SOULFLY: Soul World Order

As the world’s only true world (music) metal band, SOULFLY has been breaking down barriers and expanding the scope of metal since 1997. Band leader Max Cavalera‘s unique yet influential style has helped establish their own niche in the metal world incorporating tribal music of his native Brazil, reggae, dub, punk, thrash, and death metal. His pioneering efforts with SEPULTURA help put Brazil on the metal map, and in turn, has given him and SOULFLY the opportunity to bring their music to all parts of the world. APESHIT caught up with Max during SOULFLY‘s latest U.S. tour to learn more about his musical roots, connecting with fans, and his special art of guitar riffing.

APESHIT: How is the tour going so far?

Max: Really good man. We’re in Pennsylvania tonight, and we already did a lot of shows, which have been really awesome. The crowds have been great. Reaction has been really good. So it’s been a really, really good tour.

APESHIT: Awesome. I have to ask about how Bobby [Burns] is doing.

Max: Better. We really don’t know the details because nobody really knows about the stroke-stuff. I really don’t know how you treat that or whatever. He’s doing better. He’s at home. We [must] continue the tour. We have Dave Ellefson [ex-MEGADETH] for the first part and Dan Lilker [NUCLEAR ASSAULT/BRUTAL TRUTH/ex-ANTHRAX] is on the second part of the tour. We’re just hoping he’s gets better as soon as possible.

APESHIT: Dark Ages is such a good album. It’s complete, diverse, and it’s probably SOULFLY’s heaviest, most aggressive album so far. What influenced the sound of the album?

Max: The sound I think comes from pretty much a lot of stuff that we listen to. I listen to a lot of old school death metal, thrash metal, hardcore. I still love that style. That’s my favorite kind of music. I also like different stuff so I try to combine that. I also love dub music, world music, and Brazilian stuff. But I think my favorite stuff is definitely that kind of metal…sometimes more than I think regular metal. If I put IRON MAIDEN on, it gets a little boring. I like the old stuff like HELLHAMMER, DISCHARGE. That never gets old. It always sounds good.

APESHIT: That’s classic stuff. I have to say that Marc Rizzo is an amazing lead guitarist. He really adds a new dimension to the SOULFLY sound. What do you think of his talents?

Max: Yeah, we work really good together since Prophecy. I really enjoy working with Marc in the studio and live. He’s really easy going. [If] I have to ask to do something…he just does it. He knows how to compliment the sound I’m looking for. And he’s a real stable guitar player. He can really play that stuff every night real stable. He can really play the whole show, like really right on it. And he’s really fun in the studio because I really let him do a lot of stuff. [And] not just him but all the musicians. It’s like, “Go wild on it. No limitations.” So everybody gets off on that, making a SOULFLY record. Everybody gets to go wild where before they were a little bit more limited. They couldn’t do some of that stuff. “Aw man, you can’t do that. You can’t do this.” But with me, no rules. Everything goes when we make a record. I think he really enjoys being in this freedom environment. I’m pretty sure he enjoys that too.

APESHIT: I love his new solo album, Colossal Myopia. That stuff is just totally crazy.

Max: Yeah.

APESHIT: He’s just shredding from the first note. It’s great. On this album you play the berimbau again. When did you first learn about the instrument and started playing it? I know you first performed with it on Roots.

Max: I think that was like the first time I recorded but I messing around a little before that. I don’t remember exactly when but I’ve seen the berimbau for a long time since I was a kid. It’s a typical Brazilian instrument that you see a lot in Brazil. Actually, in capoeira, like Brazilian fight dance. Also in religious ceremonies, they play congas and they play berimbau. And you see that on the streets. You see people playing it on the streets.

So I remember seeing it since I was real little but never really thought that I was actually going to play that. Then one day, I decided to really give it a go. I went to this market in São Paulo that sells those every weekend. You can buy [them] right from the guys that make them. They’re all handmade and shit. I bought one and took it home and started messing with it. I never really took any lessons, anything like that…just kind of started doing it by myself. I didn’t tell anybody. I just kind of started playing in my room by myself until I get a little good so I can tell anybody that I was playing. Then I was actually able to play and was like, “Let’s put this on the record.”

