Even as a teenager, Max Cavalera knew how to rock. Born in Brazil in 1969, he started the legendary Sepultura in the early 80's, a band that took Metal to new levels. Albums like Chaos A.D. and Roots are considered monumental albums in the history of rock, intense and powerful masterpieces that solidified Cavalera as a trailblazer in the world of music, and flipped Metal upside down on its mullet.
Then came 1996, a mighty crummy year for Cavalera. First, there was the murder of his stepson Dana Wells, which to this day remains unsolved and hushed by those involved. Then, inner conflicts within the band led to Cavalera parting with the group...but from there he went on to even better lands. He quickly started up a dandy outfit called Soulfly, and kept on course with the evolution he was following in his music.
Not many bands have the ability to consistently raise goose bumps like Soulfly. Their first album (Soulfly) is filled with wonderful experiments, some beautiful and some downright manic. Songs like "Quilombo" and "Bleed" have no boundaries, but then again, neither does Cavalera.
Throughout the course of his career, Cavalera has tried just about every genre there is, and played with a grand array of musicians, from Mike Patton to Sean Lennon to DJ Lethal to Dave Grohl. Four more albums after their first, Cavalera and Soulfly are rocking as hard and brilliantly as ever. This time, with Dark Ages, Cavalera has taken Metal in its most original form, and turned it on itself. The result is yet another reinvention, a wild mixture of wailing guitars and primal rock.
Cavalera continues to explore new places with his music, and he always seems to do everything on his own call. From dedicating every album to God, to confusing traditional musical arrangements, Sir Max has delivered yet another triumphant album, and we should not be surprised if it marks yet another turn in the road for hard rock.
Naturally, I was delighted when I got the call in my lush office at the headquarters of the infamous WAV magazine, asking me to interview Cavalera. My editors even let me use the company leer jet to fly out to meet Cavalera in person. Of course, we had to make a stop in Tijuana, and four days later, I was nowhere closer to Cavalera. Whoops...
Lucky for me, Cavalera is a man of grace, a stand-up guy. He let me slide with my neglect, and gave me another chance at glory:
You once said in an interview, "I've got Metal stamped on my heart, and I wanna bring Metal back with strength, with blood, with attitude." Do you feel that more with this album than the rest of your albums?
Max Cavalera: Yeah. I think the overall feeling of Dark Ages- from the name to the cover to the songs- it's very much similar to the feeling when I did things like Rise or Chaos A.D. Some people have compared Dark Ages to Chaos A.D. and Soulfly. And that's great, because I love those two records. I love that vibe, that metal vibe of chaos, and Soulfly is full of that, too. And then we went into some more experimental stuff after that.
I think half of Dark Ages is very Metal, very much my own traditional Metal. And the funny thing is for me to actually do that, is new for me. After all these years, to go back and redo, it's fun man. Bashing your instrument, and screaming, and like what (my drummer) Joe calls, "Apocalyptic shit."
And I think we all felt very strong in the studio. Nobody can say what's gonna happen to the record, 'cause that takes on its own. Musicians cannot really do that; it is not up to us to tell what's gonna happen to the album. But the feeling of Dark Ages is a feeling of making a classic Metal record. Which I'm very happy about, 'cause I really haven't done that since Sepultura, and it's really a great feeling to do that, at the moment. It's really cool.
Do you ever look at stuff like Chaos A.D. or anything you've done with Soulfly, and get a little amazed that you're a part of that?
MC: Yeah. Actually, sometimes, I'll hear something being played, and I'll go, "Ooh, who's that?" And somebody will say, "That's your shit, man." [laughs]
The last time was two weeks ago. I went to England to do something for Kerrang!, and when I walk on the stage to receive the award, they played the song, "We Who Are Not As Others," from Chaos. I totally forgot about the song by that time. And when I came back home, my son got that on the Internet. And he's watching, and he goes, "Cool! They're playing 'We Who Are,'" and I go, "What?" I had him rewind that, and then I went and listened to Chaos A.D., and it was like, "Yeah, I remember this song now." [laughs]
But that's the thing- I forget things I've done. It comes at me again, after so many years, it hits me like that. When I went back to listen to that, I was like, "This is a cool fucking song." It was weird- it had nothing to do with the Scene. It's not even what Metal was going on at that time. We were in a totally different planet.
And I like that; that's cool. And it will happen more, even with Soulfly stuff.
Yeah, each album is its own thing...
