Max Cavalera has accomplished what he had out to do when he formed Soulfly after many years fronting Sepultura: He has dabbled in world sounds but has stayed true to metal.
“I like the fact that our new album is called ‘Prophecy,’ ” Cavalera said recently of his fourth Roadrunner album (released March 30 – Hear here), “because I had a chance to use instruments that were from the Middle Ages. They’re really old, great-sounding instruments. And I got the chance to meet with people who can actually play them. Some artists, like Peter Gabriel, who I really dig, go out of their way to meet these different musicians and bring them to the world, showing us stuff we wouldn’t normally see.
“There was a good opportunity when I made ‘Roots’ (1996) with Sepultura, then when I switched gears to Soulfly. I was lucky that I didn’t lose the fans because of that; actually, I gained more fans. Every Soulfly album has had some kind of different percussion element. Most of them were Brazilian until now, but since the last record, we started to add more worldwide instrumentalizations. Even the video for ‘Prophecy’ was done in Monument Valley and totally digs into the roots of American Indian culture. It was such an experience to be on their land, with Indian dancers.”
Cavalera admits that fans initially were leery about his forays into genres outside hard rock, but they’re firmly in his camp now.
“I think the first shocker was my old band, Sepultura, when we did ‘Roots,’ ” he said, “because at that time, it was the era of Slayer and Metallica, with skulls on their albums. We had the picture of an Indian on the cover. It must have been a shock to them; ‘what the hell is an Indian doing on the cover?’ But it was powerful. The Indian had this strong look in his face, really serious like the music – he’s there to fuck shit up, not joking around. That made the transition a little easier; fans started to look at stuff differently.
“Little by little, I’ve grown up with the fans. They understand that Max is a different breed of person and musician, that I’m not afraid to throw things out there. But I made sure that the album didn’t carried away, too. You don’t see me doing a duet with Britney Spears or anything like that. We keep it real.”
Cavalera also isn’t afraid to shake things up when it comes to band mates. For “Prophecy,” he recruited former Ill Nino guitarist Mark Rizzo, brought back drummer Joe Nunez (who had played on the “Primitive” album) and split bass duties between Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson and ex-Primer 55 member Bobby Burns.
“To me, this was a completely different record, so I wanted to change a lot of things, and that included the musicians,” he said. “You can say it’s risky to do that, but the magic of this album is having these guys around to make it sound this way.”
So, when he hires a new band member, does that newcomer walk on egg shells, fearing he might lose his job? Cavalera says he’s easy-going and tries to give band mates as much freedom to be themselves.
“Everybody’s new, but I want a team, you know,” he said. “We work as a team. I don’t want to dictate; I just want to make the songs sound better, that’s how we work. That (philosophy) really works for Soulfly.”
God and faith are central themes for “Prophecy,” but Cavalera doesn’t push it into the listener’s face.
“I don’t even have a certain religion I’ve applied to,” he said. “Religion, in my eyes, is both good and bad. Because of that, I feel that if I’m trapped with one religion, yes, there’s some cool things about it, but you’re stuck with some stuff you don’t agree with and you end up doing it because that’s the rule.
“I decided for my own self that I have my own spirituality; I respect the religions, but I don’t follow them. I believe in God. He’s more important than any religion, anyway.”
Cavalera’s split from Sepultura in the mid-1990s was painful for fans, but he believes they have gotten over it.
“I heard little things like, ‘Are you going to go back?,’ especially on the first (Soulfly) album,” he said. “It gradually disappeared. They want me to play some Sepultura songs, which I love playing anyway, they’re part of my blood and my history. I’ll never stop playing Sepultura songs, just like Ozzy won’t stop playing Black Sabbath.
“Soulfly’s right here, right now. It’s happening. I’m making brand new music for you guys, and you’re digging it, so why look back, why live in the past? The present is now, and it’s kicking ass. They feel that.
“I did an in-store (appearance) here the other day in Phoenix, where I live; there were 300 fans there who bought the record, and it’s right after midnight. I was there till like 3 in the morning, signing autographs. But it was worth it. It gives me inspiration; that’s why I make this music.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Queen’s ‘Live Killers.’ I still listen to it; I love it. I saw them in a huge stadium in Brazil and I told my mom the next morning, ‘I have to get one of their albums.’ I went to the record store and the owner picked that one on cassette and said, ‘You’ll like this one.’ And he was right.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “My first was a Brazilian band, playing typical Brazilian music, bossa nova-type stuff. I loved it, but I wasn’t as interested in it as I was in Queen. Queen was the first rock ‘n’ roll band I had seen live.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I worked for my aunt in a hat factory, and we had to cut these pieces of plastic, thousands of them, for the hats. I remember my thumbs always being bloody and hurting. But it was good because it got me so frustrated that I picked up the guitar and made something with my life.”
ON THE WEB: soulfly.com.