Cavalera Conspiracy Downunder

 

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Cavalera Conspiracy are finally to tour Australia in 2012.

Some years ago, I was pleased to find myself writing music interviews for Live to Ride, a motorcycle magazine with scantily clad hot chicks draped over cool bikes (I include that last phrase to aid random google hits to this blog post). I was mainly talking to metal musos, and wasn't particularly into metal – but when the dude from the record label would ask the musos which interview they enjoyed most, more often than not, they'd name mine. I think it was because I just love a chat. And, not knowing much about metal, asked them questions they weren't often asked.

One such occasion was this chat with Max Cavalera in 2008, when he and brother Igor [1] first patched up their friendship and decided to collaborate once again. And now they're returning to Australia, so it's as good a time as any to put this interview on my blog.  

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Blood Brothers

“I lied to him,” Max confesses. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I got plenty of material already written. I’ve got ten songs.’ It was a big lie. The next morning I looked at my wife Gloria and I said, ‘I’m in big trouble. I better write some f*cking music – I don't have any!”

Max Cavalera is coming clean about the reunion with his brother Igor in the project that became Cavalera Conspiracy. It’s a pretty big deal: some 12 years ago, Max walked away from Sepultura – not just the heavy metal band he fronted on guitar and vocals, but the band he’d founded with Igor. When Max walked, he turned his back on his brother as well as the band. There are few things that’ll make a man walk away from his life’s work and his own blood. Yep, that’s right, there was a woman involved: Gloria Cavalera, the band’s soon-to-be former manager. Who also happened to be married to the person soon to become the band’s former guitarist and vocalist. But we’re not allowed to talk about that – on pain of the interview being terminated. Rather than the break-up, we’re here to discuss the reunion, which is a good thing. However bitterly the brothers parted, the fact that they’ve made amends – and meant it – is apparent in the solid, full-on album that resulted: Inflikted.

“It was great, man,” Max says of recording the album. “Playing with Igor again was such a great feeling of relief and excitement. We were hungry to make the music and we went right into it.”

Well, not right into it. First there was a ‘break the ice’ jam, which began with covers before turning to Sepultura classics. They didn’t get very far. “We played half of one song,” Max says, “‘Territory’,” – the big single from 1993 album Chaos A.D. – “and Igor just stopped and said, ‘Okay, enough of this sh*t; let’s make the f*cking record then’. That was the attitude I needed to hear. Forget about the past, go with the future, you know?”

So after the ‘break the ice’ jam, a brief ‘shit – I got no songs’ panic was inevitable. But, says Max, it was ultimately “no problem”:

“I was so excited that I would write for 24 hours, man – riff, riff, riff – just throwing all kinds of riffs. I sent these to Igor in Brazil – something I never did before with anybody – so Igor could check out the things I was doing and give me feedback. He called back from Brazil: ‘I love the riffs. I’m ready. Let’s do this.’”

To recap, ‘sepultura’ is Portuguese for ‘grave’, and was inspired as a band name by Max Cavalera’s translation of the Motörhead song ‘Dancing on Your Grave’. The band came into being in 1984 in Brazil after the death of Max and Igor’s Italian diplomat father, Graciliano. “My dad was very family-oriented,” Max recalls. “He had strong plans for us to follow him into diplomatic careers. If he had not died, we would not have been musicians.”

Life changed dramatically after the death. “We were living pretty good in Sao Paulo – Brazil’s biggest city – while my dad was making money. After he died, we had to live in a shack out the back of my grandmother’s house in another city. Me and Igor were like, ‘What happened? Our lives got fucked up so fast!’ We were angry; we were poor. It was very depressing.” Metal music offered an outlet. And, unexpectedly, a way out, as Sepultura pretty much pioneered the sub-genre of ‘death metal’.

“I remember my mother saying, ‘You guys are wasting your time. You’re not jazz musicians, you’re not classical musicians; you’re just playing by ear.’ We proved her wrong!” If it was a surprise to Mama Cavalera that Brazilian kids could become well-respected metal musos, it was as much of a shock to the rest of the world that well-respected metal musos could come from Brazil. 

