That One Time Soulfly's Max Cavalera Pissed on a Star-Struck Fan, and Other Tales

Max Cavalera is a tough guy to pin down. Once he gets going, there really is no stopping the dreadlocked metal innovator from Brazil, no matter what the subject or the task at hand. This is both great about Cavalera and a challenge. He is driven, and his worldwide success with projects like Sepultura, Nailbomb, Soulfly, and many others is nothing short of legendary, and he accomplished it all without the two highest strings on his guitar.

During our 90-minute discussion, we covered many topics, but the most pressing of them all is his new memoir, My Bloody Roots (with co-writer Joe McIver), which is being released in the U.S. this week after being released earlier this year internationally. Max Cavalera has never been a stranger to crazy behavior or controversy, so it's no surprise to anyone his book comes with its own fair share of criticism.

What it does promise, more than anything, is a straight-from-the-gut representation of Cavalera's side of the story. Regardless of what his former Sepultura bandmates or any other possible detractor might say, after almost 30 years in the music business, Cavalera has stories. Good ones. We talked about the book, the pride he has in the accomplishments of his sons, and his current projects.

So why the book? Why now?

It felt like it was a good time. I'm reaching about 30 years of my career. 30 years of music. It's a story that I think is really cool. Coming from Brazil . . . and you know, achieving what you wanted, your dream. There is a lot really funny shit in it.

Pissing off Lemmy [Kilmeister of Motörhead]. Throwing wine on Lemmy's head. Lemmy chewing Gloria's [Cavalera, Max's wife and manager] ass, saying he wants to kick my ass. Puking on Eddie Vedder on a Ministry tour. Those are fucking amazing stories and you can't fabricate this shit. The time made it.

So it was a long process. I worked with a guy, Joe McIver, who is an English writer. He wrote a Randy Rhoads book, a Motörhead book, a Deep Purple book, and a Metallica unofficial biography, which they really loved. We did about 1,000 interviews trying to remember everything. It wasn't chronological. One day, we'd talk about my childhood or the split from Sepultura or the death of [Max Cavalera's stepson] Dana. That was a really hard time to talk to about. It tough to talk about that stuff. That was hard . . . Dark, really dark.

How did you get through those moments? You know, thinking, should I say this?

I pissed off a lot of people. I called [brother Igor Cavalera's ex-wife] a whore. Paulo Jr. [Sepultura bassist] didn't play on a lot of records. It was the truth. A lot of people didn't know that. I didn't want to hold nothing back. I was truthful. Even my shit with drugs and alcohol. I abused the shit out of it. I don't know how I survived it. I was taking, like, 25 Vicodin a day and drinking two bottles of wine on top of it. People need to know this shit.

I've been clean, like, eight years now.

Early days of Sepultura . . . me hopping around like a Tasmanian devil on stage and that was usually after, like, six shots of vodka and some painkillers, but I wasn't fucked up. It was fuel for the show.

I am human, you know, and vulnerable like anybody else. I fight demons like everybody else. It was hard to let things go. I like drinking. I like getting fucked up. I would never have puked on Eddie Vedder, but I did because I was fucked up. Same with Lemmy. I would never have thrown wine on his head, but I was fucked up. I would never have done it now -- not in this state of mind -- but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I wanted Sepultura to play "Orgasmatron," but Lemmy wouldn't let us, so I got pissed off and the last night of [that] tour we all went on stage during Motorhead's last song naked [laughs] with socks on our cocks and ruined their night. Lemmy got super-pissed and yelled at Gloria. He told her that we were never going to make it in rock 'n' roll and that we were unprofessional and all that shit. We've laughed about it since then, and I think we gained their respect, in a way.

Do you think writing the book helped change your perspective on your life?

I wouldn't change anything. It's fucking crazy. I wouldn't have done some of that shit right now, as a regular person. There was a day I went to Bashas' on a Sunday morning and stole a bottle of vodka. It must have been 10 in the morning on a Sunday and I wanted to drink really bad and Gloria wouldn't give me any money, so I had this plan . . . I got a winter coat with lots of pockets and I walked up to Bashas and got my vodka. I got about three blocks away and three cops surrounded me. They brought me back home and asked Gloria if she wanted to deal with me. I'm glad these things happened. I wouldn't do that now . . . I laugh about it now, but its crazy behavior. I think my life is cooler because I actually did it. I went to the dark side. I know how the "hell" is . . . I don't want to be part of it again, but I know what it is.

Do you think everybody has that? The dark side?

I don't think everybody has that. My brother's not like that at all. He's always been pretty straight. He said in the book that he didn't drink because he wanted to take care of me. I wonder, did I make him like that because he felt like he had to take care of me? He told Gloria that he was so glad that I met her because she could help him take care of me. When they did the intervention, it was both of them. They'd had enough and said, "We can't do it anymore." Igor flew all the way from Brazil to tell me that if I didn't stop, I wasn't going to make it. He said, "We need to get you some help. We all do."

