Slowed Down, But Not For Long
CoC chats with Igor Cavalera of Sepultura
by: Paul Schwarz
From their beginnings as what can be vaguely described as a black metal band, at least in as much as Venom were/are a black metal band, to their rise through the ranks of death metal and finally their elevation to the very pinnacle of the metal genre's popularity, alongside such bands as Pantera and Slayer, Sepultura have always strived. Early on they strived to simply become one of the many, but by the time _Beneath the Remains_ was released, their battle was to become alone, something special. Though some fans left them in their transition from _Arise_'s death/thrash to _Chaos A.D._'s catchy, powerful and less technical style, overall it was _Chaos A.D._ which brought to Sepultura a mass metal audience. 1996 saw the band's popularity soar with a Top 20 UK single and eventual gold status for that year's album, _Roots_. For that year it was almost impossible to escape the band, as they grabbed magazine covers and metal club play left and right. Though gaining many fans at the end of this year, Sepultura lost founding member, vocalist and (at that time) media focal-point Max Cavalera, in what was at the time widely viewed as a split, over the contract renewal of Gloria Cavalera (who was then their manager), which would finish the band. As this interview's mere presence indicates, Sepultura were not finished. Though Max (who went on to form Soulfly) has bemoaned the band's retention of the name, it was their right to keep it both legally and, at least in my opinion, musically speaking. Sepultura recruited Derrick Green as their new vocalist and continued striving. With new album _Against_ set to be unleashed on the world on October 6th, I had a very pleasant talk with Igor about the new record and the band's current line-up and situation past and present. I start with the new album.

CoC: I feel there is a strong hardcore and punk influence running through the new album, _Against_; would you agree?

Igor Cavalera: Yeah, at the end I do, you know. When we were doing it we didn't really feel that way; we were just writing and writing, putting shit down without even noticing those kinds of details. Today, when I sit down and listen to the CD, I can totally see that. That is very clear; the whole hardcore [thing] influenced this album a lot and the way I really see it, it is a very strong album, very passionate. That's how we wrote it and somehow it was very influenced by a lot of hardcore bands, which makes me very proud.

CoC: I also feel that it is, in a strange way, darker or more brooding than _Roots_. I personally think it has a deeper sound -- I don't know why, it is just my impression it seems to have more struggle in it. Would you agree, and, if so, could you explain how that change came about?

IC: Yeah, to a certain point I agree, the whole struggling point [the way] that you put it. We really felt a lot of pressure from Max departing the band and for us to continue [with] this there is a lot of struggle there. At the same time, I just think that a lot of feelings are really transparent, very clear when I listen to the CD, and that's [made it] become a little darker than _Roots_. I think _Roots_ was a very conceptual album where every song really had something to do with the other and with the whole Brazilian roots and a lot of percussive things in the middle of it; this album is a little more open. It is not really conceptual or anything like that; it's just a bunch of songs that we felt it was right to write at that time, we wrote it and it felt good, and that is what is on the CD.

CoC: With the songs written by single people, did people come in with full songs, or were they more sort of jammed out by the band?

IC: That's one thing that we tried to keep very straight. Sepultura has always been about jammed out. It is always about four people really thinking or four people really fighting for a riff or for a lyric or for anything, so that is something we all felt [is] really strong today, that band feeling, where before, on _Roots_, we really felt that Max was really getting all the credit for something that we really wrote together. We didn't feel that was right, we didn't feel that was fair, because it was never different with Sepultura. It was always about four people locked up in a room, pouring their sweat together.

CoC: Were the lyrics written in a group or were they more of an independent thing for the bandmembers?

IC: They're very different in the context of Andreas and me writing most of the lyrics on this album and them always being a little different from Max's way of writing; Andreas leaves it a little more open to different opinions and, you know, different people can have a different idea of what he is singing. Max's were a lot more straightforward; though I like it both ways, I can't really pick and say I like one [approach] better than the other. It is just different in a way that one is a little darker.

CoC: You used Howard Benson as a producer for the album, which was a difference, it was a change because I haven't known you to use him before. What influenced you to use him as opposed to either Ross Robinson, Scott Burns or Andy Wallace?

IC: Well, the whole thing with Howard Benson was [that] we did like a pre-production tape with him with a lot of new songs and he was actually the one that approached us really wanting to do this project. So it was different from the start already -- it was like "alright, let's see what he's got". From what we'd heard of his earlier stuff with Motorhead and Body Count we wouldn't really have picked him, because we thought [what he did with those bands] was really average. But he proved us wrong when we did the tape. It was totally different for us, it was like, "damn, he's really got something to put together", and plus we didn't want to repeat ourselves by working with Ross. It is a different case [with Andy Wallace], because Andy Wallace has always been a very good mixer, so we might even have ended up working with Andy -- that's something we put [to the side]: at the end we always need someone to put all the madness together and Andy is very good at that.

