Interview: Max Cavalera – Go Ahead and Die

Your Grouchy Friend was absolutely thrilled to chat with Max Cavalera about his latest project: The aggressive and poignant Go Ahead and Die. The project is a special one with Max’s son Igor co-writing the record and matching the thunder of his father on vocals, bass and guitar. It is a belter of an album, due for release on the 11th of June.

Click on the audio player to listen to the interview or read ahead below to hear about protest music, Neil Young, riff pissing, and of course explore the experiences of making music as a father and son combination.

How’s things in Arizona? 

Everything’s going good Brad, just you know getting excited for the release of the record and you know, very pumped for this album and we worked very hard on it and now it’s just exciting counting the days for the record to be out.  

For sure man, it’s an absolute ripper of an album: really hit some great buttons for me with my musical heritage for sure. Was it in any way a COVID opportunity with all the time down time you had or was it just always something you guys were going to do? 

I wanted to do a record with my son, it’s always been in the projects like in the back of my mind, I just didn’t know when, and then COVID hit and you know the world turned into the the zombie apocalypse and everybody was in isolation and we were too. But we we have a house in the desert it’s kinda like the Evil Dead cabin you know? So I just went out there with my son and and started jamming and and it was like you know, listen to metal for hours, go jam some metal, record. We didn’t know were making an album at first, we were just jamming and making riffs and then, you know watching some black and white horror movies at night. Really cool hanging out. But I felt really isolated like we were not even connected to the world: We’re so isolated out in the desert, nobody knew we were there and we’re making this record. And halfway through Gloria got a deal with Nuclear Blast and then we knew that we were actually making a record, so that just turned, not serious in terms of professional,  but you know serious in terms of excitement you know? We’re like OK, now we’re actually making a record so we better put it in high gear and and really go for it.   

But yeah, I love the whole vibe it’s got this nostalgic 80s, you know late 80s sound and these cool influences from early metal like Celtic Frost and Discharge and it was a pleasure doing something with my son, really only a father and son project like that so it’s kind of quite cool.  

Mate, I’m glad you mentioned Discharge, they were in my notes here for sure. I also have old school Swedish stuff that hit the simplicity and groove. American stuff like Autopsy, I mean you can take a ton of bands, just that simplicity, that groove and aggression, and I think the way modern music is made I think sometimes that gets lost a little, what do you reckon?  

Yeah, caveman you know! That caveman approach, the simplicity, the simple riffs but very effective, very raw, recorded in an old school way without much help of technology. In a way that bands recorded in the 80s which was like, live, you’re playing live and you have an engineer capturing those live sounds and and then you just kind of like build on top of it. But you hit the nail, you know totally right. I think a lot of metal specially like late metal, it really kind of lost that purity of the rawness of early death metal, and that’s what we’re trying to bring with Go Ahead and Die, that the mix of you know the the attitude of of Discharge and D-Beats of Discharge punk with some great Death Metal early influences like AutopsyDeathEntombed you know Dismember, all of those influences go inside Go Ahead and Die. But it was really a fun record to make.  

It’s not a wonder I love this stuff mate, because you’ve just named all of my childhood favourites.  

It’s the stuff we grew up listening to man, it’s funny me and Igor like the same stuff you know? He knows a lot of the same bands that I do you know? He is a huge fan of the era you know? All the grindcore classics, the Earache years: CarcassMorbid AngelGodflesh you know that whole era you know? Plus the punk stuff, and a little bit of modern too you know? We got a little nod to newer stuff like Tombmold and Necrot and you know like newer kind of stuff. But I listen to a lot of metal in my spare time, so I’m a big fan of the new stuff that’s coming out specially like Gravesand and you know Tribal Gaze and stuff like that so I really loved the fact that the record has as a new and old influences. And it’s got this really high Nailbomb kind of fuck you attitude to everything that we don’t like. But in the end it is about the humanity, trying to restore our humanity because the songs that are directed to police violence,  police brutality, kids in cages, homelessness and COVID and isolation. But it’s  all about the human spirit so we treat the ourselves the way we want to be treated you know so it goes back to the human rights which I think is cool because it’s always been… especially when when punk and metal mix, you have a lot of records with self conscious lyrics that was really cool. You know a lot of stuff I listen to: Napalm Death was always really conscious about the lyrics and I always like that side of metal that has something to say. So that was borrowed from punk and I always liked that.  

