Hellbound interviews Max Cavalera

Back in March, I had the extreme luck to sit down with one of my all-time heroes, Max Cavalera. Max was in Vancouver with Soulfly, touring the first Nailbomb album, Point Blank, in its entirety, as played onstage by Soulfly.

As a Sepultura fan since I first heard Arise in 1991, it was an extreme honor to sit down with one of my bucket-list interviewees in Max Cavalera. We talked about family, revisiting his Sepultura material, the future of Soulfly and his other projects, and a host of other topics. Short and sweet though the interview may be, Max is always eloquent and it was a huge pleasure to sit down with him.

The gig that night was stupendous. Soulfly burned through Point Blank, and it was a vicious reminder of how groundbreaking that record was when I first heard it in 1993. The gig was rounded out by Today Is The Day, who are never not incredible live, Lody Kong, containing Max’s sons, Zyon and Igor, young bucks Uncured, and locals Hellchamber.

Here is my interview with Max Cavalera.

What’s going on with the new Soulfly album? Where’s it at as far as production?

It still needs to be mixed. Joshua Burns is mixing, he produced the album with me. Man, it’s cool – it’s like a hybrid of Soulfly and some thrash stuff… I call it “tribal thrash”.

Josh is a big fan of Andy Wallace, who produced Chaos A.D., and at first this record reminded me of Chaos A.D. We were talking about how the record had this real classic feel to it, much like Chaos, but now that I think more about it – and at that time I had not finishing recording two songs, “Ritual”, and “Bite The Bullet“, but now that I’ve sung them, the record seems more tribal to me so I’m calling it “tribal thrash” because that’s closer to the reality of what the record’s gonna be like ….

You & Iggor recently finished up the Return To Roots tour, where you were playing the Roots album in its entirety in the set. Do you guys have any designs on going out on the road again doing more Sepultura classics?

We’re gonna take it slow, little-by-little, and if the time calls for it and we’re ready, I’m sure we’ll tackle other records. I would love to do Arise, or Chaos A.D., or Beneath The Remains – all that stuff is cool. 2018 is also the thirtieth anniversary of Schizophrenia, and also the twentieth anniversary of the first Soulfly record. So we’ll see. Little by little.

This year’s going to be heavily concentrated on the new Soulfly album, but I’ll be booking Cavalera Conspiracy toward the end of the year, and then probably Killer Be Killed next year.

Alex Newport from Fudge Tunnel was the other original half of Nailbomb, and now you’ve got Soulfly playing the Nailbomb album. What was his involvement as far as this whole “reunion”? Have you been in contact with him directly?

Personally? Directly, no – but Gloria’s been emailing with him. He was actually really helpful on the shaping of this tour. He’s got the original samples from the album sessions, and sent them to us so we could use them onstage. Alex sent us a bunch of DAT tapes with the original samples, and explained exactly where they go. We got his blessing for the tour – he didn’t want to be on it, but he totally gave us his blessing and said “Go for it!”

We might do something together in the future, always a possibility. I’d love for him to do produce Zyon & Igor’s band, Lody Kong; it’d be full circle, with that whole connection, with family and Nailbomb.

That kinda perfectly segues into my next question. Sepultura was very much a family affair when you & Iggor were a part of it, and Nailbomb too, as Alex was married to Gloria’s daughter. Now you’re out on the road with your two sons, with them doing double-duty both as the opening act in Lody Kong, and as members of the current Soulfly band. What is it like for you to be out on the road playing with your sons?

It’s pretty fun, man – as a dad, it was a dream when they were born that we could all jam at this someday. And, little by little, we got there – early on, as children, they both went through a phase where they didn’t like metal – they were into hip-hop. But then they got into metal, and they became metalheads. Both of them are very different – Igor’s more like me, likes much heavier stuff, more extreme metal, whereas Zyon is more into the classics, like Sabbath and old Metallica. Of newer bands, I think he likes thrash stuff and – though they’re not so new – Deftones. It’s cool, every night we are having a lot of fun. As a dad, it’s phenomenal.

Do you ever foresee doing a tour with both your two sons, as well as your brother, Iggor?

Doing a project with all four of us? Like a family project? Sure, it could happen. They’re definitely good enough to do it.

