In 2006 zat ik 1,5 uur te babbelen in een tourbus met één van mijn helden: Max Cavalera, de oprichter van Sepultura, Soulfly, Nailbomb (en later ook nog Cavalera Conspiracy). Het interview dat ik met hem deed, verscheen op mijn punk/hardcore e-zine AsIce.net, dat inmiddels niet meer bestaat. Toch leek het me leuk om het nog eens te publiceren.
Max Cavalera on punk and hardcore
To be honest, I don’t care about what Soulfly is up to. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to interview singer Max Cavalera, because I had the feeling that this could be really interesting. You see, Max is a passionate music lover, so he also knows his share of punk and hardcore. It even influenced the music that he played with Sepultura, Nailbomb and Soulfly. So read on if you want to know about Max’ love for Discharge, Dead Kennedys, Cro Mags, Bad Brains and more.
I know you’ve been listening to Black Sabbath since you were really young, but what about punk and hardcore?
I still listen to a lot of Brazilian punk. Some of it most people probably don’t even know like Camiza De Venus and Ratos De Porao of course. I also like a lot of European hardcore too, I’ve always liked Discharge and GBH. Then there’s the Finnish hardcore stuff like Rattus, Terveet Cadet and Kaos. From American hardcore I always liked Dead Kennedys. They’re probably my favourites, Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains. I had the honour to work with Jello Biafra in my Sepultura days. Every time we play San Francisco, even today, he joins us to do “Holiday In Cambodia” or “California Über Alles”. I keep in touch with what’s going on nowadays, but I prefer the old school like Discharge.
You can hear that in the Nailbomb stuff for sure.
Yeah, in Nailbomb we actually stole the whole music and changed the sound a little bit. Nailbomb was a punk project, so we figured… in Brazil they have a saying that goes ‘A thief that steals from a thief has a thousand years of redemption.” So we’re just stealing from Discharge and everybody else, Motörhead and Sonic Youth. Alex was more into like Big Black and Steve Albini type of stuff, I don’t know much about that. But all the Discharge you hear in Nailbomb is my fault.
The idealism and the DIY ethic behind punk rock, is that something that inspires you?
I think a lot of hardcore, in Brazil especially when we were growing up, makes sense to listen to. It’s a third world country, it’s poor, it’s fucked up, so this music fits. Slayer was good music for me too, but I didn’t really like the lyrics about Satan and stuff. I liked the lyrics of Discharge who were saying more real stuff. We listened to both in Brazil and that’s why Sepultura always had this mix of metal and hardcore. We were never a typical metal band, we always had a weird hardcore side and hardcore people always respected us for that. One time when we went to New York me and my brother Igor were the only people with long hair inside a Cro Mags show in CBGB’s. I thought we were going to get killed, you know! There were like 500 skinheads there! A friend of mine told me that it wouldn’t be a problem for us to come along because punk and hardcore kids respected Sepultura. So we went, we watched the show and it was great although I thought I was going to die. Cro Mags are also another great band that I like very much.
Were you already somewhat famous at that time?
Yeah, I think it was in ’87 or ’88, it was the beginning of Sepultura outside of Brazil. And I remember one time before that when I met Harley in the street. I recognised him and I asked him if I could take a picture with him. It was a cold winter, but he took his shirt off in the middle of New York to show his tattoo on the picture. When I showed the picture to my hardcore friends in Brazil I was a hero, haha!
The thing I like about punk, hardcore and even metal, dub and reggae is that they have the same spirit. On my new record “Dark Ages” I did one song with Paul from a Russian hardcore band. He sings in Russian on that track and it turned out great. Billy Milano also sings four lines in that same song. I think I’ll always stay involved with punk and hardcore in this way.
Not many South American countries had a punk scene that started out as early as it did in Brazil. Was that because of the political lyrics and the realness that you mentioned earlier?
I think so. It’s much easier to adapt to what you are. For me to see myself with a song like “Protest And Survive” against police brutality is easy. I joke sometimes that I’m not afraid of the devil but I’m afraid of the police, because the police in Brazil is worse than the devil. I’m not afraid of pentagrams and inverted crosses, but if the police catches you without ID, they throw you in jail and who knows, you might die that night. That’s serious stuff in Brazil, with the death squads and all.
One time I got arrested in Brazil during a Sepultura concert with a flag incident. That was huge news in Brazil, even the president was talking about it. It was all manipulation of the police, because I didn’t really do anything with the flag. Still they arrested me after the show. Thirty troopers broke down the door and took me to jail in front of my kids. I never experienced anything like that in my life so I was really freaked out. When you live in that kind of country those lyrics make sense. It’s cool for Venom to sing about Satan for shock, but in real life you’re much closer to lyrics of The Clash or Sex Pistols. It’s much more real.
Does it bother you that Jello Biafra, the godfather of punk and hardcore, did a show for MTV, which is like punk rock hell?
