By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — As the founder of the biggest metal band to ever surface from South America, former Sepultura leader and current Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy frontman Max Cavalera has built his reputation as a icon of the international metal scene over more than three decades.
Guitarist/vocalist Max and drummer Iggor were only teens when they founded Sepultura in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte in 1984. While the group was initially inspired by the more traditional metal sounds of Black Sabbath and Motorhead, the Cavaleras took the band in a more extreme direction after Max discovered the blasphemous proto-thrash sound of British trio Venom. After their raw, self-released debut EP Bestial Devastation in 1985 (a split album with fellow Brazilian headbangers Overdose) and first proper full-length Morbid Visions the following year, Sepultura began to lean more towards the thrash end of the metal spectrum.
By the time the band issued Schizophrenia in 1987, Sepultura had settled into its classic line-up rounded out by guitarist Andreas Kisser and bass player Paulo Jr. and scored a deal with noted metal imprint Roadrunner Records. Their follow-up effort Beneath the Remains two years later would stand as a quantum leap forward in production and songwriting. A brutal musical assault that found the brothers forging their unique style, the album would be hailed as a thrash classic and introduced Sepultura to a far wider global audience.
The band’s next two albums would mark an even more dramatic sonic departure. Chaos A.D. in 1993 flirted with elements of industrial and punk while introducing slower tempos that would later find the album hailed as a pioneering groove-metal recording. Cavalera embarked on a side project the following year, founding the group Nailbomb with Fudge Tunnel principle Alex Newport and recording the ferocious industrial/metal landmark Point Blank.
The politically charged global metal effort Roots in 1996 went even further afield, adding traditional Brazilian percussion with contributions from guest musician Carlinhos Brown while exploring the plight of indigenous people in their native country. Unfortunately, the sudden death of Max Cavalera’s stepson while the band was touring in England brought a head conflict within the band over the band being managed by the guitarist’s wife. When the band demanded she be fired, Cavalera left in what would be one of the more acrimonious rock group splits of the decade.
Sepultura hired a new singer and soldiered on, while the estranged Cavalera would found his new band Soulfly, issuing a string of celebrated albums with a constantly rotating cast of support musicians. The guitarist would eventually mend his relationship with his brother Iggor, leading the pair to start Cavalera Conspiracy in 2007.
While Soulfly remains Max Cavalera’s main outlet, Cavalera Conspiracy has still managed to put out three albums including it’s most recent Napalm Records salvo Pandemonium in 2014. More recently, the group has traveled the globe on the Return To Roots Tour. Marking the 20th anniversary of the landmark Sepultura effort, the two principle forces behind those songs have been devastating audiences with a blistering rendition of the classic Roots album in its entirety along with additional Sepultura gems.
The popularity of that tour and a desire to return his focus to Soulfly led Cavalera and company to hatch a new plan, embarking on a month-long U.S. tour that will feature the band revisiting Nailbomb’s sole studio album with a complete performance along with a number of Soulfly favorites. Cavalera recently talked to CBS SF to discuss the pending trip, plans to record a new Soulfly album and more ahead of a tour stop at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco this Sunday. Soulfly tops a five-band bill with support from stoner death metal band Cannabis Corpse, Baltimore death thrashers Noisem, Phoenix sludge-punk band Lordy Kong (featuring two of Cavalera’s sons) and Antioch death/grind band Black Water Birth.
CBS SF: It’s been over two decades since you put out the Nailbomb album Point Blank with Alex Newport. What inspired you to revisit it now?
Max Cavalera: We’re very excited. I think it’s a cool idea and I love the record. Everybody always asks me about Nailbomb and playing the songs live. The success of the Return the Roots was so huge it kind of triggered the idea to do the Nailbomb album. But we wanted to make it a little more underground, because Return to Roots was kind of a big deal.
So we put together a little bit more of an underground package with Cannabis Corpse and Noisem and Lordy Kong, but I love that. My passion for underground music is still strong and I think it’s going to be a hell of a show. The practices are going great. We did two weeks of practice about ten days ago and then we went to Australia to do some more Roots shows. We just got back yesterday.
So we gotta practice some more this week, but we should be ready! It sounds great. It’s so fun to hear this stuff, especially the songs we never played like “24 Hour Bulls–t” and “For F–k’s Sake.” It’s a great record to play live. I think people are going to go nuts.
CBS SF: Are you going to try to recapture the industrial elements using the samples and incorporating a drum machine or are you just blasting it out straight as a four-piece live band?
Max Cavalera: Well that’s kind of the fun thing that we did. We’re playing everything as a band, but we’re going to have all the samples on top of it to keep the industrial vibe of the record. That was really the idea of the record. We were listening to a lot of Ministry, Godflesh and Nine Inch Nails at the time. We wanted to make that bridge between the two worlds.
