Nine albums into his career, Max Cavalera of Soulfly / Killer be Killed / The Cavalera Conspiracy / Sepultura fame released the spiritually-fueled and inspired album Archangel on August 14, 2015. Archangel is not only his tenth album, but also one of the first of many albums featuring the musical talents of his son, Zyon. Written and produced by Max, the album was came together amidst a tour with The Cavalera Conspiracy and during the production process of Killer be Killed’s upcoming second album. In between his very busy schedule and before heading out on their Archangel tour, mxdwn had the opportunity to speak to the legendary Max about his roots, spirituality and legacy in music and in life.
mxdwn: Between your tour and upcoming album releases with Killer Be Killed and Soulfly your schedule is packed! How have you been able to keep up with all these projects and make them all successes?
Max: I want to do more. I think I’m better when I’m busy and productive. These past couple of years I’ve done a book and Killer Be Killed and the third record for the Calavera Conspiracy and I just want to do more. Next year, hopefully we get to do a second Killer Be Killed and tour more for Archangel. We’re trying to do an Archangel world tour and to try to go everywhere, pretty much, where they want us and just keep doing. I have a lot of ideas in my head for the future, other projects and things so I just want to keep going.
mxdwn: Back in 2013, I’d heard you and your brother Igor were in talks with producer James Murphy of LCD Soundystem to create a kind of metal “White Stripes” kind of duo. Will that idea come together in the future?
Max: Yeah, that idea is still alive, you know. It’s just to show the brothers, like very raw and like how we started. Even before Sepultura there was Max and Igor just jamming together. We think that it’s kind of a cool idea and just showing the two brothers doing an EP, just the two of us playing everything, is super raw and super different. Nobody really has done anything like that. Bands that have brothers… they haven’t done that and I think that we might be the first ones to do it, so it’s exciting. But we’re gonna wait for the right time… next year is not the right time… so it’s going to have to be after that. It’s gonna go back to the roots of the garage, where we really started. Brazil. 1983.
mxdwn: You started off in the world of metal in the mid ‘80s with your brother in the legendary band, Sepultura as a teenager in Brazil. How exactly did that come about?
Max: Well, we were both really pissed off because we were poor and we didn’t have any money and our dad died and we went into poverty right away after that. We got super pissed off and hated everything and hated school and authority. Brazil was a really corrupt third world country, so it was the perfect environment for us to embrace metal. And we embraced it from the beginning. We started listening to regular heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath, ACDC and Judas Priest and then we went heavier with Venom, Slayer and Hellhammer and then we decided “let’s create our own music.” So, I created the band, gave it the name Sepultura and started it with Igor with our first practice in, I think it was, ’82 when we really really started. We were very young, I was like 14 and Igor was 13 and we were beginning.
mxdwn: And for it to have formed into such beautiful careers for the both of you…
Max: It’s been good. There have been a couple of bumps in the road, but I think it’s been a good journey. I wouldn’t have done anything different and I don’t know that I will do anything as good as that. I think I gotta stick with music. [laughs]
And music, I believe saved my life because in Brazil the choices are really small. Even people who would go to universities really didn’t have good jobs. The hope was very bleak, so a lot of people got into drugs and trafficking cocaine, and that’s a way to make big money, but that’s a dangerous lifestyle because a lot of people end up dead or in jail, you know? We could’ve picked that road, but we decided to pick music and I think it saved us. And then music saved me again when I ended Sepultura and started Soulfly and put me back on the map again and I’m very thankful. That’s why I wrote the first song on my album, it’s my “Thank You” to heavy metal for saving my life and to being proud to be a metal head.
mxdwn: That’s fantastic! It really shows the power of music and how music can change not only the fan’s lives, but also the musicians’.
Max: Yeah, because I’ve always been a fan. I’ve never lost the fan side of music, even today. I still listen to a lot of new bands and I’m always excited to discover new bands and listen to all the new albums and I get in contact with them because I want to work with them and wear their shirts. In fact, I was thinking about making a little festival, maybe next year, with all my favorite new underground bands… kind of like a small Ozzfest… a little Maxfest on the side. [laughs] It’d be pretty cool because I love supporting and helping new bands- it’s one of my favorite things- discovering new bands and giving them a helping hand.
mxdwn: To have that power and to be able to support them and build up their careers is amazing!
Max: Well assuming you can do it, it doesn’t cost anything and is good for you and good for your soul. It’s kinda the same as the charity stuff we do on the side. We have a Diabetes Foundation here [Phoenix] for 17 years and we’ve raised more than a million dollars for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Whenever you can do something like that it feels good and it’s free, it doesn’t cost you anything, and you can help somebody that’s down.
