We get the lowdown from Max Cavalera about the magic of Killer Be Killed, twenty-year-old drum machines and camouflage shorts.
“Camouflage is awesome because it’s guerilla man! You get ready for war in those things. …It’s war fucking gear!” says Max Cavalera of his trademark camouflage shorts – laying to rest once and for all, just exactly why they’re so badass.
Cavalera’s a certified metal legend at this point – shaping much of the modern, metal landscape during his time with Sepultura, and exploring various other musical avenues over the years with bands such as the much-evolved Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy, with brother his brother, ex-Sepultura drummer, Igor; but it’s his new project, the phenomenal supergroup Killer Be Killed, that perhaps has Cavalera most excited.
“There’s some magic about it,” he says, “For me it’s a really special record. I really like this new record a lot; I think it’s really quite a unique album,” he says of the band’s freshly released, self-titled, debut album.
The album, which has been in the works for over three years, has seen Killer Be Killed – comprised of, alongside Cavalera; Greg Puciato, frontman for the Dillinger Escape Plan; bassist, Troy Sanders of Mastodon; and The Mars Volta’s Dave Elitch on drums – instantly rise to the upper echelons of metal supergroups, and Cavalera tells of how it all came together.
“Greg was the guy who decided to make the project – I was invited to join by him,” he says.
“It started off with just me and him hanging out for like a week, making a demo. He came into Phoenix (AZ) and, hanging out for like a week, we wrote a bunch of songs.”
“It actually started when we worked together on the Soulfly record, Oman. We did a song together called “Rise Of The Fallen” and we became friends after that. Then Greg gave me the idea to do this project. We really didn’t know what it was going to be like.”
“I just started to roll with it, it was really cool and exciting. We did a fifteen-song demo that was very raw and very punk rock – really brutal – a real kind of shitty recording but it was kind of cool in the beginning,” he tells of Killer Be Killed’s early days.
“I had Nailbomd in mind, which I did in the mid-nineties with Alex Newport (Fudge Tunnel, producer). It was a lot of fun and Nailbomb was actually the starting point for Killer Be Killed,” he says.
“If he band ended up being just me and Greg – if we went in the studio and recorded what we had on the demo – it would probably end up being a lot like Nailbomb,” he continues, “It would have been really cool, but I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to do something different – something new that had not been done before – since I’d already done Nailbomb.”
Nailbomb playing one of two shows they ever played, at Dynamo Festival (Netherlands) 1995.
Killer Be Killed’s sound began to transform once the other members were added the band. “Greg said he knew a drummer: his friend Dave – he used to be in The Mars Volta,” Cavalera explains.
“(Greg) told me he was a great drummer, and he wasn’t wrong. The guy can play!” he goes on, “I was blown away by how good he was, technically, and how hard he pounded the drums – phenomenal!” Then, there was only one piece missing.
“We needed one more person; we needed a bass player,” says Cavalera, “I thought it would be good to get someone who could sing and play bass – so, for me, either Lemmy or Tom Araya from Slayer – anybody like that would have been great,” he adds, rather understating things somewhat. However, we now know, that it was not to be.
“One of the names that got thrown out was Troy (Sanders) from Mastodon. We called him and he was really into it, so that was perfect,” tells Cavalera of Killer Be Killed’s final formation, and, given Killer Be Killed’s eventual output, it seems it was for the better.
This isn’t even my final form!
“We wrote some more songs with Troy and then went in the studio and recorded the whole record,” Cavalera goes on, “I really think it came out great.”
One of the most remarkable things (about an already remarkable album), is Killer Be Killed’s utilization of all-three vocalisits – Puciato, Sanders and Cavalera – on every song.
“It was kind of hard. My own thing that I wanted to have on this project – that was my own desire – was that I would like to see three voices,” Cavalera explains, “It was actually more fun. I was really curious about how – when we first had the idea, when we first made the project – about how the three voices (would work together),” he adds.
“Having three singers and having more melodic things was, for me, a kind of a cool thing to have – a new thing to have that I had not done before. I’d always prefer that rather than repeating something that had already been done,” says Cavalera, reiterating Killer Be Killed’s unique quality.