MC: That's what I like about making music the way I do, 'cause it's like a never-ending search and quest, and I don't go back. My state of mind in music is Forward, Forward, Forward, all the time. I'm so into the future, just going and searching. It's like an obsession; I'm an obsessed person with music, never really looking back. I very, very rarely listen to my own records. If I have to, it usually has something to do with a job, like learning a song to play live. I would not put my own old cd on my own cd player, I don't do that. It might be silly; it may be stupid. I don't know, but I just never did.
Even after making Roots, with people tripping over that. I was already thinking about making the next Sepultura album- which I eventually didn't do, 'cause we broke up. But from what I heard on Soulfly, the next Sepultura album would have been some pretty wild shit [laughs].
What do you feel sets Dark Ages apart from your other albums?
MC: I think, in general, the darkness of it. I set a tone on it; there is an overall tone on the entire record, from the music to the lyrics to the album cover. It all has a more dark, black, white, and gray tone. And there's not a band picture on the cd.
It's a very strange, dark record, in pretty much every way I look at it. Soulfly is always connected with green and yellow and the Brazil colors- and Dark Ages doesn't have any of that. There's no color, there's no band picture. The music, even the tribal stuff that I'm famous for. On Dark Ages, it's dark tribal stuff, nothing is happy about it. The instruments are Eastern European instruments, that are more used in dark kinds of songs. I really went for a dark record, and this is what a dark Soulfly record is like.
And I stayed like that through the whole process. I didn't buckle at all. There was even two songs that I kicked out of the record. They were great songs, like "Moses," but I didn't put them on, 'cause they weren't for Dark Ages. It's a different concept all the way.
Do you feel Armageddon is nearer than usual?
MC: Yeah, man.
Do you think we're on a crest of impending doom?
MC: Yeah, I think the signs are all there. As far as how long it will last, I don't know. But I think that what we've seen is definitely...our grandfathers did not see what we see now. For me, that's very wild to think about, how my grandfather and my great-grandfather, they never seen September 11 and hurricanes and tsunamis and Iraq. You know? They saw World War II, but what we are going through right now, I do really think is apocalyptic, Armageddon, it's biblical, and fucked up. And it's going on right now, as we talk.
Is that what you're referencing in "Fuel the Hate"?
MC: The actual date is the date of the test of the atomic bomb, which is called Trinity. But that's just kind of like Nailbomb. The actual lyrics in "Fuel the Hate" are a little more personal, they have nothing to do with the atomic bomb.
But in conjunction, it's kind of cool. It starts with a march, and the march is instruments, guitar and drums in the background, and bombs and explosions in the front. It's the complete opposite of what everybody else does, with the guitar and drums louder, and the background is explosions.
When I was working with the engineers, I told him that the bombs should be the main focus, they should be the instruments.
They connect with each other, but more in a subliminal way.
Do you trust the police, and the government in general?
MC: No, nobody should [laughs]. I mean, that's the way I see it. There's good people and bad people everywhere. I also think that the shit that you do, if you do something bad and fuck some people over, it will catch up to you somehow. Maybe not now, but later.
As for the government and the police, my experience with them has been both worlds. I was in jail in Brazil, and the police were the biggest fuckin' assholes I ever met. But then I have fans that are S.W.A.T. team people, and they're great people. I met one guy, and he brought five or six of his friends, and they were all cops- and we had a great time. They're big fans of Soulfly.
So there's both, but there's a little of that with everything, right?
MC: Within life, you become less naive, and more aware of who you're dealing with. You should be aware of that. People can be really cool, but they can also be very fucked up, so you need to be on the guard all the time.
Is it hard to constantly- at least once on every Soulfly album- to do songs about Dana, or is it cathartic?
MC: Well, they've been different all the time, and I think that "Bleed" is very different from "Tree of Pain." I also think there is a therapy and catharsis involved, and in some songs like "Staystrong," it's for me kind of a closing chapter. It feels that I can move on now; it feels more complete than it did before...
Did those guys ever get busted, or is the situation still open?
MC: No man, no. It's still open, and now I doubt anything will ever happen. It's so out of our control.
On the other hand, me as a person, I don't worry about that, because these guys are gonna get a judgment much more harsh and painful in the Afterlife. That's my theory, at least, in what I believe. Anything that we can do to them in this world, is nothing compared to what's waiting for them in the next world. So, I don't even hold that hate.
It would have been better to see justice be done, because we like to think society does work in a certain way, and when you do something like that, you should be punished. But it doesn't really work like that, with all the people with their schemes and lies and other things.