APESHIT: Now, about your lyrics… You discuss a lot of topics like inner strength and staying true to oneself. And I think in a lot of ways the younger SOULFLY fans really connect with the band because of these topics that you talk about. How do you feel about that?

Max: Well, I think it’s just like the music. There are extreme parts of it. There are both sides of it. The music of SOULFLY can be extremely aggressive and heavy at some times. But there are other parts that are extremely melodic, like the instrumentals and the passages. So the lyrics are like that too. Some of the lyrics are really positive and hopeful and the message is strength and all that. But some of them are the complete opposite of that, like “Corrosion Creeps” is apocalyptic, negative…just kind of like reality. Show both sides…because if you make a record and talk about how beautiful everything is, then the album won’t be real because that’s not how the world is. If you make a record that is entirely negative, that also is like, “What’s the point?” you should try to find some positive message somewhere. So I think the lyrics and the music are right there in the middle of the struggle between both. That’s why it’s like that.

APESHIT: Every time I see you guys play, I feel the vibe of the younger fans that they really feel a connection on that level. Maybe they’re having a tough time being a young person and I think your lyrics really give them strength and something to look forward to.

Max: Yeah, that’s really cool. I notice that too…especially SOULFLY fans more than SEPULTURA fans. It actually means more to them, the lyrics. There’s a deeper meaning to it so I really like that and I think it’s really good. Some of them are really young. Some of them can really connect to those issues and use it for their own life. That’s really killer because [that’s] what a lot of music and lyrics does for me. Like so many lyrics from other people, it’s great. You know exactly what this guy’s feeling. “This is really cool.” You kind of use that to your own life, something like BLACK SABBATH lyrics, Ozzy’s lyrics. They’re really cool. The other day I was thinking that people don’t give much credit to Ozzy’s lyrics. I think some of Ozzy’s lyrics are real cool poems. You can read them without the music. He has some really cool things to say.

If they can help [my lyrics], then great. More power to them. More people get into my lyrics. And I know not everybody does but the ones that do, get into it really deep. And that’s really cool. It’s like a preaching thing. If you don’t get into it, that’s cool. I’m not forcing you. You don’t have to believe this thing. Nobody has to believe in the lyrics. The album is dedicated to God, but that doesn’t mean that you have to believe in God to like SOULFLY. That’s not the way it works with me. You have complete freedom. You can worship Satan and you can come to the SOULFLY shows.

APESHIT: (Laughs).

Max: It’s no problem. I actually have a lot of that. (Laughs).

But you know, it’s cool because of how open it is. I want to keep it like that. I don’t like preaching bands. It’s bullshit. It’s like be like this and that. “You have to be vegetarian or whatever.” “If you smoke pot, you can’t come to our shows.” And that’s bullshit man. If guys like your music, they like your music…whatever he likes, whatever background he’s from. My friends are all the way from the U.S. to all the way to Australia, Iraq, Brazil. Army, marines, they send me emails with SOULFLY logos on their helmets flying over Afghanistan. That shit’s badass man.

APESHIT: Wow, that’s awesome.

Max: I love how the music goes to all these people [in] all different areas. When SOULFLY played South Africa, it was like all these fuckin’ crazy SOULFLY fans. I would never imagine all these people coming from the ghettos, coming from Johannesburg wearing SOULFLY shirts. I like, “Damn! That’s fuckin’ cool.” [I] never thought that that would happen. But then again, I look back on my own life. I’m from Brazil. I’m from a weird place too, and I came into the music. Before us [SEPULTURA], nobody thought of Brazil as a metal country. Now, people look at that differently. So it’s cool, I like that.

APESHIT: Jason Newsted once said in an interview about 10 years ago where he was asked who he thought the best rhythm guitarists in metal were. He named you and James Hetfield. As a guitarist, you wrote and played some of the fastest, most brutal, and technical stuff during the first half of your career while the second half is more about playing with feel and keeping things more direct and simple. What do you attribute to your evolving guitar style?

