Max Cavalera was one of the first artists to turn me on to metal. Whilst Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses had turned my ear to the dark side in the early 90s, it was the single ‘roots, bloody roots’ along with its attendant B side (a brutal live version of ‘propaganda’ which later turned up on ‘blood rooted’) that truly inspired me (and, arguably, an entire generation) to investigate a wider, and heavier, range of music. Despite a traumatic split with Sepultura, Max rebuilt his career and has spent the last two decades producing increasingly impressive records with Soulfly whilst his extracurricular activities (including the excellent Killer be killed and the widely lauded Cavalera Conspiracy) have underscored his never-ending quest to explore the sonic boundaries of metal in all its brutal forms.
Cavalera Conspiracy, in particular, has proved to be a highlight of Max’s impressive career. The sheer joy of the brothers, reunited personally and professionally, was evident in the brutal groove of ‘inflikted’ whilst its follow up, ‘blunt force trauma’ neatly consolidated that record’s successes without overly expanding the sonic palette. Here, however, on the band’s third record, we see Max and Igor (alongside Converge’s Nate Newton and Soulfly’s Marc Rizzo) pushing themselves once more to deliver one of the most comprehensively brutal efforts of Max’s long career. We’ve already reviewed ‘Pandemonium’ (see here) but we were lucky enough to secure some time to talk to Max about the album and its formation. Far more calm and contained than his onstage persona might lead you to believe, Max discussed the album at length and we are proud to present below our exclusive interview with him.
I’d like to start by talking about 2014 in general because there have been three major releases for you – your biography, Killer be Killed and now ‘Pandemonium’ as well – it seems that this year has been particularly busy for you.
Very busy but very good, you know. It was really good to get the book out, Joel McIver did a really great job on the book and I’m extremely proud of ‘my bloody roots’, it came out really good and Dave Grohl did a great intro. It was very well received around the world and many fans liked it to read and enjoyed lots of the stories.
Then Killer be killed was a fantastic project, a supergroup, and I had a lot of fun working with the guys from Mastadon and Dillinger Escape Plan and then, on top of that, I’ve made Cavalera Conspiracy… the heaviest record ever, ‘Pandemonium’ which is borderline grindcore with a lot of death metal influences. It’s the fastest record I’ve done with Igor in my whole life. I’m very, very happy with ‘Pandemonium’ so it was a busy year, yeah, but very good and I’m very proud of all the things that have happened this year for us.
It seems to me that Cavalera Conspiracy’s new record and Killer be killed are kind of Yin and Yang – one very heavy, as you said, and one rather melodic.
Yeah, yeah, well that was kind of a reaction from Killer be killed to go to Cavalera because Killer be killed was so melodic, and I really enjoyed that by the way, it was really different and it was really cool working with the guys from Mastadon and Dillinger, and I really enjoyed creating killer be killed and the way it was created. But it is a much more melodic record and when I went in to do Cavalera it was like ‘oh right! Let’s get back to the old Max, the brutal Max that people know and love’ and I got Igor involved and excited for making this fast record which is inspired by all the great metal that we grew up with like Entombed and Carcass and Napalm death, all the way to new bands like noisem, nails and aborted. It was influenced by old and new and I think it’s great. I really like the attitude that this album has. ‘Pandemonium’ has this kind of attitude that is really uncompromising and it is fast and if you don’t like it we don’t give a fuck kind of record and it’s the record we wanted to make and I think fans are really going to like this record.
You’re one of the few metal stars involved in three major projects at once – soulfly, Cavalera conspiracy and Killer be killed. How easy is it for you to separate out the song-writing duties for those bands?
I’ve just got to let them take a life of their own. When I’m writing for something of course I know the style and sound of that band. Cavalera conspiracy I knew was me and Igor going more brutal and going back to the brothers playing metal. And I have this idea of making ten songs that sounded like ‘Arise’, that was my goal for the studio, so I wrote with that in mind. Killer be killed was different – I had no idea how that album was going to turn out. I started with Greg, we made some demos, they were really punk rock demos and sounded like Nailbomb actually, and then when Troy and Dave got involved the band changed and became more melodic and when they started singing – Greg also sings very melodic – the record took a turn to the melodic side which was really cool too. And of course Soulfly, we continue doing what we do with Soulfly and I love it and ‘Savages’ was really well received by the fans because it was a return to some of the more mid-soulfly material, kind of more groove orientated material and now I have the new soulfly to think about, which is going to come out next year and I have to think about something exciting and cool for that one too and I’m sure something will come to mind… but it’s not time for that yet.
