Soulfly – Music, Family, and All Matters of Savagery Part I

Sunday, 29th September 2013

Using the release of the Bestial Devastation EP as a starting point, former-Sepultura, current-Soulfly frontman Max Cavalera has been releasing music for almost 30 years. Whereas many musicians in the industry for that length of time would be releasing albums sporadically every few years, Max is doing the exact opposite. Seemingly involved with four or five projects at any given time, Max believes in staying busy and exercising his creativity, as it is quite rare that a single year goes by without an album dropping that has his name somewhere in the liner notes. Add to this that since 2008’s Conquer release, Soulfly’s albums have been consistently growing heavier, faster, and more intense, invoking the attitude of Max’s earlier Sepultura career, not to mention his reunion with his brother Igor for the Cavalera Conspiracy project, making it apparent that Max has undergone somewhat of a career renaissance in recent years.

With Soulfly’s ninth studio album, Savages, being released just on the horizon, we had a chance to speak with Max about this latest offering, diving into where he sees this new album fitting in the bigger picture of Soulfly, and what it’s like having his son Zyon perform drum duties on the album. We also wanted to see if he could give us any more details on some of the other projects keeping him busy at the moment.

Dead Rhetoric: Savages comes out in about two weeks. One of the things that appealed to me was like you said, how you were going for the groovier, more tribal approach that defined the first three or four albums of the Soulfly catalog. Was that something you approached from the very beginning, when you were thinking about Savages as a concept, or did it grow naturally and organically into this almost older-style Soulfly record?

Max Cavalera: It was a conscious decision. Savages, to me, is supposed to be possibly extreme like Enslaved or a continuation of Enslaved. That’s why I have songs like “Cannibal Holocaust,” “Fallen” with Jamie from I Declare War, and “K.C.S.” with Mitch from Napalm Death. They’re more brutal songs; they could have been on Enslaved, actually. Those songs would have been perfect on Enslaved. But I didn’t want to do just that. I thought it would be kind of cool to revisit some really catchy grooves. I love metal grooves and I love the early Soulfly stuff.

I love the Roots kind of groove, the Chaos A.D. kind of groove, and I decided to write some stuff like that, like “Bloodshed,” “Masters of Savagery,” “El Comegente,” “Spiral,” “This Is Violence.” They are more groove-oriented kinds of songs, and I think it was really cool doing it like that. And something new came out of that, which is “Ayatollah of Rock ‘N’ Rolla,” which has kind of a southern rock beginning with slide guitar by Marc and Neil’s talking vocals. That whole thing made the song so super-cool and exciting, and it’s totally different for Soulfly, so I think it’s going to be a little bit of everything on the record. It’s got the extreme part, it’s got the groove part, and it’s got something new for the fans, so I think it’s almost like the best of Soulfly on one record. That’s what I like to look at Savages like is the best of what Soulfly has to offer.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned some of the songs being inspired by some of the earlier Sepultura work like Chaos A.D. The main riff of “This Is Violence,” for example, reminded me a lot of the main riff for “Clenched Fist,” actually, so I thought I heard some Chaos A.D. in there a little bit.

Cavalera:  Yeah, it’s got the influence from that for sure, and “Bloodshed,” the first single and the first song, is my favorite riff I’ve written in the last ten years, man. I got so stoked when I got the riff for “Bloodshed.” It was such a cool riff for me to start the album out with. It just sounds great, sounds very powerful. It’s kind of a political song. In the lyrics I say the names of places in the world that have bloodshed like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Sarajevo, Brazil, and all these fucked up places. It was kind of cool and the very end of it is very melodic, and it kind of reminds me of Kylesa, which is a band I’ve been listening to lately, a little bit like Kylesa and Mastodon and almost like Black Tusk-y; it’s like Doomriders, some of the stuff I’ve been listening to lately that I really like, kind of melodic so there’s fusion.

I had two ways to go about “Bloodshed.” I was in the studio thinking it can go fast now with super blast beats or a super-fast thing like the end of “Prophecy,” or we can make it super-slow and melodic like Kylesa, and I ended up opting for the slow version, the melodic version. I thought it would be a little bit cooler. I think it gives the song a little bit more depth, and I think Marc does an amazing solo on “Bloodshed.” I love the solo; it’s very melodic, like a Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath kind of solo, so I really like “Bloodshed.” And I like the contrast between “Bloodshed” and “Cannibal Holocaust.” When “Cannibal Holocaust” comes in, it’s totally different. The “Cannibal Holocaust” riff could have been on Beneath the Remains [laughs]. That’s how crazy that song is. It’s such a full thrash, death metal riff. My vocals are more growling, deep, and aggressive and the whole song is fast pretty much. My son didn’t like to play fast that much so I kind of had to force him to do that song. It was almost like twisting his arm and saying, “You’re going to play one fast song, motherfucker.” I know you just want to play groove the whole album but you can’t; you have to do fast shit. I’m forty-four but I can still play fast.

Dead Rhetoric: When you mentioned coming up with the riff for “Bloodshed,” that reminded me of something I read on the Soulfly website not that long ago discussing how much of an advocate you are for the art of the riff—something that grabs you, sticks with you, is heavy, catchy—and that sometimes you may have to wrestle with the guitar for a few hours or put it down and come back to it. So I was wondering what exactly happens when you have that “aha” moment where you write a riff that’s not only catchy and good, but it’s good enough that it’s going to be on the next Soulfly record or on the next [Cavalera] Conspiracy record or whatever you’re working on at the time.

Cavalera: It’s a great moment. It’s totally like a revelation. It’s really between you and your guitar, that relationship you have with your guitar. I write riffs all the time, and for this record I wrote something like a thousand riffs in the beginning of the process. When I found out I would be working with [producer] Terry Date I was super excited, almost obsessed with the proposition of working with Terry Date. I got into the writing schedule and I wrote songs all day long, all afternoon, all night long, so I wrote something like a thousand riffs. And in this process, that’s when the riff for “Bloodshed” came out, and when that happened, it was just the greatest feeling in the world.

I mean, you write the riff, you get up from the table, you play it back, and even with the drum machine it sounds so fucking great and amazing and you just know it’s going to be a great song. You just know it; you have that feeling in your bones that you’re making something classic, so it’s a killer feeling. It’s part of the reason I love writing riffs is for moments like that, and it doesn’t happen all the time. A lot of times you write a lot of riffs and a lot of them sound similar and they’re not too exciting, and all of a sudden one of those comes along and boom grabs you by total surprise and shocks you and you want to try to do it again. It’s sort of like a drug, you know? It’s like you try to get that rush again, so you grab your guitar again and you’re gonna write more riffs, try to find that one riff that makes you feel like that again, and it’s very rare and difficult to get to that point again [laughs].

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