I went to this place [rehab]. It was horrible but great. It was pure hell getting off the drinking and drugs, but it was great.

How long were you there?

I was there six months. I was only supposed to be there for three months, but I wasn't ready. They asked if they could keep me longer. I probably wasn't ready to go after three months.

Do you talk about this in the book? It could really help people.

I think I did a little bit. My mom came to visit, and she talked to a lot of the people there and got to know some people. I mention it toward the end. It had to be this kind of battle for me, or it would not have gotten fixed. Even though I hated the therapies, and it felt like a waste of time sometimes, and I felt like I'd heard it a million times. They have to drill it down into your head. It is part of the process.

Is it difficult being on tour with alcohol around constantly and people partying?

It's all around me. I came to good grips with it. It is a place I don't want to go back to. If I take one painkiller or have one drink, I'm going back to that place and I don't want to go back to it.

Musically, it has been really good. I remember things now. I don't remember much of the Sepultura days. It is all hazy. There is a section in the book where I talk about when I met Dino [Cazares] from Fear Factory and he talks about us meeting in a bathroom in [Los Angeles]. We were taking a piss, and there was this glammed out kid between us, and I just started pissing on the kid. Dino talked about us laughing our asses off and I don't remember any of that.

So writing the book. What was the process like?

Most of it was phone calls. I dreaded it. When the phone would ring, I thought, oh no . . . I didn't want to talk. It was like therapy. I thought, here we go again, therapy time.

But you made it through it. Was it therapeutic for you to go through all of this?

We treated it more like conversation, like we're doing right now. It was more like us just having a talk. I wanted to be easy for people to read. I didn't want it to be complicated. I wanted it to be as easy as possible.

The book starts in Brixton [London], which was the last show with Sepultura. Then we go back to my childhood in Brazil. I didn't know it was the final show at the time, but it was a really explosive way to begin. I thought it was a really cool to open it like that. It was his idea, instead of going chronologically. I was on top, conquering the world, and then right after that, getting kicked in the head and everything was gone. My band was gone, my brother was gone, Dana had just died.

Dave Grohl did an awesome intro. He tells a story about how he bought a $50,000 speaker for his studio sound system, and he pops in [Sepultura album]Roots and it blew up the whole fucking thing. [mimicking Grohl] "Roots blew up my whole system." I love that story. If your album can blow up a $50,000 system, you're doing something right.

Mike Patton [Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk] says really cool shit about us in Brazil. He was hanging out with us in Brazil, going to voodoo places. I took him to voodoo rituals in Brazil. He was staying at Igor's house. It was really cool.

Sharon Osbourne talks about the Dana thing [in the book]. We were playing Donington [Download Music Festival] with [Ozzy Osbourne] and they flew us home in their private jet when Dana died. It was a horrible thing. We were flying home because Gloria's son died, in Ozzy's plane. It was horrible. The whole time. It was so dark. I wanted to say something to Gloria and words couldn't even come out of my mouth. Sharon talks about feeling like we needed a friend at that time and she was able to help us. They didn't have to do anything. They were just playing a show with us, and yet they showed their true colors. Somebody else could have said, "I'm sorry for your loss," but they didn't do that. They put us on their plane, gave us money and gave Gloria a crucifix. It was amazing.

Then when I got kicked out of Sepultura, it was around January, we were invited to their [Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne] house for a dinner because Ozzy wanted to encourage me to go on. That's how felt, like he should do something. I went to their house and sat down. Ozzy sat me down and said, "Fuck them. Fuck those guys. You need to get up off your ass and do something." It was awesome to hear that from him and I needed to hear that. He played me some Black Sabbath demos and it blew my mind. It was fucking awesome to hear that from him. I was tripping the whole time. I never even imagined I would do that. You know, like when I was a kid in Brazil, if you would have told me I would sit down with Ozzy, fucking Black Sabbath, I wouldn't have believed it.

Is that in the book?

No, it is not. It's funny, I forgot so much shit. We did a tour with the Ramones. I forgot to put that in the book. We did a tour with them. Six shows or so. We flip-flopped and we headlined a few and they headlined a few. I went in their dressing room and said I thought it was bullshit that we were headlining. Joey said not to worry about it. He was so cool to us. One of the coolest things was when we were playing one night and I said to Igor, "Look at that," and all the Ramones were on the side of stage watching us. It was like the album cover. That was on the Chaos AD tour . . . right after [Cavalera's side project] Nailbomb.

Will you ever do Nailbomb again?

People ask me that all the time. I haven't talked to Alex [Newport, a collaborator in Nailbomb] in a long time. People are hungry for that shit. I told Lody Kong they should record with Alex. I thought Alex would be so perfect for what they are trying to achieve.

