Sepultura’s Paulo Xisto Speaks to SonicAbuse

Jola Stiles

In 1996 Sepultura, then fronted by Max Cavalera, seemed to be leading Metal into new, hitherto unseen pastures. The critically and commercially successful ‘Roots’, which had charted well on the Billboard chart (27) and gone top ten in the UK, was dominating the airwaves and the band seemed to be an unstoppable metal juggernaut and then, in the December of that year the unthinkable happened and the juggernaut ground to a halt.

For reasons that are still not entirely clear a rift developed between the members of Sepultura. For those outside the camp the band were a close-knit tribe, but within the band things were very wrong indeed with arguments centring around Max’s wife Gloria and her role as manager of the band. The results of a conflagration that took place immediately after one of the band’s most successful concerts at Brixton academy (the show itself is immortalised on ‘under a pale grey sky’)  were catastrophic. Max left the band and a media-led feeding frenzy began with both sides appearing hurt and confused at the way their world had so easily shattered. The process of picking up the pieces was not to be an easy one.

For many fans it was Max who was most readily associated with Sepultura, both as the face of the band and, erroneously as it transpired, as the sole creative spirit. Sepultura’s decision to carry on in the absence of their one time leader could have proved disastrous, yet history has shown, the band embarked upon a journey that would lead them to record some of the most adventurous material of their career, their tenacity and ambition keeping alight the very spirit that had bought Sepultura to world-wide acclaim in the first place. First broadside ‘Against’ hinted little as to what was to come. An angry, hurt-filled reaction to the media circus that enveloped both Max and Sepultura, it introduced the world to the mighty Derek Green and showcased the band riffing on a raw, almost punk-infused sound that was a word away from the dense, nu-metal predicting ‘Roots’.  However it was follow-up ‘Nation’ that truly saw Sepultura regain their focus as a creative unit and it still stands tall today as one of the band’s finest all round albums.

Consolidating their position Sepultura released the furious ‘Roorback’ via SPV (the band having been ignominiously dropped by the notoriously fickle Roadrunner) which sounded raw and vital and yet proved to be but a prelude to the two most fascinating albums of the band’s lengthy and varied career – ‘Dante XXI’ and ‘A-Lex’, both of which are carefully developed and crafted concept albums and a most unusual, albeit rewarding, choice for a metal band… Choosing such material must have been difficult for the band:

Paulo Jr: It was something that really pops in your head and provides inspiration. Actually the idea for ‘Dante’ was way before and we kinda put it to one side. Then we bought it back – and the same thing happened with ‘A-lex’ – and we tried to continue the story and ideas. Derek studied ‘The divine comedy’ at school and he was very aware of the whole book and we bought it in as inspiration and made a parallel in a lot of the conception itself (and in ‘A-lex’ as well) to nowadays, and to us and we tried to make a real, parallel universe through it. You can embrace it in many different ways and understand it in so many different ways. And then, after that, we decided to use our own history as an inspiration –but you never know with something that you look for, sometimes when you’re getting ready to hit a brick wall you’ll stop and find something that inspires you in a big way and it’s an inspirational moment.

Whilst both ‘Dante’ and ‘A-Lex’ looked to classic literature for inspiration, ‘kairos’ focused inwardly, upon the band’s lengthy history, the result being one of the most inventive and exciting records of the band’s career, with Sepultura clearly fired up and focused on developing their style once again:

Paulo Jr. yeah, yeah – like I said it’s a challenge and it’s very hard to portray these things in music and bring in such very strong titles like ‘Dante’ and ‘A-lex’ and it’s something that we made a lot of effort to do. The concepts, in the writers’ days right till now, are very unique and still up-to-date if you go through it, and it’s a challenge to mix your music and put your ideas in that – it’s a real challenge…And even with ‘kairos’, to bring our history and to use ourselves as a point of inspiration is quite a challenge and everyone really expected us to do traditional things and we really tried to push forward – not to sound the same on every record but to try to bring something new.

Of course the music of Sepultura is only one part of the picture and it is to the lyrics that many fans have looked over the years, Sepultura’s continuing message of strength in the face of adversity a very important aspect of the band.

Paulo Jr. We use everything. The day-to-day basis, the touring, whatever’s going on in the world, whatever’s going on in Brazil, the experiences with the family, kids… everything is inspiration and when you have a concept you try to embrace that and I think that on every record you’re putting something together for the moment and you have a feeling for the moment so you’re recording a pure moment of your life and you’re recording something that represents that moment – the ‘Kairos’ moment. It’s about that…

With such a history it seems that another challenge the band face is putting together a set list that not only represents the band as they are but also sates the appetites of long-time fans.

