They used to say James Brown was the hardest working man in show business. Well the sultan of soul has long been gone but there are a handful of road warriors touring relentlessly as well as maintaining the ability to churn out great albums much like James did. With the eleventh Soulfly studio release Ritual on Nuclear Blast Records, Max Cavalera and company continue the path of salvation as martyrs of metal. I had the repeat pleasure of sitting down with Max to discuss the new record, touring, family, and the best musical mashup idea shared in many moons.
SF Sonic: You live a peaceful, spiritual life. You are very grounded and have an incredibly strong, stable core that you surround yourself with. With that sense of peace where do you pull the angst from?
Max Cavalera: That’s always kind of been with me. It goes back to my childhood when my father died I got really angry, when I was nine years old. I get drawn by issues like oppression, oppressive people, oppressive systems. They really draw me into a mood like fighting, I am fighting for these people. These days, that’s where I draw my anger from. Stuff like “Blood On the Street” about the murder of the Navajo girl, that’s kind of where my anger comes from. But it goes all the way back to my father’s death, Dana’s death (Stepson Dana Wells). I think it’s always going to be with me, man one of those things that will always be inside of me, the issue was never resolved. It will always be a thorn in my side kind of thing.
SF Sonic: Soulfly has very much become a family business with Gloria (wife), Zyon, Jason, Richie, and Igor (sons) often accompanying you on the road as part of the Soulfly crew or as a support band. What does that mean to the continuity of your career, what does it mean to you?
Cavalera: Hopefully it means they can find their own way, they’re in the beginning of their careers. I think Richie is doing very good for himself, he works really hard for Incite and gets a lot of his own tours these days which is really great. Sometimes I’m actually a little jealous of his tours, I wish I was on them. I’m like “Come on man, these are all bands I like,” so that’s very cool. Of course, Zyon is playing with me and that’s awesome. Especially this last European tour, what a great time we had. He posted some videos on our Instagram of this festival we played in Poland with 700,000 people, it was insane. His tech was filming him behind the drums so you could see all the people. It was also my 49th birthday so it was a magical, amazing day. It will be hard to beat that one. You know, working with Gloria has always been great. She makes everything run smooth, makes everything perfect, she takes care of everything. She almost spoils us a little bit, we’re so used to things going so smooth that it takes the fun out of it. It can get a little boring, it’s like we want something to go wrong to keep it exciting. But, it’s fun. It’s cool to have this metal family with everybody getting involved and everybody’s really connected through the metal, through the music. All of us are united. The music has definitely made me, Igor, and Zyon a lot stronger and closer through the years which I think is really great.
SF Sonic: The Soulfly tribe is definitely a close-knit family not only comprised of blood relatives. Can you explain its importance to you?
Cavalera: We try to make that happen, we love that aspect of it. I like that, it sort of separates us from the rest of society I really enjoy that. Then you get to the aspect of the bands that we listen to. Everyone knows that I’m a big fan of some of the new bands I listen to and get in touch with through Zyon, Gloria, or Igor. Everybody from Gatecreeper to Necrot, Harm’s Way, Nails. It’s like a huge metal universe out there. I’m just happy to still be involved in the underground. I get excited about these bands, I want to help them, take them on tour with us if possible. I wear their shirts to help give them exposure, I really really love that stuff. I really get a lot out of it. Those songs, those bands give me something to live for. I get super excited to hear a new record I really dig. I want to tell all my friends about it. The last Outer Heaven album that came out, I was really excited to tell everyone about it. I was telling everyone they gotta get this, they gotta hear this. It’s kinda cool, it really brings me back to my tape trading days in Brazil. Reminds me of discovering bands like Death, I was telling all my friends, “Death is killer, you gotta checkout this band.” It’s like the young Max comes out and I don’t give a shit about my age, I still act like a teenager. It’s cool, I love that. Actually, Igor had some friends come to town recently. It was Genocide Pact, they were playing with Gatecreeper, Incantation, and Dying Fetus and Igor was like, “Let’s go to the show.” So, I said alright, but he tells me “I couldn’t get you backstage, man. Genocide Pact could only get you on the list, not backstage so you’ll be in the crowd.” So I just said “Fuck it, I’m gonna love it, let’s do it!” It was fucking killer, I was in the crowd. You know, some people bugged me a little bit asking for pictures and this and that but it ended up being an extremely fun experience. One guy even bought me a Coke. He said he had to buy me a drink but I told him I wasn’t drinking alcohol these days, but a Coke would be great. So, he bought me a Coca-Cola and he was super proud he bought me a drink, it was really cool. We met all the guys, the bands too, so it was really fun, super cool. It was a great night and it was really cool to do something like that. Some fans were so happy to see me and telling me how cool it was for me to come to the show and hang out. I loved the fact I went with my son and he knows all the bands. It was really, really enjoyable for me to do that at this stage of my career. I tour all the time and it’s always from my side of things, my perspective, so to go to a show where I am not playing, just in the crowd watching like any other fan, that was a lot of fun.
