Max Cavalera continues on strong footing, having made tremendous strides amidst some serious hurdles in his nearly three-and-a-half-decade career. As a teenager, the born-and-bred Brazilian singer-guitarist would lead his Belo Horizonte band, Sepultura, out of the country’s largely isolated metal scene despite looming financial straits. Eventually relocating to Phoenix, Arizona following a decade of massive success, the passing of Cavalera’s stepson, Dana Wells, would prompt him to split from Sepultura and explore a more spiritual approach in his most enduring venture, Soulfly.
Tomorrow, Soulfly will begin the 2019 North American leg of the tour in support of their latest album, Ritual, released back in mid-October. It is the third full-length to feature Cavalera’s son, Zyon, on drums, who has been with the band on a full-time basis since 2013’s Savages. The tour proceeds into next month, with dates including Incite (the band of Cavalera’s stepson Ritchie), Kataklysm, Chaoseum, Skinflint, and more.
I caught up with Max to discuss the tour and the new album, as well as what he can assess about his journey thus far.
ME: What have you been up to with this tour?
Max: We’ve got a great response from Ritual, and we plan to play mostly stuff from the new record, which I think is really killer. I’ve never really thought of doing that before. A lot of times, you release something new and play a couple of those songs, but then the rest is just old stuff. This time, we’re focusing on the new record. The very first part of the show will be new songs, and then we’ll mix it up with Soulfly classics. I’m really excited for that because I think Ritual came out really cool, man. It’s a powerful, tribal, death thrash record, and it’s going to come out great live.
ME: I noticed that your four sons are also involved in music. Ritchie’s in Incite, Zyon and Igor are in Lody Kong, and Jason is a drum tech. When they were growing up, what kinds of music did you initially turn them on to?
Max: There was always metal in our household for a long time. They grew up on the road, too, so they were exposed to all different types of music — everything from the end of Sepultura to the beginning of Soulfly. At that time, we were out with bands like Deftones, System of a Down, Slayer, Morbid Angel, and Pantera. I remember before Ritchie got into metal, he went through a hip hop phase, and I was like, “Ahh, man, I hope he grows out of it (laughs)!” But eventually, all of them got into metal, since metal rules in the Cavalera household; you can’t escape the metal here!
I’m so proud of Ritchie and his band Incite. Zyon’s drumming is awesome in Soulfly. He’s really kicking ass right now; the drumming on Ritual is amazing. He’s on the top of his game now as far as drumming goes. The whole Soulfly band is on fire right now, and we have a really good lineup. It’s cool to see how involved everyone is in their projects.
ME: Let’s flip it over to you – when you were growing up, what kinds of bands influenced your musicianship?
Max: Of course I’d listen to metal bands, but I also listened to a lot of 80s Brazilian rock. The golden era came from Brasília — bands like Legião Urbana, Titãs, Plebe Rude, and Os Paralamas do Sucesso. In the 90s, I really got into Chico Science & Nação Zumbi. In fact, Lúcio Maia from that band plays guitar on Soulfly I.
I’ve always loved the percussive side of Brazilian music. There’s always great tribal rhythms, so with Sepultura, I thought of taking that roots aspect and mixing it with metal grooves. That was kind of a game changer in the metal world at the time. I’m really happy that we carried that over from Sepultura into Soulfly, with the debut album and Primitive. Then after taking a break from it for a while, we returned to it with Ritual. It’s cool to have been able to revisit the tribal elements of early Soulfly.
ME: Let’s talk about the new album. What does Ritual signify at this point of Soulfly’s career?
Max: Ritual is the Soulfly statement record, with all the elements that make the band what it is. The idea behind it was if you’ve never heard Soulfly before, put this record on and it’ll give you everything you’ll need to know about the band. A lot of people consider it ‘tribal death thrash,’ and that’s not too far removed from what we’ve been doing. It’s the mixture of those three elements that creates something really powerful. You get grooves of tribal music, death metal and thrash metal as part of the same blend.
There’s normally all these divisions in music, where bands feel they can only play one particular kind and nothing else along with it. It’s stupid, you know? I love when bands mix things like hardcore punk and death metal. That’s how it was for us back in the day. When I first heard Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales album, I instantly noticed those hardcore influences, like Discharge and GBH, in the drumming. I was like, “Hell yeah, this comes from hardcore, man!” And I’ve thought death and black metal have always sounded so cool, so I’ve been really open-minded. That’s also what we’ve done with our tours, having bands that mix their own cultural influences with metal, which brings a broader range of fans to the shows.
