Brazilian Metal Legend Max Cavalera Talks New Cavalera Conspiracy Album, Sepultura, And His Musical Roots

In Latin America, during times when it was difficult finding places to play and getting people to listen to you in your own town, Max Cavalera was a well-known musician with hundreds of thousands fans strong around the world. With brother Igor he formed Sepultura out of their childhood room in Belo Horizonte in the early ’80s, when they started playing with borrowed and stolen instruments. Soon a local metal scene coalesced around them (counting contemporaries like Sarcófago, Holocausto and Overdose) and began making waves, eventually moving to Sao Pãolo where they were adopted by the local punk scene.

Releasing a string of inspiring albums (Schizophrenia, Beneath The Remains, and Arise), the band began touring Europe and the US to amazing success. By the time they released Chaos A.D., Sepultura began incorporating Brazilian instrumentation and elements to their music culminating in Roots, an album that featured a collaboration with an Amazonian tribe recorded on site, among other contributors. Roots would be the last Sepultura album for Max, as he would quit the band to form Soulfly, which continued the collaborative nature of Roots while also incorporating the use of berimbau and other tribal elements.

Following Igor’s resignation from Sepultura in 2006 (the band remains active, led by longtime members Paulo Jr. and Andreas Kisser, the latter also in supergroup De La Tierra), the brothers reunited in Cavalera Conspiracy, who are on the eve of releasing their third album entitled Pandemonium. We caught up with Max to talk about his recent endeavors, a rumor involving James Murphy, and his Brazilian roots.

How are you, Max? Excited about your new album?

We’re actually on tour with Soulfly in America right now, we’re waiting for the Cavalera Conspiracy album to come out. The reaction has been really really amazing, people are really excited about this record. I think it’s going to be a big record for Cavalera because it’s a little bit a return of the roots of Max and Igor playing fast again and everybody is excited about that. Reminds them of stuff like Arise, the fast old days.

Playing fast with Igor is just pure pure joy, it’s something I can’t explain with words.

What inspired the new songs on the album?

I love playing fast with Igor. I think he has a way of playing fast that is very unique. When he plays fast, you know it’s him, it’s almost like a trademark. I love the fast stuff, what we used to do in the Sepultura days. My favorite songs have always being “Beneath The Remains,”“Arise,” “Infected Voice”– for me they were the more fun to play, and I thought it would be fun to make a record with these sort of nostalgic ideas, mixed with stuff I listen to right now like Full Of Hell, Noisem, Nails, Aborted, Gotthard. I listen to heavy stuff all the time. I like to put the influence of those bands in the Cavalera work, and we made a record out if it. Playing fast with Igor is just pure pure joy, it’s something I can’t explain with words. You feel like you’re just a little kid again, it’s just the best feeling in the world.

Like if you were back in your room, playing together just the two of you?

Exactly! That’s how we started, just me and him. We wrote the early stuff, you know, “Morbid Visions,” “Troops of Doom,” “Necromancer.” We were just kids, we would just play fast and tried to imitate the bands we liked, Celtic Frost, Kreator, Destruction, Slayer. It continues with Pandemonium. It’s a trip back in time for us, rescuing some of those feelings but with a foot in the moment.

I love the idea of one day you look at a poster on the wall and you look at the guy and…for us, I had posters of [Metallica’s] James Hetfield on my wall, or [Slayer’s] Tom Araya; and I would look at the pictures and say “one day I want to do that.” You believe in that dream and you follow it all the way until you get it. Right now, I live what I dreamed as a kid. It’s a great feeling because it’s part of being a metalhead, believing in dreams and making dreams come true. Those things can happen and they do happen It’s quite amazing the world of metal. It’s addictive kind of music, once you start liking metal you don’t stop.

There was a rumor going around that James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem was going to be producing the album. Do you know where the rumor started?

It was an actual idea that Igor had when we were on tour. To do an EP, just him and me together playing metal, the two brothers. We’re probably going to do it but not with the name Cavalera. Igor has this friend from LCD Soundsystem and he wanted to produce this crazy idea. I think he will be perfect for the job, he wants to capture the raw essence of the two brothers playing together. We should record in a fucked up garage, put up some mics, and record it really loud and noisey and raw and fucked up. I just love the idea of the punk roots of the mentality of the scene. It’s for the future [though]. Right now, we love Cavalera.