SF Sonic: Extreme metal vocalists are really put through the ringer on tour, especially with little to no rest between dates. What is your secret to keeping your natural instrument in prime shape?
Cavalera: I try different things, like drinking tea during the day. The first couple of shows are always hard, the voice goes to shit. After the first few shows it becomes like a machine and everything sounds great. After the first few there’s no more problems. If you can get through the first few days you’re OK. If you can get a good monitor mix so you don’t blow your voice with some shitty monitors. Apart from that I don’t really do too much. I do a little bit of warm-up screams that kinda freaks everyone out a little bit around me. I love the reactions of people freaking out when I do it, the surprised reactions on their face. Then, just go out there and scream, it’s what we do.
SF Sonic: The track ‘Dead Behind the Eyes’ with guest Randy Blythe is a perfect mash-up of classic Soulfly riffage with a strong Lamb of God flavor included. What was the writing process for that particular track both , musically and lyrically?
Cavalera: Musically it’s a bit of a throwback on my own dictionary of music. My son Zyon was asking me questions about old songs like “Schizophrenia,” “Beneath the Remains” kind of stuff. So I told him we should write a song like that and we took the challenge and we created “Dead Behind the Eyes” entirely before we entered the studio. In the studio, we put all the parts in, did all the choruses, guitars, etc. I asked Josh (Wilbur, Engineer on Ritual), because he’s a really good friend of Randy’s. and I am a really big Randy fan, really big Lamb of God fan. I really wanted to work together. I thought it would really be a metalhead’s dream or nightmare come true. So, Josh played him some of the tracks and thank God Randy fell in love with this track. I think his voice is killer, it’s even really creepy with a whole Hellraiser vibe. That’s what the song is about – all the Cenobites, Hell priests, and Pinhead. It’s like a Clive Barker nightmarish kind of ride. The chorus is “No pain, walk on fire, Cenobites I know your kind.” It explains what the Cenobites look like. Even in a slow part, I say in the background “Hellraiser” to give a nod to the movie itself. I’m giving away the secret where it came from. I really dig the song. It has like a cool classic Max, old school Max vibe. But also some new elements, especially in the end when the slow part comes in. It has a little industrial metal feeling to it. We got to really incorporate some of this machinery like vibe to some songs, almost like Nailbomb. We just finished the Nailbomb tour so maybe it was a little influence that contributed to that. But I am very glad those elements are in the album. It really makes for a better listening experience.
SF Sonic: More and more bands have been stating in the press that touring is their overwhelming source of a band’s income, going as far as to even stating it’s about 99.9% of it. The industry model has most definitely changed over the past two decades. Where does Soulfly as well as you as an individual fall into this equation?