“So many people were blown away,” Max concurs. “Doing interviews for America, for Europe – all they knew about Brazil was football and nice girls and samba and coffee. We came with death metal. It was a different Brazil to the tourist Brazil.”

Twelve years after he started the band, Max left it. By this time the initial death/thrash metal combo had expanded its remit to include hardcore punk and industrial noise. Max went on to form a new band, Soulfly, which would extend the remit further still, to groove metal, Brazilian tribal music and world music.

“It was as though someone had said to me, ‘There’s so much more in metal you can do – you don’t have to copy them, you can invent sh*t’. And I did, man.”

Naturally, with growth, there should be change. Why the changes seem to take place in 12-year cycles for Max Cavalera is anybody’s guess. But it’s 2008 and time to work out what to do with his and Igor’s reunion. First item on the agenda: what should they call it? It couldn’t be ‘Sepultura’ – by this stage, Igor had also quit that band.

“And it should not be Soulfly because Soulfly is a different beast I’d already established,” Max reasons. “I don't think Igor’d be comfortable. He’s a real creative guy, the best thing would be to start fresh, from Ground Zero up – a new chapter.” The argument was convincing enough for Igor and created the perfect situation for Max. “Soulfly is a lot on my shoulder all the time, whereas Conspiracy is not. That’s the way we worked in Sepultura – everybody had his own role and did it the best he could. It works great for the Conspiracy.”

Once they got stuck into the music, it was as though the twelve year sabbatical – of their collaboration and their brotherhood – had never taken place. Well, musically, that was the case.

“Personally,” says Max, “it was a little different. It took me a little while to get used to Igor. We’ve changed a little bit. But musically, it was automatic. When me and Igor get our instruments, people were noticing even our faces changing – we put our ‘war face’ on. During soundcheck, Igor’s entire face changes – it’s quite amazing. You don’t want to f*ck with him at that time. He’s a very intense drummer, man. Intense and provocative. You have to be really on your toes. You don’t fuck around with him. But I love that about playing with Igor. It’s one of the things that I missed.”

Inflikted is itself an intense and provocative album, brimful of righteous anger. The opener is the title track and it begins with a siren. “It’s like the war has started,” says Max, who initially had trouble accepting the siren – created for an earlier Soulfly project by bass player Marc Rizzo – was executed on guitar, rather than a sample. “That siren is very unique,” Max explains, “better than some guitarists’ solos. When you hear that, you’d better run!”

The track ‘Nevertrust’, following the peaceful and gorgeous acoustic play-out of previous track ‘Bloodbrawl’, is an extreme punk follow-up to John Lennon’s ‘God’, albeit seeking this time to systematically destroy everything rather than merely denounce it. From nihilism to total annihilation. “It’s about the things around us that we can’t trust,” says Max, citing “cops” and “the President”.

One of my favourite tracks is ‘Terrorize’, featuring a funky, percussive introduction that a foreboding, low drone – accompanied by that siren again – inevitably dispels. The drumming comes from traditional Brazilian carnival music. “I first heart Igor do that during a soundcheck in Arizona. It’s not samba – it comes from old, old folk music. But once the guitar starts, it’s all over.”

Is that a statement about village life coming to an end as a result of modern politics? [2]

“I never looked at it like that, but it’s a very cool coincidence. The world today, with globalization: folk music being slaughtered by future music, by technology…”

Perhaps the most important song on the album is ‘Black Ark’, about Dana Wells, Max Cavalera’s “murdered” stepson. Dana died in a car accident, under questionable circumstances. His mother, Gloria Cavalera, filed a ‘wrongful death’ lawsuit against passengers who survived the accident but claim no recollection of it. That this occurred in 1996, the year that Gloria and Max ceased working with Sepultura, may be significant… but again, the renion is far more important to discuss than the breakup. Particularly in this instance, since Dana’s brother Richie joins Stepdad Max and Uncle Igor to provide vocals.

“We felt inviting Richie would make Dana proud,” Max beams. “It would be exciting to include the family and it would be really special, with the reunion. Richie was great. I’m really very proud that he was part of it.” As ever the Cavaleras cope with family tragedy by making passionate music.

