For the past month, SOULFLY mainman Max Cavalera has been holed up inside his home in Arizona writing songs for the band's next album, recording demos, and letting his creativity flow. The following question-and-answer session with Max was posted on the group's official web site, SoulflyWeb.com:
Q: So, Max, how have you been lately? What have your days been characterized by?
Max: I'm doing really good, man. We just got back from doing a MARILYN MANSON cover out in L.A., and it turned out very cool. I can't wait for people to be able to hear it. It's super heavy with like a thrash ending; totally metal, and very fast.
Q: Sounds insane, man. How'd you end up choosing to do "Beautiful People" for the Kerrang! compilation?
Max: Kerrang! sent me a list of songs that I could do for the compilation from England with many different covers we could do. Most of the stuff was classic; stuff like AC/DC, DEF LEPPARD, and MARILYN MANSON. There was even SEPULTURA, but there was no way I'm going to cover my own song for Kerrang! Then I thought that MARILYN MANSON would be cool, because it's a very weird song already. It's a heavy song, in a way, but it's also very different from the type of stuff that we usually play. So I thought it could be one of those songs that I can do into a cool cover, and I can stamp the SOULFLY spirit and my vibe on top of it. It was very exciting, and I'll tell you what, Marc [Rizzo] went crazy in the studio. He recorded guitar for 11 hours or something like that. It was in L.A. and was engineered by Logan Mader, who is a former SOULFLY member and the former MACHINE HEAD guitarist. So it's going to be very cool, very kick-ass, and I can't wait for people to hear it.
Q: If you had the choice to do any song for any tribute album of your choosing, what would it be?
Max: Oh, that's tough man. I like so much. Actually, I think I already did the one that mattered the most to me. SOULFLY did the BLACK SABBATH one, "Under the Sun". That was the coolest to me, because we got a letter from Ozzy saying how much he loved the version that we did. And to me, that's like the coolest thing and it's something that I never would've expected. I would never think Ozzy would even hear about a cover that I did of his song, because you know, so many people cover SABBATH songs, the band probably doesn't hear most of them. But not Ozzy. He heard it, and he loved it and he sent a personal letter that came here. I freaked out, because how cool is that? So that was really cool for me, being a big BLACK SABBATH fan. As far as other songs I could do, it's changing all the time, man. I like a challenge, something that's not exactly what people would expect. Stuff that a lot of bands would be scared to touch, like MARILYN MANSON, for example, or NEW MODEL ARMY.
Q: Many people thought of "Dark Ages" as your most brutal SOULFLY album thus far. To me it sounds like it's the most focused album that you've put together with SOULFLY. After touring the world on the album for nearly two years, do you think you accomplished the goals that you set for yourself when you began to write "Dark Ages"?
Max: I think it's very close. With every album that I have ever done, I kind of look back on it and think that there is a couple of things that I could have done differently. But the cool thing with SOULFLY is that I hear from people that really like "Dark Ages", but if I even just mention something older, like "Primitive", they go, "Oh, yeah, that's awesome man," and it's like they remember that album. So, it's so exciting to know that all of the albums have made their mark to SOULFLY fans in a different way. Many people have a different one they like the best, but I don't really have one. I like all of them in their different ways, because all of them are different, with different rhythms. It's definitely a big motivation. And I think SOULFLY entered a very exciting stage with "Dark Ages". I think it kind of kind of started with "Prophecy"; it's a little heavier, but there's even more art forms and experimental stuff on top of it all. We're not being heavy just for the sake of being heavy.
Q: Yeah, I was just going to say that to me, "Dark Ages" is the most conceptual album that you've done with SOULFLY, so far. It seems as though there are some very strong themes throughout the disc, from front to back.
Max: Yeah, that's almost like a joke that I've been telling people. That the next SOULFLY album will almost make "Dark Ages" sound like a pop record. It's just so exciting to play some of this stuff that we're getting into. There's a lot of excitement within all of us in the band. I've already got a lot of stuff for the new album. I've been writing throughout this entire last year, and we're going to be continuing right where "Dark Ages" left off, and traveling even further towards our vision. We're going to be surprising many more people.
Q: In a month, on May 1st, we're going to be doing something a bit unique. For the first time ever, you've given us permission to allow fans to download one of your four-track demos that you've been working on, presumably a song from the next SOULFLY album. You've never really allowed anyone to hear the music you're making before you've had the chance to properly record it. Can you tell us a name for the song and a bit about it?
Max: Yeah, I've got a couple of working titles for it, but it might change, you know. But if I had to give it a name at this moment in time, when we release the demo, I'd call it "After the Slaughter". It's kind of a weird, art name, but I think if you see the lyrics, then you'll know what it's about. I'm still working them all out, but I think "After the Slaughter" works well for it. I'm most excited about doing this four-track thing so that I can show my fans a little bit about how I write. My family and Gloria [Cavalera, wife/manager] and stuff know how I write, but no one else has really had the chance to see this, and no one really has a clue about how I write and how we do it in the studio. I've been using four-tracks like this forever to write out my songs.
Q: What types of things do you typically do on the days when you write? Do you record your songs immediately?
Max: I try to write as much as I can as a song in itself. That's why the four-track demo is really exciting. Some of the ones that I've done myself are the full songs. Like, someone just had me play for them the four-track for "Eye For An Eye", for some fans, and they couldn't believe how much of the song was actually there. The entire song is right there. I don't really have lyrics that often, that stuff usually comes a bit later. It's typically just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo — English doesn't exist. I just try to get down the feeling I want vocally. Then I might change some of the mumbo jumbo into words, or I might change it completely. What a lot of people don't know is that I don't tune the guitar to any key in particular. I tune it to whatever sounds the best for what I want to create. I never know really exactly what it the tuning is when I record the four-tracks though, and I don't even have a tuner in my house. So later on, when Marc goes into the studio to record his guitar parts, he has to figure out what tuning I played my guitar with the engineer, on what day I played it, with what guitar, etc. On some recording days I change my tuning too, maybe make one or two higher so it sounds better, but I still don't even really know what tuning it's in, so I challenge Marc and Bobby [Burns, bass] quite a bit. It's kind of cool, it's a bit crazy, and it's completely opposite how most people do it. But it works for me, and it's been my way for 20 years or so, so I figured, "Why change it"? I'll probably be writing like that forever; for the rest of my life. But yeah, I always start with the core of the song there, and then we add layers over top of it from that point on.
Q: How much of the instrumentation are you actually doing on the four-tracks?
Max: Well, it's very, very basic.
Q: Are you just playing guitar, or anything else?
Max: I don't typically and rarely play bass on the demos. A lot of times I'll ask someone else to play the bass just so I have some, because I'm not a bass player, at all. I concentrate on rhythm guitar. It's different for each song I work out, but sometimes I ask friends of mine to play it. And actually, the demo that we're going to be releasing on the website and MySpace next month, my son Igor added some bass to that. He added some distortion bass over the top of it, and it was really cool because he didn't even know that he was doing it. I didn't tell him anything; I just sat down with him to play and he listened to it and I was like, "You should put some bass on this shit". So he sat there and did it like that. The instrumentation definitely doesn't sound perfect at all because it's very raw. It's the song though, and you'll feel it. You know, I still have the demo four-track that we did with the DEFTONES for "Head Up", and it's so much like the recorded version of the song. And actually, I used a shitty drum machine with the DEFTONES in the original demo, and they asked me to bring it back so they could use it for the album. So when you hear the end of the final song, in the ambient part, that's actually my old piece of shit drum machine. When they asked me to use it again, I was like, "You can't be serious. This drum machine is old and it's a piece of shit." And they said they loved it and wanted to put it on the song. So, "Yeah, man, sure."