Cavalera: I’m not sure. I know we don’t sell as much as we used to. The days of gold and platinum records are over, it’s behind us. We have them on the wall to remind us that they do exist and I wasn’t dreaming. But that doesn’t happen anymore unfortunately, due to downloading and illegal ways of people consuming music. At the same time, touring is definitely our bread & butter. Merchandise, t-shirts, the tour itself is how we survive I think it’s cool the fans still want to see us play shows, that’s a cool thing. Our last European tour was packed, shows were sold out. There is big interest still and people want to come and watch us play live. I think as long as that doesn’t die we’re gonna be OK. I am hopeful. I still love the idea though of creating a record, making the record, reading the reviews of the album. I get very excited, I am pretty stoked with some of the reviews of Ritual that I’ve read so far. They’ve been really good. Definitely, as far as our living goes touring is how we survive.
SF Sonic: Nostalgia has become the new opiate for adults. Music lovers often gravitate to music that is both familiar to them and also represents a snapshot in time of their lives. That can lead to new bands or new releases from established bands being overlooked as fans tend to shy away & stick to what they know and love. Can you share your thoughts about that?
Cavalera: I think it’s cool, I like the whole nostalgia thing. Some of the things I do with my brother Igor, it’s very inspiring and I can see the influence on a lot of people. Especially the younger kids that weren’t even born when some of these records came out. We did a lot of the Return to Roots and Nailbomb shows. I can see it in a lot of new records too. Take for example the new Power Trip album. Everybody loves it. But there’s nothing really new on that record, everything’s already been done. They just re-did it the right way. They channel the energy, the spirit of the golden thrash era the best way possible. That’s why their album came out so good. Maybe Arthur Rizk producing the album had a little bit to do with that, he’s a great producer. We used him on Cavalera Conspiracy’s Psychosis album. Or if you listen to Necrot’s “Blood Offering,” that is one of my favorite albums that has come out recently. Again, they channel the spirit of death metal, early Morbid Angel, early Death. So you listen to it and you love it, and you go back through your Morbid Angel records and you listen to them again and they feel really good. I think that’s where the line really lays. Some of those bands are doing it extremely well. We try to do some of that. Soulfly does a little bit of throwback of some of the sounds I grew up with and loved. Some people think you just throw on a denim jacket with some patches and you become a thrash metal fan. It’s not just that, it goes deeper than that. Especially if you’re making a record. You gotta really know where your influences lay, really study that. I’m sure the Power Trip guys studied the shit out of it! They probably listened to a lot of Exodus, a lot of old Sepultura, Nuclear Assault, to come up with that record. But it’s cool when it’s well done like that.
SF Sonic: You are no stranger to collaborating with other artists. Are there any individual artists or bands that are on your wish list to work with? Would you ever collaborate on a song or with an artist outside of extreme metal?
Cavalera: Oh yeah, I would love to. Some people on my list are Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye from Fugazi & Minor Threat, even HR from Bad Brains. Even though I know he’s kind of a nutcase so I don’t know if that’s possible (laughs). Apart from that, Ozzy and Rob Halford of course. In a crazy way, even Willie Nelson! It would be cool to do a metal/country song with Willie. Yeah, a country/metal song about weed. Fuckin’-A, man I would go for that!
SF Sonic: Your only Bay Area stop on the upcoming leg of the ‘Ritual’ tour brings you back to The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma in February. You’re no stranger to that stage, what can you share about that venue & what can the Soulfly tribe expect this time around?
Cavalera: One of my most fun shows was there on the little run Soulfly did in a van. After all of these years, we went back to a van and to me it was so cool being on tour in a van like that again and the show was packed, lot of metal fans came out, it was very cool. I expect great things. We are going to try and create a new stage for Ritual. We’re going to build some ritualistic statues and even try and contact some Navajo artists and see if they can build something for us to put in front of the amps. Aside from that, it’s really cool to have Incite and Kataklysym along this time. It’s going to be another great night of metal for everybody shredding all night long. We’re gonna bring the shit!
Buy Rituals by Soulfly here .
Photos by Pollen Heath.