It’s no small task to step into the shoes as a frontman of a band that has a cult following. Add to the equation the fact that metal fans are extremely loyal and are not huge fans of change. It’s not like a band like Foreigner or Journey that you can insert a charismatic frontman with a similar tone and the nostalgia takes over with the adoring fans not skipping a beat in ticket sales. A band like Sepultura that blazed a new trail in the metal world with a signature sound had an uphill battle when iconic original frontman Max Cavalera parted ways with the band in 1998. SF Sonic had the pleasure of sitting with the man that fearlessly took on that task and has been disproving naysayers and winning back original fans for nearly nineteen years strong, frontman Derrick Green during their stop at Slim’s on the “Brotherhood of the Snake Tour”.
SF Sonic: You’ve got close to 19 years under your belt fronting Sepultura. Can you reflect on what it was like stepping into legendary shoes under perhaps some tumultuous circumstances?
Derrick Green: Yeah, I mean it was pretty intense. I think the biggest thing on my mind was wanting to do well. I wanted to fit in with the band, to work well with the band, to get to know them as people. For me, that was the toughest part. Anything that happened in the past, wasn’t a part of me so it wasn’t that crazy. I had been doing music my whole life so it was always something I wanted to do. It was the moment where it was like “OK, this is about me now.” It had nothing to do with the person I’d never met. So it was tough but at the same time it was something I had been waiting for. That opportunity to show myself. So it was a very exciting moment actually. I was consistently positive about it, very fortunate.
SF Sonic: One of the key elements of the Sepultura sound aside from the signature groove and tribal rhythms is a well-pronounced vocal delivery. Listeners can decipher the lyrics and latch on to them a bit better than some other metal bands. Was this always part of your style and is this a constant conscious thought when writing vocal melodies?
Green: I think so, it’s very important. Many of the things we’re saying have to do with a lot of personal or social issues. I think it’s important for the listener to be able to understand. Of course, they can read it if it is a little hard to understand, but for me as a vocalist it’s extremely important for me to be audible & being able to do that live where it really counts. It’s always been something that’s been a part of me and something I always want to improve on. There’s some things I’ve heard and I’m like, “Oh man, I want to do this better, deliver better especially live.” It’s a challenge, you know it’s something I think evolved with Sepultura. Words and music changed my whole life growing up, it really sends the message home. The music behind it is what sometimes pushes the words.
SF Sonic: How important or intentional was it to the band in the process of selecting a drummer that he be of Brazilian descent? Was it a logistical decision or more so based on the inherited sense of playing style that stems from Brazilian roots? (no pun intended)
Green: I think it was extremely important for us, it was definitely intentional to find a Brazilian drummer I think. We were based there, it is an integral part of Sepultura history. That rhythm, it is still an integral part to this day. It’s a unique style that comes from Brazil with that mixture of European and African sounds. So, it was something that we needed to find in Brazil.
SF Sonic: If you were given the opportunity to only have to address the relentless reunion questions one final time, what would you say to fans?
Green: I mean, it’s just not happening. I don’t understand. It’s just made up, fantasy land talk. Nobody wants that, as far as in the band I mean. We’ve worked so hard to build what we’re doing to respect the name of Sepultura and the past to respect the songs to the bet of our ability musically and really transforming that into “now”. There’s a lot of years working and fighting keeping the name relevant and going in an upward direction. I think it would be a failure to go back and do something that had already been done in a different time period where it’s not going to have the same impact. It would be destroying that impact from the past because it’s never going to be the same. What’s happening is “now.” It’s much more of a challenge to create new music and have people like that. I think people are interested in that. It’s been so many years, I think it’s lazy to do something like that unless it’s for a special occasion or celebrating something that happened in the past. I think it’s great. But to base a career on something like that would be boring. For us, we’re in such a great position now with this new album Machine Messiah. We really worked hard on it and it’s getting a lot of positive feedback from old fans and new fans. It’s definitely a testament to sticking to what we believe.
SF Sonic: What’s your favorite track from Machine Messiah and reason behind it?
Green: Well, “Phantom Self” is always fun to do live. It’s just rhythmically, it’s just such an intense song that it draws in a lot people’s attention. We did a video for it. It’s really difficult to do live, challenging. Like I said, it’s great at each show to have that, it’s different. So for me, it’s been “Phantom Self.”
SF Sonic: Over the years, metal has often been dissected into sub-genres. A lineup like tonight’s Brotherhood of the Snake Tour with Prong, Sepultura, and Testament is well-balanced meal for the metal palette. What are your thoughts?