And live band playing those songs is very powerful. Some of that stuff sounds great as a band and some of the stuff that was electronic actually sounds even better with the band. There’s some stuff that is more electronic like “World of S–t” that was almost like a dance song, but when you play it with a band, it becomes a heavy song. It’s a whole different beast. But we’re going to have all the samples taken from the master reels, so that’s going to sound killer.
CBS SF: I know Alex Newport’s schedule was cited as a reason for him not being involved. Did you give any thought to bringing on the people who guested on the album like Dino Cazares and your brother or the musicians who played the live show at the Dynamo Festival in 1995? Or was it just more practical to do the tour as Soulfly rather than assembling a new group?
Max Cavalera: It was built around the idea of Soulfly playing because I think Soulfly is a great band. We can play anything. And is seemed like it put a new twist on it to have Soulfly play the Nailbomb album. For me, what’s cool is the translation of the record into a live band situation. That’s what’s really exciting.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Ministry live, but it has that band power. It’s not like an electronic DJ set. It’s a full heavy metal concert. That kind of energy I’m really interested. We don’t play with click tracks. It’s all live and all about how you play it live. That’s what makes it really authentic.
It would be cool to have some guests and I’m sure Dino will probably be at the LA show. He’ll probably want to jump in and play “24 Hour Bulls–t” with us. And if we see somebody else that was involved at that time like maybe Dave [Edwardson] from Neurosis or [Dead Kennedys drummer] D.H. Peligro or somebody, but just playing the record sounds so fantastic and so brutal. You don’t really need anything else. The record itself is so powerful.
And it was made to be played live. When we started practicing, I was like, “Man, this thing was made to go on tour!” I can’t believe we only did two shows with it.
CBS SF: I didn’t realize there was a second show. Was that a warm-up for Dynamo?
Max Cavalera: Yeah we did a club show the day before the big Dynamo Festival. It was a little club, like 300 people. I think we had a better show at the club than we had at Dynamo [laughs]. The Dynamo show was still really cool. We put out the live album and captured it on video for the DVD. But the club show, there was just something about it. It was more underground. I think that’s what translates more with this record. It should be played at more underground places.
I don’t think it was made to be played in big places. It should be a sweaty, nasty little club packed with people and those crazy sounds coming from everywhere, from the samplers and the band. “Wasting Away” and “Blind and Lost;” those are great, powerful songs. People are going to lose their minds. And the whole line-up is great. It’s going to be a great night of metal for everybody.
CBS SF: You’ve been focused on the continuing Return to Roots dates the past few months, playing festivals in Europe and touring Australia. And you’re going back for another round of European dates to finish the year. It seems a little unusual to break that up with a month of Soulfly dates. Was this the only window of time to do this in?
Max Cavalera: We’re getting ready for a new Soulfly record anyway. We’re going to try to record in January. So I think it was a good time to get back together. And we’re almost done with the Return to Roots. We only have two or three weeks in Europe with Overkill and we’re done. I think that’s it. We’re never going to do it again, so whoever saw it saw it, and whoever missed it missed it. It was a great run for two years and people loved it. It was a lot of fun.
CBS SF: I saw the show at Slim’s here in San Francisco and it was insane. And getting to see Mike Patton do “Lookaway” with you was fantastic. Definitely one of my favorite shows this year…
Max Cavalera: Yeah, we finally got Patton to do it. He always comes to the shows but never performs with us. That day he was not going to escape! I told him when he got there, “We gotta do this live!” So finally we did it and it was great. I love the YouTube videos of the song with Patton hitting me in the head with mic. Typical Patton stuff [laughs]!
I think the excitement of the Nailbomb record — as much as I love Roots, it’s a pretty experimental album — Point Blank is just in your face. It’s energy from beginning to end. They’re adrenaline-pumped songs and they don’t let up. By the time we get to “Sick Life,” you’ve just been brutalized. That’s what I’m looking for.
And also it’s great to revive and play with Soulfly again. We took kind of a break during Return to Roots of almost two year. We did do a couple of festivals. We played a festival in Portugal that was amazing. It was the greatest crowd and they loved everything. We had the best time in the world. So the idea is to get us back in gear and get us ready for the next record which will come out next year. I’m excited for that
CBS SF: So you’ll be recording and releasing the next Soulfly record before the next thing you do with Cavalera Conspiracy?
Max Cavalera: Actually, we have a new Cavalera Conspiracy record called Psychosis coming out in November on Napalm Records. That’s our last record for this deal with Napalm; it’s our third record with them. And that came out really good. I’m really happy with it. But I missed Soulfly. It’s my main priority. Cavalera is more of a project thing, even though it’s a real band. I still feel like it’s more on the side. Killer Be Killed [his newer supergroup with members of Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon and Converge] is also more like a project.
