Max Cavalera chats about Soulfly, Sepultura, and keeping it in the family

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More than thirty years since first bursting out of São Paulo and making big noises on the world’s metal stage with Sepultura, the song still remains insane for Max Cavalera. Now with Soulfly, as well as a host of other side projects, the Brazilian native is one of the genre’s most revered and innovative figures. On tour in the U.K. to promote Soulfly’s tenth album ‘Archangel’, we caught up with Max to discuss his lengthy career, working with family and keeping things fresh.

Hi Max, welcome back to the U.K. How are you today?

I’m great. We have a loyal fan base here, so it’s important to keep coming back. This package is really cool. It’s called ‘Maximum Cavalera’. It’s got my kids’ bands playing; Lody Kong and Incite. It’s more metal for the fans, so if you come early, you get a lot of metal from beginning to the end.

Last year Soulfly released their 10th album ‘Archangel’. Does it amaze you that you are that far into your career with the band?

It’s pretty crazy. It’s wild to have ten albums, but good. I’m proud of all of them. They are quite different from each other. We play a whole lot of stuff from each of the albums in the set. A lot of people like ‘Dark Ages’ and ‘Prophecy’, so we’ve got to play that stuff. The set for me is really exciting because it plays a bit of each phase of my career, like the Sepultura stuff too.

Is it difficult to strike a balance with so much material to choose from?

Yeah, but it’s a good setlist, and I’m really happy with it. There’re some really cool jams on songs like ‘Tribe’ that goes into like a reggae dub jam. I like a lot of the Soulfly stuff because it has a lot of diversity. There’s a lot of fast stuff like ‘Blood Fire War Hate’ which is pure thrash, and there’s a lot of groove stuff like ‘No Hope = No Fear’ and ‘Rise Of The Fallen’. ‘We Sold Our Souls To Metal’, the first song, is pure fast, and everybody loves it and sings along.

Going back to the beginning of the band, how difficult was it starting off again, back in 1997?

When you look at statistics, most people do not survive leaving a famous band. When they try something new, most of them fail, so I got lucky with Soulfly. I think when the fans heard [debut single] ‘Eye For An Eye’ they were completely hooked on it right away; “Max is back! We love this s**t”, you know? I worked really hard for it, and it was kind of a learning process for the fans because Soulfly is quite different from Sepultura. I didn’t want to make a copy of Sepultura, I wanted Soulfly to be its own thing, and it is.

Quite a few musicians have passed through Soulfly over the years.

We changed a lot of members throughout the years, but we’re in a really good place right now. When I first started, I was very nervous, as I didn’t know what was going to happen. There were no guarantees – it could have flopped, and I would have been done in music. The first album was very important. The collaborations were really good; Chino [Moreno, Deftones] did really great on ‘First Commandment’ and we had a really great guitar player Lúcio [Maia] from Brazil, who added Hendrix kind of solos. So it was a really cool album, and it’s one of my favourites. There was a lot of pressure making that record. It was a very important album, and it was for me very satisfying when it went Gold in America.

When the album was released, and it was well received, did you breathe a sigh of relief?

Yeah, it was very well received by the fans and by the press, so I was very happy with that. We just built up from that point on. ‘Primitive’ was the second album, and it was also a very strong album. I didn’t like the third [‘3’] that much. It’s my least favourite Soulfly album. It was a bit unfocused. It’s still got some good songs that we play live like ‘Seek ‘N’ Strike’ and ‘Downstroy’, but I think ‘Prophecy’, the album that came after that was much stronger.

Was there a reason why ‘3’ was unfocused?

I think the musicians I had at the time were getting tired of being in Soulfly. When we made the album, it was apparent that they didn’t put in 100%, and the album suffers when you don’t have people committed like you are committed. When ‘Prophecy’ came, I changed all of them; the three guys left, and I had all three new guys. We got back on track and then kept going.

I want to take you back to 1996. That year saw the release of the most successful Sepultura album ‘Roots’, and the band were huge here in the U.K.

I never did it for the success, so for me, I like it better when it’s not so successful. I didn’t really enjoy that much success. In Brazil ‘Roots’ was real big, and I couldn’t even go outside my apartment. People would stop me on the street – it was like The Beatles! I did not like that; it’s not for me. I like the underground, I like my privacy, so where I am now is much better. I don’t even mind playing smaller places. I don’t crave the ‘big’ things like Grammys and stuff like that; I’m not interested in that. For me, it’s more about me and the fans. The connection that I have, it’s really strong, and I think that’s more important.

Looking back, was the pressure of success on the group perhaps too much at that time?

I think so, a little bit. It was a chaotic time. Nobody was thinking things through, and the thing just self-imploded. It was out of everybody’s control; it was just “that’s that”, and [the show at] Brixton [on the 16th December 1996] was our last show. Fortunately, the label had the idea to record it, so they made it into a live record that a lot of people really like ‘Under A Pale Grey Sky’. It shows we were a very tight band. Inside the live performance, there was no trouble; it was all outside. So it’s quite interesting to see that our live show was killer; it was exciting and heavy and fast.

So you look back with pride on what you achieved.

Yeah. I was glad that the band never went to s**t, you know? That makes me proud, and we never made a ‘Reload’ kind of album like Metallica, or ‘Lola’/ ‘Lula’ [‘Lulu’, Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration album] or whatever that thing is, you know? I tried to listen to that thing, and I was like; “oh my God!”

You reconciled with your brother Igor, and you now play together in Cavalera Conspiracy.

I have a connection to my brother that’s very strong and I really love the Cavalera Conspiracy stuff. I really like the first album ‘Inflikted’. I thought that was brilliant. Joe [Duplantier, bass] from Gojira was amazing, and Marc, me and Igor were a really good team. I’m looking forward to our fourth album. Fourth albums always for me are interesting; it’s like when the band knows where they are, and knows where they’re going. I think the fourth Cavalera album will be very important.

Aren’t Cavalera Conspiracy planning some ‘Roots’ twentieth-anniversary shows?

We’re trying to. We thought it would be a cool idea; twenty years of the album, to play the whole record. Hopefully, it will go down well. Maybe we can come and even do that in Europe later in the year, or maybe some festivals would like to pick up that. Right now we don’t know what’s going to happen but, I’ve never played a whole record like that live, so it will be a first time for me too.

Family seems to form the backbone of your musical work. What’s it like having your son Zyon playing in Soulfly?

Ah, it’s great. He’s a really good drummer, and it’s really fun because he doesn’t really repeat the same thing every night – he changes it, which is really interesting. To me, it’s very creative that he can do that, and it’s cool because it keeps the show really fresh and different. He’s young too, so he has a lot to learn. I think he’ll become a really good drummer in the future. But I think he’s done amazing on ‘Archangel’.

Zyon appeared on an album with you long before Soulfly existed. His in utero heartbeat opens the Sepultura song ‘Refuse Resist’.

Yeah. I’ve never really asked him what he thinks of it, but I’m sure he’s proud of it. It’s a great record [Chaos A.D.], and it’s a very important record in heavy metal history. His heartbeat opens one of the main songs, so he’s come a long way playing with me – from the heartbeat to now, it’s a long journey.

Finally, what’s next for Max Cavalera?

Right now I’m on tour with Soulfly and I’m just thinking about Soulfly, but eventually at some point later this year I’m going to start thinking about Cavalera’s new album, and Killer Be Killed. I have to write riffs for both of those records. But we’re going to come back for the festivals in Europe in the summer, and that’s what we have so far planned. I’ll be kept busy, which is good.

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Music Journalist and classic rock / metal enthusiast.