I don’t know, I don’t have much to do with MTV myself. They only filmed some tours in Brazil. The only time that I was actually on MTV was winning an MTV award in Brazil, when me and my brother went up to receive the award and we said we’d like to stick it up the ass of the MTV president, haha! But it’s weird that Jello Biafra sings “MTV get off the air”, yeah.
I don’t like those reality shows myself. They asked me, because I have a family like Ozzy. When Ozzy did his show, somebody approached us for MTV America. But I prefer the way we are right now, this is how I lived for twenty years and I like it. I don’t want a fucking camera to follow me around. Then again you learn that half of it is fake.
If you could make your own “Undisputed Attitude” like Slayer did, which cover songs would be on it?
I’ve been covering some material for a while like Dead Kennedys. I always wanted to do “Sailin’ On” from Bad Brains, an uplifting hardcore song. There’s a lot of good stuff I want to do, even some of the Finnish stuff would be cool. I have to spend some time searching for good songs because to me it would be very special. And it wouldn’t be a lot of American hardcore, it would be from all around: European and Brazilian too. Maybe even some other stuff that I like, Urban Dance Squad for example. They had a hardcore edge too.
Do you think the Soulfly audience would be shocked if you took a hardcore band with you as support act?
I think it mixes really good. Last week we toured the UK with Skindred and that was really cool. They’re not really hardcore, but they have the edge too. In the USA we toured with Throwdown, who are straight edge hardcore, and the crowd loved it. I guess the Soulfly audience isn’t afraid of a hardcore band on the bill, our crowd is pretty open minded. As long as it’s good music they feel it. There’s been some bands that played with us that shouldn’t play like Alanis Morissette, between us and Rage Against The Machine. Of course she’s going to get things throwing at her.
Is your opinion on the bands also important? Can you choose which band you want to take with you?
Yeah, but in Europe I like to tour without a support act and just have local bands. That’s not something I can control, it’s up to the venue. But I like the idea to give the opening bands a chance to play for the Soulfly audience. That’s how I discovered Iceburn from Serbia for example. Later on I worked with them on “Prophecy”. Sometimes you never know when you discover a great band. With a package you would never have that.
So what bands from Brazil should we check out?
Brazil has so many bands. As we are talking now, there are probably thirty bands being born. But there are a lot of copycats that are not original. My favourite for the last ten years is called Shake Tosado from the north of Brazil. They mix traditional folkloristic music, but the strange thing is that some of these rhythms were already hardcore before hardcore was born. These guys figured that out and they have this fast polka beat. They made a hardcore record with Brazilian frevo music. It blew me away because it makes sense. Frevo is from the 1930’s so it sounds very original in this way.
Is that something that Brazilian bands do: be very original and creative with different styles of music instead of just copying the music they like?
There’s a lot of copied stuff out there, because it takes time to be original. It even took Sepultura a while to do something like “Roots”. But there are a lot of original people out there. The cool thing is that originality is not related to money. You can make something original without any money. I saw this documentary in Brazil about people that made some sort of saxophone out of banana leaves. Those guys are not punks but they are as creative and DIY. You can make it work somehow without money or a big production. There was a band of street kids that have huge drum sessions with metal trash cans. I thought that was great, it was so pure. In that way you see the same thing happening in Brazil as in Jamaica. There’s so much music coming from that little tiny island. It’s unbelievable! Crazy good music from that little place.
Are the Jamaican influences the reason that the Bad Brains are so great?
I think it does help. When Bad Brains were coming up it was a hell of a time, because they were doing all this stuff with reggae before anybody else did it. If you see a Bad Brains video from back in the day you’ll see that nobody looked like that. Everybody was white and skinhead or had a mohawk. Then these four black guys came in and played fast and crazy. I wasn’t there but it sure it was a big shock to all those people.
I see similarities between Bad Brains and Soulfly. Both bands incorporate various styles in their music. Do you think you could ever make an album without doing that?
It can, you know. Everything is possible in music. That’s why I like it, there’s no rules. But sometimes I see bands that are so hard-headed blind that they can’t even look a little bit beyond their own borders. What I do with Soulfly is what I believe in. It has a purpose to combine these styles, it’s not just for show. Going to different places is a part of Soulfly. If you take that out of our sound we would become a very boring band. I think that we’re one of the few bands the can really say that we have fans in Brazil, Australia and Iraq. A lot of bands can’t say that. We also play places that other bands forget about. This tour we’re playing Istanbul and we just finished Ireland. It’s cool to play a country where people have been waiting 15 years for your show.
So what countries do you still want to play?
I kind of let it happen. But I like to play some remote areas, like Ethiopia or Egypt. Even though globalization is a bad thing, with internet the world gets a lot smaller. It’s not so impossible to imagine a metal show in Egypt, while twenty years ago it would have been impossible. Would be cool to do something like that. Sepultura was one of the first metal bands to play in Indonesia and that was insane, so everything could happen.