Interview: Legendary metal vocalist Max Cavalera

Filed under: Interviews

Max Cavalera is most famous for being the lead singer (growler) and composer for Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, Killer be Killed, and formerly of thrash-metal pioneers Sepultura. In 1994, Max created a one-off side project with English musician/producer Alex Newport called Nailbomb. After more than two decades, Max has chosen to honour this project's lone studio effort release, Point Blank, by playing the album's track in their entirety with the lineup of musicians who are currently members of Soulfly for a large-scale North American tour.

Said tour made a stop at the Pyramid Cabaret in Winnipeg, MB on March 9. This particular show was supported by Winnipeg's own thrash outfit Solanum, NYC-based prog-metal youths Uncured, Zyon Cavalera's (Max's son) Lody Kong (it would seem that Zyon has inherited his dad's penchant for created side projects), and lastly was Today is the Day, whose baggy clothes and sludgy alt-metal greatly aided the vibes of a 90s revival I was sensing from the audience as the headlining act's stage time drew closer and closer. When Soufly finally came on stage, the crowd of denim vests and patches were ready for blasts of industrial metal.

The glorious punishment my body and ears received whilst being bombarded by Soulfly's heavier than heavy delivery of one Nailbomb track after another is in rather stark contrast to the mellow experience I had with Max on his tour bus just hours before.

I was politely greeted and led into the Cavalera's mobile home by Max's wife Gloria (who long has been an equally important pillar in not just the Cavalera world but the metal community in general) and Zyon, who opted for a fist bump over a handshake due to his disproportionate amount of blisters he's sustained playing in two... well... blistering metal acts per night.

I was lead to lounge at the back of the bus where Max was just finishing work on his latest painting; a new art project where he takes drum heads from Zyon and paints custom designs on them to be sold later. Amongst some snack packages, paint-stained shorts, and a silent TV, Max and I discussed some metal matters.

Max Cavalera: Enjoying the cold?

William O'Donnell: Max, this is a nice day for us.

MC: Oh yeah? (laughs)

WO: -4c? Lovely. So has Canada has been good to you on this tour?

MC: Yeah man. I'm really glad we have like 17 Canadian dates on this tour. It's been weird. The audiences are are getting a lot of young kids who might not have been born when Nailbomb came out, y'know?

WO: Right.

MC: And then you get older guys. Who saw me in Sepultura or whatever. But I think in the end, they all really like it. It's kind of an experience. This record (Point Blank) was not really made to go on tour. It was a just a project. But it works. I mean, it's f***ing killer. Just to play that s*** live is great.

WO: It (Nailbomb) seems to have its own kind of life. As a young kid, getting into the metal scene, the shirts I'd see would be the flags of what's cool. What I should check out and all over I would see that album cover with the Viet Cong person on it. Clearly it was important and It seemed weird because, as you said, it was not a touring band. And this was during a time where you couldn't just Google it and know what it was all about.

MC: Right, yeah.

WO: If you weren't you, and you wanted to introduce someone to the music of Max Cavalera, what is the album you would pop on and say, "you gotta hear this"?

MC: I don't know man. So many people started with Soulfly and went back and discovered the old stuff and so many started with the old stuff. There's just so much music! There's like 10 Soulfly records, 4 Cavalara Conspiracy, Killer be Killed, Nailbomb. All this stuff.

WO: And it's growing at a fast rate. You're pretty much releasing things on an annual basis.

MC: I'm probably going to slow down. New Soufly comes out in August. Gonna slow down a bit. At least take a breath. Do some touring for Soulfly, even Cavalera Conspiracy. Psychosis (by Cavalera Conspiracy) just came out last year and we haven't properly toured that yet. Gonna do a little bit of that. Heavily with Soulfly. Hopefully come back to Canada for that.

It's a really cool record. I'm very excited. It's more tribal. Kind of a mix between the old stuff and the heavy stuff that I listen to. The mixing of those two. I'm very excited for it.

This record was done the right way It was produced by Josh Wilbur who did Killer be Killed and Lamb of God. We treated it like a big deal. Went in there like, "Let's try to make something really cool. Really wild. Really different." So we brought all the tribal stuff from the early Soulfly back. But we kept the Thrash and the Death Metal that everybody loves. So we have both worlds. It's wild, man. Those worlds never really collided like they do in the new Soulfly.

WO: Of course, you've always been renowned for bringing those elements together.