For sure, for sure, so I think I was going to mention… it flows into something, so you know its highly reactive lyrics, I had a little podcast that I was doing a couple years ago, and we mentioned that with everything that started occurring at the time, and this is pre-COVID, the world was ripe for protest music man. I think you know that this type of music is extreme metal’s protest music if you like, you know, and I think that reactivity is essential: The anger and spite. Touching on some of the specific stuff, so I mean “Truckload Full of Bodies” I’m guessing is COVID related? 

Yeah, it’s cool you mentioned that, because it’s true. It’s you know, you can use things like that for inspiration. Even you grab a song like Neil Young “Ohio” you know, which was written from a real incident, the students that got shot in Ohio and he made this beautiful folk song with protest lyrics, so it is the same vibe man you know? It’s the same idea, except we got metal, and we got extreme metal backing up the music, and then you have the protest lyrics.  Especially in a police brutality song like “Toxic Freedom” and you know the homelessness stuff of  “Roadkill.”  But “Truckload Full of Bodies” is about the dark side of COVID, how the government didn’t care for people living or dying and we were left to fight for ourselves. Just had to take care of ourselves because nobody is taking care of us for us, and we saw the reality of pictures of bodies being loaded in trucks in in many, many places. So, I just look at the headline which was from a magazine and just said a truck full of bodies somewhere I think it was in Italy, and I made a song, and it is brutal but it’s like kind of like a wakeup call also. All about if we don’t take care of it, this is where you’re headed you know? You’re headed into a truck full of bodies man you know? COVID just kind of, I think it showed two things: It showed how a lot of governments don’t care of people, but it also showed how people help each other, because I think a lot of good things also came out of COVID you know? It’s not all bad. So, this song was kind of a reaction to that. That’s why we made the videos us singing in the body bags, it was kind of like a like a little mini horror movie visual for the fans to look at it. And it kind of like you know, you can think about the subject you know very, very aggressive visuals of singing in body bags and stuff like that. But it’s a song that makes you think about the whole COVID thing because it’s real, it’s a real thing, it’s killed a lot of people, many families were affected by it, and they changed forever and will never be the same. And we have to address it in a way that we shine a light on the subject and that’s what we did on this song you know? 

Yeah, it changes our perspective of the people who made those decisions, and I think we need to hold on to the change of perspective.  

Yeah, I love you the line “fear becomes your only friend” and that’s just like a harsh look at COVID, and you’re in the hospital by yourself, there’s no family, people aren’t allowed to be there with you, and the only thing you can become friends with in the end is your own fear you know? So it’s pretty hard, it’s a hard lyric, hard subject and you know with a really big caveman death metal beat behind it, it becomes like a perfect revolt song, a real revolting song.  

When it comes to protest music, metal’s got the toolkit few others do. We can express it in a very direct and very aggressive way.  

I mean listen to old Napalm man, it’s amazing. You know as much as you know I like all metal and you know not to to put down some of the other stuff that came out then, which was more about satanic stuff, I think it was more interesting when bands had something to say, and then you know you had Napalm Death singing about “From Enslavement to Obliteration,” and “Scum,” and “Harmony Corruption,” “Utopia Banished,” you know those are great names and stuff that really make you think you know? It’s  just really cool when you have got a little bit of really cool lyrics attached to it you know? So I like that type of metal and it’s borrowed from Hardcore,  especially great lyricists like Jello Biafra and Black Flag, and then of course Discharge were always very political and it becomes a protest you know?  It’s like it becomes a form of musical protest.  

