Released in 1996, Sepultura’s sixth album, Roots was a major step forward for the Brazilian metal band — artistically, conceptually and commercially. The Ross Robinson-produced record featured lyrics about Brazil’s tumultuous history and culture, and combined down-tuned nü-metal-style riffs with Brazil’s rhythms and folk instruments. The band even ventured into the heart of their country to collaborate on a track with musicians from the Xavante tribe.
But while Roots was a critical and chart success, it would also be the final Sepultura record with leader Max Cavalera on vocals and guitar. Tensions between the rest of the band – which included his younger brother Iggor on drums – and their manager Gloria Bujnowski (who also happened to be Cavalera’s wife) caused Max to leave Sepultura following their December 16, 1996 show at London’s Brixton Academy. His abrupt departure precipitated a 10-year feud between the Cavalera brothers, who’d co-founded the band in 1984. Max went on to form Soulfly, Iggor would remain with Sepultura for another decade.
Thankfully, that’s now all water under the bridge: The Cavalera brothers reconciled in 2006, and have since recorded three acclaimed albums together as the Cavalera Conspiracy. And now, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Roots’ release, they’re joining forces for the Return to Roots tour, which will see the brothers performing the album in its entirety with the help of Cavalera Conspiracy guitarist Marc Rizzo and bassist Johny Chow. The tour, which kicks off September 12th in Las Vegas, will also see the band employing some of the same stage props (including the original Roots backdrop) that Sepultura used during their 1996 tour.
“We are very much looking forward to this,” Max tells Rolling Stone. “I think it’s going to be a blast. If you never saw the real thing, this is the closest you’re going to get to it!” We caught up with the brothers to find out what fans can expect.
When did you come up with the idea to do this tour?
Max Cavalera: I did a Soulfly show in England last year, and Iggor was living there. We jammed “Roots Bloody Roots,” and the place went nuts; it was wild! And I remember Gloria backstage talking to us; she was like, “I think you guys should do the whole record. I think it would be great!” I looked at Iggor and said, “I think we can do it!” And Iggor was like, “Yeah, I think we can do it, too!” There’s a lot of cool stuff on it that we’ve never played live, not even when we were on tour for it. So we have the chance to do that now, and it’s killer.
Iggor Cavalera: It is quite exciting, and for me it’s quite a challenge. When you go on tour and play a record from start to finish, you’re not just thinking of how to make a setlist; it’s like the audience is listening to the whole record, but they’re also watching you play it.
Roots is a groundbreaking record. What was your concept going into the recording?
Max: I remember being very happy with what we’d achieved with [1993’s] Chaos A.D., especially concerning the percussion. I loved what Iggor brought to the table on Chaos, like on “Refuse/Resist” — it’s like a real traditional Brazilian pattern that he plays on the beginning — and on [the acoustic instrumental] “Kaiowas.” I think Roots actually started on Chaos A.D., you know? I think we just took one step further by doing an album that looked back on our own culture, and really explored some of the fundamental Brazilian music that was before samba, before bossa nova – the actual Indian music that has been there since 500 years ago, or whatever.
How did your recording session with the Xavante tribe come about?
Max: Oh, that was crazy, man! I was watching this movie At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and it gave me the idea. [Gloria] just laughed and said, “You’re not Michael Jackson – you don’t have that kind of money!” And I was like, “No, we make it happen!” We started making contacts; I contacted this lady who was the head of the Indian affairs in Brazil, and she was very, very helpful. My original idea was to record with the Kayapós, but the Kayapós don’t want nothing to do with white people – if we went in there, we’d end up killed, we’d end up cannibal soup! [Laughs.] So she suggested the Xavantes, who live in the very center of the country, and that was great. It was almost like metal meets National Geographic expedition, really wild! We had a generator to record the stuff, an eight-track or 12-track that Ross brought, and we just hung out with them for three days. We got painted, and listened to their music, and we played some of our music for them.