I’ve grown up listening to your music and the one image I’ve always had of Max Cavalera is that you have this immense passion for listening to and creating new music. Do you still spend a lot of time checking out new music and how does that influence your song writing?
I think it’s huge. The fact that I’m a metal fan and nowadays I’m more into metal than I ever have been my whole life, which is crazy to think that I’m forty-five years old and more into metal now than ever before! I like metal now more than I ever did when I was a teenager. You know when you’re a teenager you’ve got all those things like drinking and girls in your mind and now that I’m married and have a family, metal is awesome man! I’ve kind of rediscovered my love and my passion for metal and I’m discovering all these new bands and getting in touch with them and getting them to send me t shirts so I can wear their shirts and promote them. Because I think that part of being metal is helping each other and helping other bands and giving a hand to underground bands and letting people know about them. And I want to get more creative, more active and get more involved with other bands and I think the fact that I’m in touch with new bands is huge in my music. You can see the influence on Soulfly and the you can see it on the new Cavalera album – stuff like noisem and nails are clear influences on the new Cavalera and so there’s a lot of stuff that I listen to… for example I’ve just got into Anthrax a lot lately –I love them – and Burning Skies also are good, so I’m discovering more and more bands as they day goes by and getting more into them and I love it man. I think the metal world is a fascinating world and we need more unity in the metal world I think. More bands need to tour together and more people need to record with other people. We need more jam sessions and more of a brotherhood state of mind and that’s the one thing that’s lacking in metal right now. We need more brotherhood, more friendship between bands.
And this is something you’ve always promoted – you’ve worked with people like Mike Patton, Jello Biafra, Fred Durst, Tom Araya – so you’ve always promoted that fraternity I think…
I always loved that. I think that’s what metal is about. It’s a brotherhood, a tribal feeling and it’s really cool. I think the more the better and when I hear other bands doing that I really get excited. So for example I heard Suicide Silence recorded with Cannibal Corpse – I think that’s great – the gap between death metal and death metal united right there. I recorded vocals for a Scottish band called Man must die, a really great death metal band, and I just did vocals for the last Acacia Strain record which is more deathcore. It’s all becoming united now, like coming together, there’s no more division. I think death metal, grindcore, hardcore, it’s all good man. It’s all good music and we don’t care about the labels, as long as it’s good stuff. I love to jam with other musicians and do other things with other musicians. Soulfly, on the last record, we had Neil from Clutch doing a song and we also had Mitch from Napalm Death. From Clutch to Napalm Death – it’s two different worlds in one same record. I think that’s so fucking cool to do that and I’m very excited and want to do more of that.
One of the things I’ve always loved about both soulfly and, now, Cavalera Conspiracy is that although the lyrics often convey powerful themes, the music itself is often very joyful and filled with excitement – maybe that’s just my interpretation…
I think it’s right. I like to create catchy choruses – it’s one of the things I like to do most and when I create choruses like ‘Babylonian Pandemonium’ I think people are going to sing along. It’s like ‘roots bloody roots’ or ‘eye for an eye’, you just know people are going to sing along at the shows and that’s a great feeling I get from that. I enjoy writing lyrics but I like more the music part. Even when I listen to music I really don’t care much for the lyrics. I don’t care much for that satanic stuff, but I like very much Behemoth and Belphagor, but I really don’t care what they’re singing about, all songs about Satan and shit like that but I love the music and I listen to them all the time. You know, I just try to make lyrics as… I like the simplicity of simple lyrics, and sometimes you try to make them about something more complex and you study. For example songs like ‘Kamikaze’ from the new record, I studied and did research about Japanese suicide pilots and came up with the lyrics for the song. It was really cool to dive into that world and find out things that I didn’t know about it. I love to create a combination of lyrics and riffs and see them all come along together making the record – it’s so exciting man – and I love hearing things like what you said that you feel joy when you hear my stuff with Igor. That’s really great, that’s really exciting for me to hear that. It makes me very happy that people feel that way about my music.
