I would like to preface this interview with a little bit of background, just to give you a sense of occasion. I’ll begin with a confession – I’m not really one for interviews. Not that I don’t like speaking to people when it comes to the subject of metal (and movies, my other passion) and I do love to find out everything I can about the bands and albums that I love (and even some that I don’t) but I’m not a very confident speaker; that’s why I’d rather write things down rather than talk about them.
But then opportunities like this come along and you have to put aside your self-confidence issues and seize the day, as it were. You see, when I was a teenager back in the early 1990s Max Cavalera was my idol. Metallica may have been the biggest and most popular metal band but they belonged to those kids a few years older than me with the painted leather jackets, mutton chops and mullets – Sepultura were my band. Nobody introduced them to me; I had seen their name in music magazines and first heard them on a cover-mounted CD. The song was ‘Inner Self’ and, as somebody who liked Slayer and Carcass, it gave me the perfect blend of death metal heaviness and thrash metal intensity that I wanted. “Chaos AD” was released not long after and it was more than my obnoxious 16 year-old brain could handle; ‘Refuse/Resist’ instantly became one of my favourite songs (and still is), the album remaining in my top five albums of all time to this day. After that I had to have everything that every member of the band recorded and even got to see them in 1996 at the infamous Brixton Academy gig – released as the “Under a Pale Grey Sky” live album – that saw Max exit the band. Did Max leaving diminish my spirits? At first, but then I realised I had two great bands to go potty about.
Anyway, fast forward to 2014 and when I heard that Soulfly were going to play The Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton I just had to be there. I’ve seen the band twice before – once at Download and once at the Birmingham Academy – and they were great but in the intimate setting of The Slade Rooms they have the potential to be explosive and downright dangerous. The price of admission? An interview with the man who taught me it was alright to wear urban combats and army boots when everyone else was wearing tight jeans and hi-tops – if only the 16 year-old me was here to see it, ‘cos he’d be dead jealous, especially as I’ve been told I have to go and knock on the door of the tour bus. Could you imagine the nerves?
However, after knocking on the tour bus door I was guided by the guitarist from support band Lody Kong through the venue itself to a back room where Soulfly bassist Tony Campos was looking busy on a laptop and guitarist Marc Rizzo was plugged into his iPod and tuning his guitar, no doubt busy warming up for the main event later on. And Max? Max was still on the tour bus so I ended up chatting with Marc on the street outside the venue (we had to move somewhere quieter because there was a soundcheck happening inside), which is cool as I’m a big fan of his. Unfortunately, about 85% of my questions were Max-oriented so they were instantly jettisoned in favour of me fumbling my way through my memory and trying to remember what general questions I had written on my notepad, hence the confession to Marc that I had forgotten everything in my head at one particular point. Anyway, my thanks to Marc Rizzo for the chat and here’s how it went.
Hi Marc. I’m a bit nervous but the red light (on my voice recorder) says it’s recording so I’ll trust it. Okay, you’re here in Wolverhampton as part of this tour. It’s a very small tour so what was the thinking behind that?
Well, we’re on tour right now all over Europe. We just came from Russia and now we’re doing a full European tour. We just came to the UK for about a week for some shows.
You were here for Black Sabbath last week so was it a case of cramming a few dates in while you’re here?
I guess so, I’m not sure. The booking agent books everything so…
(Laughs) So you just turn up and do your thing?
Cool. Have you had a chance to walk around the venue yet?
A little bit. I went out and got some food. It’s a nice day today, y’know?
I’ve been here a few times, it’s quite an intimate little venue. You may have a bit of trouble doing some of your flying kicks and things…
Yeah, I don’t even do that too much. I’m getting old, y’know? I just want to play guitar and be known for guitar.
Okay. You played a big festival stage last week with Black Sabbath, you’re playing a small stage here this week. Do you cater the set-list in a different way? How do you accommodate for a smaller venue?
When we did the show with Sabbath I think we only had like a half-hour to play so it was a smaller set-list but tonight we’ll play for over an hour.
Excellent. A chunk of it from “Savages“?
Yeah, we do a little bit off each record. This tour we have been playing everything from the whole spectrum of Soulfly.
Excellent, excellent. So, onto “Savages”. One thing I wanted to ask, although I don’t know if you wrote the song or whether it was Max (Cavalera – Soulfly frontman), is did the title ‘Ayatollah of Rock ‘N’ Rolla’ come from the Clint Eastwood film ‘Heartbreak Ridge’?
I really don’t know that. Anything with lyrics you’d have to talk to Max, y’know. He writes all the lyrics and concepts.
I thought so. It’s one of those titles that’s a line from a film and I thought when I heard the song “I know that”, so if you find out could you let me know?
(Perplexed smile) Okay.
But anyway, the album was produced by Terry Date who has mixed several Soulfly albums before but never produced. Why choose him to produce this time?
Max has known Terry Date for a long time and he’s mixed records in the past for Soulfly so I think Max just decided and Terry was available to mix, produce and engineer a full Soulfly record, so it was good timing that he was available and it’s great. It came out awesome. It was definitely amazing to work with him, I’m such a fan of his.
His sound is very streamlined. When you listen back to White Zombie, Pantera and the bands he produced back then, Soulfly’s sound has similarly streamlined a little bit more over the last couple of records. Is that a conscious thing? The world music influence is there but it’s not quite so ‘forward’ as it was.
Since I joined the band ten years ago every record has been pretty different, we’ve definitely got back to a thrash vibe, y’know? A thrash metal, late-’80s vibe of those old Sepultura-type records which we’re all big fans of, obviously. But also, we always still kept that world vibe, y’know. But I think this record “Savages” we definitely kinda got back to the first two Soulfly records, being a little bit more mid-tempo and groove-oriented so…
Yeah, because (previous album) “Enslaved” was quite brutal, quite fast and more death metal…
Oh yeah, that was a conscious effort to get in there. Our drummer at that time was a big black metal and death metal fan, very capable of pulling all that double-bass stuff off and everything. He definitely influenced that record to go into that direction a lot because we all like that style too. But now this record, it’s a little bit more back to the groove-oriented sound which the fans, I think… there’s a lot of fans that wanted to see us to get back to that sound too so… y’know, you can’t make everyone happy but…
…You can try?
This record we tried to get back to the groove.
Yeah, and it’s very noticeable. Talking of drummers, you have Zyon (Cavalera) drumming for you now. How is he fitting in?
Great. He’s doing great. I mean, again he’s a big reason why the new record was very groove-oriented, you know? He’s got a very cool swing to his drumming. You can hear the influence of his uncle Iggor (Cavalera – Cavalera Conspiracy/ex-Sepultura) on his playing and he’s very good with swinging a groove, y’know?
He’s very rock solid…
Well, as I said to you earlier I’m very nervous and all my other questions have gone right out of my head at the moment so I’ll let you get on as you were practising earlier on when I saw you inside. One question I will throw at you that I like to ask people is if you could commission anybody to cover one of your songs, who would it be and what song?
Ah, man. I don’t know. Um… I don’t know. It would have to be somebody… something different, someone do a weird… maybe a jazz guy, y’know? I really like Alex Skolnick, I’m a big fan of his. I like how he has his jazz trio and he picks metal songs and plays jazz be-bop versions of it so I would say something like that. Someone in the jazz world, Alex or someone that could pull off…
I could hear Alex Skolnick doing something off “Prophecy” or that era of Soulfly maybe?
Yeah, that would be great, man.
Awesome. Thanks very much, Marc. I’ll see you inside
Alright, man. Have a good one. Cheers.
Read Chris’ review of Soulfly‘s gig here.