Mad Max

Metal dad Max Cavalera rocks the thrash scene and his Phoenix neighborhood

Cavalera still burns from the loss of his beloved stepson -- the longest track on 3, "Tree of Pain," is dedicated to Dana, and the band's name itself stems from a lyric Cavalera contributed to a Deftones song likening Dana's lingering presence in his life to a soul flying around him.

But that doesn't mean he's closed his door to well-meaning hangers-on. "My fans are so hard-core and so loyal, they feel like part of my family sometimes," Cavalera says. "When I meet them outside the bus, it's like I'm talking to someone that I've known for a long time. So there's a big connection between me, my family and the fans."

The main man of world metal: "I can sit down with the jazz guys, or jam with an Aboriginal didgeridoo player."
The main man of world metal: "I can sit down with the jazz guys, or jam with an Aboriginal didgeridoo player."

Max Cavalera has never met Alice Cooper, though he acknowledges a certain kinship with the superstar shock-rocker who's mellowed in the Phoenix sun into a respectable business owner. He ran into Judas Priest front man Rob Halford back when he was spending more time around his Phoenix home, and sometimes Cavalera still sees Newsted, who used to sleep on the floor of his wife's club back in Gloria's bar-running days.

Why so many current and former hard rockers gravitate toward the suburban sprawl of the Valley is a mystery that's confounded metal fans for years. How can music so intense come from guys who just can't resist taking in an occasional 18 holes on those calming 80-degree winter days?

Cavalera says he simply enjoys the feeling of relative isolation here that you can't find in music-biz centers like L.A. "I think writing and recording here helps make the music more different, too," he says. "Because I'm out of that environment where everybody's trying to make the same sounds to have a hit record."

Strangwayes thinks the melting-pot makeup of the Valley suburbs makes nonconformists like Max feel at home. "You can kind of be who you want to be here, which is great for guys like him. Plus, there's always been a hard music subculture here that's stayed strong." The slower-paced lifestyle of the Valley suburbs, Strangwayes feels, simultaneously creates a craving in teens for excitement and gives the makers of that music a less-hurried environment to craft it in.

Danny Zelisko, the veteran Phoenix concert promoter who now heads up the local division of Clear Channel Communications, says rockers are attracted to the Valley for the same reasons most of its ever-expanding population is. "The mountains, the weather -- I mean, there's not much to complain about here," says Zelisko, who moved to Phoenix from Chicago in 1973. But Zelisko, who says there are even more rock stars who'd like to live in Phoenix that haven't yet made the move ("Eric Clapton loves it here; so does Sting"), believes creative people appreciate the natural beauty of the Valley more than most of the regular Joes who settle here for the lower cost of living.

"This place has a special magnetism that attracts creative people," he insists. "People who are maybe a little deeper than the guys with regular 9-to-5 occupations really get the special vibe that exists here. To them, it really stands out."

When Max Cavalera and his brother Igor first went into a recording studio in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to record what would become Sepultura's debut album, the engineers, who were used to recording only samba and bossa nova rhythms, thought the brothers and their band were crazy.

"They thought we were lunatics," Cavalera says, laughing. "Like we had no idea of the real world. But we knew people outside of Brazil would like it, because we had heard Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath records from these neighborhood guys who were into American records."

Nearly 20 years later, Cavalera is now determined to bring some of the outside world to heavy metal. "Being from another culture and living in America for 10 years has taught me a lot," he says. "And now I want to bring world music into metal."

Although the first thing to assault your ears on a Soulfly record is the combined bombast of guitar, drum and bass and Cavalera's pulverizing howl, a closer listen reveals traces of South African percussion, Brazilian berimbau and even the occasional lyric in Portuguese.

"What people end up loving about Soulfly is the 40 different instruments that show up on the album, the world music influence that comes across -- the things that they don't hear on a Metallica record," Cavalera says.

In a genre where so much of what's successful for a pioneer band is immediately aped by less-creative knockoffs, Cavalera admits he's yet to hear of any metal acts following his lead as the Paul Simon of thrash.

"Most bands don't want to get their hands into it," he feels. "World music is scary to most metal heads. They think if they get caught playing something beautiful or melodic, their career's over.

"But I'm not afraid of it at all," Cavalera insists. "I can sit down with the jazz guys, or jam with an Aboriginal didgeridoo player. It's all about feeling, about the heart of the music. A lot of bands are afraid to leave the formula of metal -- what sells, what everybody's comfortable with. My attitude is, I want to play with even more different cultures. Morocco, east Africa. The weirder the combinations, the better."

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