“My voice, Greg’s voice and Troy’s voice are so different from each other, that’s why it’s so cool. Every time a voice comes in there’s a surprise element to it – a new, different vibe to it – and they compliment each other. They feel really good together. That’s really the magic about the project. It’s something that I cannot really explain in words; I just know it works. It’s really cool,” says Cavalera.
“I really like how the whole thing came about – how the voices came about and compliment each other; how the songs really feel cool within each other (?), they don’t feel rushed, they feel perfect, like they were meant to be like that – it was a record that was meant to be done in a certain way. I think that’s the best thing about Killer Be Killed; it just feels really natural,” he says.
Certainly, the vocals aren’t just the only successful element of Killer Be Killed, which otherwise perfectly blends and transcends the sounds of it’s founding members’ traditional associations.
“The fact that Killer Be Killed is new, and it brings something to the table, and it’s exciting and it’s different – all those different reasons – gave me a better feeling about what Killer be Killed ended up being in the end,” Cavalera agrees.
“The only pressure (we felt) was that we’d been working on this thing for three years and we’d been telling the whole world about it and now we were in the studio and I was like ‘well, everybody now really wants us to deliver; we’d better put out a really strong album.’ That was the only thing I really said in the studio to keep on putting pressure on us to deliver a good record – a powerful record. We couldn’t really do anything generic or anything that silly and throw-away; we had to use the best riffs and the best vocal lines,” says Cavalera, discussing the album’s recording process.
“You get the best out of everybody – everybody on the top of their game – just delivering their best performance they can. That’s why Josh (Wilber), the producer came in; he got that stuff out of us perfectly – all those different things – all those different ideas, and the performances on the vocals, which were amazing,” he goes on.
“We had some songs that actually ended up making the record; like “Face Down,” “Fire To Your Flag” and “I.E.D.,”” Cavalera reveals, but a lot of the songs came together later in the project, in a more organic fasion.
“”Wings Of Feather And Wax,” the first song on the record, that song was a jam that kept going back and forth between me and (Greg), with this verse riff and a melodic riff that sounds like U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,”” he explains.
“I think that song has all the elements of Killer Be Killed: the melody; the catchy(ness) and the groove; and the fast bit in the middle, kind of like the Slayer, thrash part… If you want to dissect the album, I think “Wings (Of Feather And Wax)” is the perfect song for that – to describe the project,” says Cavalera, and he’s certainly got a point, but it almost wasn’t so.
“We kept going back and forth and it was really fun to do it at practice but we had no idea…” says Cavalera, going on, “It was kind of like a throwaway song I think; we weren’t serious about really using it at the time. I even thought ‘I don’t think we’re going to use this song; I don’t know how serious this song is,’ at the time. But when we sang on top of it – when Troy put the vocals on top of it and when Greg put the vocals on top of it – it was really catchy and it was really cool. It was so catchy that it became the first song on the record.”
“It’s just so powerful how those things come about; it’s like pure magic in the studio,” tells Cavalera, adding, “When that stuff happens we’ve really got no control over it; you’ve just got to let it happen naturally and next thing you know it’s in front of you and you listen to it and it’s done. It’s quite amazing.”
Those alrarmed by the mention of U2, can rest assured that, otherwise, Killer Be Killed draws from a far more traditional (if varied) pool of influence.
“We had nicknames for songs in the studio,” explains Cavalera, “– Set Fire To Your Flag” was called “Motörhead,” because the opening riff sounds like Motörhead; and “Marrow” really sounded like Deftones, so we just called it “Deftones;” and “Twelve Labors” was called “Sabbath” because it sounded like Black Sabbath – so we just had all these songs with band nicknames.”
“Everything else just sort of came out in the studio,” tells Cavalera of Killer Be Killed’s organic writing process. Though he concedes, “There were some pre-recorded songs, like “Dust To Darkness” was already all done. Greg had that in his computer, he wrote that a long time ago and it was a killer, awesome song and we didn’t want to change anything, so we just recorded it how it is – no need to change anything”
This in-studio approach is to be expected, given Greg Puciato’s revelation that Max Cavalera doesn’t have an email address. “Yeah, I don’t,” chuckles Cavalera in confirmation. “I don’t really use computers that much. I’m still kind of a caveman when it comes to that,” he says.
