INTERVIEW WITH MAX CAVALERA BY KELLEY SIMMS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GLEN LA FERMAN
Killer Be Killed, the ferocious foursome consisting of guitarist/vocalist Max Cavalera (ex-Sepultura, Soulfly), vocalist/guitarist Greg Puciato (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan), bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and drummer Ben Koller (Converge, All Pigs Must Die), has returned after a six year hiatus to release its second full-length album, Reluctant Hero.
Based on a solid rock/metal foundation and a punk rock/hardcore attitude with melodic elements, Killer Be Killed has crafted some of the best material of the members’ careers. Speaking with Cavalera during a recent phone interview from his home in Phoenix, Arizona, he talks about the band’s new album, the songwriting process, and the chemistry between the band members.
During this pandemic and with no live shows, what have you been focusing on? How have you been channeling your creativity?
I’ve been practicing a lot with Soulfly, and writing a new record with my son, Zyon. He lives not too far from here, so we go to a jam pad that we have a few times a week. I’ve also been doing the Max Trax [internet series] on Facebook Live every Tuesday and Saturday, playing a bunch of songs I wrote through my whole 35 year career. And that’s been a lot of fun, it’s a half hour guitar session type of thing I do and tell some stories connected to songs. And that’s going good, we get about 15,000 people tuning in every time we do it. I decided to do the Max Trax because of Covid and I felt it’d be cool to connect with the fans. And then, of course, Killer Be Killed, we’re very excited for the drop of the album.
It’s been six years since the last Killer Be Killed album. Was everyone just busy with their respective bands and couldn’t carve out any time? Did the coronavirus play a part in having time to complete the writing and recording process?
It was the scheduling thing. Everybody’s busy with their own bands and I’m always on tour. So, we did things in steps. They came here a bunch of times for jam sessions, and every time they came for two/three days, we really jammed hard and went hard on it. I wrote a lot of stuff and brought it to the table. We knew we were going to make a second record, we just didn’t know when. It was never a question of if we were going to make a second record, it just took six years because that’s just how it is.
And to be fair, we didn’t even know anything about the coronavirus because we recorded the record in January of last year, not this year. So, the record has been done, recorded already for more than a year. This year in January, I was on tour and then the coronavirus hit. I think it’s cool that we waited six years. It creates this kind of excitement, and I like the fact that we did not talk too much about it. Just out of nowhere it exploded with the new songs. We didn’t really announce it. Nobody knew about this new record at all, it was a real hush-hush type secret. You can’t keep secrets these days, believe it or not! (laughs) But we managed to do it, so it’s really cool.
“IT WAS NEVER A QUESTION OF IF WE WERE GOING TO MAKE A SECOND RECORD, IT JUST TOOK SIX YEARS BECAUSE THAT’S JUST HOW IT IS.”
The band’s 2014 self-titled debut record fared well within the metal community. Was there a particular game plan with the overall sound or style going into Reluctant Hero, or did it just happen organically?
Organically. That’s the thing with Killer Be Killed—the combination of all the personalities involved, especially the voices. I think mine, Greg’s, and Troy’s voices are so distinct and unique. We all sing in very popular bands, that when you put all that in the Killer Be Killed context…we divide a lot of the songs. Some songs I sing less, some songs I sing more. It’s part of the magic.
The only thing I feel this record has more…the first one, people didn’t know what it was, so it was kind of like a shock. This one seems to have an expectation because they already heard the first record. But I think we surpassed the expectations because I think the record to me is much more deeper than the first one. It’s more interesting and goes in different directions. It feels very much the core elements of groove and heavy and fast stuff, with melodic stuff. This record just goes beyond that. It really has a lot of different stuff that we didn’t experiment with on the first one.
This new album sounds even more like a band effort this time around than just a musical project.
I think we play like that because of the real band jam sessions and all of us going and jamming. Even without vocals, the music was all created like that. So, I think that gave the feeling of a real band rather than a side-project, which I think is cool. Because every time, you get to approach a more real band feeling. I think fans like that more. I think we enjoy that more. It’s really thrilling to be a part of this thing called Killer Be Killed because I get to play with some of my favorite musicians.
“IT’S REALLY THRILLING TO BE A PART OF THIS THING CALLED KILLER BE KILLED BECAUSE I GET TO PLAY WITH SOME OF MY FAVORITE MUSICIANS.”
I love Troy’s stuff on Mastodon and Gone Is Gone. Of course, I love Greg’s solo and Dillinger career, and Dan…Converge is one of my favorite bands. So, I’m playing with guys that I love their music and I’m a fan of their music. It’s a dream come true. Making Killer Be Killed records is actually not hard but fun. It’s a fun process just getting together, throwing our ideas in, and jamming them, and then we just go to the studio and make it happen. We have the great production of Josh Wilbur. Josh was involved on our first one and he’s involved in this one. It’s super fun to bring this thing to life, and I’m very excited for people to hear this record.