I had a great time working with Alex. I love Nailbomb. Before Chaos AD, the Sepultura guys wanted to go to the beach and I didn't want to go to the beach, so I said fuck you . . . go to your beach then, I'll go to the beach when I'm 60. I don't want to go to the beach right now; I want to fuckin' play. So Alex and I did Nailbomb.

So what else is going on?

The Soulfly record came out last year. Neil [Fallon] from Clutch sang a song on it. He sang some crazy shit. Redneck shit -- stuff about the desert and Mississippi -- called "Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla." [Max's son Zyon Cavalera] is playing drums, which is really cool. He's learning how to divide his energy. He used to go crazy on the first five songs and burn out and crash. I was like, "Dude, you have to divide that energy. It's an hour-and-45-minute set, and you can't burn yourself out in the first half of the set."

He's doing good. He did a helluva job. We recorded in Seattle with producer Terry Date [Soundgarden, Prong]. Terry is really cool -- a great guy. I met him through the Deftones, and I always thought he was really cool. We got a really good studio in Seattle. Soundgarden had recorded there, and I explained to him it was my son's first album, so whatever you can do to help him, please do.

He [Zyon] was really prepared. We jammed every day for two months. But when I'm in the studio, I always change things. I hear different things and I change them, which drove Zyon crazy. "He was like, stop changing, man. We rehearsed for two months. You can't just start changing things."

But he did good. He really pulled it off. He's been doing a bunch of live stuff with us. I think he's going to do most of this tour before he goes off with his brother and does Lody Kong. Their [Lody Kong's] influences are really cool. They have some of the Melvins shit going on in there, but also have some Fudge Tunnel influence, with some of the newer, harder shit like Full of Hell, too. They have a lot of potential.

How do the Soulfly audiences react to Lody Kong?

They don't really like it [Lody Kong opening for Soulfly]. I told the boys that I opened for a lot of people whose audience didn't like Sepultura, but you have to use the reaction as a weapon.

They had a couple shows where the crowd didn't like it, but some did. They have a Sonic Youth influence. My crowd doesn't listen to Sonic Youth. I do, but a lot of my friends don't. I noticed that the more they play, the better they got.

We had the Maximum Cavalera tour and it was Lody Kong, Incite, and Soulfly. They were [Cavalera demonstrates a reaction by sitting back and crosses his arms] for Lody Kong. They were okay for Incite, though, maybe because they are a lot more my style. Richie [Cavalera] has really become a good front man. He has a lot of energy and reminds me a lot of the lead singer for Lamb of God [Randy Blythe]. He really gets the crowd going.

It was funny because we had to hide the beer from them. Put it in a trunk or hide it the bus and make sure they didn't steal it. I would have stolen it back when I was their age. They are a lot more well behaved than I was, which is good for them.

You've also got some collaborations happening, correct?

I love doing this kind of wild, off-the-wall collaborations. I did this thing with some guys from Scotland, Man Must Die, which was super-cool. They are these crazy Scottish dudes with the whole "fuck England" kind of vibe.

I also did a song for Five Finger Death Punch . . . They wanted me to do a song with them in Portuguese. It was fun.

I did something really cool. ESPN hired me to do the music for the World Cup. I love soccer and the World Cup is in Brazil. They were all just two-minute songs, no vocals . . . I put a lot of tribal percussion on it. I tried to imagine what kind of a cool riff would go with, you know, someone scoring a goal, and I did something on the ESPN noise, the duh nuh, duh nuh noise that they can use for anything. I also did the "Ole, ole, ole" but we're not
sure if they can use it as somebody might have the right for it.

That sounds awesome. I heard about a supergroup that you're involved in. What's up with that?

I am also doing this thing, Killer Be Killed. It's me, Greg [Puciato of Dillinger Escape Plan], and Troy [Sanders of Mastodon]. We are all singing, so it is kind of like the heavy version of the Transplants. We got Dave Elitch from Mars Volta on the drums, and it is awesome. He's so good . . . really fun to watch in the studio. It comes out in May.

The record came out really good. It is really different. There is a lot of melody because Troy sings really melodic and Greg sings both really melodic and also does the screamy shit like he does in Dillinger. We actually wrote a song about people in Iraq and Iran who can go to jail because they listen to heavy music. Gloria does a lot on Facebook, and some kids told her that they couldn't listen to metal because they would go to jail for it. It struck me as such a cool topic, I can't believe no one has written a song about this before, so we did. So we wrote this really Soundgarden-sounding song, with a Soundgarden kinda bass line, and Troy sings really melodic on it. We're really proud of it. It's called "Forbidden Fire."

I just try to have fun with it, my way. I wrote the riffs I like and sing the way I like. I just enjoy doing it, man. I really don't care. I'm excited about it and even if nobody likes the record, which I don't think is going to be the case, even if that happened, I'd still think it was cool to do.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon