An Interview with Max Cavalera of Soulfly - March 8th, 2012
By Mike Bax
Brazilian musician Max Cavalera is something of an institution in the metal genre. Together with his brother Igor, Max entered into the world of thrash metal via Sepultura in the mid eighties and has contributed to a great many album releases under an assortment of band names over the past three decades.
A falling out with Igor in the late 1990’s lead Max to form Soulfly- a band now celebrating its eighth release with Enslaved, scheduled to drop this month.
Igor and Max ironed out their differences a few years ago and rather than stepping backwards into a common band name, they formed Cavalera Conspiracy and continue to release music under this moniker.
Currently readying a world tour around Soulfly’s Enslaved album, Max took twenty minutes out of his day last Friday to chat about the new album and how it came to fruition.
Mike: How are you doing, Max?
Mike: Congratulations on the new album. I just got it in the mail and played it for the first time this morning. I dug it.
Max: All right. Thank you.
Mike: Do you keep track of how many albums you've been involved with over the years, Max?
Max: I don’t know exactly the count. It’s quite a lot. (Laughs) There have been a bunch of them.
Mike: You sure do keep yourself pretty active.
Max: Yeah, it’s good man. It’s good to keep making records, touring, and keeping your name out there. It’s a very fast moving market, you know? You have to keep yourself creating and keeping the fans happy by giving them music that they want to hear.
Mike: You've been recording some of the heaviest music around for a long time now. Do you worry your fans ever think that your best material came twenty plus years ago?
Max: I don’t really worry about that at all. For me, it’s just about being happy with what I do. I don’t really compare the stuff. What was done back then is different from now. I’m proud of what I did years ago, but I’m also proud of what I’m doing right now. I think’s its dependent on how you feel. What’s important is to keep going and keep motivated and keep making records, until you get old and you can’t do it anymore.
Mike: Do you ever listen to your old stuff then?
Max: I do sometimes to research songs to play live. We are thinking about playing stuff from the first EP right now. Bestial Devastation was done, I don’t even know how many years ago now, and we are thinking about doing a song from that EP on our new upcoming tour. So I’ll go back for fun, put it on my iPod and just listen to the songs again. I get to remember the recording and the times we had making those old records. It was pretty fun. Normally, I’ll just listen to other people’s music.
Mike: Do you feel like you want to refine that old material and try it again with today's technology?
Max: Well, I think that even the really shitty sounding ones feel right. There were a few cool songs and I feel that it’s more important that the songs were good rather than the quality of the recordings. You can have a really great sounding record and have really shitty songs and you can have a shitty sounding record with really good songs. I listen to stuff like ‘Troops of Doom’ – it was a shitty recording, Morbid Visions, but ‘Troops’ is a great song. It’s survived the test of time. I still play it live now and it sounds great when I play it, like it did when I first wrote it. Each of our albums has its own unique quality to it. Some of them sound worse than others. The band members and who we’d work with as producers at the time reflect on each album. I worked with some really great people - Andy Wallace and Scott Burns, both great producers who helped me create the sound of the records. It’s really cool to hear how those albums have dated and the vibes they gave out at the time.
Mike: Did you have a game plan for Enslaved - something you wanted to try and achieve to make it stand out compared to the past seven Soulfly albums?
Max: I just really wanted to make a really extreme record. I have a really good new band giving me the chance to work with Tony (Campos) and David (Kinkade). David is a death metal drummer and he can play some really cool double bass and blast beats. He brought a real death metal sound to the record. I remodeled the album around this idea that I had to make a death metal sounding record without being satanic. It has enslavery lyrics and political lyrics, and it’s cool because of that. I think it’s quite original right now to have this kind of record. It’s pretty extreme; I think it’s Soulfly’s most extreme record to date. Out of the eight Soulfly albums this is the most extreme and most brutal one. I’m happy about that. I think it’s cool to have this kind of a record right now, with it being the eighth record and this being fifteen years for Soulfly’s career we are commemorating it. This is a great time for us, and Enslaved is a great record for us to be touring now.
Mike: You know, I hadn’t listened to the first Soulfly album or Primitive in a while. I played them again after working on some of my questions for this interview and re-discovered them. They still hold up. I’ve been enjoying playing them again for the past few days.
Max: I enjoyed making those records. They are different from each other; quite different, actually. There were different challenges making each one of them. A lot of people tell me they like the first record a lot. I’m not sure why that is, actually, but a lot of people seem to still like that debut. I hear the same thing about Dark Ages and Conquer. They seem to like ‘Blood Fire War Hate’ with David Vincent of Morbid Angel. It’s heavy, and now we are hearing that people are really digging Enslaved. Feedback we’ve gotten from our fans has been incredible, especially the ‘World Scum’ song. We had a video for that song out a few weeks ago and people got to hear the song for the first time. All the feedback was really positive. People are really digging this new sound of Soulfly. I’m glad for that.
Mike: How would you compare the creation and recording process of this album compared to past Soulfly releases? Was it a quicker process creating Enslaved?
Max: It was a little bit different. I was working Zeuss, who is a different producer for me. Every producer is different. I’ve worked with Logan Mader in the past - Ross Robinson, Andy Wallace and Scott Burns – all of these guys are different from each other. Zeuss had a system which was really interesting. Once we’d get a song done, like completely finished, he only needed one person to play guitar in order to record the drums. That’s all that was needed, so most of the time Mark (Rizzo) would stay in the studio and play rhythm. Dave would record the drums through Mark’s rhythm and then we built everything on top of that. It was cool to record this way – it was really clear and clean sounding drums. You can hear every little nuance in the drumming on Enslaved. If you made one little mistake on the double bass you could really hear it. That meant that Dave really had to be on his toes recording this album.
He needed to be perfect on this album, and he really did meet the challenge on Enslaved. The drums sound amazing on the record; he really did a great job. I really like the guitar work on the album as well. Me and Mark really wanted the crunchy thrash sound in our guitars, like early Exodus and the old Metallica stuff - really heavy and crunchy. You can hear the chugging of the guitar work on this album, with all of that, and the death metal riffs… this record is full of really cool sounds that I dug out of my metal roots. Its stuff that I have listened to for so long now, I feel I came up with some really death metal styled riffs and they are all over the record. So it was really fun to create this record. I really enjoyed the process. I think it’s a good way to make records like this. I think Zeuss has really got a good technique and I really enjoyed working with him.
Mike: What tracks from Enslaved do you feel stand out the most?
Max: ‘World Scum’, definitely. I think ‘American Steel’ is going to work well for American audiences. Tracks like ‘Gladiator’, ‘Legions’ and ‘Treachery’ are really fired up - lots of really cool death metal stuff on those tracks. There’s ‘Plata O Plomo’, which is sung in Spanish and Portugese, with just me and Tony singing on it. It’s a really heavy groove. ‘Chains’ is really an epic song. It’s the long song on the record. It goes through all sorts of sections, starting really slow with this Bolt Thrower kind of vibe. The song was actually called ‘Bolt Fucker’ while we were working it up.
The song was really inspired by Bolt Thrower. All of them put together, I think all together they give the album a really nice touch. It’s going to be great to play a lot of these songs live. We can already almost play all of them live now. We won’t need to rehearse too much at all.
Mike: Where do you draw inspiration from as a middle-aged musician? And I can say ‘middle aged’, being a forty-five year old fan myself.
Max: Uh, I take a lot from the energy of the crowd, for sure. I love what I get from the crowd when I play live. I was just in South America and it was unbelievable. Soulfly was huge there. We had sold out shows everywhere – in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. In San Palo the show was just amazing. It’s such an inspiration to have that kind of fanatical fan base. They know every song – they SING every song you play. ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Primitive’… ‘Territory’ and ‘Refused’… it’s amazing to me that they know every song from every era. That is what keeps me inspired. I get recharged when I see crowds like that. I work harder and want to keep involved with this music that I love. It all comes from the crowd. It’s a really cool relationship I have with fans through music.