Max: I love riffs…that’s why I took the strings out of my guitar a long time ago, the little, the solo strings. I didn’t want to confuse [myself] when I was doing riffs. It should be just riffs. I should not want to even be tempted by solos. I actually thought it was fun, punk rock to play a 4-string guitar. But [I] love riffs. That’s the thing…my thing. I grab a guitar and riffs come out of it. It cannot be explained how, but it happens. My favorite riffs are the real simple ones. Like “Eye for an Eye” is probably my favorite riff of all time, which is ridiculous because it’s played on one string. It’s almost ridiculous to the childish point how simple it is. But that is the magic of riffs. The more simple, sometimes the more amazing they are because all the guys are like, “How come I didn’t think of that simple riff?” (Laughs). And that’s the coolest thing, you know. The most retarded, simple riffs you can make works and you throw all the other guitar players off by that. (Laughs). I myself have asked myself that question many times, like the “Symptom of the Universe” riff. How many times [I’ve asked myself] that I wished that I wrote that riff. (Laughs). You start working on it, you can write some riffs like that so that’s what I did.

A lot of practice, just staying on your guitar and riff. Sit down and just riff. So in a way, like how Marc will sit down with solos, I do the same thing but with just riffs. I just sit for hours and just play riffs, just to get better at making riffs.

APESHIT: The fact that you’re able to create such catchy riffs even though they’re so simple shows that people think it’s so easy to come up with simple riffs, but it’s actually not as easy as it seems. That certainly shows your guitar prowess.

Max: The thing about the riff I think…exactly, it looks easy but it’s not when you actually start doing it because when you do a riff, it just easily falls into boredom. People in the room don’t get excited about the riff anymore. You have to create riffs where everybody jumps into it. I play most of riffs and kind of my meter is people’s eyebrows. If people’s eyebrows get real down and they get pissed off, I know that’s a good riff. “I see your eyebrows. This riff pissed you off. That’s great!” (Laughs). And everybody likes the riff, I’ll start using that riff. Even in SEPULTURA days, I did that. So it’s kind of a funny way to make a riff and even your face changes. (Laughs). You put your warface on when you do a riff and it’s really amazing.

APESHIT: I want to talk about your early days. You and your brother Igor (Cavalera) came from very humble beginnings in Belo Horizonte. You guys were part of the metal scene from the very beginning over there. What are some of your best memories from those early days?

Max: I think just going to shows was really fun…going to shows to see all these bands even before we had our band (SEPULTURA). It was like journeys. You had to get on a bus. A lot of shows were not coming to our town so we had to go to either São Paulo or Rio to watch them. So it was a journey, 15 hours by bus. It was like a four day thing and you’d get there, get together with a bunch of people and all go and have fun at the show. And you the way back on the bus, you talk about how awesome the concert was. A lot of the real fans, they come to the shows from real far away. They travel really far and are not interested in being groupies and shit like that. They just want to see the show and they travel back and think about what the show did to them. That’s really cool. That’s the real hardcore. When you travel to see [a concert], it makes it more special. It’s not so easy to see a show and once you see it, it made it more fun.

APESHIT: In 1988, you flew to New York by yourself to try to get SEPULTURA a record deal with Roadrunner. Can you tell me about what that trip was like?

Max: At that time, I didn’t know it was going to be Roadrunner. I flew in with a bunch of copies of our Schizophrenia record and went to the different offices like Combat, Noise Records, Roadrunner, all these metal labels that were based in New York. What was cool about it was the way I got a free ticket. I didn’t have money to pay for it. I found a friend that could get me a free ticket while working for Pan Am Airlines. I had to dress up like I had to get a tie and a suit, put my hair back because I was traveling as a Pan Am guy (employee) not as a heavy metal guy in order to get there. It was only for two days so it was really quick. It was real, real fast. All the big buildings. “This place is insane.” All the big skyscrapers. It was two days, I give them the album. I met Harley [Flanagan] from the CRO-MAGS, which was awesome. I got mugged for five dollars. So all this shit happened in two days, and I was real excited to come home [to] tell everybody. I did what I had to do. I met the singer of the CRO-MAGS, I got mugged so I was really excited to go home and tell everybody the news. (Laughs).

One thought on “SOULFLY: Soul World Order

  1. I remember back in the day when I was a young fella, 17 or so,I was obsessed with Soulfly and Sepultura, Max was my absolute god, he still is in a way. He’s a fucking legend, I missed meeting him at the big day out many moons ago by about 5 minutes, I was gutted for weeks about that

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