MAX CAVALERA: “WE NEED TO GO DEEPER INTO THE HEAVINESS AND CREATE SOMETHING HEAVIER.”
Max Cavalera is a name you’ve probably heard recently. His band, Cavalera Conspiracy, has been making waves in the metal world with their latest release, Blunt Force Trauma, and are currently on tour in the U.S. But here’s something you might not have known: he’s been at this for decades.
Max, along with his esteemed colleague and brother, Igor, made some of the most beastly and innovative thrash in the mid 80’s and 90’s in the highly influential, underground metal outlet, Sepultura (Portuguese for “grave”). Unfortunately personal differences in ’96 drew him away from the band. Upon relocating to the States, he focused his talents on a new project, the still-running Soulfly (English for “Mighty-Spirit-Mosquito”).
For years Max worked tirelessly with the group, releasing seven studio album’s and gradually building a cult following in the process. Now with a new band and his brother back at his side, the world is finally taking notice.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with the bearded bellower to get the skinny on the new album and see what he makes of his recent success.
Where are you right now?
Today we’re in Pittsburgh.
And how has the touring been so far?
The tour is going great, man. There’s a lot of great shows and a lot of people packed places and everyone is digging the new stuff. We’re having a lot of fun, and we got Lazarus A.D. opening the show — [they’re a] really cool thrash band. The fans are going crazy. We have great mosh pits every night. It couldn’t be better, man. It’s going awesome.
Awesome. So the new Cavalera Conspiracy album is pretty darn heavy, man. Definitely nothing like that pop album Inflikted.
Yeah, we wanted Blunt Force Trauma to be a heavier, more brutal album. We looked at Inflikted as a really good first album, but we needed to go deeper into the heaviness and create something heavier. We decided to do Blunt Force Trauma that way. I really wanted a thrash feeling to it. Some of the songs have a really thrash metal feeling, and some of them have a hardcore feeling, with Roger [Miret] from Agnostic Front singing on “Lynch Mob,” and doing a cover of Black Flag’s “Six Pack.” There is a hardcore kind of vibe to the record, but it’s essentially a metal album. I’m really proud of it. I think it’s a cool record to play live.
I was going to say about that hardcore influence. “Torture,” I have to say, is one of my favorite tracks.
“Torture” is very cool, man. That’s the second song of the night, and it keeps the crowd going with a huge circle pit. It’s really great. It’s really exciting. It’s a fast song. It’s meant to be a thrash song. It’s only like a minute and fifty- – less than two minutes. There’s no fillers and it’s right in your face. What you see is what you get kind of deal. I’m very excited for the record.
You and Igor kind of composed these songs at a distance and put the finishing touches on them or brought many of the songs together in the studio. That’s kind of become, for a lot of bands, a more unusual thing these days. Is there any more added pressure or angst in the studio when you’re really drawing everything together in that moment?
The pressure on us was to make a better album than the first one. Inflikted was very well received and got some great reviews all over the world, and it was greatly received by the fans. There was a little bit of pressure to make a better second record. We felt very confident going into the studio. We knew that the material was good. I had written a lot of songs on my spare time. I wrote “Warlord,” “Torture,” “Genghis Khan,” “Burn Waco”… and it felt really good inside. They were really good songs, and I had the confidence that it was going to be a heavier album. We went in with the idea of making it a heavier album, so everyone felt very confident and excited to make a heavier record than the one before. I wanted more brutality from the band — really heavy guitars, really raw sound for the record, and [producer Logan Mader] gave that to us. I think the album has a really cool, raw sound. It sounds heavier than Inflikted. I’m happy about that.
You do realize that I was not in earnest calling Inflikted a pop album, right? I didn’t expect any AutoTune.
I think that both are strong records. People think that the Inflikted songs are great, like “Sanctuary” and the title track and “Doom of All Fires” and “Black Ark,” on which we have Richie [Cavalera] from Incite singing with us every night. It’s great. The first two shows I had my kids’ band, Mold Breaker, opening the show in California, and they did great. We’re really excited to have them. It’s cool that the family is all involved.
One thing that I’m curious about is that you kept Soulfly running throughout this entire process. How do you keep multiple projects with a lot of common factors, like Marc Rizzo, sounding distinct from each other?
