Cavalera Conspiracy Downunder
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
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 â 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  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.
âI lied to him,â Max confesses. âI said, âDonât worry, I got plenty of material already written. Iâve got ten songs.â It was a big lie. The next morning I looked at my wife Gloria and I said, âIâm in big trouble. I better write some f*cking music â I don't have any!â
Max Cavalera is coming clean about the reunion with his brother Igor in the project that became Cavalera Conspiracy. Itâs a pretty big deal: some 12 years ago, Max walked away from Sepultura â not just the heavy metal band he fronted on guitar and vocals, but the band heâd founded with Igor. When Max walked, he turned his back on his brother as well as the band. There are few things thatâll make a man walk away from his lifeâs work and his own blood. Yep, thatâs right, there was a woman involved: Gloria Cavalera, the bandâs soon-to-be former manager. Who also happened to be married to the person soon to become the bandâs former guitarist and vocalist. But weâre not allowed to talk about that â on pain of the interview being terminated. Rather than the break-up, weâre here to discuss the reunion, which is a good thing. However bitterly the brothers parted, the fact that theyâve made amends â and meant it â is apparent in the solid, full-on album that resulted: Inflikted.
âIt was great, man,â Max says of recording the album. âPlaying 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.â
Well, not right into it. First there was a âbreak the iceâ jam, which began with covers before turning to Sepultura classics. They didnât get very far. âWe played half of one song,â Max says, ââTerritoryâ,â â the big single from 1993 album Chaos A.D. â âand Igor just stopped and said, âOkay, enough of this sh*t; letâs make the f*cking record thenâ. That was the attitude I needed to hear. Forget about the past, go with the future, you know?â
So after the âbreak the iceâ jam, a brief âshit â I got no songsâ panic was inevitable. But, says Max, it was ultimately âno problemâ:
âI was so excited that I would write for 24 hours, man â riff, riff, riff â just throwing all kinds of riffs. I sent these to Igor in Brazil â something I never did before with anybody â so Igor could check out the things I was doing and give me feedback. He called back from Brazil: âI love the riffs. Iâm ready. Letâs do this.ââ
To recap, âsepulturaâ is Portuguese for âgraveâ, and was inspired as a band name by Max Cavaleraâs translation of the MotÃ¶rhead song âDancing on Your Graveâ. The band came into being in 1984 in Brazil after the death of Max and Igorâs Italian diplomat father, Graciliano. âMy dad was very family-oriented,â Max recalls. âHe had strong plans for us to follow him into diplomatic careers. If he had not died, we would not have been musicians.â
Life changed dramatically after the death. âWe were living pretty good in Sao Paulo â Brazilâs biggest city â while my dad was making money. After he died, we had to live in a shack out the back of my grandmotherâs house in another city. Me and Igor were like, âWhat happened? Our lives got fucked up so fast!â We were angry; we were poor. It was very depressing.â Metal music offered an outlet. And, unexpectedly, a way out, as Sepultura pretty much pioneered the sub-genre of âdeath metalâ.
âI remember my mother saying, âYou guys are wasting your time. Youâre not jazz musicians, youâre not classical musicians; youâre just playing by ear.â We proved her wrong!â 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.
âSo many people were blown away,â Max concurs. âDoing interviews for America, for Europe â 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.â
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.
âIt was as though someone had said to me, âThereâs so much more in metal you can do â you donât have to copy them, you can invent sh*tâ. And I did, man.â
Naturally, with growth, there should be change. Why the changes seem to take place in 12-year cycles for Max Cavalera is anybodyâs guess. But itâs 2008 and time to work out what to do with his and Igorâs reunion. First item on the agenda: what should they call it? It couldnât be âSepulturaâ â by this stage, Igor had also quit that band.
âAnd it should not be Soulfly because Soulfly is a different beast Iâd already established,â Max reasons. âI don't think Igorâd be comfortable. Heâs a real creative guy, the best thing would be to start fresh, from Ground Zero up â a new chapter.â The argument was convincing enough for Igor and created the perfect situation for Max. âSoulfly is a lot on my shoulder all the time, whereas Conspiracy is not. Thatâs the way we worked in Sepultura â everybody had his own role and did it the best he could. It works great for the Conspiracy.â
Once they got stuck into the music, it was as though the twelve year sabbatical â of their collaboration and their brotherhood â had never taken place. Well, musically, that was the case.
âPersonally,â says Max, âit was a little different. It took me a little while to get used to Igor. Weâve changed a little bit. But musically, it was automatic. When me and Igor get our instruments, people were noticing even our faces changing â we put our âwar faceâ on. During soundcheck, Igorâs entire face changes â itâs quite amazing. You donât want to f*ck with him at that time. Heâs a very intense drummer, man. Intense and provocative. You have to be really on your toes. You donât fuck around with him. But I love that about playing with Igor. Itâs one of the things that I missed.â
Inflikted is itself an intense and provocative album, brimful of righteous anger. The opener is the title track and it begins with a siren. âItâs like the war has started,â says Max, who initially had trouble accepting the siren â created for an earlier Soulfly project by bass player Marc Rizzo â was executed on guitar, rather than a sample. âThat siren is very unique,â Max explains, âbetter than some guitaristsâ solos. When you hear that, youâd better run!â
The track âNevertrustâ, following the peaceful and gorgeous acoustic play-out of previous track âBloodbrawlâ, is an extreme punk follow-up to John Lennonâs âGodâ, albeit seeking this time to systematically destroy everything rather than merely denounce it. From nihilism to total annihilation. âItâs about the things around us that we canât trust,â says Max, citing âcopsâ and âthe Presidentâ.
One of my favourite tracks is âTerrorizeâ, featuring a funky, percussive introduction that a foreboding, low drone â accompanied by that siren again â inevitably dispels. The drumming comes from traditional Brazilian carnival music. âI first heart Igor do that during a soundcheck in Arizona. Itâs not samba â it comes from old, old folk music. But once the guitar starts, itâs all over.â
Is that a statement about village life coming to an end as a result of modern politics? 
âI never looked at it like that, but itâs a very cool coincidence. The world today, with globalization: folk music being slaughtered by future music, by technologyâ¦â
Perhaps the most important song on the album is âBlack Arkâ, about Dana Wells, Max Cavaleraâs âmurderedâ stepson. Dana died in a car accident, under questionable circumstances. His mother, Gloria Cavalera, filed a âwrongful deathâ 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 significantâ¦ but again, the renion is far more important to discuss than the breakup. Particularly in this instance, since Danaâs brother Richie joins Stepdad Max and Uncle Igor to provide vocals.
âWe felt inviting Richie would make Dana proud,â Max beams. âIt would be exciting to include the family and it would be really special, with the reunion. Richie was great. Iâm really very proud that he was part of it.â As ever the Cavaleras cope with family tragedy by making passionate music.
One quirky aspect of Maxâs is his insistence that all of his albums â at least with his earliest work with Soulfly, âhave coloursâ: Soulfly 1 was green; Primitive was yellow; 3, âlike the earthâ, was brown; Prophecy was gold; and Dark Ages was, suitably, black.
âInflikted is black and red,â he says, âthe voodoo colours for war. Itâs a pretty heavy album, and it has the most powerful voodoo spirit around.â
1. At the time of writing, Igor Cavalera had decided to change the spelling of his first name to âIggorâ â apparently for no other reason than it looks better â and thatâs how it appeared in this article at the time of publication.
2. More significant now than when first written, seeing as â it turns out â Brazil does boast some of the last âuncontacted tribesââ¦ that we know about. Or at least did; more recently, one such tribe disappeared and nobody really knows what happened to it.