Sepultura: a scream from the heart

It’s unfair that Sepultura and Derrick Green should still be reminded of the shadow of their former – and now very distant – leader. After all, Green has already spent more time in the band than his predecessor. He has even turned out to be, alongside Andreas Kisser, a real motor for the band, allowing Sepultura to survive, to go forward, and, in the end, to revitalize themselves. Yes, the band has been through a few slow-downs, but for a few years now, and especially since Dante XXI, the creative machine has been back in sparkling form.

And this new album, The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart (say that three times in a row without lisping), won’t contradict that statement. The Brazilians have renewed with Ross Robinson, producer of the legendary Roots, who firmly believed in this vintage and its frontman. This is a virulent and creative album, with more obvious whiffs of tribalism and thrash. This is an album sublimated by the impressive skills of Eloy Casagrande, a young drummer who nobly walks in the footsteps of Igor Cavalera. In short, Sepultura has no use for nostalgia. After sixteen years, it’s time to move on, and the band hasn’t been waiting for latecomers to catch up.

We took this opportunity to chat with the vocalist, with whom we must confess to spending an amazing time. This is an enthusiastic, simple and thoughtful man. He talked to us in details about the making of this new record, and even gave us a few funny anecdotes. And because there’s more to life than just metal, it was also a good opportunity to talk about his surprising electro funk project, Maximum Hedrum – which has allowed him to work alongside Mister Funk himself, George Clinton.

« The idea of going in the studio and to get everything perfect is ridiculous! »

Radio Metal: Usually your album titles are very short, often with only one word. And now you came up with a really long title. Was there somehow a desire to break a kind of routine with this album?

Derrick Green (vocals): Definitely! I think it’s important to try different things. I think it was a pretty relevant album title for what we were trying to achieve. It was basically explaining our idea about the time that we’re living in. The title seemed perfect for what we were trying to say with the new album, about these new times that we thought that were happening, where we have a lot of people doing a lot of things by action, thinking and then doing it, and not really having the heart, the passion, behind. Just being like a robot! So we wanted to have a title to make people stop and think. And like you said, we usually have short titles, but with this one we wanted to shake people’s brain! (Laughs)

The title of the album is inspired by the movie Metropolis and the fact that we live in a world that is being dehumanized by technology. Do you see this movie as prophetic?

Definitely! I mean, it’s been done so long ago and I think the beauty of it is that it has kind of foreseen the future! It really is, in a way, a very robotic desensitized world. A lot of people are constantly isolated with their telephones, cell phones, computer, whatever… They’re just kind of walking around like zombies, you know? So I think that what we wanted to achieve was this kind of breakthrough with emotions and feelings, and putting that on an album.

A lot of metal bands today rely heavily on technology and computer screens to record their albums and very often they end up with a result that sounds too perfect or dehumanized. Is this something you’re trying to be careful with? Do you try consciously to maintain the organic aspect of your music?

Absolutely! I agree, there are a lot of bands doing this. The idea of going in the studio and to get everything perfect is ridiculous! What we wanted to achieve, and that especially happened with Ross Robinson, our producer, was really creating the vibe at the moment, and not trying to be perfect. When there were mistakes, he was happy; he was like “Yes!” He told us to keep going, keep doing it, the most important thing is really developing the energy and the vibe at the moment. And so, we were just trying to get away from trying to be perfect, because we’re humans, and everyone’s not perfect. So we really wanted to have that displayed on the album.

This is the first album that features the drumming of Eloy Casagrande. He’s only twenty years old. Do you think his young age gave an extra energy to the band?

Absolutely! I mean that energy was essential to really move forward and evolve as a band. We’re fortunate to be able to work with him and to connect with him, and him to connect with us, even if there’s a huge gap in age difference. He’s a very professional person, and when it comes to the music, he takes it very seriously and he’s very passionate about it. So it really is a great combination having him, his youth and his energy. It’s really reflective in this new album. I think you can really hear that.

The drumming on this new album is probably the most tribal oriented drumming we’ve heard from Sepultura since the Roots albums. Was it Eloy who pushed the band into this or was it the band who asked him to do that kind of drumming?

I think it was kind of natural. When we were writing the songs, it just happened very naturally, we weren’t really telling him to play a certain way; it was in his style. He is Brazilian, he’s born in São Paulo, so those elements, tribal and everything, are a part of his life as well, even before Sepultura. So I think it’s something that happened very naturally.

How did Dave Lombardo end up playing additional drumming on one track and which track is it, actually?