One quirky aspect of Max’s is his insistence that all of his albums – at least with his earliest work with Soulfly, ‘have colours’: Soulfly 1 was green; Primitive was yellow; 3, “like the earth”, was brown; Prophecy was gold; and Dark Ages was, suitably, black.

Inflikted is black and red,” he says, “the voodoo colours for war. It’s a pretty heavy album, and it has the most powerful voodoo spirit around.”

 

Notes:

1. At the time of writing, Igor Cavalera had decided to change the spelling of his first name to ‘Iggor’ – apparently for no other reason than it looks better – and that’s how it appeared in this article at the time of publication.

2. More significant now than when first written, seeing as – it turns out – Brazil does boast some of the last ‘uncontacted tribes’… that we know about. Or at least did; more recently, one such tribe disappeared and nobody really knows what happened to it.


Metal fatigue?

Remember when you were a kid, how, no matter what sort of music you were into, your parents were convinced it was crap?

I found it particularly annoying; as a kid, I was into ‘old people’ music. Not raucous punk or indie noise or metal like other kids my age were into; I liked The Beatles and Bob Dylan and Cream. This was back in the day before CDs and the Internet, where if you were into something from the previous generation, you really had to love it and search hard for it. Really, my parents had it easy. But they still thought whatever music I listened to was rubbish.

Turns out it’s the way of the world.

I recently interviewed Max Cavalera for Live To Ride magazine. Max is a metal legend who formed Sepultura and these days fronts Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy. His son Richard is in Incite, the band that opened for Soulfly on their recent tour.

Max grew up loving metal, and pioneering it, much to the distress of his mother, who thought Max’s lead vocalist in Sepeltura “sounded like a dog”.

Turns out, even if you’ve rebelled so unequivocally as to pioneer a genre your parents don’t dig, you still have to hate the music your kids are into.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview – which will appear in full, soon, in Live To Ride. It took place in a loud café, so I’ve transcribed it below. I asked Max a question about the music his kids were into. Max’s immediate, unflinching answer to my question made me laugh. A lot.

Max Cavalera excerpt

Dom Romeo: Sometimes kids are into music their parents don’t dig and it might cause problems. What sort of music would your kids have to bring home for you to go, ‘Oh, for God’s sake; you’re no son of mine!’

MAX CAVALERA: Rap. The older one kind of listened to some rap and I give him shit all the time. I’m like, ‘This is f*cking crap! Don’t listen to rap.’ And Richard, the one who’s in Incite, for a while when he was younger, he used to be into hip hop and he used to have the baggy pants and the whole kind of hip hop New York Yankees hat. I still give him shit for that, now that he’s a rocker. He’s a full-on rocker with long hair and metal t-shirt. I still go, ‘remember your baggy pants? You gonna put them on one of these days?’


Rockin’ Rollin’ Ridin’

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For those of you who like to read about rock, in addition to saluting you, may I point out that I have a couple of interviews in this month’s (the October) issue of Live To Ride:


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Dez Fafara, lead vocalist of DevilDriver.


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John Campbell, bass player of Lamb of God.

Thanks to Johnny March for making them look so good on the page. And if you’re into your metal – or my writing – there’s also one with Kris Coombs-Roberts, guitarist and backing vocalist of Funeral for a Friend.



FFAF about Downunder

Funeral for a Friend

Kris Coombs-Roberts, guitarist and backing vocalist of Welsh band Funeral for a Friend, can’t quite understand why Live To Ride would want to talk to him. He doesn’t even have a driver’s license, let alone ride a bike. I’d love to put him at his ease: neither do I! Still, we can talk about the music – a logical place to start. Interesting, too, since traditionally, the Welsh are renowned for gorgeous singing voices and – given their coal-rich land – those big, brass, colliery bands. How does a post-hardcore/hardcore punk/experimental and – my favourite sub-genre within which Funeral For A Friend are often categorised – ‘screamo’ band come about in Wales?


“When you grow up in the Welsh Valleys, there’s not a lot to do,” Kris confesses. “It comes from a lot of frustration. All of my friends, we used to go out and try to find new music. We fell in love with bands like Metallica, Pantera, Guns N’ Roses and Machinehead – very heavy bands. Social groups and not having much to do led me to playing the music I do.”