“I have a four-track and a drum machine that I’ve used since the Chaos A.D. days that has not failed me yet. It still works!” Cavalera says, “I haven’t changed that much. I’m kind of old-school when it comes to recording,” he adds, once again understating things a tad.
Chaos A.D.: back to the primitive!
If Killer Be Killed’s influences seem standard then certainly their lyrical content scratches a little bit deeper.
““Forbidden Fire,” the closing (song) on the record, it was a really great, different amazing song to work with,” tells Cavalera, explaining, “Lyrically it’s about the kids in the Middle East who get into metal and they are forbidden by law, by the government, to like metal and they try to listen to it even with the fear of imprisonment.”
”It’s such a courageous thing for them,” he goes on, “For us, we take it for granted because we’re in the West, where metal is free. We don’t have to worry about police beating down our door and telling us ‘what you’re doing is wrong – having tattoos and black shirts,’ we don’t have to worry about that. In the Middle East they have to worry about that; so we wrote a song about it.”
“The music (for “Forbidden Fire”) is all Troy,” Cavalera adds, “– Troy wrote a really cool bass-line. It sounded like old Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. In fact, I think (in the studio) “Forbidden Fire” was called “Alice In Chains” – another nicknamed song!”
In the meantime, while we wait for Killer Be Killed live shows and the album’s eventual (but inevitable) follow-up (again, see the Puciato interview), Cavalera has more than enough to keep him busy.
“I finished singing a couple of days ago and it’s going to get mixed now, and mastered, and then it comes out in October,” Cavalera tells of Cavalera’s upcoming, third record.
“It’s really brutal and I love it. It’s my favourite Cavalera (Conspiracy album) out of all three,” he goes on, “I like it even more than Inflikted, and Infliked was one of my favorite records I’ve ever done.”
“This new one is just so brutal!” he exclaims, “It’s like borderline grindcore in some ways. It has some grindcore influences on it that’re really cool, and it has Nate (newton) from Converge on it, playing bass, and it’s just brutal. My vocals are really low and I did that on purpose.”
“It’s quite the opposite from the Killer Be Killed album. If you put them back to back to each other, it’s night-and-day difference between the two of them,” he says, mixing his metaphors in the excitement, going on to clarify, “It’s pure brutality and metal, and nothing but metal, whereas Killer Be Killed has all these different melodies and ideas.”
Nate Newton joins the Cavaleras in conspiring brutality.
“That’s what’s so cool about making music. I get to do all these different things – I get to go and be more melodic on Killer Be Killed and then go all-the-way brutal grindcore on Cavalera – and it works,” Cavalera says, clearly pleased with his choice of occupation, and it’s one that keeps him busy.
“I’m touring right now with Soulfly,” tells Cavalera of his other plans for the year. “Just touring, all through the year – just keep touring,” he adds, in a rather positive tone, in contrast to what you might expect from that seemingly conceited comment.
Cavalera’s musical carrier is one that’s always been (blatantly) driven by a blazing passion for what he does, and, three decades after it was lit (!), the passionate, metal inferno known as Max Cavalera shows no signs of slowing down.
“We’re doing a show in Hyde Park on the 4th of July with Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Faith No More and Soundgarden,” he says, excitedly adding, “That’s going to be fucking insane! I can’t wait for that day.”
There’s no need to wait any more for Killer Be Killed however, the album is out now on Nuclear Blast. You can read my review of it here, and if you enjoyed this interview, you can check out the one I did earlier with Greg Puciatio.
1 As an interesting point of contrast, Cavalera’s ex-bandmate, Sepultura guitarist, Andreas Kisser, prefers to conduct his interviews over Skype, rather than (as usual) by telephone.
2 Those of you who clicked through to the link will have noticed that Soundgarden get second billing over Faith No More and Motörhead, which I find absolutely baffling. It seems to me that Cavalera has more of the right idea. Also, one of these things is not like the other. (Hint: it’s Soulfly.)