Led by former Sepultura and Nailbomb frontman Max Cavalera, metallers Soulfly got back on track with 2008’s Conquer and have since followed it with a new disc, the even more aggressive Omen, which places greater emphasis on Cavalera’s punk rock and hardcore influences while also upping the heavy metal ante. We spoke to the friendly, laid-back Cavalera during a break between tours about the band’s upcoming Australian tour with City Of Fire, the latest on the next Cavalera Conspiracy album (his collaboration with brother Iggor), the chances of a reunion of the classic Sepultura lineup, working with Fred Durst and more.
(Note – The interview was conducted just hours prior to the announcement that long-time Soulfly bassist Bobby Burns had left the band. Fireball Ministry’s Johny Chow will take his place for the band’s Australian tour).
Spiritech: The new record Omen is the most aggressive and in-your-face Soulfly has sounded in some time. What motivated you on this album?
Max Cavalera: Well, I’ve always liked bands that as they got older, they got heavier. There’s only a few of those, but I was motivated by that. I had a chance to do that with my own band, so I decided on Dark Ages that Soulfly’s going to go heavier. Conquer was even heavier and then Omen now is even heavier and more aggressive and also with a little bit of hardcore influence, bringing that side to the album too. So it was just how we felt like doing it and we just kind of let the album take its own shape and the songs were coming out like that. In the end we had a really brutal album. We can play everything, ’cause it’s all done by us, there’s not really computers involved or synthesizers or any of that shit, it’s just really people playing instruments so we could play all that shit live. So it’s really good, ’cause we get to play a lot of these songs live and the response has been really good for the new album.
www.pyromusic.netSpiritech: From the early days of Sepultura onwards you’ve never shied away from acknowledging your punk and hardcore influences. Is it still the same group of bands that are inspiring you in this respect?
Max Cavalera: Yeah, pretty much. Like a lot of European stuff like Discharge, GBH and The Exploited and American hardcore like (from) New York City, like Sick Of It All, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, you know? These (are) all bands that I grew up listening to and they still influence me right now. I love that kind of… like the first song on the album ‘Bloodbath and Beyond’. It’s only three riffs, but it’s all you need in a song like that is three ripping riffs and the magic’s there. That’s the beauty of hardcore.
Spiritech: The new album is a step up in the violence stakes and most notable is the track ‘Jeffrey Dahmer’, written in honour of the infamous serial killer. What inspired you to write a song about him?
Max Cavalera: That’s an idea that I’ve always wanted to do, for a couple of years now. Even back in the Sepultura days I wanted to, I just never found the right time, the right album to do it. I started fucking around with that idea last year and I thought that this album would be perfect, because I was already singing about a lot of murder songs, like ‘Lethal Injection’, ‘Off With Their Heads’, ‘Bloodbath and Beyond’. There was already a lot of murder on the album, so I thought, “okay, this should fit in pretty good”. So I went in and decided, “which serial killer do I pick?” The first idea was going to be Charles Manson, but then I thought a lot of people use Charles Manson already, so I thought I’ll get someone more sick and I found him (laughs), Jeffrey Dahmer. Which is like the sickest, because he was also (a) cannibal, he didn’t just kill the victims, but he also ate them. That gave me a lot of ideas for the lyrics too. I really enjoyed doing that I think it was really great. It was kind of exploring a little bit on the Slayer territory; Slayer’s more famous for serial killer kind of lyrics. I think I did okay, you know, I think it turned out pretty cool and the song is really cool and fits the rest of the album. I’m glad we did it.
Spiritech: You’re a band that’s renowned for collaborations and the new album also features two strong guest appearances from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato and Prong’s Tommy Victor. When reflecting on the Soulfly back catalogue, what are some of your favourite collaborations?
