Max Cavalera Talks Rediscovering His Passion For Extreme Music on Soulfly's Upcoming Album 'Totem' - Knotfest
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Max Cavalera Talks Rediscovering His Passion For Extreme Music on Soulfly’s Upcoming Album ‘Totem’

Posted by Corinne Westbrook in Interviews on July 18, 2022

The metal lifer discusses his recent Beneath The Remains & Arise tour, heavy music’s new generation in Arthur Rizk, Undeath and 200 Stab Wounds, and how after 30 years he still writes records as a fan.

Soulfly is on the cusp of releasing their 12th studio album, Totem, due out August 5th. In recording this album, frontman Max Cavalera found a reignited passion for the music he has spent the past 30 years defining. Always a tribe leader of the metal genre, Max hopes other people are inspired or guided by Totem to the same place he found recording it. 

“Hopefully people find a place where they feel everything that is amazing about metal; the joy of metal, the whole thing from the ancient way of listening to music, vinyl.”

“That’s an art form that hopefully doesn’t go away. I love vinyl myself as well. When you get the big record and you put on the needle and you sit with the album cover, I love it.”

“To me, that’s what Totem represents. Metal and Totem go hand in hand. Because, it’s like the shirts that we wear (Incantation), those are our totems. Then the backdrops of the bands, all of it, all of those are your personal totems that you carry with you. I was making a connection between that and the tribal totems that a lot of the Native Americans used as spiritual guidance and power, everything.”

Totem marks an evolution into new territory for Max and experimenting in areas of music he has always wanted to try. Even the title was an evolution as the album progressed. 

“The actual original title of the album was a bit more black metal. It was Totem Obscurum, which sounded very black metal, but we decided to go with Totem to make it easier and more simple. I didn’t have a name for the album for a long time. A lot of the songs were created when I didn’t have a name, like “Filth Upon Filth” and “Ancestors”, but towards the end, that’s when I connected the name with the record. I went into this idea of nature and spirit animals and forests, which I really liked that. I’ve always felt very connected to nature, since I was a kid in Brazil, and I’ve never gotten to do a record that talks about that.”

“It started when I wrote “Superstition” because it’s about a mountain in Arizona, Superstition Mountain which is very mysterious, very mystic, people die there all the time. It’s a fucking weird mountain, but it’s beautiful. It’s stunning, but very powerful. It was my own curiosity of mixing nature, spirits, forests and metal and seeing what happens when you mix all of that. The result is Totem.”

While modern in the heaviness, Totem is still very old-school in its approach and, according to Max, will be best experienced on vinyl to fully immerse yourself in the journey from Side A to Side B, which are both extremely different from each other. 

“I view this record as, as old-school as you can get. Side A and Side B on vinyl. Side A of Totem is one of the most relentless and savage Side A’s I’ve ever made in my career, including Sepultura. When we play live, I think we have to play the whole Side A first, and then play everything else afterwards. Then you have Side B, which is more slowed down, things get a bit groovier and experimental. There are influences of The Cure and Sisters of Mercy, my inner goth came out!”

“It was a journey! Making a song that’s 10 minutes long was new territory for me. I don’t do that shit. So it took me totally out of my comfort zone. But it was cool because it was inspired by a professor of music psychology that I was watching on Youtube. This guy said something like, “In order for music to take you into a trace or for you to become possessed by the music, it needs to be more than 7 minutes.” And that really stuck with me. My stuff has never been that long so I thought, “Let’s make one! Let’s try to put people in a trance!” So I created “Spirit Animal” with that in mind. I don’t know if it’s going to work, we have to play it live to see what happens. 

So that’s all new territory for me; long songs and gothic instrumentals. And I think that’s cool because it makes the record not so one dimensional.”

All of the darkness and savagery of the album had more to do with the musical influences, and Max finding his heavy roots again, more so than the past two years. “I think a little bit of the pandemic, being closed up and having all that anxiety and pent up anger. I think a lot of people felt similar. But once it opened up again, we saw the result on tours. The tours were amazing.” 

Max is, first and foremost, a metal fan: “I was going in that direction anyway though. I write records as a fan. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, I think it’s a good thing.”

“There’s other artists who try different things and push different things, and that’s cool, but throughout my whole career, I’ve always written as a fan. And my influences, I wear them on my sleeve, it’s great! I tell people “Yeah, this record is influenced by this, this, and this.” If people want to check out where it came from. Totem is no different. My passion for extreme music really came through, especially Side A. My passion for Incantation, Possessed, Celtic Frost to newer stuff like 200 Stab Wounds and Undeath. I love to be part of the whole revolution, the whole scene. And because I write as a fan, and that I was going that way anyway, I hired Arthur [Rizk] who is a great guy, to do stuff like that. He’s very old-school, loves to make records that sound like they were created in the 90s. It has this very unique feeling. It’s not about sounding digitally amazing, but it sounds alive, it sounds organic. It actually sounds like it could have been done in an analog setting.”