CoC: How was it working with the Kodo drummers from Japan which you did on "Kamaitachi"?

IC: That was something very special, especially for me as a drummer, man. That was almost like a dream coming true. I have always been a very strong fan of Kodo; the style they put on their drums, the energy. I [have] always been a drummer very involved on the energy factor, a lot more than the technical and all that stuff that goes around the drumming. If I can hear that a person is really putting energy into every single hit, that for me is what it takes to be a great drummer. So, for me to work with them, to be right in front of those drums and feel the energy, it was very special.

CoC: You've covered a song called "F.O.E.", by James L. Bowen; I don't know the artist, I am curious...

IC: We didn't know [him] either!

CoC: So what is it exactly, the song, or the cover, or whatever?

IC: Yeah, it is just like... it was a TV show in Brazil that has been going on for like over ten years and the opening song for this TV show is exactly that "F.O.E." song, and we always listened to that and we always thought like "man, this is such a killer song", but we never knew who wrote it or anything about it; we just knew it was from that TV show. But then I was in Sao Paulo and I found an old vinyl with that song on it, which was like a soundtrack for an old 70s movie called "Vanishing Point", and I was like "fuck, this is the song". So it was like, "let's go over that". And we just said "alright, fuck it, let's do it". We didn't even know the band, or that person, or anything about it.

CoC: That's really cool.

IC: Yeah.

CoC: There's also the question of the last track on the album which is, I think, pretty different from any other way you've ended an album before. It's got some similarities to some of things you've done in the past, like "Kaiowas", maybe, or the acoustic parts on _Roots_. What were the ideas behind all this strange noise, and the much quieter, not angry, ending. In the past you've ended with "Primitive Future", "Clenched Fist", so...

IC: Yeah, I know it is weird. We felt that that song just really fitted at the end of the album. Then again, this album we also started with a song which was very different from _Chaos A.D._, where we started with a catchier, more mid-tempo kind of song with "Refuse/Resist", and _Roots_. Then with this album we started with a song that was a lot faster than the usual that we've been doing, so why not finish also in a different way? And it is a very interesting song, because we recorded actually the first half of it in my home in San Diego just with a little DAT machine. Me, Andreas and Paulo, we were fucking around with acoustic instruments, actually, as we were watching a football game on TV, and we were just jamming around like looking at the TV. And later on, Andreas listened to it and he was like "man!". 'Cause at the time we thought that it was cool, but that there was really nothing to it, and then Andreas was like "you got to listen to this shit we recorded the other night, I think it is really cool". So I listened to it and I was like "wow, this is really fun!" and then we're like "let's finish it up in the studio". So the first half, it was done all very crappy, and then right after that it goes into something a lot more professional; I don't know what you wanna call it, we just felt it was cool. Also with the cello, which is an instrument which we really love and it can fit pretty good with something like that.

CoC: What I found was good about it was that it surprised me, the cello part really surprised me, which I think was a good thing for it; good way to end the album, in my view anyway. You've had two people to do lead vocals and guitars and stuff on various tracks, Jason Newsted and Joao Gordo. How did these collaborations come about and was there a reason for it, or did it just happen?

IC: Pretty much the same way Jello Biafra worked with us. It always takes this crazy idea of one of us and one phone call: "you wanna do it?", and that person going like "fuck yeah!" or "Oh, I don't know if I have the time if I am on tour"... you know. It is not like contacting any managers or going through any bullshit. it is just like really friendship and [when] you have that person on the album it means a lot more to us having a really good friend working with us rather than someone music-wise that we respect. Especially with Gordo, he comes from a very different background, the whole like hardcore scene of Brazil, they [RDP] started way before Sepultura and it feels very good to have someone like him on the album and also have Jason [Newsted, Metallica] who is also a very good friend, and a very big Sepultura fan, which is very inspiring for us, when he talks a lot about Sepultura on most of the interviews he does. A lot of mutual respect, that's the main thing for us.

CoC: How do you feel about _Roots_, looking back on it two years after it came out? Because it brought you, success-wise, a lot further than you'd come before. How do you feel about the album now and what it did for you?

IC: I don't know, man. The more I listen to _Roots_, the harder it is for me to understand what we were doing. Like, at first I thought the same way I think about [_Against_] right now: we just throw a bunch of ideas and put it out and then we'll see what happens. And now, when I listen back to _Roots_, it is hard to understand how people really got into that album. To a certain point, it was like, "damn", 'cause I don't think it is that easy, it is not that catchy, you know what I mean, for me it was like, "fuck". It is very weird, there is like a noisy factor to it, like everything is very noisy and the whole vibe on the album was very different from anything we'd done before and the whole concept of how we recorded and everything. It just surprised me that a lot of people got into it.

CoC: It is not like Metallica's black album, where you could kind of see how it was more accessible than _... And Justice for All_.