Max Cavalera: (Pauses) Oh, there’s a lot, man. Chino (Moreno) does great from the Deftones; we did a couple of things with him. (Slayer’s) Tom Araya on ‘Terrorist’ on Primitive. Sean Lennon also on Primitive, that was really unusual, really, really different, really great. And the last album Conquer had David Vincent from Morbid Angel, one of the bands I like a lot from the death metal era. So I got to get Soulfly involved with death metal as well. So all of those are great collaborations, I really love these collaborations. On the new album we have the song with Greg, ‘Rise Of The Fallen’ and ‘Lethal Injection’ with Tommy from Prong. Really killer artists to work with, so I’m very pleased and I’m going to do more. I love this idea of collaborations on albums – the more, the better. The more artists you collaborate (with) on other people’s albums, I think it’s really something cool about the music.
Spiritech: I know that in recent years you’ve been critical of your work with Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst on ‘Bleed’ from your self-titled debut though. Are there any collaborations you’ve been involved with that you regret now?
Max Cavalera: Yeah, Fred Durst, you know, turned out to be a jackass later, but at the time that he did that he was cool. He wasn’t like super famous and the idea to use him was from the producer Ross Robinson, he was friends with Limp Bizkit. I didn’t know the band you know, I just had a spot for the song ‘Bleed’ and he said some guy could do some rapping on top of it. So I was like, “alright, that’s cool”. I didn’t know who Limp Bizkit was and then like a year later they were the biggest band on the planet. He also turned into a jackass, you know, so I was like, “oh well, I’ve got this guy on my album now”. At that time I didn’t know… if it was today, I probably wouldn’t be using him.
Spiritech: (Laughs) Changing topics now, Cavalera Conspiracy released their debut album two years ago. What’s the latest on the next record?
Max Cavalera: It’s all finished and it’s going to be released next year. It’s all done, it’s really killer, it’s really exciting stuff. I think it’s more powerful than the first album, it’s more exciting, it’s more on the edge. The songs are more like, in your face than the first album. The first album, I think it was good to break the ice and get the name out, but this second record is really the one that’s going to make people think about Cavalera Conspiracy when they hear (it).
www.pyromusic.netSpiritech: When you’re writing riffs and ideas, do you have the mindset of writing a riff and having it in the back of your mind that it’s a Cavalera Conspiracy riff or a Soulfly riff, for instance. Or do you not approach it that way at all?
Max Cavalera: No, I’m writing all the time, without knowing which is going to go to each. Then later when I listen to them back, then I make the choice. I listen to the tapes later of the riffs, then I know which one goes to each. I use my own judgment to separate which ones go better with Iggor and which ones go better with Soulfly.
Spiritech: Will you be doing much touring for the next Cavalera Conspiracy album or is Soulfly the priority at the moment?
Max Cavalera: Soulfly is the main tour, we’re going to Europe and then we’ve got Australia. I’m doing one show with Cavalera though in Brazil, it’s a big festival, like 70,000 people in Sao Paolo. Cavalera Conspiracy always does a couple of shows. That’s what’s cool about it; we like to keep it more special, so it doesn’t tour all the time. So when it does a show, it’s very special, it’s something unique. And Soulfly tours all the time, so that’s the difference.
Spiritech: You mentioned Soulfly’s return to Australia in September. Going back to your Sepultura days the metal fans of Australia have always embraced your music in one form or another. What are your expectations for this tour?
Max Cavalera: I think it’s going to be great man. I can’t wait. Last time I was in Australia was with Megadeth on the Gigantour and it was a great time, Soulfly had a great, great time on that tour and it was a killer audience. But it’s even better to come back and headline, have our own crowd and I really can’t wait for the shows. Australia’s always been great to me, Australian fans are great, since the Sepultura days to Soulfly doing the Big Day Out in ’99, to the time we came back with Hatebreed. Now we’re coming back again in September (and) I can’t wait, I think it’s going to be a great tour.
Spiritech: What can fans expect set list wise from the band?
Max Cavalera: Well, we change every night, we never play the same show. We know about 80 songs that we can play. On any day, I can choose between 80 songs that I can play… So the basic set list is going to be the best of all the seven albums, a lot of stuff from the new album. A couple of Sepultura hits, classics that we gotta play like ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ and ‘Refuse/Resist’. Some Nailbomb shit that some people like to hear, we can play some of that too. Then the rest is just a lot of the Soulfly stuff from all of the seven albums. The set list’s real long, it’s like an hour and 40 minutes, an hour and 45 minutes of Soulfly, so it’s really great – really a lot of thrashing for the people.