With the three distinctive metal voices, how does that all fall into place where each singer knows which part will work best at any given time?
Sometimes we claim riffs. Like, if you hear a riff and Greg will say, “I want to sing on that riff!” There’s that claiming thing, that you claim the riff. You have the right to do that. Sometimes it’s the other way around to where I suggest that Troy should sing on one of my most aggressive riffs because he’s got a real melodic voice. Then vice versa, there’ll be a real melodic riff and they’ll think that I should sing on it because I have more of an aggressive voice. And that’s the fun of it. We just do that song by song and give each other parts. Some songs we actually sang on the whole thing. There’s a song, “Inner Calm from Outer Storms,” which I think is going to be the third single. I think we sing on the whole fucking thing! It’s a non-stop action kind of song.
“GREG SAID IT WAS A MIXTURE OF NEUROSIS AND DEF LEPPARD, AND I THOUGHT THAT WAS HILARIOUS—THE COMBINATION OF THOSE TWO BANDS.”
Then there’s some fun stuff we did like “Animus,” which is a minute long thrash/hardcore song that I came up with and Ben was really excited to play that kind of stuff. Then “Reluctant Hero,” the closer of the record, that’s probably the most different song that I’ve been involved with in my whole career, from it just being so melodic. Greg said it was a mixture of Neurosis and Def Leppard, and I thought that was hilarious—the combination of those two bands. It was really fun to do. I only sing two lines on that song. Normally on Soulfly or Cavalera Conspiracy, I have to sing on the whole record, so there’s a lot of singing for me to do. But on Killer Be Killed, I get to take a break. Some songs I don’t want to sing a lot, I just want to jam the riffs and headbang and hear what the other guys are doing. And then comes my part and I bring that Max heaviness to the song. It really works like magic, the three voices work good together.
I have to say I think we all stepped up our game on the vocal side of things. Troy’s vocals are incredible on this record. Greg has always been a great singer, he just shows off more on this one. I just kept my Max singing. I tried to do it where it was a little more interesting, some vocal patterns that are a little bit more interesting for the listener. So all in all, it’s a very democratic way of making records, that I don’t know anybody who does that kind of record anymore like this. It’s very open where you just grab the part that you like and sing on it. It’s a very friendly competition, like trying to outdo each other, especially me on the riffs. I’m always trying to make the riff that’s going to blow them away. So, I bring the riff to the table and they all go crazy and I’m like, “Yes, I did it!” (laughs) Then Greg will try to outdo me, bringing another riff, then Troy had a whole song that we nicknamed “Priest,” I think it’s called “Left of Center.” By doing that, you have a better record because you’re trying really hard to make something cool happen. And I take the riffs very seriously, so I brought a lot of my favorite riffs to this record.
You mentioned Josh Wilbur as the producer again. Was there anything particular you were wanting to achieve sound-wise with this album overall?
I left that more up to Josh, really. We trust him so much from the first record. He did a great job on the first album and we also ended up doing Ritual together with Soulfly. I love the production of Ritual and that record was very well received by the fans. Josh is a pro, he knows exactly what Killer Be Killed needs. It’s still dirty enough to please some of the fans of the heavier stuff, but also clean enough for somebody that likes a little more of the melodic side of things.
I think the guitar sound is great. The drums sound completely fantastic. The bass sounds cool. We did a lot of cool things. I was working with Troy on intros of songs, and on the guitar side, me and Greg…I really like our guitars. Mine is a bit more conservative, like a big 6505 Max sound that’s been on all of the Soulfly records. And Greg has more of the Swedish Heavy Metal 2 [HM2] Boss pedal. It’s great, the combination of that. I didn’t know he was going for that extreme guitar sound. Then when I found out that’s what he was doing, I got super excited.
“THE ONE GOOD THING THAT CAME OUT OF THIS PANDEMIC IS THE CREATIVE SIDE.”
Any new news on Soulfly or Cavalera Conspiracy? With this ongoing pandemic and the unforeseeable future in the music industry, what will you be focusing on?
I’m just working right now on Soulfly with Zyon, putting all the riffs together. I think it’s cool using the pandemic to create music. The one good thing that came out of this pandemic is the creative side. I think people were actually forced to go to their creative side. You’re probably going to see a lot of people in the studio right now because you can’t go out and play. I’ve tried to take advantage of that and tried to make the most that I can out of that.
So, we’re going to have some new Soulfly music next year and I’m very excited for it because I actually have time to work on the record, maybe in a way that I wasn’t able to work with that kind of delicate detail of a record like this. It gets you to take real pride in the project and really make sure it’s the right riffs, the right parts. So, I’m looking forward to next year and hopefully the pandemic will be past and we’ll be able to play live, and hopefully even Killer Be Killed gets to do some shows.