Green: I think it’s great! I think this was a perfectly put together tour as far as Testament putting us on it’s such a great honor. We’re sharing a bus with Prong. I was in high school when I went to see them play, it was incredible. So just to be around so many great musicians and artists I feel very privileged. The styles of music of each of these bands is very different so I think it create for a more interesting show. People get tired of hearing the same thing. It’s like “Wow!,” totally different styles but very heavy. It’s great, I think it works very well.
SF Sonic: You’ve shared the stage with countless legends in metal, is there a particular fan-boy moment or meeting of a musical peer or idol that stands out?
Green: I’ve always been a big fan of Faith No More and we’re really good friends with Mike Patton. Being in the band I was able to meet him countless times and work together and it’s always a joy. I think for me as a vocalist, he’s one of my top five favorites. He never ceases to amaze me. He’s a great performer and frontperson so he’s definitely in my top five. We’re friends now, but I remember the initial meeting thinking to myself “Wow, this is pretty cool”.
SF Sonic: Sepultura will be celebrating their world premiere of your new documentary Sepultura Endurance with showings in Brooklyn, Austin, and here in San Francisco. What can you tell the fans about the film?
Green: It’s really cool, especially if you’re not a metalhead. Seeing the history and story of Sepultura is like “Wow, how is Sepultura together today with so many changes, change in styles of music going around and being able to stay relevant with so many hectic things going on in the past?” You get to see that, you get to hear the influence they’ve had on many other musicians and the hardship of being on the road and being in a band and what keeps a band together. It’s very realistic, very truthful, very honest. But I think it’s a beautiful story that nobody could ever imagine. This band coming from Brazil and to be where we’re at now, it’s just really incredible how it all turned out. So it really has relevance. I think people will be really interested to see a point of view we’ve never gave before. It’s a very detailed, very open way. You know, there’s a lot of people that were swayed that stopped listening to Sepultura for a while that were like “Nah, it’s not gonna be the same.” But for those fans even – they can see what was going on at that time period. It’s really interesting, if you are a fan of Sepultura to check out and see what was really going on. They stopped going to shows, etc. They weren’t aware that we were still doing a lot of interesting things with a lot of different artists creating incredible music and you can see that in the pieces of the thirty-year anniversary show in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Just the intensity of the crowd and the people still to this day.
SF Sonic: What’s Derrick Green’s 5 and 10 year plan, where do you see yourself and the band in 5 and 10 years?
Green: Hopefully we’ll be creating more music and surprising ourselves. At the end of the day recording, it’s like “wow!” We enjoy doing that and surprising our fans. Just keep doing what we’re doing, staying healthy, staying strong. That for us, the key and to take it step by step, tour by tour and roll with that.
SF Sonic: What’s on your playlist this tour to pass the miles?
Green: Oh man, that’s a good question. I made a playlist before this tour, but it’s totally outrageous. I mean, it goes all over the place. I have a lot of classic rock. A lot of times I take a list of bands that people tell me to checkout and I write down their names and when I get home I seek it out. It’s so much easier with things like Spotify to just find immediately. Let’s see I have here a lot of 80s stuff like pop stuff actually. I have the Psychedelic Furs, The Fixx, Thomas Dolby, Spandau Ballet. I have The Who, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals. Also a lot of dub like Lee “Scratch” Perry, have Burning Spear, The Allman Brothers, it goes all over the place.
SF Sonic: The music industry has undergone so many changes over the past two decades. For you personally, what are your favorite and least favorite aspects of being a professional musician?
Green: So many changes like I was just mentioning like Spotify, although they’re completely unfair with royalties paid to artists being paid pennies for tons of plays is ridiculous I think. But, at the same time, the access at your fingertips being able to hear an artist immediately, I think that’s fantastic, it’s incredible. I think the downside though is that this payment is so ridiculous that artists are getting paid after tons and tons of plays. I think most disappointing though is the quality of formats of music like .mp3 files. I would have thought that things would’ve have gotten better by now, the sound quality. With music is it especially disappointing unless you have this incredible sound system or great ear buds, there’s still bad ear plugs, nothing great. The crunching and compression of these files, I’d think they’d have an advancement now so there’s less compression and you can hear more of really what’s going on. It’s a lose or win situation with technology. It’s definitely necessary, but at times it can definitely set people apart unfortunately.
Photo by Raymond Ahner.