INTERVIEW: Soulfly’s Max Cavalera

As founding member of Sepultura, Max Cavalera’s place in the books of metal history is assured. Even before the epoch-changing Roots, Max was carving it up with classic tracks like “Dead Embryonic Cells,” “Refuse/Resist” and “Troops of Doom.” But in 1996 Max split from Sepultura and went out on his own with Soulfly, a sometimes-rotating collective of incredibly able metal musicians. Initially Soulfly’s work carried on the tribal metal vibe of Roots, before the band started to carve out a niche of its own. And yet there was always the spectre of the Sepultura sound lurking in the background. Max’s other band, The Cavalera Conspiracy with his brother Iggor, has taken up the challenge in giving the world new music in the Sepultura mode. That seems to have freed up Max’s writing even further and fed into Soulfly’s latest, Enslaved. Just as previous Soulfly albums have demonstrated different facets of Max’s metal vision, the new one presents yet another side: full-on skull-crushing death metal. It’s an imposing, aggressive, brutal, jagged, glass-chewing, blood-spitting freak of an album. And Max is justifiaby proud.


This year Soulfly is celebrating its 15 anniversary. That’s a long time!

It is, man! It’s unbelievable. Sometimes I look back and I think it feels like yesterday that we were recording the first record in California. And now fifteen years later this is our eighth record. So many songs, so many tours, the band is still rolling and the band is even more popular now than ever.


How would you describe Enslaved compared to the last one, Omen


It’s more extreme. We have an extreme metal drummer who joined the band called David Kinkade who comes a school of death metal playing. He comes from a band called Borknagar and they’re a death metal band from Norway. He plays with double bass and blast beats. A very extreme way of playing. We actually built those songs around him. I was very influenced by that, so some of the stuff  even sounds like old Morbid Angel and old Death and Suffocation. So it’s really going to surprise a lot of people. It’s a very extreme Soulfly record, the most extreme Soulfly record of all of them. The most extreme record we’ve done for all the times.


Dez Fafara from DevilDriver and Coal Chamber is on the new album.


Yeah! We wanted to have two different people so we ended up going with Dez from Devildriver, who is a friend of mine. He’s in a great band. I love DevilDriver and I love his voice. It was time to work together. We were on the same label and it was the perfect time to do something together. And we also did a song called “World Scum” which was done with Travis from Cattle Decapitation, which is one of my favourite new bands, a new school of death metal coming out of America. They’re from San Diego and they’re super-heavy. Travis put down some really amazing vocals on that song. Hes’ great, y’know? Two killer guests to have on the album. They’re going to make the record even more interesting for the people that are going to hear it. On the last record I had Greg from Dillinger Escape Plan and Tommy from Prong, which was also killer. And on Cavalera we had Roger from Agnostic Front. So we just keep trying get together different guests and keep the tradition alive of having guests on the record. It’s cool, it’s fun. It’s something that I do with Soulfly and Cavalera and it’s a big part of my career, working with different musicians. I love working with different people. They’re all my friends, and I’m a fan of their music and I get to work with them in the studio. It’s been a dream for me working with everyone I’ve worked with. Tom Araya, Sean Lennon, Corey Taylor, Chino from Deftones… everybody I work with has been amazing and I really look forward to working with more people.


It makes it seem like more of a family, seeing who gets invited into the extended Soulfly or Conspiracy family.


Yeah it’s cool! And if you get the opportunity to perform it live, that’s even better. We did that with Greg a couple of times, and with Tom Araya, and we did “Jump The Fuck Up” with Corey from Slipknot a couple of times. And it is a kind of a welcome to the family, to the Soulfly tribe, when you get somebody involved like that, and they’re part of the family.


Well if you ever need a guitar solo, I’m available!


Alright, sounds good! Haha.



Is there anybody you’d like to get who you haven’t worked with yet? 


There’s one person: Ozzy. I love his voice. I’m a big Black Sabbath fan. Or James Hetfield. Two of my favourite artists that I would like to record with. One day I think we’ll end up doing something. One of these days the chance is going to come. I just keep waiting for the right time.