“…some father and son they build Lego together, some of them go fishing together, we made a record…”

Totally man. So with you and Igor both handling some guitar and vocals how did you go about the writing process with those lyrics: Did you bring them separately? Did you workshop them together? I think that father and son, that lyrical collaboration had to be to be a good thing yeah? 

The whole thing was a father and son thing which was cool, it was like I joke with people, I say you know like some father and son they build Lego together, some of them go fishing together, we made a record, but with everything that involves the making of a record: Like the riffs, we sat down and we come through a fine, you know a fine comb to every single riff to find the real riffs that we like, and the ones that we left we throw a couple away that we didn’t like. And the same with lyrics, I’ve never been a fan of writing lyrics, I never liked it, it’s not my thing, and it turns out it’s my son’s thing, Igor loves it, he’s an author, he writes books, he’s got like two books out, and he loves everything about it. So, it was more like I was more riding on his coat tails on the lyrics, I was just kinda like watching where he was going with the song and just putting my little touch on it. But it was definitely a father son project all the way through which is really cool because Igor reminds me of a young Max, you know? He’s like physically and mentally is really like… yeah very nostalgic, you know? Reminiscent of a young Max Cavalera: Very hungry, very like wanted do a lot of stuff, and I let him run with this record, you know? He did a lot of this album and I’m really proud of him for that.   

For sure man, my three year old has just started to show some interest in the music room, he has a bash on the drums occasionally, so for me the opportunity to speak to you about this is quite special. There’s a lot of metal dads out there and I imagine for a lot of our readers this is really…  

I hope this this is gonna influence other dads to do the same you know, you guys in bands that have kids to go to build a project with your son, bro it’s killer, it’s cool, it’s it’s a fun thing. You really get closer to your son and it’s just… it was an amazing experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  

When did you first start to play like, I guess let’s do a self help for all the fathers here: So what sort of age did he start to show interest? Then, I guess how did you nurture that man? Was it kind of organic? How did things go? How did it get to this point?  

Igor was inside Gloria’s belly when we did Nailbomb so I think he was already listening to Nailbomb live. It’s in the video: She’s pregnant you know, she’s got this big belly and Igor is inside and listening to Nailbomb, so he didn’t have any chance of becoming anything else but a metalhead. Then from when he was very young my wife’s mother would, she’s Russian, and we had a VHS of “Under Siege” and that was it, that was little Igor’s favourite video. He watched Sepultura Under Siege,” that was like instead of watching cartoons or Disney he wanted to watch “Under Siege.” So, I think you know, all those things are really essential in his growing up years. Little by little he started picking up on his own and I didn’t really… I never pressured them to be metal heads you know? It was like I let them discover on their own, because that’s kinda like the magic. Those things you cannot push it on people, if you try to push it you probably ruin it and you probably make them not like metal as much.  So, I was really self-conscious of not pushing the music on them, not pushing the metal, but always in my heart hoping they’ll go that way you know? But they were born in this life man, touring, there’s photos of Igor and Zyon sleeping on guitar cases with Ozzy Osbourne singing in the background you know? So that’s like you don’t get… it doesn’t get any more metal than that you know? We ended up meeting everybody, I mean I have pictures of Phil Anselmo holding Zion and Mitch from Napalm Death hanging out with little Igor. Yeah, it’s all connected and eventually they just in on their own way, they discover music, and they got their favourite bands. Zyon is a little bit more classic he likes Black SabbathLed Zeppelin, and Igor is extreme like me he likes all the brutal stuff.  

Good boy! 

I think something I’m gonna touch on with you, so lyric wise obviously – I think you’re exaggerating – but you’re riding your son’s coattails… obviously in the riff Department you know you’ve been the king for a long time, and I spoke to Greg Puciato last year about Killer Be Killed, and there’s something I definitely wanted to speak to you about: He and Troy Sanders said they had a nickname for you with with regard to your riffs, do you know what that is? 

No.  

So, Greg insists that they called you the riff pisser between themselves because you just piss out riffs continually.  

That’s funny, that’s funny man, that’s funny. That’s why I love that nickname, I might use it [laughs].  