I think Ritual is the most complete Soulfly record we’ve ever done. I’m extremely proud of it and I love the guests on it — Randy Blythe from Lamb of God and Ross Dolan of Immolation. There’s some nasty tunes on the record like “Summoning” and “Demonize.” It’s a very hungry and angry record (laughs)! There’s a lot of flavor on it, and that’s what makes me happy. Each and every song has something different to offer.
ME: You worked in the studio with Josh Wilbur on this album. How was your experience working together?
Max: Josh was vital for the record. When we worked before on Killer Be Killed, I really knew that he was a top producer. He has a terrific rep with Megadeth and, of course, Lamb of God. The thing is, he came into this record as a fan because he loves my work. His top three records of all time are Chaos A.D., Roots, and Soulfly I, and he was really happy to work with me and I was with him, so he was perfect for the blend. If you have that happen, most of the time, something good is going to come of it when there’s that much excitement in the room. I was glad he was available and willing to do this record with us.
We worked really hard with him, man; it wasn’t easy to pull off. We’d go back and forth, and he was very demanding of us musically. We had to really bring it to the table, you know? He wouldn’t accept anything less than something really exciting. He wanted all super strong and powerful songs. It was an amazing experience working with Josh, man. I loved it, and the care that he put into the record.
ME: Yeah, it really shows! This is also the third album to feature your son Zyon on drums. What do you notice about your son’s abilities this time around?
Max: I honestly think Ritual represents Zyon at his best. I love his drumming on the last two records, but especially with this one, I can see that his confidence has grown. He has a better handle on what he’s doing and has his own style going on. Yeah, man, he’s definitely stepped up big time. He’s grown as soon as he joined the band, which is great. That’s the best thing we can ask of him, is to grow with us. As musicians, we strive to get better every year. When people see us live, they’ve always commented on his drumming. He’s definitely been kicking ass every night.
ME: On your Facebook page, I noticed that your wife does these throwback posts. In one of them, you got a call from Kurt Cobain back in the early 90s. I thought that was awesome.
Max: Yeah, it’s cool that she posts those things from her blog, and it keeps the fans informed. I think they get a lot of cool stuff out of it. The phone call from Kurt really came out of nowhere, and it was really shocking (laughs)! I was more acquainted with Dave Grohl, though, since he would come to Sepultura shows all the time, and he even wrote the foreword in my book.
ME: I know that Kurt had always loved Brazilian music, so it’s interesting for you guys to have communicated, even for that brief moment – like the grunge and metal world crossing over.
Max: Yeah, man, it was totally crazy! In fact, Dave had mentioned that they wanted to tour with us — to have Nirvana with Sepultura, and have Dead Kennedys as the opener. It’s unfortunate what would happen to Kurt, because I could only imagine how cool it would have been to have us all tour together, you know? But it’s cool, too, how Kurt has shown his appreciation for us, and for Brazilian music. I remember seeing interviews with him, where he’d say he was really into Os Mutantes, Rita Lee — the whole 70s psychedelic music scene. That’s really cool.
ME: Putting your own growth in perspective, you formed Sepultura when you were just going into your teens. Then, you’d form Soulfly with a new outlook as a grown man. With both bands, though, I understand that they each went through very rocky starts, and you needed a lot of support simply getting them off the ground. When all is said done, it’s great how you were able to persevere.
Max: Yeah, that’s all part of it, you know? We had another band called Tropa de Shock but didn’t do anything with it. Sepultura was really my first serious band. I stuck with them, and I’m so proud of what we’ve done. We eventually became the first South American band to achieve so much success outside of Brazil. That really brought the attention of Latin America to the world. When Soulfly came about, I wanted to do something a little different, rather than copy the usual Sepultura formula. It was going to have revolving members from time to time, and that gave Soulfly a different identity.
I’m just very blessed that this all worked out even with the tribulations, stress, and the drama of splitting from Sepultura. The death of Dana in 1996 was the worst part of my life. But once we focused on the music, we turned that negative into something positive, and Soulfly was born. I’ve also been involved with other projects — Cavalera Conspiracy, Killer Be Killed — and have lots of ideas for the coming years. I love all my music, and the fact that I’m 49 years old and still going strong, man!
ME: Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Max: We want to thank you for your great support. Come and celebrate with us; let the ritual begin! It’s going to be great! Come to the shows; enjoy; have fun! It’s a killer set with Incite and Kataklysm, and some of our shows will have Unearth, too. I hope to see you all on the road. It’s so good to be back and meeting the fans all over again!