MC: But they have always kind of been divided y'know? Like the early Soulfly was very tribal, not much really thrash. And then my last record with Cavalera (conspiracy) was full on thrash. So we thought, why not collide those two worlds? Make a tribal-thrash record. That'd be cool. One song is tribal, next is thrash. Not song is more tribal. Next is thrash. And we did it.

WO: I was very curious about that. Those tribal elements that got people's attention for Soulfly. That was me in junior high. I was into metal, into Sepultura, but Soulfly was another level of experience. Introducing me to music that was pushing the boundaries of what thrash or nu-metal, whatever it might have been but bringing those tribal sounds. It's great to hear that those will be highlighted again.

MC: Yeah, and it's done in a cool way.

WO: You mentioned that the things you listen to now are providing some influence on the new records.

MC: Yeah. My daily stuff is mostly extreme, heavy s***. Like Genocide Pact or Bolzer. That's my s***. And I also listen to a lot of black metal. A like a lot of Azarat... I like a lot of that s***. Like Immortal. Immortal is great.

There's one song that is really wild. I don't have a name for it yet. It's about a murder in Arizona, in the Navaho land. A cop murdered a girl. And the song starts tribal, then it goes into Black Metal. Like, full-on Darkthrone. Full-on Black Metal. Then it goes Thrash. Like old Sepultura thrash. Then it goes into like Gojira.

WO: Oh wow.

MC: It's f***ing wild.

WO: So there's even some prog metal happening on the track

MC: (laughs) Yeah, there's tribal, black metal, thrash and prog metal all in one song. It's wild man but it's good to do s*** like that man.

WO: So you could be playing tribal drums but also be wearing 12-inch spiked bracer gauntlets too?

MC: Yeah yeah (laughs). I'm into that. I'm a huge metal nerd. I love discovering new bands, contacting them, wearing their shirts, supporting the underground. I'm a big supporter of that. That's why we take a lot of bands like that, like Today is the Day. It's awesome to have them on tour. You know, we did the fests with like Immolation, Suffocation, Battlecross...

WO: Yeah, I always like that sense of a metal community. It's a very communal thing. Metal is a community.

MC: Oh yeah.

WO: You see documentaries like Global Metal or even the recent Blackhearts where bands from, like, Iraq, where their music is banned and they could be placed in jail for playing their music are traveling to Norway to play the music they want to play. How it is, there is a world aspect to metal.

MC: Oh f*** yeah. And metal is great. I think it is a really healthy way of letting feelings out. Whether it is anger or frustration or... even spiritual. Metal is very spiritual. I believe that, more than people give it credit for. Even a lot of stuff like Death metal or black metal, it is really ritualistic and really spiritual. Even though they might be singing about Satan or whatever. The music is ritualistic. And very connected to the spiritual world. That's why I find it so intriguing. That's where my spirituality comes into stuff like Soulfly. It's really a different kind of spirituality. We're not trying to preach, or trying to convert.

WO: You're just expressing.

MC: Yeah. It's like nature. Nature is spiritual and metal is like our religion. Like, we worship metal. We live for it. So it's great!

WO: Yeah you can trace that in metal right back to stuff like Black Sabbath's After Forever where in there they're asking about what's beyond our lives.

MC: Right.

WO: That's really cool. I believe in that "Ministry of Song," as my dad likes to call it.

MC: Yeah man.

WO: (A) music venue can be its own church, its own synagogue, its own temple...

MC: Yeah. For me, at this stage in my career, doing things like Nailbomb, or a return to Roots (Sepultura's 1996 album) or doing new stuff like new Cavalera (Conspiracy) or new Soulfly I'm always looking back. I like the old stuff. The old stuff is cool.

The other day I was jamming stuff from Morbid Visions (Sepultura's debut album from 1986). It was cool man. It was really innocent. There's a certain beauty or magic to not really knowing how to play. Being out of tune. F***ing up. But it's beautiful at the same time.

WO: That's just part of its charm.

MC: Right, we're learning. Because there was not school for it. I didn't go to a place where you learn how to be in a band. Or learn metal. Or how to write songs. All of that was learned on the ropes. In life. A lot of trial and error. You f*** up. You do it again. Try it a different way.

That's what so interesting to me with Nailbomb. Especially with Nailbomb. It was such a fun record to make. We had a lot of fun, me and Alex (Newport, the other half of Nailbomb). More, probably, than some of the other records I've made. It was completely detached from anything. We didn't have any record label breathing down our necks. Like, we didn't even know we were making a record. We were just in our own world.