Q: Sometimes you can find the coolest sounds in the weirdest places.
Max: Yeah, I find stuff like that quite cool. It's almost like a trademark of mine. And although we re-record these songs and add many other aspects to them, the fans will definitely be able to hear the soul of the song. It comes right from my head to the song, and eventually, it becomes something crazy. We go touring and we hear the fans singing. To me that's so cool to think that I'm sitting there, writing the song in my bedroom, and in a couple months or a year or so, we're going to be raging the show at a big festival and there's going to be a 300-person circle pit going on, and this whole thing started in my bedroom. That's what's really exciting, and that's what everyone's going to get to hear.
Q: A lot of fans have been waiting for a long time to hear some new songs from SOULFLY. Is it possible for you to describe it to us at all musically or relate it to any influences in particular?
Max: I don't know really, the influences on the writing. Most of its coming out of nowhere, but if I had to say as a musician, it's one of the most exciting things I've done. And I think the four-tracks on this album definitely have something to do with it. A lot of times, I have to be honest, I didn't work as many songs into full demos before going into the studio. I was always writing a lot, but some of that stuff, I ended up writing in the studio while we were recording. But with the new album, it's reminding me more of how I did stuff in the past, like with "Chaos A.D." As far as SOULFLY, the writing process for this has been most similar as for the first SOULFLY album. I had many songs like "No" and "Eye For An Eye" as four-tracks before I was able to go into the studio to record them, and the new album feels like that. Like there's almost an urge for the songs to come out of me. I almost feel desperate sometimes, like I've got to write the stuff down, because I'm running out of time. Maybe that's why the excitement level is so high for me right now to be able to write a new album. That's one of the best things I could want from a band, too. I'm so happy when I've got this kind of creativity going on around me. It's at a high level and everybody's excited, and I'm almost passing it around like a disease. It's contagious, and I've passed it on to Bobby, and Marc, and Joe. Everybody's extremely excited to get to work on it and go into the studio. It's going to be a very cool album because I know Joe, Bobby, and Marc extremely well now. Everybody's going to be working their very hardest, and I think that it's going to be a much more mature album for SOULFLY from a musical standpoint. When it comes to the sounds we create, we know each other very well now. We know what we can explore out of each other and how we can use that. I know how Marc plays and what he loves to do, so I can write some stuff with Marc in my head and can be like, "Now Marc will be able to play this or do this." The thing that is great about working with this entire band right now is that they bring out a lot of amazing things from the songs that I write that take them way further then I could ever imagine. They take a little piece of my riff and just put this stuff on top of it that I could never even think of, make it much better, and take it way beyond my expectations. That's the magic, and that's how it's supposed to be, man. That's mainly why I write music. You know, I do my part, but it's everyone else that comes in to take the song to another level. That's why we're all so excited. We're looking forward to doing the shows, in Argentina, Chile, and Spain, but everyone's really really looking forward to doing the new record.
Q: Where do you think you will be going with the new album lyrically? What things are inspiring you right now?
Max: It's early, so it's hard to say for each song. A lot of the stuff's being worked out, but on the other hand, a lot of it does have lyrics, as well. Right now, in my head, I feel that I'm heading towards a certain theme, and that is the feeling that being part of an army. I'm really proud of being where I am, and being connected to my fans almost like an army, you know — like a tribe — more so now than ever before. I feel like, "Fuck everybody else; this is what we are, we're proud of it, and we're going to do this all the way." The whole album has this vibe like, "Fuck everybody else who don't like this shit. It sucks for you because we've got a whole fucking army behind us, and it's only going to get stronger." I've never really had a chance to do an entire album with a theme like that. I'm in SOULFLY, but I'm not in this stuff alone. I've got thousands backing me up. We are ready; we are ready for the war.
Q: Do you think you'll be bringing in any guest musicians or friends to work with you guys on the next album?