In addition to these US bands, there were ‘local’ (that is, ‘UK’) musicians that inspired Kris. “I was listening to a lot of underground hardcore bands like Stomping Ground, earthtone9 – very ‘heavy’ bands, very different and very British.” This ‘local’ scene really took off in the UK – especially in Wales – only after the alternative/nu metal band Lostprophets struck fame. Hailing from the town of Pontypridd, just north of Cardiff and about 30km east of Funeral for a Friend’s home of Bridgend, Lostprophets “gave everybody a kick up the backside to go and try to be better!” There can be no more excuses, Kris insists, once someone “from around your corner” finally achieves success. “There’s no more, ‘being from Wales, oh, it’s impossible!’ Before, Welsh bands had to go to London to look for A&R people; now A&R people go to Wales, looking for bands. There are a lot of Welsh bands who are all very, very good.”

It’s hard to talk to anyone from a band called ‘Funeral for a Friend’ without asking the obvious question, and it’s a two-parter: a) were they named after the Elton John track that opens his 1973 masterpiece, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and b) is it because their musical position deems it necessary to put an end to such music, in much the same way that Johnny Rotten hoped the likes of his Sex Pistols would put an end to such dinosaurs as Pink Floyd? “I’d love to say that was the case, but it’s definitely not,” Kris replies. “But saying that, we’re all big fans of Elton John; we all love his music. How can you not?”

Turns out the band takes its name from a different song with the same title – a track from an album called F*ck With Fire by Illinois ‘post-hardcore’ band Planes Mistaken for Stars (also known as PMFS) – that lead vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye “really loves”. Kris hadn’t even heard of PMFS until he found out the band was named after one of their songs. “They’re pretty cool. Very strange, but good. The Elton John thing is cooler, though, definitely.”

As for the sub-generic labels with which Funeral for a Friend is categorised – particularly ‘screamo’, which, as the name suggests, is a shouty form of emo that grew out of hardcore punk, Kris reckons they just make it easier for people to fit within a ‘scene’, particularly when fashion is involved. “It’s almost like the glam scene in the 80s – everybody dresses a certain way, everybody wears tight jeans, everybody has the sloping fringe and full sleeve tattoos… All of the little sub-genres people use, like ‘post-hardcore’, ‘emo’, ‘screamo’… it’s to make people feel more comfortable. But you should only ever judge music with your ears, because that’s the only sense that you experience it with. I’d prefer not to categorise music; I judge it by what I like and what I don’t like.” Funeral for a Friend fits into an even more basic category for Kris: “First and foremost, we’re two guitars, bass, drums and a vocalist. That’s a rock band.”

Whereas Funeral For A Friend had veered towards the art rock of the concept album – their third full-length release, Tales Don’t Tell Themselves, was a song cycle – “a bit of an experiment in writing dynamic music to a story” about a fisherman going out to sea and getting lost. Their most recent release, Memory and Humanity, returned to that ‘first and foremost a rock band’ ideal of two guitars, bass, drum and vocalist. It also coincided with a label change. They are now with Roadrunner Records. The concept album about going to sea was the band’s last release on – fittingly – the Atlantic label.

For the new album and label, the band were ready to get cracking on a new release and the new material came remarkably easy, according to Kris. Part of this was down to the band’s seven years experience. “You become better at doing things and you can say what you want in a more concise wa,” he says. “You don’t have to ‘go around the ’ouses’ about it.” Getting together to write an EP’s worth of songs, after three weeks they discovered they had eight contenders. It made sense to “push forward” to a complete album. “Our opinion has always been, ‘if it feels good, do it’. And everything did feel good while we were doing it.”

For the most part, the band were happy to be moving on to “pastures new” without really knowing where it would take them. “When we sat down to write, we wanted to get a lot of the energy that we had with the first two records,” says Kris.