Even the Return to Roots and Nailbomb shows are kind of more side projects, as fun as they are and as powerful as they are. But my main focus is Soulfly. I’m looking forward to making a new Soulfly record. I’ve got lots of riffs and lots of really cool ideas. I’m going to do some more writing on the road — I actually bring all my equipment on tour with me — so all day long all I’m going to do is bash out riffs. So hopefully by January we’ll be full on ready to get this thing going.
I think Nuclear Blast is really behind the album. We have a really cool idea — it’s a secret that I can’t talk about yet — but there’s a whole theme about the album that’s going to be really cool and we’re going to explore that. I think it’s going to be kind of the same as what we did with Cavalera Conspiracy. We did the Roots tour and then we went right into the studio to record Psychosis. That felt great.
So I think the same thing will happen again. We’ll play the Nailbomb and we’ll get excited from the fans and the whole vibe of being on tour and take that to the studio. That’s what makes the magic. You take that influence from the fans and what you felt on the tour and try to put that on the record. I think that’s the secret.
CBS SF: With the multiple projects that you have, do you try to compartmentalize which band a song will be for when you’re writing?
Max Cavalera: I like to write specifically for a record. I think you pay more attention to it and you know the vibe of the album. So when I wrote for Psychosis, I was really interested in the idea of making the same mix that we made on Arise and Beneath the Remains. I wanted that combination of death metal and thrash metal; I think those two together is something really cool. A lot of bands just go full-on death metal or full-on thrash metal. But when you mix both of those worlds, it makes something different. That’s why Arise is such a good record, because we had that mix on it. We tried to do that with Psychosis, so I kept that in mind.
Now Soulfly is a different beast. I think what I’m trying to do with Soulfly, some of the songs have an earlier Soulfly vibe — really tribal with a really heavy groove. So it will remind the people of the first three Soulfly records. And the other part of the record will be like stuff that I’m into right now. I’m into a lot of heavy stuff like Gatecreeper. So we’ll get into that. We’ll still be heavy as hell and exciting, but Soulfly albums always go into different territory and different soundscapes.
And this is going to be our eleventh record. That’s pretty amazing. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that we’d release that many albums. We’re going to work with Josh Wilbur, who has worked with Lamb of God and did the Killer Be Killed album. I think he’s going to be perfect for the record. I’m really inspired by metal right now.
CBS SF: So between the Cavalera Conspiracy album coming out in November and recording the new Soulfly album to come out sometime next year…
Max Cavalera: It will probably come out in the summer of 2018.
CBS SF: Do you think you’ll just be switching back and forth between the two bands as far as touring? I mean, you seem like you’re a real road dog. One band or the other is on tour for at least half of the year if not more…
Max Cavalera: More! I mean, I wish we toured more. I love the road. I would live on the road. If I could, I wouldn’t even come home. It’d be great. Just wash the underwear and go right back out [laughs].
We already have some stuff booked for next year. We’re going to be going out with Nile. I love this band! Soulfly and Nile is the perfect mix. The whole Egyptian thing with Soulfy’s spiritual tribal thing. It should be an excellent package. Kind of like when we did Soulfly and Morbid Angel. I love those kind of package tours. I will tour a little bit for Psychosis. The first single “Insane” just came out on Spotify. So yeah man, just keep me out there touring!
CBS SF: The version of Jorge Ben Jor’s “Umbabarauma” on the first Soulfy album is one of my all-time favorite covers. Have you ever given any thought to doing other covers of Tropicalia-era songs or Brazilian funk tunes from ’70s by Tim Maia or Erasmo Carlos?
Max Cavalera: That’s a very cool idea! I might check on that. Because there’s stuff that’s gonna go more tribal on the next record, we’re going to go full on. I’m going to get a real percussionist — hopefully Meia Noite, who is the guy that I worked with on Prophecy and Primitive. He plays with Sergio Mendes and is a great percussionist. That guy is a beast.
That’d be great. I’ve got to revisit some of that stuff. I’m a big fan of Raul Seixas, who is a big rocker in Brazil. He was really a renegade rock and roller and he did some amazing songs. He has this great albums, Gita. So I’ll have to dig through the catalog and find something as cool as “Umbabarauma.” I’m always open to that, to do a Brazilian song.. To do something like that from that era would be really cool for the new album.
Soulfly plays the classic Nailbomb album Point Blank in its entirety this Sunday, Oct. 8, at the DNA Lounge with support from Cannabis Corpse, Noisem, Lordy Kong and Black Water Birth. 8 p.m. $22-$26