We’ll see what happens. I kind of want to slow down a little bit after the new Soulfly record, ‘cos I’ve been going non-stop, and this touring gets really demanding physically and mentally ­– and I’m at an exhaustion point right now, because the Soulfly record, it drained me. I want to jam a little bit of Killer Be Killed, but that’s later – for now, just stay on the road for a while. That’s my plan. I’m having so much fun, Nailbomb is so fun, man, it’s hard to describe… it’s just fun. Pure, punk-rock, fuck-you, in-your-face fun.

Point Blank was such a game-changer. For me, and a lot of people, we were just discovering bands like Ministry at the same time, and now along comes Max from Sepultura and Alex from Fudge Tunnel doing this industrial metal band, and they’re one-upping Ministry, going even heavier with an industrial sound.

We took the ideas of Ministry, and made it heavier and punk. At the time, we were listening to a lot of Godflesh, Front Line Assembly… Alex had a big record collection, a lot of Big Black, and Steve Albini stuff… Dead Kennedys… It was really our own curiosity in a world that wasn’t really ours. Neither me nor Alex were really from the industrial scene at all. He was doing Fudge Tunnel, which was like heavy as hell, and my background was all metal, so it was cool, because it was a real innocent approach in a real honest way, and a real curiosity. Maybe we wanted to see… Like how would this sound? How would it sound to go really heavy, but with a Ministry sound, or a Nine Inch Nails sound. Like that song, “For Fuck’s Sake”, it’s very Nine Inch Nails to me, like a blend of Nine Inch Nails and Sepultura – like, the two of them put together. The beginning, the drums [imitates the drum-machine track intro to the song], the whole thing sounds like old Nine Inch Nails, and then you get the thrash and it sounds like Sepultura thrash! There’s even a little bit of dance stuff on it, like “World of Shit”, and “Religious Cancer”, it’s kind of dance, like the drum machine makes it kind of dancey Industrial.

It’s clear industrial was a big influence at the time, but I can’t see dance tracks being an influence on Max Cavalera!

Not really – I mean, I listen to a lot of different stuff. I remember at the time, out of curiosity, checking out stuff like New Order, Bauhaus, Joy Division – and Killing Joke of course! But I think that that was probably more Alex, creating the rhythms, and programming patterns on the drum machines. I wasn’t really involved with the drum machines for that album, although I do that on all my own original writing for Soulfly, or Cavalera Conspiracy, where I’ll program my drum machines. But for Nailbomb, I let Alex do it – he was so much better at it than me. I just go with the riffs.

You guys did a one-off gig at Dynamo in 1993, but were there ever any plans for you to tour Nailbomb more extensively at the time?

The thing that makes it difficult for that to happen, you see, is Alex hates crowds. He hates the noise of the crowd. When he told me that, my jaw dropped, like, “What? You can’t be in a band! This blows my mind!”, but he was really into the record. And we did the live show in Holland, in front of 120,000 people. And we assembled a huge amount of people to play onstage, like all these cool musicians: Dave from Neurosis, Rhys from Front Line Assembly, Peligro from the Dead Kennedys, me and Iggor. So Dynamo was a big production, just for that show; which is one of the things we kind of thought about, there were two ways it could go. One would have been maybe making a supergroup, and go out touring it about, or the other idea was having Soulfly play. And I leaned a little bit more toward having Soulfly play it. The idea of putting the weight and the power of Soulfly behind that music was really interesting to me – because the it would turn those songs into organic, real songs that would translate live better. And now we’ve started throwing “While You Sleep, I Destroy Your World” into the set too. We bang the songs out one after the other, in the order of the record, it’s pretty cool.

I try not to talk too much between the songs – it’s almost like an unfriendly vibe, on purpose, because that’s how Nailbomb seems like to me, when I watch the Dynamo video – we come off very cool to the crowd. Not in the sense that we didn’t want to be there, but it’s like, it’s angry, you’re there, but you’re angry – pissed off. We tried to do that with this tour, so we just come out and play song after song with little banter. It’s punishing, a lot of energy. Igor is doing great – he’s actually studied Alex’s vocals, and like I said, we have the original samples, we have the original backdrop, too. Unfortunately a lot of the clubs we are playing this time out are so small that we can’t use the backdrop, but hopefully we’ll use it tonight.

You guys played Victoria last night, and I see that the promotional materials for the Victoria gig censored the original Point Blank album cover. It was an incredibly striking and confrontational album cover at the time, and clearly from last night’s poster, it hasn’t dulled in its intensity. What was the impetus behind you using this photo as the cover?