The track is “Obsessed”. It just happened randomly! Ross Robinson is friend with him and we’re friends with Dave too. It was like fathers day and he was in the neighborhood, and Ross just said: “Hey, you should stop by the house! The guys are there recording…” He came by with his three kids and the dog, relaxing and talking, and then it was like: “Hey, why don’t we set up another drum kit to just do some jams?” And it happened like nothing was forced, it was just random! It works even better when it happens that way! And Dave is a great guy… And Eloy, he was freaking out, because he is his idol! It was great to have them connect, just like a natural Sunday afternoon! (Laughs)

« We were trying to get these screams […] and people were yelling up to the house: ‘Hey, is everything OK?' »

Overall, the album sounds very dark and brutal. How did you end up with that kind of mood?

I don’t know! (Laughs) I think it happened from the result of a lot of things happening around… It’s true… We wrote the album primarily in São Paulo and it’s going through a lot of changes there, and in Brazil in general. And so, I think it’s a sign of the times, it was reflective of what was going on around us, certain disasters, and certain things that were happening at a certain moment in time. We took pieces of that, and it just kind of came out that way, really! It wasn’t really designed to be like that, like: “Let’s make this a totally sinister, brutal album.” We had a lot of energy, and I think it has a lot of elements of the history of Sepultura, the very beginning and the evolution. I think those things also happened very naturally.

Your singing on this album is sometimes almost frightening, like your scream at the end of “Trauma Of War”. How do you put yourself in the condition to do these kinds of performances?

(Laughs) This is a funny story. Ross has his studio in his house and we all stayed there. So by the time we were recording everybody got really close and connected and it’s on Venice Beach, like literally on the beach! So, we have a friend of Ross that was there, Jackie, she was helping Ross with getting sounds, and also hanging out and helping us as well. He was having this scream in this room, in his living-room, and the kitchen was right there, the windows were opened with people walking by! (Laughs) So we were trying to get these screams, and she was screaming, I was screaming, and people were yelling up to the house: “Hey, is everything OK? Is there somebody being murdered there?” (Laughs) You know, there was a crowd of people outside, listening to this terrifying scream at the end of that song. We happened to get it recorded at that time, but people were really terrified outside, like “What the fuck is going on?” And we were like: “No, everything is OK, we were just recording!” But yes, she was the one that actually did that. It’s really a terrifying scream!

With the brutality of the album, the dark atmosphere, the tribal approach to the drumming, the artwork that looks very early Sepultura, it sounds almost like the band is kind of trying to borrow elements from the Chaos A.D. era or even before. Was there a conscious desire to revisit the roots of the band?

No, I think those elements just happened. We didn’t know really the direction or the sound that the album would have. We knew that with the energy of Eloy, touring with him, and where we were at, that it was going to be a pretty brutal album. We were really happy with the last album Kairos, along having a new label and everything. I think the combination of all these things and this new energy, we wanted to put it on the CD. And really go to all the dynamics, working with Ross Robinson again, and having him bring out like such a raw energy in all of us, you know? It was him bringing out the best in ourselves to really push that, and not trying to be perfect, like we were talking about, and to just bring that emotion of playing wild, to record that and capture that. I think all these different elements really added to creating a sound.

How did you come up with the idea to work with Ross again after twenty years?

What happened was that Roadrunner was pretty much destroyed, as far as them firing everybody there, and then being bought by a major label, and moving out in another direction. So Monte Conner, the A&R president who signed Sepultura, ended up moving to Nuclear Blast, our label. He’s working for them in the US and he was the one who suggested that we should re-connect with Ross for this new album. And it was great, because Ross was 100% wanting to do that, wanting to do an album different from Roots and better, and he was truly believing in us. So, with Monte a 100% on board, Ross and everyone connected, it really helped to create this album.

Over the last five albums or so, the band has been through many different producers. Weren’t you satisfied with what you ended up with every time or is it to try new experiences?

I think that we’re always willing to try different producers, to go for something different. Because with each album, for us, it’s important to try something new and to move forward, and to not try to repeat ourselves by any means! So moving with the producer is also a natural process for us to do. It’s something that we like to do, for each album to have a new aspect, a new vision, a clean slate. So I think it’s really important for Sepultura’s career that each album has its own identity, and with a new producer, it definitely brings that about as well.

Ross has the reputation of being a rough producer to work with. So, how was the collaboration?

It was great, I mean I honestly learned so much working with him. It was difficult, you know. He’s saying things that you don’t want to hear at times! (Laughs) At times things are really rough, but in the end, we’re all satisfied and happy with what’s coming out! I need that, I don’t need somebody to kiss my ass, but somebody telling me things like “Hey, you need to step up and do much more!” He’s not afraid to say that, he’s not afraid to express what he’s hearing and what he’s feeling in his ideas, and that’s the type of producer that we definitely need, and that we’ve always had. We’ve always needed somebody that really is not afraid to speak his mouth.