Paulo Jr. We always find it hard. We try to… well for the ‘A-Lex’ tour we tried to play a lot of old songs and we had a block – the fans could choose what they wanted to hear and we had three different blocks ready to switch every day, so we have a lot of songs to choose from. We can do a different set list if we want to. There’s a lot of material and there are a lot of things too that we’re bringing back from the past which we’ve never played before and I think that’s going to continue through the years.

One area that would certainly capture attention would be if the band were to do one of their concept albums in full – Paulo remains enigmatic:

Paulo Jr. We do have that idea – we are actually working on that and we’ll see about timing. We did some gigs in Brazil with a full symphony and we did a lot of stuff from the past and with ‘A-Lex’ stuff too and it sounds very good. ‘Dante’, ‘A-Lex’ – they’re very symphonic records and we can use those elements and we’ll see… It can happen, any time soon.

One aspect about ‘Kairos’ that surprised a number of fans was that the album included two covers (‘Just one fix’ and ‘firestarter’) whilst a previous EP entitled ‘Revolusongs’ included a number of unusual choices. It must be difficult to choose tracks which represent the Sepultura spirit…

Paulo Jr. All those bands represent somehow, musically or lyrically, some point in our lives. So everything that we play cover-wise is something that we like to hear or influenced us at somehow. It’s hard to choose because when we do something like ‘Revolusongs’ there were bands like the Police and there was Kraftwerk, there was a lot of difference and when you start to play you start to feel that you can put it in the Sepultura way so I don’t think that will ever stop and I’m sure you’ll find a new cover on the next record or sometime soon…

For example ‘Just one fix’ is on ‘Kairos’ because it fits with the timing and it’s a song that’s related not only to Sepultura but also to a lot of people, and we had a chance to do a full tour with Ministry which was a very good experience, and which bought us memories and it fits very well with the conception of the record I think.

One area on which Sepultura is thin on the ground is live material. For sure there is a lot of archive material from the Max years, but thus far only one live record/DVD has appeared to celebrate the Derek line up. Can we expect anything new?

Paulo Jr. Never going to happen!

Which seems a touch heart-breaking…

Paulo Jr. I’m joking! Actually a few days ago we played in Holland and it was a very nice venue and they have a full studio and we recorded the whole show so we’re going to see how it turns out – I haven’t heard it yet – so this could be our live material. But we are planning to do something and we have some ideas to do, but it has to be done properly and it has to be nice and it has to represent the whole story of Sepultura. But we do have some plans to do something so we’ll see what happens. Too many things in mind – but it will come eventually.

As a band who have consistently re-invented themselves Sepultura have remained ahead of the metal pack – often predicting trends that follow – how important is that spirit of innovation and what challenges remain for Sepultura?

Paulo Jr. It’s very important, I think. None of the Sepultura albums sound the same. Each one has a very unique sound and it took us a lot of years for us to get that Sepultura sound that you can hear and identify with the band nowadays. It’s always a challenge – we never want to do something that’s already been done so we’re always pushing to try to do something new and bring some new elements.

Sadly, for fans in the UK, it seems we most often see the band at festivals rather than headlining their own tour – are they likely to return soon?

Paulo Jr. I hope so! It’s not for us to call – if it was up to Sepultura we’d come everywhere – it’s not only about that it’s about the politicians involved – there’s booking agents, managers, promoters so it only depends on how it goes. If you ask us we’ll play everywhere, no doubt about it. We’ve been in Europe for about three months now.

With a year having passed since ‘Kairos’ are Sepultura planning anything new?

Paulo Jr. We’re already starting to think about the new stuff, especially with Eloy – we have about nine months playing with him live, so we’ve really got locked up with him, we have a better knowledge of each other music wise and I think we’re ready to start some new things with him and I think that with his potential it’s going to be some very good stuff.

Finally –having achieved so much and with the band reaching a new peak what ambitions remain for Sepultura?

Paulo Jr. We still have a lot of places to conquer and there are still a lot of places that we want to go. You’re never satisfied – this type of life… there’s no retirement. Artists in all segments, not only music, you only retire when you’re dead and I don’t see retirement coming. Of course the body’s getting older and you can’t do some stuff that you used to do like years ago but the head’s still good and as long as the head’s still working good the body will follow… somehow!

Sepultura’s devastating album ‘kairos’ is available now on Nuclear Blast Records.

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