We were looking at the Rage Against the Machine album cover, and we wanted something like that. Shocking and real. Black and white, hopefully. Like looking at old Discharge albums records like Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing – or old Crass imagery. And then we came across the Rage Against the Machine album cover, with the monk on fire, and we loved it. So we told Roadrunner “We want to do something kind of like that.” So they got a hold of this company, Associated Press or something like that, and they sent us two hundred pictures, a lot of which were war pictures. One of the pictures was that, and when me and Alex saw that, we were like, “That’s the one! Fuck yeah!” I mean, that’s perfect – with a name like Nailbomb? It’s perfect.

The cool thing is that we found out, on the back of the photo, it explains the picture, and it says “This is a Vietnamese lady being interrogated by a Marine, and the gun pointed to her head, although she did not get shot and she did not die.” So that made us feel a little better. But I can see the shock, we kind of went for that – kind of like an Alice Cooper or KISS shock value, but more punk rock, same kind of idea behind it. And then you look at that cover and you’re like, “What the fuck? I got to listen to this!”

I wonder if an album cover like that – or say, a band like S.O.D., would get off the ground nowadays. It seems like a lot of people are a lot more sensitive these days in heavy metal.

I don’t know, man, I’m old school. That’s why I wrote stuff like “Primitive”, you know, “fuck all the politics”. I think the reality is, people need, now even more than ever, to see this shit in order for it not to happen again – that’s my take on it. We’ve got to look at images like this, so hopefully that it won’t happen again – but we’ve got to see it and not turn the face the other way and pretend it didn’t exist. It did exist, war is a fucked-up thing, it’s hard man, it’s beyond comprehension.

The idea was to base the cover on the band’s name, on the sonic power that was on the record. It wasn’t my idea to call the project Nailbomb originally, that was all Alex – and I asked him, “What the fuck is a nail bomb?” and he explained that that’s what the IRA does, so that when the bomb blows up, it does maximum damage. So, to me, that describes our sound, that’s how I feel – like when I play “Wasting Away”, it feels like that like a nail bomb is exploding, maximum damage.

So, yeah, I don’t care much for being politically correct — or even like the whole Phil Anselmo thing with the Nazi shit… because of the internet, it becomes like everything you do is under the microscope so it’s like, you got to be more careful. I just try to live life the way I always do – I love metal, I love playing, I don’t want to change my lifestyle, but it makes you wonder sometimes, like, about people. Anything you do is, in an instant, a million people are talking about it and judging everybody.

That’s definitely the new paradigm in the age of instantaneous information.

I mean, I love the internet because I get to scope out new bands, on Spotify and Bandcamp and it’s so much easier to search out new bands on those platforms, but then you get a lot of the trolls who are out there just shit-talking people.

When I was recording the last Cavalera Conspiracy album and I wanted to get pissed off one day, because I needed to get real mad in the vocal session we were doing for “Judas Pariah” – I read all the bad shit about me in internet comments, and the producer was laughing at me, like, “Max this is insane!” I was just reading all these shitty internet comments, stuff like “Max, you’re a piece of shit, you can’t even play guitar!”, “Max, you look like a bum!”, “Max, you look like you haven’t showered in 2 weeks!”, and I’m like, yeah, keep reading, keep reading, and then I went in the vocal booth and just fucking went for it, and “Judas Pariah” came out of that.

Well, man, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thank you for coming back to Vancouver with this tour.

No problem, man, enjoy the show tonight. We got the whole camouflage thing going on onstage, gas masks and all. Hopefully we can do the backdrop.

You know, you guys have got a really good metal scene in Vancouver.

It’s true. Not a ton of black metal in our scene, but some solid bands for sure.

Yes, but you guys have Blasphemy! Arthur Rizk, who produced the last Cavalera Conspiracy record, was like “Max, you got to check out Blasphemy!”, and he played it for me, and I was like, “This is insane, man!”, and those guys were doing it in, like, 1984!

My tape recorder ran out at this point, but Max, as he signed my LP of Arise, and posed for a selfie, went out to espouse his love of local band Mitochondrion, even asking me if the guys were in town, as he wanted to invite them to that night’s show. But alas, they were on tour in Europe, so it was not to be.

Thanks to Max for his time, and to Gloria Cavalera for the opportunity.

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Vocals @ Hexripper | Curmudgeonly, freelance-hack shit-talker of all things metal