Energy is present and accounted for on what has been described as the band’s ‘darkest and most poignant release yet’. According to Kris, Matt writes all the lyrics, so “the songs can be very personal to him, his views of how he sees certain things in the world”. Clearly, some of them appear to be how he sees certain films. Although, in more recent years, it has become a kind of tasteless slogan on t-shirts depicting Charles Manson, I suspect that the song ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’ is actually a reference to Francis Ford Coppola’s  Vietnam War masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) bellows the line, his explanation of why there’s no issue with his soldiers surfing. (‘Charlie’, is short for ‘Victor Charlie’, which, like ‘VC’, is military jargon for the South Vietnamese Communist Party’s army, the Vietcong.)



Or perhaps it’s the band’s token surf song since, as Australia’s Radio Birdman proved, there is an easy correlation between punk and surf music! 

“It’s about Apocalypse Now,” Kris confirms. “Matt is massively, massively into movies. We’ve got a long-running history of songs tied in with movies.” Indeed they do: the band’s second album, Hours, features the song ‘Streetcar’. Named for A Streetcar Named Desire, an early vehicle for actor Marlon Brando, ‘Streetcar’ was written as a tribute the week Brando passed away.



‘To Live And Die Like Mouchette’ appears to reference the Robert Bresson coming-of-age film about a poor, bullied French peasant girl, Mouchette, who eventually takes her own life. Apparently, Matt saw the film while the band were working on the album and, touched by it, wrote a song about the central character. “We’ll probably get sued now and won’t be allowed to play it anymore,” Kris observes. And then adds that the song is actually written from the point of view of what people should have said to Mouchette, what they should have been like to her, “instead of being a direct reference to the script”. Just in case.

Memory and Humanity


I’m particularly taken by the cover of Memory and Humanity. It features a kid, his back to us, contemplating ‘ladders’ that lead all the way up into the clouds. The ‘ladders’ are in fact ‘double helixes’ of DNA, but they could just as easily constitute a kind of ‘stairway to heaven’. What with the departure from Atlantic Records – home to Led Zeppelin – there could be a wry comment in there.

“Not intentionally,” Kris says. The artwork is by New Zealander Barny Bewick, who is also responsible for the cover art of Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation. “It’s strange, because we released this album five years to the day that we released our first album, so the little boy is a bit of a reference to the time between the first record and that record.” An interesting reference. The cover of Casually Dressed…, based on The Lovers by surrealist painter René Magritte, features a couple sitting back-to-back. Perhaps they manage to get on a little better subsequently, and the five-year-old on the cover of Memory and Humanity is theirs.

“It wasn’t intentional to make any record to be released on the same day, it just turned out that the date became possible to do,” Kris says. He reckons that leaving a label is like “starting again”, and it was meaningful to be able to release the album on a day that, for all intents and purposes, originally signified the commencement of their career. So many of the good things that came together for Memory and Humanity hark back to Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation – even, says Kris, the way they wrote the songs. “We didn’t go into a plush rehearsal space and spend months – we got together in the front room of our drummer Ryan Richard’s house and basically clashed heads and argued until we came up with ideas for songs that we were all happy with. It was very similar to how we did Casually Dressed…; it definitely felt like ‘going back to our roots’.”

Since Kris is already reminiscing about those days, it’s worth asking after his brother, Kerry Roberts, who used to be the band’s other guitarist. Did Kris and Kerry have a tendency to ‘punch on’, like brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher have been wont to do in Oasis, or brothers Ray and Dave Davies in the Kinks?

“No, my brother’s my best friend!” Kris exclaims, explaining that Kerry, “a very, very intelligent boy”, always maintained a good job; since the band went through periods – often for as long as 18 months – where no money was made, Kerry had to find a better way to pay his mortgage and maintain his marriage. While his departure from Funeral for a Friend “was awkward for a period of time”, it’s worked out for the best. “My brother’s the biggest supporter of the band,” Kris reports.

“Are there any times that you’re enjoying the rock’n’roll high life on the other side of the world when you’re tempted to get on the phone and ring him at what would be 2am, and say, ‘you could be here right now, Kerry – but you’re not!’” I ask, cheekily. “No, definitely not,” Kris says. “But I do keep up with him. He’s got two boys now, so I’ve got two nephews. If anything, I think he has more to treasure than I have, really.”


This interview was originally conducted for
Live to Ride magazine but didn’t quite make it into an issue. Never mind – I’m more than happy to host it here on my blog!