Interview: Max Cavalera (Soulfly) [August 2015]

By Dave Bull

Brazil’s hard hitters Soulfly release their tenth studio album ‘Arch Angel’ later this week. We caught up with their talismanic frontman Max Cavalera on the Soulfly tourbus before their sold out Academy show in London. 

How have you been?

Good, we just came from a festival in Germany with a bunch of un-metal bands, like The Subways. We were the only metal band playing. There were a bunch of weird electronic groups. We had a really good show, a really good reception. There were all these people that didn’t look like they liked Soulfly and metal who were going crazy. It was really weird.

We’re super excited to welcome you and your sons, Igor and Zyon, to the UK who will be playing with you tonight. Is that a permanent fixture and what can we expect from the Cavalera family show?

It is a very unique thing, because I don’t think it will happen again. We will find a bass player to replace Tony and even Zyon will eventually go back to Lody Kong which is his band with his brother. At the moment it is killer and a family tour, and it’s working out really well. People who have seen the show really like it. For a Dad, it’s super cool!

How does the Dad/band member dynamic work?

I’m more band member, it’s more about the show or the songs and playing it right, not much of Dad!

Punktastic’s followers generally as the name suggests follow punk and hardcore. Why would our supporters listen to you and what would you say to entice them to come and see Soulfly play?

From our origins, our music has been under the shadow of punk rock. The influence of Discharge, Heracy, GBH, Black Flag, The Dead Kennedy’s, Bad Brains. We are huge fans of punk music and we still mix punk with metal stuff in everything we do in Soulfly.

Your new album ‘Arch Angel’ comes out in August. What can people expect? Can you elaborate on what you meant by it sounding ‘exotic’ in a recent interview?

It’s a record that I didn’t know where it was going when we created it. I just let it run its course, and found out to my surprise that there was some really cool stuff in it. There’s some really heavy, biblical songs on it like ‘Sodomites’ and ‘Bethlehem’s Blood’ which is really about the old testament, which is a really bloody book. You get great metal songs out of it if you look through it. It is perfect. I can’t believe other bands haven’t used it more. It is a great source of inspiration for metal!

There’s some other songs like ‘We Sold Our Souls To Metal’ which is a thrash song. The first riff is like a Slayer riff, and the second riff and the chorus is like a Black Flag riff. Hopefully it will become some sort of metal anthem for the future. Another song ‘Live Life Hard’ is about living on the road, not showering for weeks, living life the hard way, but loving every second of it.

What do you think of new metal bands in the scene today?

I like a lot of the grindcore stuff like Nails, Dead In The Dirt, All Pigs Must Die, Pulling Teeth. A lot of bands are mixing hardcore and metal together which is great. Nails are my favourite. We have Todd (Nails frontman) singing on ‘Sodomites’ which is so cool, and I’m so excited to have him on the record.

Where haven’t you played in the world that you would like to?

India, Dubai. Other bands have been there, I haven’t. I hope next year we can do it, Vietnam too.

North Korea? Would they let you?

Friends of ours have played there. Crazy crazy place. I would love to have a Soulfly ‘Live In Vietnam’ record out. We just played Nicaragua with Cavalera Conspiracy which was awesome in Managua, sold out, 5000 people and also El Salvador which was crazy.

If you weren’t in music, what would you be doing?

I always wanted to be a football player but wasn’t good enough to be a professional. Hmm, not much else. There wasn’t much hope for me! There was always crime and drugs but I wasn’t good at those either, always getting caught!

Do you prefer the creative process of writing and producing a record or touring?

As much as I like the studio, because a lot of cool stuff happens there, a lot of magic, watching something become live in front of you, I have always preferred touring, seeing lots of places, meeting people, everyday going to different places like Crete, Russia, Siberia, Nicaragua which is awesome. The shows themselves are so amazing, so killer. I like to go out and lose my mind each night. I need to get into a trance, it’s not easy to do it every night and it can become kind of robotic doing it every night, it becomes quite factory made, but I still try to lose my mind, to let it go off and let it all out.