About Ross Robinson (producer): « He wasn’t afraid to say things like ‘Hey, I’m not hearing it!’, after I’ve been sweating and fucking screaming my head off! »

What things did he say to you, for example, as a vocalist?

As a vocalist, it was really interesting. I told him that my idea for this album was really to show the dynamics of my voice and to really have the emotion behind it. So he was like: “What are these songs about?” He goes into each song and the lyrics and tries to find what’s driving you to give a song and to really keep that in my mind. He was there literally with headphones next to me, pushing me, physically I’m talking! (Laughs) With all of us, even Andreas, he was stalked and psyched, like “Yes!”, even chanting in the background and I was like “Hey, we’re recording!” (Laughs) But he’s like: “It doesn’t really matter, once you get that emotion and capture it!” So he was really sane, saying things like “Don’t be fake by any means” or “I can tell that you’re trying to create a voice. Just let your voice go! Relax! Don’t try to create a metal sound or whatever, just use your natural voice, and use the power that you have. I know what you’re capable of.” He wasn’t afraid to say things like “Hey, I’m not hearing it!”, after I’ve been sweating and fucking screaming my head off! And I was like “Hey, I need to step away from this for a minute, because I’m gonna kill you…” (Laughs) I’ve been pushing myself, but it’s really pushing yourself further than you really think you can. That’s what he really brought out. And the end word is that we were hugging each other, like “Yes, we accomplished it!” We could look in each other eyes and say “Yeah, that takes the cake”, it’s all pure honesty and there was a lot of that going on during the recording sessions.

Once again the album features a cover song. What can you tell us about it?

Actually there are two covers; one is a Death cover. And the other one is Chico Science & Nação Zumbi, it’s a group from the north-east of Brazil. Their singer died many years ago in a car accident, and they were a big influence, because they have a style which is called Maracatu, it’s a style of drumming and rhythmic tribal sounds from the north-east of Brazil. And it’s mixed with rock’n’roll. We found it would be great to do that, and also to have Andreas sing the song, which has a lot of street terminology from that area and really complex type of lyrics. And so it’s something new that we’ve never done, Andreas had never sung an entire song, all in Portuguese… You know, it was just something different that we wanted to do. It has a very driving rhythm. And we wanted to show our respect for Death and for this band, Chico Science & Nação Zumbi.

Was the song called “The Vatican” somehow inspired by the recent election of Pope Francis?

Absolutely! It was written on the day that the new pope was elected. It was literally written on that day, and it’s like going into the history of the most corrupted popes through history, the most sinister ones, and there have been, you know? And the Church, it’s such a big deal and everything, but it was like “What did this last pope live? Why did he just resign like that?” Because there is a lot of unresolved stuff going on within the Catholic Church, so it’s truly inspired by that election and the history of the Catholic Church.

He went to Rio De Janeiro recently, there were millions of people… Were you also there?

People lost their minds, it was really scary… You know, he’s a human being! He’s like you and me! It was scary. There’s a lot of young people… You know, there’s a lot of power behind the Church and he was saying things in a very different way than the other popes, in a very modern way, and you can see like an element of him re-connecting with the people. I just would have loved to see them do a lot more for humanity, which I don’t see as much! It could move! I’m definitely not against the Church but I’m not for it in a lot of ways, and I think it could be modernized in a lot of different ways. And it could be helpful for a lot of people, and it is, but I think, from what he has been saying, he’s in the way of reconnecting with the people. And people just lost their minds when he came; they got really excited about it.

About Maximum Hedrum: « I have a lot of really positive feedback from metal fans, which is surprising, because I was expecting much less. But I was actually underestimating a lot of people, because they have open minds, and they like other things besides metal! »

A lot is happening in Brazil right now with the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. But on the side of these events there have been a lot of protests because of the money that is invested in these events while many Brazilians are struggling to live. Is this something that touches you? Is this something that also feeds your own anger as an artist?

I’ve been living in Brazil for a while now, and it’s something I’ve noticed when I first moved there. What was frustrating was the lack of education, the lack of people who really know what’s going on in their own country and being frustrated with things like high crime, politicians elected by the people completely robbing the people… There’s a new middle-class in Brazil, a lot of money coming in from outside, and a lot of money being produced… I think it’s a good start with the protests, and people starting to slowly wake up and realize what’s going on. But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. People are very positive in the way that they’re like “OK, this is a good start”, but it has to continue, you know? It has to be followed-up. It’s been so many years with corruption and fucked up shit going on there that it will take many years to get better, it just doesn’t happen overnight. And they don’t have that history of revolting and getting to the streets; it’s something that happened a lot in South American countries but not so much in the culture of Brazil. And it doesn’t happen that often. A lot of times people have the attitude: “Ah, it’s OK, don’t rock the boat, I don’t want to fuck anything up…” and not saying anything. So, finally, people are starting to say that it’s time to rock the boat, and there are some fucked up things and it’s important to say something. But they’re learning this now. I think it’s going to take a while for them to make some serious changes, have a leader who can voice the opinion of people and to really educate a person who can go against the people who are robbing, who do know the law and who had been manipulating it. There are a lot of things that can be done and that need to be done, but it’s going to take time.