“Arthur did one of my favorite records of all time, Power Trip’s Nightmare logic. And I was very inspired by that. So I told Arthur “If we can conjure some of that wizardry, whatever kind of black magic you had on that record, if we can bring some of that into this, it would be awesome.” And I think he did it! It feels old-school. It feels like it comes from that era, but with the heaviness of right now. And it was definitely a fun record to make! To me this is the kind of record that makes me fall in love with metal all over again! This is exactly why I freaking love this music!

And while some like to chant “metal is dead” or that metal doesn’t have a place anymore, Max still has so much passion for the genre and sees it going a completely different direction. 

“When you have a long career like mine, when you can still find the passion on record like that, it’s a blessing. It’s a good feeling to be part of this record. And it connects to the tour I just did: Beneath The Remains & Arise. We saw all these old-schoolers, they came out of the grave! It was cool to see all these battle vests and people coming from everywhere, it made me feel like “Yeah, this music is awesome, it’s ass-kicking and it’s back!” Because everything kind of goes in a cycle and I think that people right now are ready for exciting, edgy, angry records making a comeback. I think it’s the right time for this kind of music.”

Soulfly never lacks on the energy and when the album is finally out, and the band is on tour again, you can expect there to be no shortage of it brought to the live setting. When asked what he was most looking forward to, the answer was simple: “Playing Side A.”

“That’s what I’m looking forward to. WIthout even talking. No talk between the songs, just playing song after song, pure savagery. And trying out an instrumental during a live show. We never play any of the instrumentals. Maybe we can play the gothic one in the middle of the show and break things down a bit, become more moody with the lighting and create a dark atmosphere. I look forward to that, but mostly Side A.”

Soulfly was actually the last show I went to prior to the pandemic hitting. During that show, about three songs into Soulfly’s set, my boots completely disintegrated, but I stayed in the pit for the remainder of the show, with no shoes on. And here at Knotfest, that is now our scale for amazing shows: “On a scale of 1 to ‘my boots fell apart,’ how great was the show.”

Thankfully, Max has no intention of ever retiring and will continue to bring all that energy to the stage. “I don’t think I will ever get tired of it. I am one of those old-schoolers who was born for this. I’ve heard stories that Willie Nelson has a generator by his room so that when he comes back from the road, he still feels like he’s in the back of the bus. I’m ready to put one of those in my room so it still feels like I’m on the road.”

“I love traveling and touring too much to ever stop. I think eventually I’ll slow down. One of my plans for the future is to take a whole year off, just for inspiration, and just do some traveling. Me and the wife grab a backpack and go see the world, collecting inspiration. Sometimes you have to just slow down a little bit. I’ve been going non-stop for 30 years now. Eventually, I think I’ll slow down a little bit, but I don’t see retirement. I’d be a pain in the ass if I retired.”

Max may be involved with a number of larger projects and have 30 years under his belt in the music world, but he has never left the underground behind. 

“I listen to a lot of stuff. We toured with 200 Stab Wounds and I really love that band. My son’s band opened the Beneath the Remains tour, they’re called Healing Magic. They’re doom, really slow metal, earth-shaking stuff. One of the extreme bands I’m really inspired by is Undeath. I also listen to Unto Others, I think they’re from Portland, your area, and they really struck a chord with me. I really like the mix of gothic with metal. I’ve never seen them, I just really like the music. I also really like that thing my brother did, Absent in Body, it’s just some weird, heavy shit. Uncomfortable, kind of, but really cool and I was really glad my brother was involved with that.”

“As far as live, I think 200 Stab Wounds is one of the best things I’ve seen live. Those kids just play from the heart. No bullshit, just plug in and go! It’s amazing to see.”

“I’m working on a new Go Ahead And Die Record with my son, and that also has Zach from Khemmis and Black Curse, and Black Curse is also one of my favorite underground bands. I just love the savagery.”

As he looks back on his 30 years and everything he has accomplished, he has some sage advice for those of you in bands reading this today. “You have to be willing to sacrifice” 

“To get to where I am now, it took a lot of sacrifices and hard work, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Nothing is handed to you. You have to fight for it. Sometimes you’ve got to give zero fucks about what everyone else thinks, you have to follow your heart. Just do that and you should be alright!”

“As far as more technical tips, play cover songs so you learn how they made the riffs and how they put together their songs. Then you apply that to your own music. I still love playing cover songs to this day. Two things I love: cover songs and collaborations. The results are always so cool.”

“I get to play with my heroes and I love it! There are a couple bucket list artists I’d love to work with like Rob Halford. Tom Warrior is an old-school legend. It will happen one of these days!”

And, of course, the most important question of the day had a very apt answer. What is the frontman of Soulfly’s favorite dinosaur? Of course it’s one that flies! “Probably the pterodactyl. It’s very Soulfly with the wings! That’s a Soulfly dinosaur.”

You can pre-order Totem, out on August 5th, via Nuclear Blast Records. “Buy it on vinyl!” Max insists! Pre-order your copy HERE

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