Mike: Do you feel you’re always thinking about new songs and ideas, or is it more of a process to slow down and really get into new songwriting?
Max: I write all the time. Even when I don’t need to write, I just get my guitar and start writing riffs. I will put them aside for later – set them aside and then re-visit them once I start to work on new material. But an album like Enslaved was really kind of put together at the last second. We had two weeks, really. The studio was booked and Igor came up to me and said everything is booked, and I almost had a heart attack. I felt that there was no way I was going to be ready in two weeks, you know? I pretty much freaked out. All of the plans were ready and in place, and I couldn’t change that, so I couldn’t really argue at all. I just had to be ready no matter what, so I just got my guitar and worked until 1:00 to 2:00am every day. I tried to get my best riffs out like that. Under pressure, it kind of worked for this album. I think that somehow I tend to work well under pressure. A lot of good stuff came out of this two weeks of pressure. I think it was the right way to make an album like Enslaved. In a pleasurable way, it’s not really enjoyable I guess. There is stress when you’re pushed into a timeframe like that, but you get the good results. When you get a good song – a good killer couple of tracks can come out of this sort of environment. That duress and pressure, it seems all worth it in the end.
Mike: If I was able to rifle through your personal collection of music, what albums might I find that would surprise me?
Max: Hmmm. That would surprise you? Most of my music is either metal or reggae and dub. Those are the two styles that I find I listen to the most. On my iPod there is some eighties stuff… like the B52s, Duran Duran and Dire Straits, which I like… I think it’s cool music. Dire Straits is definitely very cool and melodic stuff. I like a lot of Paul Simon, especially the two records he made; Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints, which was done in Brazil - two really good records. I really like that phase of Paul Simon. His newer stuff I don’t like as much. His new stuff is really kind of folk music. It’s not what I wanted to hear. I like more of that Graceland sound. The African beats work well with his music.
Mike: Over the years, I've cherry picked numerous albums you've been involved with, one of my favourites being Nailbomb. I thought that was a pretty cool album, even though the project was short lived. You and Alex (Newport) had some interesting collaborations on Point Blank. You got to work with some pretty cool musicians.
Max: Yeah, that album was a really cool way to break from the monotony of where I was at the time. I was making Sepultura records all the time and I wanted to do something different and break away from that routine. Alex was in one of my favourite bands, Fudge Tunnel.
Mike: Yeah, me too. I love Fudge Tunnel.
Max: They are as heavy as fuck, and they have this record Hate Songs in E-Minor; an amazing heavy record. I got to know Alex, and we became friends. We decided to make a record together and we called it Nailbomb. It came out and it was such a punk rock project. Everything was done ourselves. It was very DIY. All the samplers and drum machines and all the sequences and all the riffs; everything was created between me and Alex. It was really fun, and then we had a lot of really cool guests come in. Igor (Cavalera ) and Andreas (Kisser) and Dino (Cazares) from Fear Factory. Dave Edwardson from Neurosis and the guys from Dead Kennedys doing some of the live stuff. It was fun. It was definitely a cool project to be a part of.
Mike: Do you think something would ever happen again with Alex?
Max: Not under the Nailbomb. I’d never do another Nailbomb album. Alex doesn’t want to do it. He’s pretty much done playing music and doesn’t want to play again. But I do have a project with Greg (Puciato) from Dillinger Escape Plan that we are working on. It’s the closest thing I’ll do to Nailbomb I think. Me and Greg are going to sing the whole thing and write the whole thing together. We are going to share all of the riffs together. We’re going to have some really cool people on the album. Dave (Elitch) from The Mars Volta is playing drums and Nate (Newton) from Converge is going to play bass. We’re going to get some other guests to play on some of the songs as well. Yeah, I think it’s going to be pretty cool. I think it’s the closest thing to Nailbomb that I’m going to do. It doesn’t even have a name yet. Supposedly it’s going to come out sometime next year. We’ve already got four songs done. The stuff sounds really killer and it’s a really cool vibe. It’s interesting the relationship between my voice and Greg’s voice; there’s something really cool about the way they mix together. The way they blend together on every song, it really reminds me of Nailbomb. We’re going to make more music and get it done for next year. I think you’ll like that stuff.