But these people gotta live with that, every day. And that's a torment itself, even if they don't talk to anybody about it. Your inner voice, inside of you, when you know you killed somebody, you were involved in somebody's death, and you're hiding or whatever. It must be like this just fucked up, horrible state of mind, at all times.
Shit, I feel bad when I get drunk and act like an asshole. I go and apologize to everybody, 'cause I can't live with that. I've done that a lot; I used to drink a lot [laughs], and I did fucked up shit. And I'd apologize. But something like this, they killed somebody. How do you go on with life knowing that you're very involved, and actually a big part of the cover up?
So, I tend to be not even really harsh at those people, 'cause they already get it mentally, and they're gonna get it even more after they leave this earth, so I don't have to worry about it. They will deal with what they've done, I will deal with what I've done, you will deal with what you've done.
I actually stopped drinking. It was getting in the way of my music...
Do you smoke reefer?
MC: No, I've done everything, and I kind of found out it was just a waste of time. What you get out of it is very predictable, unlike music. When I make music, it's unpredictable, and that's what I love about it. When you drink or do drugs, the result is very much the same. Once you try everything, you're not gonna drink something that will make you see things different than what you've seen before.
It's actually the opposite; you just get worse, you just get more hangovers, you're not able to do what you wanna do as good, 'cause you're tired and pissed off. There's other things in life that I wanna do. I kinda found that out myself.
Maybe later, when I'm older and I'm not so involved with music, then I may smoke weed or drink some wine, and that should be cool. But at the moment, I just kind of wanna be real involved with the music...but I have a real hard time picturing myself getting old like other people. I can't imagine being who I am, and sitting in a house, doing nothing.
Look at Rolling Stones, man. Those fuckers are still going, touring and shit, man. Mick took every drug in the world, ever made, and the guy's still touring. Same with Ozzy, and BB King.
There's hope for people like us. You don't need to stop. Unless you really don't wanna play anymore; if you don't get fun out of it anymore. That's one thing I've always said, is that if I'm playing music that I don't like, and I'm just doing it for a job, then I don't want to do it.
Other than that, I think I'll be involved with music forever.
Has your expressed faith in God affected your credibility with your peers?
MC: No. Religion is really personal, and I prefer to people explore and find themselves.
I really believe in God, but it's a different God than Christian or Catholic or whatever. But I like also the fact that, because you thank God in a record like Soulfly or Sepultura, that is so off the wall, it actually irritates, kind of pisses some people off.
And that's kind of exciting. For me, it's exciting to dedicate Dark Ages to God. It's real exciting, 'cause all these religious pricks will be looking at this, and it's gonna disturb them. And that's good.
So, I do it for the right reason, myself in my heart. I believe in God, but he's not broke, and he's not going on TV and asking me to go get some money. And he doesn't give a shit what race I am, or what I wear. All these things are so important for some of these religious organizations. What you look like, your status, your money, which I think has nothing really to do with God.
If Jesus Christ was alive, do you think he'd rock out to Soulfly?
MC: Yeah, I think so. I always thought that, in the biblical movies, there's parts that should have been Metal. Like when Jesus breaks up the whole temple, because everybody's pagan and selling stuff, and he goes there and kicks the shit out of the tables. Man, that would have been great to have a song like "Beneath the Remains" or "Raining Blood" in the background [laughs]. Or Moses, when he parts the Red Sea, and then kills all the Egyptians coming after him. You can't hear Allanis Morrisete on that shit, man. You need something heavy.
In my head, it makes sense that some heavy music fits those moments much better than some melodic, poppy-ass shit.
Do you have any thoughts on Clear Channel?
MC: Not really, but one thing I'm proud about with Soulfly has been our ability to survive with very little help from MTV or corporations.
You guys aren't on the radio that much, are you?
MC: No, and the ones that play us I really admire. I consider them to be brave; they break the establishment.
But the survival of Soulfly, year after year, has been without these elements that are so important in some bands. I mean, most bands, you take those elements from them, and they're done, they're finished. They cannot make it on their own, and Soulfly can.
I'm not saying I can entirely make it on my own, that's not true. But without any help from the big corporations, we can. We always did, Sepultura did, and Soulfly's doing it. And I thank everybody that believes in us. I think the press is very important- the radio that plays us, the magazines that publish my interviews and all.
But if the big things didn't want to support us, we'd still make it. And I feel lucky to be part of a band with such a loyal fanbase. It's really cool.
I love to see people tour, and it's really cool to see them again. And I treasure those moments, 'cause something like what happened to Dimebag [Darrel] can always happen at any time. I've learned to treasure my moments.