Spiritech: Can I make a request for Nailbomb’s “Wasting Away’ for the Sydney show? (laughs)
Max Cavalera: Yeah, we can play that, that’s no problem. That’s easy.
www.pyromusic.netSpiritech: (Laughs) Okay then. City Of Fire (featuring Fear Factory members Burton C. Bell and Byron Stroud) are also joining you on the bill. Obviously Fear Factory and Sepultura were two of the biggest names in 90s metal and both were very popular in Australia. Is it exciting to be performing alongside them, even with the respective members operating under different musical entities these days?
Max Cavalera: Yeah, I think so. I heard they were on the bill and I was very, very excited. I’m real good friends with Burt and I like his band. They’re opening the show (and) I’m really excited, it’s going to be really good for the bill. We also got Incite, my son’s (Richie) band, they’re really kicking ass too. They do a really good show too. So it’s a great package for Australia, I think it’s going to be a great night of metal. Who knows, you know maybe Burt can come sing ‘Eye For An Eye’, because you know, he sings on the original Soulfly LP, on the first one he sings backing vocals on that song. So maybe he’ll do that; I’m not sure, but I hope so.
Spiritech: Great stuff. Moving on again, there were reports recently that you had been open to the possibility of the classic Sepultura lineup reuniting for a tour, but allegedly talks stalled. Can you shed some light on this perhaps?
Max Cavalera: Yeah, that was with Andreas (Kisser, guitars)… I thought the time was good, it would have been a good time for a reunion, everybody’s alive, everybody’s here. So I just decided to call him myself to see if we can get this reunion (happening that) a lot of people wanted to see, including my kids, my family, a lot of friends. I know a lot of friends in the whole world who wanted to see this reunion, I thought it’d be a good thing. So I call him and it didn’t really go anywhere. He just demanded a lot of stuff, some unreal things, it was not… some of that was not even negotiable. So I just kind of hang up the phone and just say, “I’ll try again later, some other time”. So it kind of, with things like that now, we just… At least I try, you know, to the fans – I did try my best to get a reunion going, but I couldn’t do it because Andreas didn’t want to, you know? So gotta wait until next time.
Spiritech: So try again in a couple of years’ time then?
Max Cavalera: Yeah, let’s see in a couple of years what will happen, maybe he’ll change his mind and be more cool about it.
Spiritech: Good to hear. In recent months metal has suffered three significant losses through the deaths of Ronnie James Dio, Type O Negative’s Peter Steele and Slipknot’s Paul Gray. Do you have any memories of those individuals that you’d like to share?
Max Cavalera: Yeah, I met Paul, he actually came to my house with a friend of mine that was a Slipknot roadie that used to live here in my house for a couple of years. He came over here one day when he was playing in town and he hung out and during the day we had a little barbecue and we were hanging out. He was a really cool guy man, I was really surprised that he died. A very mellow guy, very cool guy. I was really shocked, really sad when I heard he died. I never got to meet Dio unfortunately; I’m a big fan of his. Stuff I love, Mob Rules and Heaven and Hell. I love the stuff he was doing with Heaven and Hell too, but I never got to meet him, I heard he was a cool guy. So metal definitely has a big loss that just happened and those guys are going to be sorely missed.
Spiritech: Indeed. Shifting subjects again – what’s on Max Cavalera’s iPod at the moment?
Max Cavalera: I like the last Gojira, The Way Of All Flesh. The new Sick Of It All, Based On A True Story, I just got that (and) that’s a great record. Let’s see… the new Slayer, I really like that one too, I thought that was a great record. They’re just a couple there that I’ve got lately that I like.
Spiritech: Final question – any famous last words?
Max Cavalera: Last words? Just thank you for the support man and I can’t wait to be live in Australia again. It’s going to be brutal, people better get ready because it’s going to be a blast. We are ready to play a lot of this stuff for a long time and it’s going to be great. And all these bands on the bill, it’s going to be like a good metal party, so everybody be there.