Max: I hope so, man; I love working with other musicians. There's nothing official right now, but I'm sure something might come up. We're in the process of organizing the recording for this album right now, and I think that this album is going to be recorded in different places. I've always recorded SOULFLY stuff primarily in the U.S. in Arizona, and there's the possibility that some parts will be recorded in the U.S., but we've also been hoping to go to Europe to some parts to record it. Hopefully it will be some completely odd place like Germany or something. When SEPULTURA recorded "Chaos A.D.", we went to England, and that brought this completely crazy vibe that probably wouldn't have been there if the album had been recorded somewhere else. I'm aiming to do something similar with Bobby, Joe, and Marc. I can't name anybody in particular to do the recording yet, but I definitely think that we'll be going to some interesting places to record this one. I have very good memories of making records in different places, because you never know what you're going to get out of it, so if we bring the whole SOULFLY crew out of their element, into a new place, you know, in a new studio, in a new country, and it will be very exciting. When you do records like that, it's almost like a lottery or a roller coaster. I've got the songs ready, but being in a new country adds a whole new level of inspiration that you can't even anticipate when you start to make the actual record.
Q: How excited are you to be able to make a brief visit to South America at the end of the month? It's been awhile.
Max: I think it's going to be very cool. Argentina and Chile are some of the places that I have wanted to go for a very long time, and I couldn't. It's really for lack of promotion. The promoter's didn't want to bring us, and one time it almost happened, but it got cancelled, and I've felt like I really owe it to my South American fans to go there and play for them. It's not something that I can really help much, but I'm glad some shows are coming. You know, you can't force people to take you to those places. It's got to be done the right way, and you have to be invited by people because they are excited to have you. But it hasn't happened that way, and a lot of people are mad that SOULFLY tours in the U.S., and Europe, and Australia, but that I haven't made it back to South America. But that's going to be done eventually, and this month we'll probably even be playing some new songs for the fans down there. Then we're going to be doing this really cool festival in Spain; one of the biggest festivals there, like 100,000 people. It will give us a chance to announce the new record and kind of let people know that it's coming.
Q: In January, you got to go back to Russia to record "The Killing Song" with FAQ and play some material live with them. Could you describe the experience a bit for everyone?
Max: Yeah, I'm glad that some people got a chance to see the video on the Internet. It was really cool to play with them. SOULFLY's always had a very cool type of thing with Russia, for some reason. We've gone there many times; even more than I ever went with SEPULTURA. A lot of Russian fans have really adopted the band and they really like what we do. When I go there to play, we do both big festivals and little intimate club shows. Nevertheless, this time was crazy in Moscow and the whole crowd was going insane. It was awesome and I really enjoyed doing it.
Q: Overseas, we haven't really had the chance to hear the song the you recorded at all with FAQ. What type of song was it that they asked you to contribute to?
Max: They are still working on their album and it's not quite done yet, but it's kind of a straightforward hardcore or metal song, kind of in the vein of PANTERA with some hardcore. The song is actually in Russian, and my part is in English, and they also asked me to count the song off in Portuguese. I haven't heard it yet, but I'm very excited for them to get it out. I had to record it and leave Russia, but when the album comes out, I'll be listening to it. I recorded a bunch of lines for them, and let them use them for whatever they want, and that's pretty much how I do it with guest songs. Like with Dave Grohl or with APOCALYPTICA, for example. I record a bunch of stuff, and the band and the engineer can pick what they think is the best and use that. I'm not picky about that stuff; I just record. It's their song, so they can put the parts wherever they want them as far as I'm concerned.
Q: Put together as a force, you, Marc, Bobby, and Joe are a very eclectic group when it comes to your personal musical tastes. How do you think playing together over the last three and a half years has improved your individual abilities?