You know, a lot of people have told me that my music has helped them through a lot of hard times in their lives, especially Soulfly because it has some kind of spiritual aura about it. And I think that’s good, I feel good about that. There’s music that gave me hope and gave me salvation and my music is doing that for other people; I mean it comes full circle.
mxdwn: It’s great that you use that platform, to help your fans out. And as you said, Soulfly is a sort of spiritual music… and I know that it is not particularly religious, but more spiritual… but when exactly did you start focusing on that?
Max: I’ve always been connected to my mother and my mother is a High Priestess in Brazil and her religion is called Candomblé (an African religion) and so I’ve always gone to all the rituals with her. I’ve always seen that side of spirituality. I’ve seen people possessed, talking in different languages and tongues, since I was young and I’ve always been around that spiritual world. The biblical stuff always interested me and I was always fascinated by biblical things and find all the stories fascinating, all the Old Testament, so I decided to turn some of the stories into songs for the Archangel album. And actually my mother told me that this year is the year of the Archangel Santa Michael and that’s why the album is titled Archangel and has him on the cover. A lot of people don’t know these things and she knows all that. She’s been really really good to me throughout the years and has really helped me spiritually. But, there are a lot of negative things I don’t like about the church like the pedophile priests, the Vatican gold, the inquisition and burning people at the stake and a lot of negative wars being fought over religion, and that’s why I don’t like to be associated with the church. I am not a Christian man, I am not a Christian person, I am more of a spiritual person.
mxdwn: And I feel like a lot of people don’t often separate the two.
Max: People get confused! Sometimes I get accused of being a Christian metal band. But we’re not… I’m not. I love a lot of black metal. [laughs] I listen to a lot of Behemoth, Heathen, 1349 and they are screaming Satan on every song, but I still love them.
mxdwn: Right! A lot of people don’t understand the difference between organized religion and spirituality and I find it really refreshing that you are able to gently put to rest any confusion people may have by associating you with religious music. You are always quick to say “ it’s spiritual, not religious.” I think that I really important.
Max: In religion, you need to go to church to find God. In spirituality, it’s everywhere you go. Just look at the sky and you can feel God’s presence… and I believe in that. I believe there’s a higher force that has kept me here throughout the years and has given me a blessed life. And because of that, I think that all the albums to God are kind of a punk rock thing to do because metal music is so anti- God, so it’s kinda of like going against the grain.
But you know, I still kind of get mad when people still categorize me as a Christian. [laughs] I-AM-NOT-FUCKING-CHRISTIAN! [laughs] Don’t throw me in that bag!
I’m not a Jesus freak.. none of that shit man. It’s ridiculous, some of that stuff… I think religions actually hurt themselves more than anything else. All the pedophile priests and all that shit they do. It’s horrible!
mxdwn: There is a lot of negativity in the church! On your website, I saw that you have a spiritual comic online… how did that come about?
Max: Yeah, I’ve been hearing about that, but I haven’t seen it yet. I have to go on there and check it out, but this guy in Europe did a comic and it has Santa Michael on it and I guess he is talking to me. He showed me the comic like a year ago in Europe and I thought it was kind of cool, you know. He’s really good at drawing, so the drawings are really cool, but I haven’t seen it yet, but they put it on the web page. It’s nice when fans do that stuff for us! It’s welcomed by us and I think it’s cool that it’s somebody that’s trying to help us and do more things for the band.
mxdwn: It’s really cool! I’d definitely suggest you check it out soon! To go back to your history of working with your family, I understand that on this new record, you have two of your sons performing on it. How proud are you to have them be a part of your legacy?
Max: Pretty proud! I’ve always liked the family around and involved in metal. In fact, I recorded my first son’s heartbeat when he was inside the belly of my wife and put that as the intro to the Sepultura Chaos AD record. So, I’ve always involved the family as much as I could and I waiting for them to grow up so that hopefully we could play music together and the time has come! They’re big now and they’re good musicians. Zyon has been the drummer for the two records and I did a song called “Mother Dragon,” which is about their mom, and it has Richie and Igor signing, Zyon on the drums and a girl from Iran doing vocals to make it a little more exotic and different.
mxdwn: And I’ve heard that you’ve described this album as being very exotic, mystical and biblical. It’s WAY different from Savages, where the theme was more the savagery of humans. When did you make the transition to this theme? Was it sparked by something? I want to understand your writing and production process on this album.
Max: You just have to find different themes for the records. A lot of my records have themes, like Roots is about the ruining of the rainforest and Indian Culture, Dark Ages was mostly because Dimebag died around the same time we were in the studio, so we were really in a dark time and Enslaved is about slavery. I wanted a new theme for this new record. Savages is about the human race because after all the technology advances, we still are savages at heart.