I love Soulfly. Soulfly has given me a great deal of integrity. If it wasn’t for Soulfly, I wouldn’t be here right now. I totally love my work with Soulfly. I love all the records. They all have a very special meaning to me, from the first one. They’re all amazing records to be a part of it. I love playing with Igor, too. When I got a chance to do Cavalera Conspiracy, it was a blast moment. I got the chance to go back playing with my brother who I grew up playing music with. They are two very important music things that I have in front of me that I take very seriously. I love both of them and I want to continue doing them. They don’t conflict with my time. I have time for both of them.
Right now Soulfly is taking a little break. I’m doing Cavalera Conspiracy and then I’ll regroup with Soulfly and put another record out and go out on tour. We’ll keep doing it like that. I think that’s the best way. They are good outlets of music for me and my anger, aggression comes out differently in both bands. Cavalera Conspiracy is more direct and more metal. I get to be more of the Max of the 80s — the thrash metal Max that people saw in the 80s and 90s. I do that more in Cavalera Conspiracy. And in Soulfly, I’m more of the revolutionary Max with the different ideas and planning wars with music and recording in different places and going to different countries. I love that with Soulfly, too — that aspect of Soulfly that travels to different places. I like both things. I like doing both bands. They’re both different, but I enjoy doing both of them.
Speaking of Igor, how has he been keeping himself busy in the downtime in between?
He spends a lot of time on his computer. He talks to his wife in Brazil, he talks to his kids and keeps in touch with the family, and he hangs out with us. He hangs out with the band members on the bus. He hangs out with me and shows me a lot of new music he’s listening to. We hang out in the back of the bus. It’s a great relationship. We have a cool respect for each other. We love sharing the stage. The best part of the day is when we’re onstage doing the show and doing what we came here to do. He kicks my ass on a nightly basis with his drum kit. I love that. I love hearing the power of the drums — hearing it from behind when I’m onstage. I just want to get brutalized by Igor’s drum every night. It’s great.
Continuing with band members, your “new” bassist Johny Chow isn’t really new to the band, but this is the first release with him as an official member. How did he work his way into the group?
We found Johny Chow through a friend. We saw his picture and we loved it. He had this beard and it looked like rice pudding. [laughs] He looked amazing. I was like, “This guy looks crazy. We got to play with this guy!” — just by the picture. So we met him, and he was a great guy. We started playing with him, and he did really good. He’s an amazing bass player. He became a big part of the band.
The first album we recorded with Joe [Duplantier] from Gojira… the guitar player from Gojira, but he played bass for us. Right after the album came out, Johny Chow came into the picture. I’m glad he did, because Cavalera Conspiracy needed a stable lineup, and Johny is that one stable guy that we needed in the band. Now it’s complete. It’s me, Marc, Igor, and Johny, which is the perfect lineup for this band. We’re going to grow up with this lineup, and we’re going to make a lot of records with it. There’s going to be a lot of metal coming out of us in the next few years.
I guess that makes it pretty clear where the inspiration for the song “Rasputin” comes from.
Oh yeah. Exactly. It comes from Johny Chow directly. [laughs]
That’s pretty funny. You mentioned bringing in Roger Miret from the Agnostic Front to guest on the album; as I see it, a big part of the Max Cavalera sound comes from the use of guest musicians and guest vocalists. You kind of see that across the board in both Soulfly and the Cavalera Conspiracy. Can you think of any musicians at the moment who you’ve yet to work with that you would be excited to collaborate with in the future?
Oh yeah, there are a lot of people that I would like to do something with. There’s people like Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Lemmy from Motörhead… from the hardcore scene, I’d love to do something with John [Joseph McGowan] from the Cromags… from the punk scene Henry Rollins, who was in Black Flag, I love his vocals. There are a lot of people that I feel I can do something with. I’m proud of all the collaborations I’ve done so far. I’m really happy that I got to work with amazing people all the way from Tom Araya to David Ellefson to Morbid Angel to Greg [Puciato] from Dillinger Escape Plan, Tommy [Victor] from Prong and Chino [Moreno] from the Deftones, Sean Lennon… It’s my favorite thing about being in the music business, is actually recording with a lot of my heroes and idols, like when I did “Terrorist” with Tom Araya. I was so excited, because Slayer was such a big band for me. I grew up listening to Slayer, and to be in the studio with Tom was great. It was really exciting and I felt like a little kid. I was like a teenager in the studio recording with Tom. I was fucking excited. It was a dream come true. That part of the music is really great. I love those jam sessions and recording with different people. I think that’s something that’s always going to be a part of my career.
This goes along similar lines, but can you think of some young and upcoming bands at the moment that you’ve either taken an interest to or you’ve come to respect over the years?
