kaiser for their help with this feature.