One song particularly on the new record that really stood out for me is ‘the crucible’ where you were trading lines with Nate Newton and so I was really surprised when I read an interview and you said that actually he wasn’t in the studio with you and it was all done by internet…
Yeah, he was in Boston and did all the bass in Boston, ‘cause he’s had a baby and didn’t want to leave the house, and we figured that today, with pro tools, you can record anywhere, anytime any way, so we just sent him all the stuff. I knew that he sings with doom riders and he’s got this great voice so I was very tempted to get him involved in the record and get him to sing something and I picked ‘the crucible’. The weird thing that I didn’t know was that he was born in Salem and that freaked me out when he told me that because the song is about the witches of Salem and Nate was like “I’m from Salem” and I just thought it was a crazy coincidence. I love his vocals on the song and it’s such a brutal song, such a cool song, and I think it was the perfect song to end the record – the record has ten songs and it just closes with pure brutality. From ‘Babylonian pandemonium’ to ‘the crucible’ I think, for me, if you take ‘not losing my edge’ which is a kind of groove song with a middle-eastern feel-I read a review and someone called it a middle-east groove song and I though that was kind of cool – every thing else: ‘apex predator’, scum’, ‘Babylonian pandemonium’, insurrection’, it’s all fast shit and I’m so glad that we decided to do this kind of record and Igor actually agreed with me to do this kind of record and was excited about the prospect of making a brutal, powerful record after all these years. Especially coming after ‘inflikted’ and ‘blunt force trauma’ which were quite similar to each other. I think we needed something different and I think we found it on ‘pandemonium’.
Another thing that really pushes this album over the edge is you’ve got Marc Rizzo once again on guitars – you must still look at him like some kind of demon when he’s playing those solos…
When I tell Marc he can open songs with soloing and shredding right away it’s like putting him on… it’s like a kid in a toy store! He’s like “I can open this song with a solo??” So on ‘insurrection’ he just soloed the shit out of it. He just shredded… just went crazy, so we had a great time in the studio man. It was really cool and Marc is a great guitar player and really… I love playing with him and it’s so good that he can change himself from the Soulfly stuff to the Cavalera stuff. Like me – we can both do different things and that’s quite cool to have someone in the band like that. He is a great guitar player and sometimes I get my mind blown when he’s in the dressing room before the show and I can just hear him doing all these crazy solos… they just come out of nowhere and it’s just mind-blowing man. He’s such a dedicated guitar player and he plays all the time and it’s very inspiring to have a guy like that in the band with you.
The other chief factor is of course Igor himself – how did you challenge him to create a record this fast and this powerful?
It took a little bit of crafting. It was… He wasn’t sure at first what I wanted with the record and I kept trying to explain to him that it should be a fast record with a couple of grooves but not too many. In fact in the beginning he kept going in the groove and I had to keep pulling him out – it was like “no – go back to the fast part” and I did that a couple of times and then he got it and realised what I wanted to do with the record. He was up for it man! I haven’t seen Igor playing like this in a long time and he was in top form and he beat the shit out of those drums and it was great. For me, he’s still one of the best drummers in metal. He doesn’t have to do a whole lot to impress people. He keeps it simple, more direct, but I think that’s even more effective than people who try to impress you with drum fills and drum rolls every five seconds- he doesn’t do that. He keeps it very straight, but it’s a powerful. Kind of like a machine. You can count on it. His drumming on the new record is very powerful and consistent and I really like that and I’m so glad that he kind of went along with my idea for a fast record and really liked it. In the end we kind of created something quite special.
The important thing for me is that the first record was a massive, day-glo explosion and the second record consolidated that but on this record you’re challenging yourselves to explore more boundaries.
Exactly – I think that’s part of being in a band. Although we had this idea of a fast record with a grindcore influence that you can hear in ‘I Barbarian’ and ‘Scum’, which sounds like nails or lock up, still we tried different things like ‘not losing my edge’ which is a very different song for us with all those middle-eastern guitars Marc put on top which were amazing and kind of a groove kind of song with a meshuggah influence. And you’ve got ‘Apex predator’ and ‘father of hate’ which could be on ‘arise’ – it’s a pure thrash, devastating song. So yeah, we just really went on and believed in the material. I wrote these riffs between November and December last year. I wrote them just for the Cavalera record, I was coming out of the killer be killed record so I was very inspired to do something heavy again and I just really went in to the brutal mode. I was just listening to brutal music at the time and actually it was great, it felt really good to write this kind of record and I can’t wait to tour this stuff.
When you go out on tour – is it going to be the same people as on record?
