Shauna O'Donnell spoke recently with Soulfly frontman Max Cavalera about the bands upcoming album "Enslaved" and the bands tour with Five Finger Death Punch.
Hi Max, thanks for talking with me.
On March 13th you will be releasing your eighth record titled Enslaved. I read that this is a concept record about slavery and that you had been contemplating doing an album like this for a while now. Why did you decide that now was the time?
When the time came to write the record, I remembered that I had this idea for about fifteen years when I was making Soulfly. I had the idea of making a slavery record one day. I thought it would be the perfect time because I didn’t have a subject for the record. I started reading books about slavery and I made the intro called “Resistance.” It was based on a poem that was written in slavery days and it turned out really cool. Then I wrote some other songs like “Chains”, “Gladiator”, “Legions” and “World Scum.” All of them had something to do with slavery. The entire record is not conceptual I would say, because there are some songs like “Revengeance” and “American Steel” that are not about slavery, but most of the songs are about slavery. It’s just an old idea that I finally decided to make into a record. Some of those old ideas are always in the back of your mind and you always wonder when you are going to do it. I’m happy that I finally got it out and finally made it into a record.
You felt that Soulfly was the best band to do this with.
Yes, it was appropriate, it doesn’t really fit Cavalera Conspiracy that much. It was perfect for Soulfly because it fits the style that we do. There were some other records, like Dark Ages that was a darker period of my life. Prophecy was more of a mystical kind of record and now Enslaved is more about slavery. It is kind of a good topic because I don’t think a lot of metal bands really go into that region. Not many records in general talk about slavery. I thought it was an original subject to touch on and do something with. The album cover has a guy with a torture mask, which was really strong visually. Looking at that cover I feel like it is strongly connected to the music. I’m pretty happy that all that fell into place when I was making the record.
You are entering into this release with a brand new line-up as well with bassist Tony Campos and drummer David Kinkade. Would you say this is the heaviest album to date and would you say that was influenced by the new line-up?
Yes, I agree with both, although I was already writing heavier stuff when I started the record. The album came about really quick. I came back from a tour with Cavalera and I was sitting at home when my wife came to me and said “In two weeks you are in the studio. I’m flying in producer Zeuss from Boston and you have two weeks to get ready.” I almost had a heart attack. I said “I cannot be ready in two weeks. I need more time.” She was like “You don’t have more time.” I kind of work good with pressure. The first record was similar, I had little time to write the first record. I just decided to write all day long until late at night. I was writing riffs all night long, all day long. I made a compilation of all these riffs and that is what I entered the studio with. I did jam with Dave Kincaid after I saw the email he sent to us. He mentioned that he was a Chicago drummer that was playing for Borknagar in Norway. I saw some clips of him playing with Borknagar and it was really brutal. I decided to invite him here to play. We jammed for two days and it was killer. I wrote three songs with him here. I loved the procedure of how he plays, it is very technical and his double bass was perfect for what I had in mind for this record. On top of that, you put Tony, who is a professional bass player with experience in a lot of bands like Asesino, Ministry and Static X. He has had a lot of experience in the studio, so it was really fun to record with him too. He got really excited to hear my riffs and every time I put out a new riff he got really excited about it. He was really into the music and it made it really easy to make the record with these guys. Of course, Marc is a great guitar player, did a great job on the record and I couldn’t say more good things about Marc as a guitar player for the band. The four of us together with Zuess have good chemistry and we are a really tight team in the studio. We are all fighting to make the best record possible. Zuess had thoughts in the beginning that he was going to make a new record for Soulfly that was going to sound different from any thing else I’ve done. I told him that is what I wanted and we went in with that plan in mind. I do think now when I listen to the record, it sounds new and very much different from the last couple records for sure and it sounds different from anything else we have done. It is more extreme and death metal sounding. It is a good new beginning for Soulfly.
It sounds like Zeuss had a good understanding of where you wanted to go with this album musically?
He did and I kind of explained to him that I was coming from my death metal roots, especially on the music. It’s a lot of stuff that I wanted to sound like Morbid Angel, Dark Angel and all these great bands that I used to listen to because I love that kind of style. Not a lot of people are doing that these days and I thought it would be great to bring that back. I wrote a lot of riffs with that in mind, especially “World Scum”, it is completely death metal oriented and totally rooted in death metal. I feel really proud to be playing that. There is a lot of energy in this music. Zeuss totally understood that and he has done some records that I like. I was really glad to be working with him. He is a fan and has wanted to work with me for a long time, so it was a great combination of both of us liking each others work. We went into the studio appreciating each other’s work, we got the best out of each other and made the best record possible.
You worked with someone else that you have wanted to work with for a long time, Dez from Devildriver. He sang on "Redemption of Man By God."
Yeah, that turned out really great. I did the Golden God Awards with them when I played “Six Pack” from Black Flag. I sang with Devildriver and Dez was doing backing vocals. It was really killer. I’ve known him from the Coal Chamber days, so a long time. Our families trade Christmas cards. He is just a great guy. It is actually crazy how the song started because it started from something that came out of the bass cabinet. It was a preacher, preaching on some kind of am record that somehow got out of the bass cabinet. Zeuss heard it and said “I’ve got to record it, this is sounding crazy.” This guy was going off about the Bible, Egypt, the plague, the death angel and all this crazy shit. Zeuss recorded it and we put it at the end of the song. When Dez came into the studio we played it for him and he loved it. He said “Are we going to do a biblical song?” and I said “Yeah.” So, "Redemption of Man By God" is pretty much taken from the bible with our own touch on top of it. It was a lot of fun working with him.