You now have an Electro Funk project called Maximum Hedrum which sounds very surprising for an extreme metal singer! Can you tell us more about it?

Absolutely! My mother was a music teacher, and I started at a very young age learning about music, classical music, gospel music… And I love the art! I was approached by a friend of mine, Sam Spiegel, he’s from LA, and he has written a bunch of songs and had ideas he’d been writing with this guy, Harold Faltermeyer, who was a big 80’s writer for a lot of soundtracks from Top Gun to The Beverly Hills Cop… He was pretty central at the time of synthesizers. Him and Georgio Moroder, they were like neck and neck, writing a lot of stuff for movies. Anyway, he had this idea, my friend Sam came to me and said: “I have this project; we should try to do something. I really like your voice.” And I wanted to show my voice in a different way. And I’ve never done that or recorded anything like that before. And as a musician, I was like: “Man, I’m an artist, I should show the different sides of my voice and explore it.” And so with this, I could really explore it. Electronic music is something that I wasn’t familiar with. I like certain things, electronically, and I thought that it was interesting to create in that style. It was something I wanted to do just because I wanted to expand, to break out and try something different. And I think that had an impact in making an even heavier, metalized, album. It’s kind of funny, but it brought about a lot of different ideas and it pushed me to use the diversity of my voice with Sepultura. It’s something that’s still going on. With Maximum Hedrum, we’re going to play Rock In Rio the same day as Sepultura (Laughs), in a different stage. And we’re doing touring as much as possible when we can, just really kind of blowing people’s minds, just trying to do something that’s out of the ordinary, not typical. So, I love doing that!

I guess this must be a breath of fresh air for you to do such different music, isn’t it?

Absolutely! It’s great, because you can do it and then come back to doing metal and have more appreciation for doing heavy stuff in a whole different world, and different people… But I think it’s really the beauty of why, as a young kid, I really wanted to get into music, because of this reason.

With this project you collaborated with the famous Parliament Funkadelic leader George Clinton on the song “Keep In Touch”. How was it?

It was incredible! I mean, to collaborate and work with George Clinton is like a dream come true! I mean, I remember George Clinton being the producer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And I was a big Chili Peppers fan back then because of George Clinton! I think it was Uplift Mofo Party Plan [note: Freaky Styley, actually]… I love Parliament Funkadelic and it was like an honor, you know? We didn’t know where the song would go, but it’s just a moment in the energy and the time and it was great working with him. We also had some other people working on the album that were really cool to work with: the drummer for Queens Of The Stone Age, Jon Theodore, and Money Mark, who worked a lot with the Beastie Boys, contributed to the album… And Fredo Ortiz, who was drummer for the Beastie Boys, he’s playing live with Maximum Hedrun and also recorded on the Sepultura album. So there’s this connection. That’s kind of funny, since it’s a small world and everything’s being connected. But it was great, in Maximum Hedrum we have the freedom to do whatever we want, there are no expectations, it can go in any direction. And it was really great to work with Georges.

We all know how Sepultura like to do collaborations. Have you ever thought about making Maximum Hedrum collaborating with Sepultura?

No! (Laughs) But, I mean, anything can happen. It never crossed my mind, but it was kind of cool that our drummer in Maximum Hedrum came and played percussion on the new Sepultura album. So it was like a cool connection between Maximum Hedrum and Sepultura. And that worked out pretty well.

Do you think Sepultura fans can enjoy Maximum Hedrum?

I think there are some fans! I mean, I have a lot of really positive feedback from metal fans, which is surprising, because I was expecting much less. But I was actually underestimating a lot of people, because they have open minds, and they like other things besides metal! So, a lot of people think it’s pretty cool, and the people that don’t like it and aren’t interested, they just don’t really say anything and don’t listen to it, they don’t have an opinion, because they’re not really paying attention to it. But the people that are listening to it and liking it have been really, really supportive.

Interview conducted by phone on September, 4th 2013 by Metal’O Phil.
Questions: Spaceman.
Transcription: Amphisbaena.

Sepultura’s official website: www.sepultura.com

Album The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart, out since October, 25th 2013 via Nuclear Blast.

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