WO: Just having a good time.

MC: Very underground too, being ourselves. Which is really cool. Which is how I like things to be.

WO: I think that's part of the purity of if. That speaks to when you were talking about first learning it all. It's not about learning chord progressions. It's pure feeling. Listening to records and asking, "What is that sound?"

MC: Yeah, which is this whole Ministry idea we had. We'd listen to Ministry, Godflesh, and Nine Inch Nails. Y'know, we'd have Industrial machinery meets metal, meets hardcore, meets punk. All of that was in Nailbomb. We'd have very metal songs like Bulls***, which almost sounds like Fear Factory. And you have stuff like Wasting Away which is like Hardcore essentially.

WO: Yeah I remember hearing that intro and thinking, "Is this leading to like a Fear Factory or Front Line Assembly song?" Then that guitar lick kicks in.

MC: Yeah!

WO: And it's a pure thrash sound, then your voice kicks in...

MC: Yeah!

WO: And you think, "Wow, ok, we're going on a whole different thing."

MC: The whole record was made like that. And it was a lot of fun. It was our own interpretation of what we wanted from Ministry. We wanted them to be heavier so we did our own interpretation of Ministry or Nine Inch Nails where they were heavy but really not that heavy. We wish it would be a little bit heavier. So Nailbomb was created to fill that void. For people that like Nine Inch Nails but want it a bit heavier? Boom. There it is.

WO: You can send it to Al Jourgenson (of Ministry) and say "be more like this man"

MC: There's Nailbomb man.

WO: Speaking of those types of projects and you communicating with other musicians. I'm always fascinating by the fact that you seem to be the Czar of collaborations. You get connected with so many people and put out so many projects. Like all the people that get brought into the Soulfly records... is there any hint you can give about people you've been in contact with. Or even, a wishlist of people you may or may not have been in touch with?

MC: We have people that came onto the new Soulfly, which I can't tell you about now because we want to keep them a secret. Y'know but in Cavalera (Conspiracy) we had Justin from Godflesh. I don't care if it's a really famous person or someone from the underground. Regardless, I get excited working with like Tom Araya (Slayer), Corey from Slipknot and Todd from Nails. It's not the popularity that counts.

If I wish to make a song with someone. To me, maybe Ozzy or Rob Halford or even James Hetfield or Phil from Pantera. It hasn't happened yet but then there's a kind of more underground list like Bolzer or... I've always like Tom Warrior from Celtic Frost, who's in Triptykon now, which would be really cool. But we'll see what happens.

I'm just grateful for all of the great people I've worked with. Like Killer be Killed. We're gonna do more, like later in the year, and like an album maybe next year.

WO: Along with the collaborations there's also, with your bands, there's a big family element. So my question would be: we've got Cavalera Conspiracy, you've got family on this tour, when are we going to see The Cavalera Symphony! Just, every possible person (laughs).

MC: I don't know man. It's really cool what we're doing now. It's a bit spirit but we've got Zyon (his son) and for Nailbomb we proud Igor (his son) doing Alex's parts on the keyboard. But they also have their band Lody Kong which is killer. You really gotta check them out. They're better than ever. And I believe they're going to be a very very good band. Very strong. The stuff they're doing is killer. It's like off the radar. Some punk and metal mixed with like old old Slayer or Pantera. It's cool. And Igor is really connected to a lot of young bands. Like Genocide Pact or Yob or Cog. A lot of great stuff that is out there.

I think it's really cool the way it is. Y'know, we travel together. I play with my brother (Igor, of Cavalera Conspiracy and formerly of Sepultura). It's kind of a cool vibe. Like a family vibe. A lot of the crew we have are the same guys we've had for a long time. So the bus feels like a family. It's cool man. It's a chill vibe. There's sometimes some arguments.

WO: As happens with families.

MC: (laughs) Yeah, yeah. For the most part we really enjoy doing what we love. I think it's really cool that we have a metal family. United by family. If we try to get somewhere with it, we're all helping each other. It's definitely a good thing.

WO: Right on. Well, that's about all I wanted to talk about.

MC: Right on brother. 18 minutes... that's not too bad.

William suffers from tinnitus and would like to thank Max Cavalera for his contributions to this condition.

Tags: Max Cavalera, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, Killer be Killed, Sepultura, Nailbomb, metal, thrash, industrial, Zyon Cavalera

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