I love that you didn’t know to tell you the truth.  

…’cause everybody out there like, they’re like you know, riff lord, riff king, and I think this is the kind of opposite. The riff pisser is like the one that don’t give a fuck much but comes out with the killer shit you know?  He comes out with the kick ass riffs because he doesn’t give a fuck, and because he gives zero fucks about about being the best he actually becomes a badass, so I love that. No, riffs is my thing man: I got four strings on my guitar for a reason because I was forcing myself to be dedicated to the art of the riff. Which I think is a beautiful art form – the art form of making riffs and I love it; I absolutely fell in love with it. Of course, my old all-time greatest is Tony Iommi: I read his book and all of his riffs were like the Bible of riffs for me you know? And I kinda joke about Go Ahead and Die and I said that me and Igor went out in the desert in search of riffs you know? And we found it, and we found a shit load of them! 

[Both laugh hearty metal laughs] 

So, like, with those riffs mate, jamming out this material you know? We touched on how great it’s got to be to write with your son, but I’d love to get a feel for how it feels to hit on those riffs and get… you know that eye contact that happens with other musicians when you’re writing and jamming on a song for the first time, and you know you’re in that place. I’d love to get a feel for how that feels when you’re looking across that room, you get that eye contact… and it’s your son.  

Yeah! 

Something like the start of “El Cuco” man, that riff is just simple, it’s ballsy, it’s timeless: how’s that feel? Locking in on that with your son has got to be incredible.  

So, there’s a bunch of those on the Go Ahead and Die record. The one I remember the most when we first did it that when I look at Igor and his face was just like floored, like “oh my god, this is insane” you know, it was “Roadkill,” the opening riff from “Roadkill.” Which is very simple, it’s very operatic but it’s very effective. It’s a great feeling when you find… sometimes you spend hours jamming and nothing comes out of it and it gets really depressed, and it’s really… but a lot of times out of those sessions a lot of great stuff comes out of it. You know Igor had a lot of great riffs throughout the whole record, Igor can make amazing riffs, so he’s very talented on that area and I love a lot of the riffs that he put on this record. 

It would be unfair to not mention the third party here, you talk about those great, skipping hardcore drum patterns and D-beat stuff, Zach Coleman’s done a killer job on this album: How did he get involved? 

We got Zach because of the record he made with a band called Black Curse which is an absolute atrocity of an album. It is the bleakest, hardest record of last year that I heard, and I I fell in love with it and my friend Arthur was mixing the, you know Cavalera record, and we mentioned to him that we like the Black Curse album and would like to get Zach to play in Go Ahead and Die because he’s such an underground guy and will be perfect. And I even knew that he played in Khemmis you know, is a thrash metal band but if you have not listened to it, go listen to the Black Curse album, it’s incredible insane, bleak album and Zach is an amazing drummer on that record.  He was in Denver, so he was not far from us, so he just drove here and because it was during COVID, but we have to be careful who we’re gonna bring.  So, Zach was perfect, he was like the perfect guy, and we hit it right away, you know we like a lot of… he likes a lot of the same metal that we do you know? Undergang and you know a lot of the same stuff, all the old school stuff you know? Bolt ThrowerEntombed, so we just hit it with him, you know he did an amazing job on the record.  

Cool, cool, so obviously COVID keeps things interesting and uncertain at best, but you know touching on the Killer Be Killed record, you must be itching to hit the road “Filthy Vagabond” style mate? You know that song really spoke to me about how much you guys want to get on the road. Is it the same with this as well? 

Yeah, yeah, everything you know like, we’re waiting to make sure everything is good in the right moment you know? So, I mean, I’m not really in a total hurry to get out there but whenever… we were born for life on the road, so we love it, you know the normal person would not understand this kind of nomadic life. 

Igor was born for the road.  

Yeah. 

I’m sorry man I have another interview calling on the other line.  

Absolutely man, that’s fine, that’s kind of where I was going to leave it anyway. I really appreciate your time.  

Thanks a lot man, appreciate it nice talking to you. 

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