We invented stuff, we made things happen. You make something out of nothing.

What was it like playing metal in Brazil in the ’80s?

We didn’t have any money but it was fun because we had creativity. We invented stuff, we made things happen. You make something out of nothing. You learn to be creative quick when you’re really desperate. We used to go to shows and steal microphones from other bands while they were playing, crazy shit like that just to survive. We ended up making friends with a lot of hardcore bands like Ratos De Porão, Inocentes, and Cólera. You know, Brazil had a big punk scene and we are good friends with most of them. We never saw division between metal and punk, we loved punk. European punk like Discharge and GBH, and we liked metal like Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Slayer; we listened to them together, there was never division. We found out later that those styles were divided and we tried to make a unification of that. The first punk/metal show in Brazil was Ratos de Porão and Sepultura in São Paolo. It was great because we had mohawks in the crowd with long hairs both enjoying the music. That was one of the best days for Brazilian underground that I remember. That was around ’86 or ’87, a long time ago.

How did you put on that show? It must have been hard.

It was very underground. We did it ourselves but we found a promoter who helped us, he was the owner of Woodstock Records and we rented the place, it held 200 people. Just to unite metal and punk, the show itself was a victory. Igor designed the poster, he made a pretty cool skull. When you do something like that it goes beyond money, beyond recognition; it’s about doing the right thing, the attitude where you know you are doing something cool that people are going to appreciate for a long time. Even today, you can find the videos on YouTube. I have great memories from those days. And [with the punk/metal show] we laid down the foundation for other things to come. Other bands came to Brazil, like Sick Of It All, Agnostic Front, Jello Biafra; they came and had great crowds. That is something we’re always going to be proud of.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Sepultura became one of the biggest bands in metal; if you were a metalhead, it was almost a rule that you loved Sepultura. How was it to be better known worldwide than most of Brazilian popstars?

It was a trip, man. When we came back from our first European tour, we were in all the newspapers. People that never liked us, [afterwards] we were being respected in the media. Sepultura was always hated by those people, especially in the very beginning. It was us against the world and we decided to conquer the world, and it happened. We believed in our music and ourselves. We made a good record, Beneath the Remains, and we toured with that record; and then we made another good record, Arise, and we toured again. Every time we would come back from tour we would feel better and better about ourselves, we got more recognition, and even all the pop guys in Brazil didn’t get this recognition outside, so we felt stronger; we just wanted to keep going, and we did until I quit in 1996. Then I formed Soulfly and a whole different kind of stuff happened in my life. But I’m still proud to be Brazilian, I have the Brazilian flag onstage, and my Brazilian guitar, you know? I will always have my own roots of where I’m from, representing Centro and South America around the world.

We realized we are somebody else, that our history is different so we do things differently.

Native music from your country started to figure into your work for a long time. When and how did you become aware of your roots?

Around Chaos A.D. was when Igor started experimenting with some beats, we made the intro to “Refuse/Resist” very percussive and tribal, and we wrote “Kaiowas” about a tribe that committed suicide in the Amazon because they didn’t want to be part of the white world; it was a really big subject, it’s a very powerful song even though it has no lyrics. We became more aware of things like that, little by little and we started putting it in our music. It was like finding our own identity. It was like, we didn’t have to copy Slayer or Metallica anymore because we know who we are, we come from a different place. We realized we are somebody else, that our history is different so we do things differently. I think it was really cool, and then with Roots which was even beyond expectations, working with Carlinhos Brown in “Ratamahatta,” writing about Zumbi. And then, when I did the first Soulfly album, it went even deeper with Lúcio [Maia] playing guitar and the guys from Chico Science playing slave drums, that was really powerful. I still play berimbau in the studio and live. That is always going to be alive in my music and I will continue to experiment with that. It’s really fun dedicating that corner of my work dedicated to that tribal feeling.