It looks like Nate wants to tour with us. It depends on what he’s doing with converge, but so far it looks like we might be able to tour in January and he’ll be a part of it in America and hopefully he’ll be able to do the European tour as well, that would be great, but if not, we’ll find a bass player who can do it. It’d be better to do it with him because he’s on the record and it’d just be more authentic if he could be there so we’re crossing our fingers that he can be there for most of the tour.
Your vocals are, I think, the heaviest I’ve heard from you. Was it a challenge to deliver thse vocals on this record?
Yeah, it was very… I just tried different things you know. There’s only so much I can do with my voice – it’s not a melodic voice – it’s a screaming voice and I did a lot of high pitched stuff on the last two records. Especially ‘Blunt force trauma’ had a lot of high pitched stuff and I thought it’s be cool to do the opposite on this one and go really low. So for songs like ‘Babylonian Pandemonium’ and ‘the crucible’ I went for the lowest vocals I could possibly do and it was fun man. The engineer was freaking out with how crazy that shit was sounding. It sounded like a demon you know – but it fit the music now. For a song like ‘Babylonian pandemonium’ which is so brutal, it just fit with more low range on top of it – it made the song even heavier, a little bit more brutal than it was. For me that just makes it better. I love experimenting with my voice and it was something that I was not afraid to do. The only thing I cannot do are melodic vocals. I can’t do it and I’m never going to get to do that anyway.
You had John Gray producing you again – what does he bring to the whole mix?
John is a very easy going person and that was the whole key. I wanted Igor to be very comfortable and we did this record very DIY and instead of going into a big studio we went into a house here in Phoenix that had been turned into a studio and it felt quite underground, more punk rock. And instead of a big producer, I was producing the record and, instead of someone really famous, we got someone who’s not quite famous but has a really good ear for great stuff. John Gray did a really job with ‘dark ages’ and ‘prophecy’ and he’s also worked with Ministry and he’s a very talented engineer and I showed him the stuff that I wanted to sound like – like Noisem and nails – and he got it and understood exactly what I wanted to do. It’s a dirty record, unpolished, almost ugly sounding in a way, so it’s very much like the stuff that came out in the late eighties like Entombed, Carcass and stuff like that. It’s dirty sounding, but very powerful and he did a great job man. I have to complement John because he was very patient with us, trying to get those sounds. I was very obsessed with trying to get the best sound possible and it couldn’t sound polished, it had to be heavy and dirty and it had to have an almost punk feeling because that’s what we wanted to get across – that it’s a DIY record with a punk vibe and I think we did it man. I think John did a great job at the end of the day. I listen to the record now and I’m very happy with the final result.
I still love to buy all my records on vinyl and it’s great that your last few records have been out on vinyl – is it important to you to still have a physical release?
I love the fact that they still do vinyl and special editions. I love all that and I think that’s why Nuclear Blast and Napalm are really good labels. They try really hard to please the fans with all different materials and things the fans can get. I think the Cavalera Conspiracy album is going to look amazing because the art work is so cool on the record. I love the album cover and I think it’s going to look amazing on vinyl and I can’t wait to get my hands on one. I still have my turntable and I still listen to a lot of my old vinyl. I still have a lot of thrash vinyls from the thrash days and I think it’s great we still do vinyl. ‘Savages’ came out on vinyl – it was a double cover and I love what we did with the record. But yeah, I love vinyl and I love the idea of keeping that alive, I think it’s very important.
The cover is very cool – who designed that and how did you get them to come up with that?
It was Igor’s friend, Stephan Doitschnoff, who’s a Brazilian artist. Very cool artist, kinda famous in the underground art scene in Brazil. He painted a whole city in the north of Brazil and he does a lot of… a lot of his work is religious influence and political… and me and Igor thought it would be great to have him. We were looking at his artwork on the internet and saw all this killer, crazy stuff he was doing and we thought he would be the best guy to do this album for us. So we sent him some music and the first idea was for him to do a tank with the tower of Babylon on top of the tank. For some reason Stephan didn’t think that the tower would fit and he decided to turn the tank into a skull and that looks really cool. There’s the skull holding the face and you get all details like the world and the flags and the little details around the tank and the colours. I love the colours on this cover and I think it’s one of my favourite covers that we’ve done.
Many thanks for taking the trouble to speak to me and really I just have one last question – any final words for your UK fans?
I just want to thank them for all their support and I can’t wait to see them. I love the UK and I love to tour the UK and it’s going to be a great tour and I can’t wait to see everyone next year, it’s going to be amazing.