Mike: Right on. I’m looking forward to that. Last year, around this time, you did some interesting Black Flag songs at Revolver's 2011 Golden Gods awards with Jamey Jasta, Dez Fafara and Mike Vallely. How much rehearsal time went into that?
Max: Oh, not much at all man. They knew that I did the 'Six Pack' cover with Cavalera Conspiracy. So we played it like the Cavalera Conspiracy version on Blunt Force Trauma. Everything we did was a little bit different from the Black Flag versions. More blast beats and riffs. I went to practice that morning of the awards. We had a kind of a soundcheck set up and it all sounded great. Not much practice at all. We went out and did it live, and it was great. The Devildriver guys are all real good musicians and they all had the music down. It was really a lot of fun doing that song with them.
Mike: I wish there was some quality footage of that set of music. I interviewed Dez back in June last year, and he was pissed that there was no high quality footage from that set filmed at all.
Max: Really? Yeah, that sucks. I haven’t seen any footage of that now that you mention it.
Mike: Over the past thirteen years, over eight albums, you have collaborated with some very interesting people. In Soulfly alone, Burton and Dino from Fear Factory, Fred Durst and DJ Lethal from Limp Bizkit, Chino from Deftones, Cory Taylor and Tom Araya. To me, Soulfly has always felt like an open door for guest musicians. Was that always your plan?
Max: Yeah, I think so. From the beginning I wanted Soulfly to be different. I wanted to involve more people. To me music is not a competition. It’s more about sharing with other people and having fun with it. Playing with my favourite artists is one of the things I really wanted to do in Soulfly. All of these people whose music I love – I wanted to find a way to work with them. This started on Soulfly 1 with Dino, Benji and Fred and then went into the second album with Sean Lennon, Chino and Tom Araya. Corey from Slipknot on ‘Jump The Fuck Up’ was great, too. Yeah, it was something that developed through the years. I really enjoy it and I wanted to continue to keep doing it. I chose other musicians on every record. ‘Blood Fire War Hate’ had David Vincent of Morbid Angel on it. ‘Omen’ had Greg from Dillinger Escape Plan and Tommy from Prong. And now Enslaved has Travis (Ryan) from Cattle Decapitation and Dez (Fafara) of Devildriver on the record. I will continue to do that. It’s fun to work that way in the studio. You get to jam with some of your favourite artists and do something together that is quite unique. It’s a chance to work in a different environment from their own bands and jam in Soulfly territory. It’s really cool. I’m really proud of the Soulfly collaborations.
Mike: And then there is the last song on Enslaved ‘Revengeance’, which looks like the song was a family jam. There’s a lot of last names on the credits for that song that look pretty familiar. (feat. Richie Cavalera of Incite, Zyon and Igor Jr. Cavalera of Lody Kong).
Max: ‘Revengeance’ was done with all of my kids. It was great - one of the ideas I’ve had for a while, and I was just waiting for them to get to a stage where they could do it. Now that they are becoming really good musicians, they can all hold their ground now. I started working on that song with Zion in the studio. We wrote 60% of ‘Revengeance’ together to start off with then we took it to the studio. And then little Igor came up with two riffs and they were amazing. It totally surprised me that he was writing riffs and they sounded great. It became the intro of the song and the chorus, and everybody sang on it – me Igor and Ritchie, we all had our own parts and our own lyrics, and the way it was recorded was really great, too. Zeuss decided to do it all live. So everyone was in the room together jamming and playing the track like it was live. That was great. It was really exciting to play that way with my family. That gave the song a more raw sounding quality. When I heard the final version, I really liked it and decided it should go on the album as the finishing track. It turned out really cool and I’m very proud of that song.