IC: Yeah, you can totally pick out all the catchy stuff on different albums, but on _Roots_ it's like "fuck".

CoC: Yeah, it's interesting, it seems a mystery and it remains a mystery. [Though maybe it is explained by the trend-oriented popularity of the "Korn sound" and _Roots_' similarity to that sound, which saw Korn's _Follow the Leader_ debut at number 1 in the States. -- Paul]

IC: It will always be the same mystery as to why some bands work and some bands don't, and sometimes they have very similar sounds. It is the same thing behind anything you do involving music, it is always very good timing with different factors.

CoC: Down to a lot of things other than music, I think. The band, you personally perhaps, have been very adamant over the last year and a half, since Sepultura split, not to use the press as a weapon against Max; you've more or less kept quiet. I do feel, though, that "Rumours", along, possibly, with other songs, has a sort of similarity to some of the songs on the Soulfly record -- "Rumours" sounds like it was about the split and a lot of the songs on the Soulfly record are about the split. Are these songs about the split and, if so, did you -have- to get some of your feelings out about that?

IC: In a way, they deal with a lot of things that went on, not actually about the split; but a song like "Rumours" is really something about being pissed off with a lot of things you read that sometimes are not true, including the whole thing between Max and the band. So it is hard for me to really compare it to any of the songs on the Soulfly album like you put it, but at the same time there is definitely a lot to do with it, with this whole year and a half that we have been through and "Rumours" is one of the songs that really deals with that. But not only that but something that could also be in the past of the band.

CoC: This is a hypothetical question. If Max disbanded Soulfly, agreed that he was wrong or whatever and having Gloria as a manager was wrong... and he wanted to rejoin Sepultura... would Sepultura take him back at this point?

IC: I would. I would have him and Derrick.

CoC: You'd have both of them?

IC: Yeah, I think it would be... For me, I am not talking about the band or the other guys in the band, but for me, I would. I know they could work together, 'cause he is my blood. If those terms, as you put it, if they were actually true, for me, as a brother, I would take him in a minute.

CoC: Do you think that Max's departure and Derrick's addition to the band will be the last change in Sepultura's line-up?

IC: Oh, that's impossible to answer... I would never have imagined any change in Sepultura since our first guitar player, Jairo, left the band, and I never imagined that -he- would leave the band. So I don't know. There is too much going on in each mind to try to figure out.

CoC: But you don't -expect- another change, you feel the band is particularly united at present?

IC: Yeah, I don't really expect anything like that. I just feel very strong as a band today. After we've been fighting a few years with our management that we wanted to be portrayed as a band, and today I have that band feeling. That feels really, really good.

CoC: Do you think your fans will accept this album and the band as it is now?

IC: It's hard to tell. But one thing that it's really easy for me to see is how when you do something that you really put 100% of your feelings into and you really [are] very comfortable with, it is a lot easier to accept success or even failure. When you know you gave it everything you've got, whatever happens next is much easier to accept rather than if you try to please anyone.

CoC: Do you feel that you have almost gone back, to a certain [extent], via Max's leaving, or do you feel that you can carry on musically and success-wise from where _Roots_ left off?

IC: I don't know, man. It has always been really about breaking a lot of barriers and that is the feeling I have always had with Sepultura, from day one. Men that came out of Brazil and really break that circle of European and American bands. That's something that I am so proud of. That itself is something that keeps me going; when I see the fans from Indonesia, from Brazil, from South Africa. They talk to us and say "you guys represent something that is very important for us, not only musically, but [for] showing people in those circles that it can be done by people like us from other places in the world."

CoC: On live performances, how is Derrick Green and what is the difference with doing old songs by Sepultura? Does he attempt to mimic the old vocal style or does he do it in a different style?

IC: Yeah, it is a different approach. We did a couple of shows with Derrick and we totally felt that the approach he put on the old songs was really not about trying to copy Max in any way. That was something that he always [made] very clear to us and we always respected that -- that he's got his own ideas. He really respects Max for what he has done with Sepultura, but at the same time he doesn't have the intention of copying him in any way, so when he [sings] the old songs he puts a lot of his own feelings and also a lot of his own interpretation of things that he is screaming out. So I really see it as a very positive thing.

CoC: You were talking about being very proud that the band was from Brazil and that was your particular point of origin. Do you think it made any difference to the band that Derrick wasn't Brazilian, originally?

IC: No, that's what I was talking about. We're such a band that it is very universal, in a way. So when we opened our doors we really felt like "it doesn't matter where this person is from, this person has got to be the right person to be with us", and that could mean a Brazilian, an American, Japanese: anything. We totally felt that we had to have a really open mind for this and a lot of people pressured us, like "man, how are you guys going to continue with someone who is not Brazilian?". Sepultura is not about being Brazilian; it is about being what we are.

(article submitted 1/10/1998)

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