Max: We're huge on touring, as a band. We're touring all the time, and I love that. I think that's an advantage — compared with some bands don't really tour that much. It makes us stronger together both on and off the stage. I really have to give them credit for being able to keep up with me on things like changing the set lists every night, throwing as different as song ideas as possible at them, and making jam sessions in between a lot of the songs we do live. I think the show needs to be exciting, and somebody who sees the show today might be back tomorrow, so I don't think we should ever play the same show. On all of those things, they really work with me and stuff like that. They're really open minded. When we play live, everything just kind of rolls. We did everything from NAPALM DEATH covers to ambient — you know just little parts between songs — on this last tour. It's really fun to work with the guys on that stuff. And we're changing a lot of the old songs around that we've been doing. We do NAILBOMB songs, SEP songs, and older SOULFLY songs — like "Bumbklaatt" and stuff people haven't heard for a long time — and we remake them. Some of the stuff is insane that the guys put in. To hear Rizzo put in all these cool guitar sounds over the top of something old like "Eye For An Eye" is really fucking cool. I love to play those songs live, and it sounds different now than when we did it originally. So that's what's cool, is it's like were recreating them for the moment. It's almost like a translation through the mouth of this band. It's very exciting.
Q: I think it's very, very cool. You're all from very different backgrounds, but you have no problem getting on the same wavelength and just vibing together.
Max: Yeah, and I'm very supportive of everything that these guys are doing outside of SOULFLY, too. I love all of the projects that they've got and I'm really enthusiastic about all of them. Right now I'm constantly saying, "Yo, Marc, when can I hear that new album you've got coming out". "Hey, Joe, let me hear the SLAMPEDE shit you're doing", cause that's all fast and thrash, or Bobby with PRIMER 55. I love music, and I let them do whatever they want creatively. It's a very free atmosphere with SOULFLY. For example, with the MARILYN MANSON song, Marc was recording guitar for 12 hours or 11 hours or something. The first thing before that, I walk into the studio and look at Marc and I just say, "Go nuts. Go completely nuts on this shit, just go crazy. You know it's a cover song, so do whatever you think sounds cool." I give everyone that kind of freedom when it comes to music, and I think we all really enjoy that.
Q: Alright, well, when will SOULFLY be on tour next?
Max: Oh, man, I can't wait. Right now the priority is the album, but soon, very soon. In the U.S., I think that the Dana Memorial Show will be the next time that people see SOULFLY. Hopefully, right after that we'll be able to put together a tour in the U.S. again. I love doing the U.S. and it's always fun playing here, so I hope so. You know, especially with this new album coming out at the end of the year, it's always really exciting to get back on the road once your album is about to come out. SOULFLY fans in the United States are awesome, from their mosh pit scars to their tattoos. Everywhere I go, people are showing me tattoos of the album covers and the logo, and I'm humbled by it. I see that dedication here more than anywhere else.
Q: Do you think you'll ever be doing any festival tours in the U.S. again, like Ozzfest or Sounds of the Underground?
Max: I'd love to fucking do Ozzfest! It's been a long time, but again, like all the tours, it's nothing that's in my control. In SOULFLY, our attitude is that we'll play to any amount of people no matter what. We can go from doing a huge festival one night in Europe for 100,000 to a small club the next week that holds 200. No matter what, SOULFLY is still going to be putting on a great show. To me, the smaller shows are even more important though than the festivals, because those are going to be the most hardcore fans that are there to go crazy just with us. Those are the people who deserve to hear the shit. But I want to do more shows of any kind; I told Gloria to keep me on the road forever.
Q: Anything to say to the fans who are waiting for the new song next month and for the fans who are awaiting the shows in Spain and Chile and Argentina?
Max: Really, I just want to thank them all. They're all awesome. I'm very excited to give everyone a little peek into the secret writing world of my life that no one really knows about; how the four-tracks operate and stuff like that. I hope they all enjoy it, and I think they will. This is how all the songs I've created have come about; in this format. And to all my Spanish and Latin friends, get the mosh pit ready!