You introduced some new and unexpected elements into the mix, including a guest violinist. What are some of the other new things you introduced on this record?
We did “World Scum” with Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation and that was really great. Unfortunately we couldn’t do it together, so I sent the song to them in San Diego. They went into their own studio and transferred the vocals. It came out really awesome and I think he did a great job. I knew his vocals were great from the Cattle Decapitation stuff. We toured together and I saw them every night. They are brutal and they are amazing. They are one of my favorite new death metal bands right now. When he sent me the tape back, I was blown away by what he did. I love the lyrics that he wrote too. I was really happy with the collaborations on the record. I think all of them turned out really good.
Tell me about the song "Revengeance."
That was actually going to be a b-side; we weren’t going to put it on the record. It was just a family song that I did with my kids. It was going to just be for fun and just to have my kids around. All of them play music. I started working with Zyon, who is a dummer and I did the first part of the song with him. Igor, the young one, got involved and wrote two riffs. We ended up opening the song with his riff and his other riff became the chorus. I was very proud that he was actually writing riffs like I do. We all sing on it, me Igor and Richie. We all wrote our own lyrics, which made it more special and more personal. It was about a brother that was murdered in 1996, so the song is pretty much a cry for justice, for vengeance. It is a really hardcore subject, but I think it came out really cool. It was recorded all live, so it was really rough sounding. It sounded different from the rest of the record. When I listened to it, I fell in love with it and I told Zeuss I wanted to close the record with it because I liked it so much. He really liked that idea and we went ahead and made it the last song on the record. I’m very proud that I did it with my kids and we actually get to do it every night because I’m going to have to take them on tour with me. So on the Five Finger Death Punch tour, we are going to do that song every night with my kids on the stage. It will be fun on the tour with the family finishing the show with me.
Is Richie still doing Incite?
Yeah, they are working on their new record now. Hopefully they get it sorted out. I thought the first record turned out really good. I’m proud of them, they work really hard.
Did this record present any challenges?
Yes, for me it was a challenge to first of all write in such a short time. I only had two weeks to prepare for the whole thing, but it showed that I can do it if I put my mind to it. I think it was the combination of hard work and not being afraid to touch the death metal world, a lot of people are afraid to touch it because it is so heavy, brutal and you have to be on top of your game with the rest of the band. It is really about energy and chemistry and we have that between the four of us. I was secure that we could do something good with this. I let the music take over and I let the album write itself.
What are the plans as far as touring in support of the new record?
We go to Brazil next week for a South American tour in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Then we have two shows in Mexico. After that we start the Five Finger Death Punch tour in America, which is going to be great. I was so happy when they invited us to open for the tour. I played with them with Cavalera in Japan and became sort of friends with them. When they came to Phoenix, I went to see their show. They are really cool guys, they are fans of my work and because of that we hooked up for the tour. It is great because we are looking for a way to promote this album and that is a perfect tour for us. We get to play for a bigger audience and after that we will do our own tour called Maximum Cavalera, which is us, Incite and my younger kids band. That should be pretty cool and then we go to Europe. We will continue touring together. This is fifteen years of Soulfly, so it is a special date and we are going to tour a lot, all year long. I also have an autobiography coming out at the end of the year. It is going to be called ‘Boy From Brazil’ and it is my whole story from the early days in Brazil, signing Sepultura, starting Soulfy and everything in between.
That is awesome! How exciting! Congratulations on that.
We actually got Dave Grohl to write the intro for the book. He is such a huge name in music and I’m in good contact with him. I did a song for a project that he did and he is a big Sepultura fan. He used to come to Sepultura shows all the time. Even when Kurt died he came to one and left a little note. That was really special for us. I think I’m going to put the note in the book. It will look really cool. Pretty much he said on the note “Everything is dark these days around here because of Kurt’s death, but I still managed to come and see you guys and I just wanted to let you know that our tour bus is always full of Sepultura, especially Chaos A.D.” That was a killer note that he left for us on our bus with the bus driver. We made a relationship after that. I thought it would be great for him to do the introduction, so I asked him and he was really honored. There will be a lot of musicians in the book too, plus a lot of friends and people that have worked with me. We are thinking about releasing it on Christmas. Hopefully we get done with all the work by Christmas.
I think that is going to be great. I love Dave Grohl, I think he is amazing.
He is an awesome guy and I couldn’t think of anyone better to do the intro for the book.
Are you guys going to be playing any summer festivals?
I don’t know. We haven’t been invited yet. We hope so though, we hope to get invited to some of them. We are ready to play anywhere. We will play in your backyard if you want. We are always ready to rock.
Thank you so much for the interview. It was really great talking with you again. Before I let you go, would you like to add or say anything?
I’d like to see everybody at the Five Finger Death Punch tour. We are going to have a lot of fun and we will be playing a lot of new stuff. We will look for everyone to be in the mosh pit.