One thing that’s really cool about the Conspiracy and modern-day Soulfly is that you bring back the thrashy, intricate kind of guitar playing that was so cool in Sepultura. 


That’s why we have Marc Rizzo on guitar. He’s very talented. He can really do different stuff. He’s an amazing guitarist in Soulfly and he does really cool stuff with Cavalera. The first Cavalera album was full of his leads, and on the second album I wanted him shredding but I also wanted him to come up with some sounds, different noise effects, and not just shredding, because people get tired of that. So he did some of that, and I think the combination of that with the thrash songs and the fact that the album is shorter – it’s only half an hour long, you can hear the whole record at one time without getting tired of the record, and I think it goes back to albums like Arise or Reign In Blood that are only about half an hour long. More simplicity, more brutality, trim all the fat, take the extra stuff out, keep it brutal and in your face. And that’s the style of the Cavalera. I think I like that about it. Something about playing pure thrash without restrictions, without rules, that is really cool. It’s very liberating for me. And when I play with Iggor I just want to play fast, which is that vibe me and Iggor have. It grooves. We go heavy on the grooves, and when it’s fast and thrashy we’re gonna go all the way. But Cavalera is really a combination of my sound and Iggor’s sound clashing together which is the sound we formed in Sepultura.


Do you have any cool new ESP stuff in the works?

I’m working on it. Right now I’ve been playing the AX model, together with the EX model. Those are the ones I’ve been lately playing live with but I’m looking for something new. I’m going to get together with the company at some point to try to find a new model. Maybe even design one together with them, a completely new model that’s brand-new and hasn’t even been used before. That’s kind of my goal, to design my own guitar, something thats completely new and hasn’t been used before. I’ve got to get together with them to do that but I have not done that yet.


Now that the second Conspiracy album Blunt Force Trauma has been out for a while, how’s the response been to the Conspiracy?


It’s been great! We’re playing 60 percent of that record live and we’re getting a great reaction. Stuff like “Killing Inside” and “I Speak Hate,” a lot of people are singing, and it shows that people really know the record. The record has got some really good stuff on it that’s really catchy. Apart from that, it’s brutal! When you play stuff like “Torture” it’s just like a fuckin’ earthquake, a hurricane. Just pure brutality. It takes me back to the thrash and hardcore days. I love playing stuff like that. “Torture” is one of my favourite songs to play live. By the time the song ends the audience is standing there with their mouths open going “What the fuck just happened?” They don’t even have time to react to a song like that because it’s only a minute and 50 seconds. It’s not even two minutes. It’s almost a Napalm Death song.


What’s it like to play Sepultura stuff in Soulfly compared to Cavalera Conspiracy? 


The only difference is with Cavalera it sounds more like the real thing because Iggor is on the drums and you get 50% of the band, with me and him together. You get the drums perfectly, exactly how they were in the Sepultura days, and I take my vocals and guitar playing back to the original times. And when we play stuff like “Troops Of Doom,” “Arise,” “Inner Self,” it does take us back in time. It takes the whole venue back in time, and I see people in the back of the venue freaking out when we play those songs sometimes. They have their hands in their air and they’re singing the lyrics and I know they’re transported to a different time. We’re taking them from the moment right now and taking them right back to 20 years ago. And that feels great, man. I still play some Sepultura stuff with Soulfly, but honestly, these days the Soulfly set is very much Soulfly stuff because we have a lot of material now. With eight records there are plenty of Soulfly songs that people want to hear. So lately on the Soulfly tours we’ve been playing more Soulfly songs and less Sepultura songs. The Soulfly stuff really holds its ground. Stuff like “Prophecy,” “Babylon,” they’re Soulfly classics and it feels great to play them. I feel very proud about Soulfly. I feel it’s a band that came out of nothing, came from zero, and made its way to where we are now. It was a very rough road but we did it!


Enslaved is out now on Roadrunner. Special thanks to May The Rock Be With You for helping out with the last question when the phone line cut out!

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