Your tour schedule is pretty full on as well, three days off in two months?

On this tour, we did three shows in France that really wore us all out. They were really small and there was no ventilation, and they were hot with the stage lights as well. This summer in Europe has been the hottest summer. It was like playing in hell three times in a row. Every night was the same. We were like “We’re gonna die in this fucking shit hole!”

Recently you said “Metal needs more brotherhood and unity”. Would you follow in the steps of Slipknot’s Knotfest and Ozzy’s Ozzfest with a Soulfly or Maxfest?

You know, we got tired of asking to play those festivals in America like Mayhem, even Knotfest, we never get invited. I told my wife we should do a tour called ‘Reject Tour’ and just have all the rejects who couldn’t play the other festivals come play in our festival.

Why don’t you get asked?

I don’t know. They must have a grudge I guess or something weird. I’m not sure, because we are nice fellas. We are good people. Even like Metallica, we have played with them once in thirty years so to do the ‘Reject Tour’, and find out who has been rejected would be cool.

You’ve said that one person you would like to collaborate with is James Hetfield from Metallica. Do you think that would ever happen?

I hope so. You never know. There’s a lot of guys out there that would be cool to do something with, like Phil Anselmo, Ozzy, Lemmy. If I could get in a room with some really thrashy, heavy stuff, I think James would be stoked. I’m sure we could get some magic going!

You have a new side project Killer Be Killed. How was the collaborative process with other ‘big names’ and what was it like working with Greg (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Troy (Mastodon) and Dave (ex-drummer of The Mars Volta)?

I already had a good relationship with Greg from the beginning so when we did Rise of the Fall, we became really good friends. Greg was the one that actually thought about the project, about creating Killer Be Killed and invited me on it. We spent a lot of time together. We ended up getting more people involved like David and Troy from Mastodon. When he joined it become a sort of super group but it remained really cool, no one had an ego. It would have sucked to have a guy saying “I’m from so and so, don’t talk to me”. We were just friends trying to make the best record we could make. We tried to just write cool stuff that we liked and that other people would like.

The idea of the three vocals was my idea and I thought it was very unique in metal having three guys with different voices singing on every song. In my head I thought it would work, and when we sang on the songs, we thought this is really cool. We fitted each other perfectly. It was fantastic.

Are there plans to tour with Killer Be Killed?

It’s so hard. Everybody’s so busy. Greg is over here with Dillinger Escape Plan next month, Troy is on tour with Mastodon all of the time and now we have Ben from Converge playing drums and they also tour a lot. Eventually, sometime next year, we’ll find time to do a little bit of touring and work on a new record as well.

Do you agree with Spotify who said recently that metal fans were the most loyal to their scene and why?

Oh, I don’t know. I use Spotify a lot to discover bands through Spotify Radio. I think metal fans are very loyal. We are a loyal breed. It’s like on our new song ‘We Sold Our Souls To Metal’, it almost feels like we did a pact and sold our souls to the fucking music. Maybe what Spotify refers to is that people who listen to metal listen to it for life and not just for one summer. You like metal, you like metal,forever or you’re doomed!

Will you be going to the Olympics back at home in Brazil next year and what is your opinion of the impact of both the World Cup and the Olympics?

I think it’s almost too much in a short period of time. I don’t know that Brazil can handle it. I hope they can. I don’t know if we’re going to do some stuff, maybe some shows. There is always some big opportunity to do events like that. Hopefully it will be good, and Brazil will be a good host. The World Cup was cool, except for the tragedy of Brazil losing to Germany. It was a travesty. How could that happen?! It was incredible! It’s our fault for having such a shitty team!

An old school friend of mine used to have a wristband with your logo on it and he wore it everyday for three years. What’s the weirdest piece of merch you have seen?