So they were very accepting of you?
Iggor: The great thing about the Xavantes is that they were really open-minded about working with a bunch of crazy kids who were also from Brazil, but who came from a completely different background. The only thing we wanted to do was play music together, and I think that really captivated them in a very positive way – rather than us going there and promising to help, like all the politicians who have been there in the past. For us, it was just like, “We want to make music together! We want to record this to expand it to the rest of the world!” At the time, we had no idea how they wrote their music; we found out that the only way they write their music is through their dreams – so if they don’t dream a song, it doesn’t get written. Stuff like that, for us, it was mind-blowing!
Max: I remember the little tribal kids, they were fascinated by our tattoos. This one little kid, he was trying to erase my tattoo – he kept spitting on his hand and then rubbing on my tattoo to see if it would come off. I’m looking at him, saying, “It doesn’t come off, man! This is forever!” That kind of exchange with them was really cool. In Brazilian society, metal people like us are looked at with prejudice; if you’re on the bus, sometimes somebody won’t sit by you because you’re a metalhead. It’s fucked up, you know? But that doesn’t happen in the tribe. They are curious, but they have no prejudice, which was great.
You also recorded “Lookaway” with Jonathan Davis and Mike Patton. What was that experience like?
Iggor: I’d been friends with Mike forever, and we always tried to collaborate together on different projects. … He delivered an amazing, totally Mike Patton thing, where he totally goes off using his voice as an instrument.
Max: I remember the first day that he showed up in the studio, he had a briefcase with him. I was like, “What’s in the briefcase, Mike?” And he said, “This is what I need to record!” He opened it up, and there was some kind of vocal delay effects box in there, and a bottle of red wine! [Laughs.] That was just so cool – it was like a 007 thing!
Which are some of the songs that you’ll be playing live for the first time on this tour?
Max: “Lookaway,” of course. We won’t have Mike and Jon there for it, but I think we can still do a really cool version live, because the riff is real heavy and real catchy. And Iggor suggested that we do “Itsári” together with the playback of the original recording from the tribe. And then there’s some other stuff like “Ambush” and “Dictatorshit” that I don’t think we’ve ever really played live.
Iggor: We’ve been working with using a lot of samples through my drum machine, so I think part of “Canyon Jam” [the album’s 13-minute hidden instrumental closing track] is definitely going to be in the show, but we don’t want it to be something where we’re just sitting there listening to it – we have to participate, somehow, by adding stuff to it. It’s another cool challenge that I’m looking forward to trying out with the guys.
Marc and Johny from Cavalera Conspiracy are going out with you on the tour. How is it playing this album with them?
Iggor: For me and Max, it’s about having people that we love on the road with us. Marc, he was like a massive Sepultura fan from day one, so it’s been easy for him; Johny, he had to go deep into the record to learn everything. But really, it’s about enjoying ourselves, and having a nice time; that’s why we chose those two guys to do this with us.
Max: Also, they are very capable musicians. Marc is a guy that can play everything perfectly note-for-note, and he even puts his own spin on things that makes it even better. Same with Johnny. We want to go on the road with people we like, and that we can count on. When we created Cavalera Conspiracy, that was one of the things we talked about: How can we eliminate the stress factor that was present so many times in our career before and kind of ruined stuff for us. I remember being on the road with Roots and being so stressed out; so when the time came to do Cavalera with Iggor, I was like, “Let’s have fun! Let’s take the stress out of it!”
Will you guys be playing any other Sepultura songs on this tour?
Max: If there’s time! [Laughs.] Roots is quite a long album; but I think on the headline shows, we probably can squeeze in some other cool stuff for the fans to hear.
Any thoughts about what’s next? Another Cavalera Conspiracy record, maybe?
Max: I think as you can see, we don’t really have a master plan – right now, we’re telling you stuff that we don’t even know! [Laughs.] This is just how we roll.