Yeah, there are a bunch of bands that I listen to that I really like. I like Converge. I like Trap Them. I like Whitechapel, The Chariot, Black Death, Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, and some of those thrash bands that are reviving thrash metal. I like Warbringer. I like all those bands. There is a lot of good music out there. It’s good that it’s keeping metal alive and that the new generation is picking it up. They know where they came from and they’re continuing it. I still love the classics like Megadeth, Slayer and all those bands that are still playing now with kick ass shit after twenty or thirty years. That’s awesome that those bands are still playing. It makes me really proud and makes me want to continue playing because it’s an inspiration that those bands are still going. Even stuff like Ozzy and Motörhead because they’re older and you look at them and you think, “If they can do it, I can do it for a long time.” So I look at it like that. It’s an inspiration for me to make music for a long time.
Awesome. So what are your own plans moving forward? I know you mentioned taking a little time off after the tour to work with Soulfly again, but what do you see yourself doing after this current tour circuit?
This tour is going to go to the end of the year. We’ll go to Europe and then come back to America and do another big American tour that’ll go to October or November. After that, I’ll probably go back to Soulfly and write the new record that’s going to come out next year sometime. It’s going to be a big studio album, which is great. I’m very excited. I can’t believe that it’s already eight records. It blows me away that there’s so many of them. I’m going to try and make a good one, a strong one, a different record, an exciting record. I got to see who the guest people are going to be on it and try to make a real killer one. Next year I’m back with Soulfly. This year I decided to do my work with Cavalera Conspiracy and next year is for Soulfly. We’ll get back on the road with Soulfly next year.
Alright. So… I’m not sure if this is a weird question. I’m not going to ask you about a Sepultura reunion. I know that’s beaten to death. They’ve continued over the years and Igor continued to play with them for a little while. Have you listened to any of their recent output?
No, I have no interest and I really don’t care about what they’re doing. The band doesn’t really concern me. Sepultura was a really big part of my life when I was with them. When I separated [from them] in ’96 after Roots, that was the last I ever heard from them. It doesn’t concern me anymore. It’s pretty much dead to me.
I did a little research. Igor, if I’m not wrong, has a kind of electronic project at the moment does he not?
Yeah, in Brazil.
What’s that like? Have you discussed that at all?
It’s something that he does on his private time. It’s really different from the stuff he does in Cavalera Conspiracy. In Cavalera Conspiracy, he’s a metal drummer playing metal and brutalizing the drum kit every night. I’m not sure exactly what he does. I never saw him actually play live with his project, which is called Mix Hell. I think he sometimes he brings his drum kit to play the electronic stuff, which is a cool idea. I never got to see them, so I’m not sure exactly what they do. When he’s with Cavalera Conspiracy, he’s occupied with it. So he does everything he can with Cavalera Conspiracy — sound check, signing new merch for the new tour, picking up new stuff to do every night, new songs to play and work on new stuff and stuff like that. He keeps occupied with Cavalera Conspiracy which is cool and all. It’s supposed to be like that.
Gotcha. At the moment, you primarily live in the United States, right? While Igor still lives in Brazil?
What is your primary means of keeping the communication lines open, especially in between album cycles? Is there a lot of sending riffs and things back and forth as attachments?
Yeah we send things back and forth. With the internet, it’s really easy to send stuff over the internet. We send files to each other. I’ll write a bunch of riffs and send it to him, and he gets it right away in no time, which is really great. We talk on the phone and keep in touch while he’s in Brazil. When we get together, we make records. Then we go on tour. It’s really a kind of cool relationship. We don’t see each other all the time, but when we do it’s special. Touring with Igor is really fun for me to spend some time with him and to talk and jam and watch movies with him, spend time in the back room talking about our lives. It’s very cool. When all of that’s done, we just go back to our lives — go back to Soulfly and he goes back to Brazil to his project. We’ll see each other again in a couple of months and start it all over again. It’s great. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s working like that. It’s kind of a cool relationship to have because you never get tired of each other. Whenever we see each other, it’s always in a good mood and ready to do stuff. We’re always ready to do the tour. Some bands go on tour and hate to be on tour, that doesn’t happen here. We love being on tour. We love playing every night, and I love seeing the fans every night and raising hell with them. That’s my favorite thing of the whole day. I look forward to the show. The day goes by slow and then the show is here. That’s my favorite part of the day – being live onstage and playing in front of the fans. It’s my favorite thing to do.