The weirdest things are the things that people have asked me to do, like ‘sign my baby’s head’. The baby was like six months old! So I ended up signing the baby’s head, he was a big biker dude so you know!

I hope he didn’t go and have it tattooed?!

Oh man, I hope not (laughs). The kid will turn up in fifteen years time to my show with a Max tattoo on his head! That would be horrible! There was a guy in Bosnia who gave me his Dad’s dog tags who died in the Bosnian war and I didn’t want to take it because I think that should stay with his family but he was very persistent, so I ended up taking it and giving it to my wife and she put in the holy corner in our house. There has been a lot of crazy shit like that!

You recently wrote an autobiography: how was the process? I saw in an interview that someone had read it seven times?!

I worked with a British writer called Joel McIver, a big English writer. I told Joe I wanted it to be like if the reader was sitting like me and you, really intimate, telling all the stories. It even has my accent and is really personal. I think it is a pretty cool book, there are some quite cool stories in it. I’m not as wild as Al Jourgensen (Ministry). I read his book and it made my book seem kind of nice! I had my share of wild moments, like puking on Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and pissing off Lemmy. I read the Brazilian version and the English version once, not seven times! But I’m glad someone liked it so much!

Does it hark back to the early days of your career, with Sepultura and Nailbomb?

Yeah, it starts with the end actually. We started the book with the split from Sepultura in 1996, which was something that Joe wanted to do, he thought it would be more dramatic, and then goes back to my childhood where there was a lot of crazy stuff. My mother’s side, she came from the Candomble religion which originated from Africa with rituals and people being possessed. So I saw all that as a kid which was intriguing for me, crazy as shit man! People talking baby language, rolling eyes, heavy, heavy stuff!

From my father’s side, he was Italian. We went to Italy when I was nine years old and arranged with the Vatican to have me baptised on the catacombs of the Vatican. I never had a chance to ask him about it, because a month after that, he passed away. The ceremony was all in Latin and was done with a bunch of Vatican priests. I mean, how many people do you know have been baptised in the Vatican?! And then, I started Sepultura which is anti-Christianity, very death metal, Satanic lyrics. It has been a wild journey!

And what about you and your brother Igor rejoining Sepultura? Would that ever happen?

One thing that people should be careful of, especially right now, is contracts, when starting to get into bands. It is a very dangerous thing. I gave the name and I couldn’t take it with me when I left because of contracts. The contract fucked me. I was fucked over by a contract you know?

That’s the political side of the music business. It sucks! I was very naive in Sepultura, I thought nothing would ever happen, that the guys would not continue without me. I had all these naive perceptions of the world. In the world I lived in, I couldn’t see myself being betrayed like that, and next thing I know I was being betrayed. They found another guy, they continued the band. I had to do something so I created Soulfly which worked out well as it ended up being another successful band.

And Sepultura have kind of slipped into the chasm?

They have, it’s sad. They are a powerful band, inspirational, political. One thing I liked about being in that band was how respected we were by other bands, particularly in the hardcore scene. Bands like Integrity, Sick Of It All, Agnostic Front, they always liked Sepultura, had a soft spot which they didn’t do for other bands. Even other bands like Ministry said good things. So it is sad, to see them go down, down, down. I’ve not heard anyone say “Oh Sepultura have released this great record”.

What do you never leave home without when you go on tour?

My iPod! I was thinking about buying six of them and having one iPod for every type of music that I like. One metal, one hardcore, one grindcore, one dub. I’m on my first one, this one is more metal.

Also, headphones. I collect them. I have a lot of them from around the world. I like the traditional ones, a Marshall pair which are really good. There is a company called Blue who make these high powered, loud headphones.

I always take lots of metal shirts with me. Here in Europe, we need lots of movies for when we have down time. I like documentaries and things like ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘American Sniper’, war movies, ‘Apocalypse Now’, that kind of shit!

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