I thought the theme of this new record would be kinda cool. I love biblical stuff and I was watching a lot of documentaries on BBC, the History Channel and I was reading a lot of books on the Old Testament and then my mother told me about the archangel idea, so I jumped on it and started to make these more biblical songs that go great with metal and I think it kind of opened a door to do more and I think that’s really cool. Some bands are doing that already in their own way, kind of like Melechesh, Behemoth and Order of Apollyon, but the way we do it is a little bit different than them. We’ve got our own twist on it so I think it’s cool and I’m really excited because I think the team on Archangel really works, with Matt Hyde producing… he’s a genius, great producer… I love working with him… he gave me the best vibe and the best sound on the recording! I love the album cover, Eliran Kantor did an amazing job on the cover! I think it was a great team on the production of this album.
mxdwn: The album is fantastic! I’ve been listening to it a lot and so has one of my cousins who’s been a fan for a while and we found it fascinating how you were able to do all these projects! I know that you’ve released a couple of albums with the other groups within a couple years of each other and we just found it impressive that you were able to do that all together and yet keep your mind centered as not to get confused with all the records.
Max: Yeah, it was hard, but I tried to make them all a little different from each other, like Killer be Killed is very different from Soulfly. With the three singers and it being more melodic and having deeper parts in it and then Cavalera is of course with my brother and he has his own twists. I’m very proud of Soulfly because it’s my tenth album and it’s not every day when you can say, “I’m releasing my tenth album.” So for me, it’s a feat on its own! For me to say that this is my tenth album is just nuts. It’s crazy and it blows my mind when I think of that, but all the albums are very cool and very different from each other. They have a more tribal beginning, more thrash middle and more extreme in the end. [laughs] I’m going more extreme now on every record. What I listen to in my spare time now is very brutal death metal and black metal and hardcore. It’s the stuff that I like the most when I’m not playing.
mxdwn: And you can hear the influences of that those genres in this album. I’m a new fan, but every album I’ve listened to while composing this interview I have enjoyed because of the diversity in all the music you were able to achieve, even though put them all together within a short time frame of each other. Each album is fresh and new… it’s not the same old thing.
Max: Yeah, it’s been a pretty short time. I might slow down a little bit more and not release so many records from now on. Maybe I’ll step on the brakes a little bit and try to do more touring between the records so I can have more space between the albums. I think that might be a little bit better for me. But, I was just on a roll the last for years and I did the book and Killer Be Killed, Cavalera and Soulfly. When you’re in a room, you’re creative and have a lot of ideas and you have to roll with it and I decided to go for it and just keep doing. But, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to slow down a bit and just some more touring from now on.
mxdwn: I’m sure the fans will enjoy that!
Max: Yeah, it gives them more time to enjoy the album. A record like Archangel is a record I feel has a lot to explore, it has a lot to offer, and I think we can be on the road for that one most of next year. So we are going to try to do that.
mxdwn: Since the albums are so different, have you noticed any big differences between your fan bases at the shows? Any variety in how the crowd takes the music?
Max: There are some really hardcore fans that have been coming to the shows since Sepultura days. There are some very, very hardcore Soulfly fans that have Soulfly tattoos on their chest and some of them have my portrait and it’s crazy! Soulfly tattoos are everywhere. For me, that is the ultimate sign of admiration for a band because it hurts like hell to get tattooed. I fucking hate it! I have a lot of tattoos and I like having them, but I don’t like getting them. They hurt like hell, so for me it’s a great show of respect when fans get Soulfly tattoos on their bodies. I get super happy when I see them!
mxdwn: That’s awesome! And when you perform, do you change up the way you play with each band? Do you do anything extra special for any of the acts?
Max: On this tour we are going to try to play most of the new record, which we kind of haven’t done before. I think out of the whole album, we are just not playing one song, so, we’re playing everything else which I think is going to be really cool and after that we’re going to play all the Soulfly favorites because the album is really kind of short… it’s only like 35 minutes. So we can play that and then we still have another hour or two to just play some old Soulfly. I think we play for around an hour and half on this tour and I think it will be great because there are four bands on this tour, so it will be a lot of music. There’s Shattered Sun, Soilwork and Decapitated. It’s a long lineup, so we can’t make ours that long either, but I think an hour and a half will work. We are going to start practicing next week, we have a new bass player Mike from Havoc joining us. I’m really excited for this tour.
mxdwn: It seems like it would be a fantastic album to hear and experience live. Albums are always better live, in my opinion, so it’s going to be an amazing show.
Max: Yeah, I always prefer live too. I love making records, but the real fire is in live performances. That’s when it all just really comes to life. And I love our shows because they are so much energy and there are circle pits and mosh pits and all the fast songs and all the anger and aggression and the tribal rhythms and all of them combined make it a hell of a show.
Photo credit: Rodrigo Fredes