“I love riffs,” states metal icon and Cavalera Conspiracy
namesake, Max Cavalera. “I’ll sit there and
hammer out riff after riff after riff, record them all,
and save them for later. It’s amazing to me that,
after all of these years, my favorite thing to do is
sit in a room with a drum machine and write riffs.”
With Blunt Force Trauma [Roadrunner] the Cavalera
Conspiracy has upped the ante with its pummeling
thrash-meets-groove-meets-hardcore sound. The
engine behind that sound is Cavalera’s punishing rhythm playing—a mash-up of hooky
Iommi-inspired doom and classic thrash
riffery. “The mixture of speed and heavy
grooves is what makes an album exciting,”
says Cavalera, who aside from being
a founding member of thrash legends Sepultura
(he left the band in 1996), is still
going strong with his other band, the massively
Blunt Force Trauma also features the
killing skill set of Cavalera Conspiracy
(and Soulfly) lead guitarist Marc Rizzo, who easily bounces between hyper-technical
shred and weird noise textures.
“Marc is always surprising me, and he
always has something new to offer,”
enthuses Cavalera. “I’ll leave him something
as small as an eight-bar space in
the music and he’ll fill it up with stuff
I could never have dreamed of. He’s
really creative with pedals, too, getting
video game and cell phone noises with
them. I told him he was becoming the
next Tom Morello!”
Do you remember specifically when you decided
to ditch lead guitar and become strictly a rhythm
I do. I attempted to learn the solo from
the Scorpion’s tune “The Zoo,” and it was
horrible. It was so bad, everyone told me,
“Don’t try that again”—so it was a very
traumatizing experience. But it was for the
better because it made me become attached
to rhythm guitar.
Is that why you eventually removed your top
two strings, because you were so committed to
Definitely. Removing the B and high E
strings made me really sit down and explore
the guitar. I had to make it happen on just
the four low strings. To me, that makes
the musical process fun and challenging.
It also makes me a straight-up rhythm guy
without any doubt.
Do you guys record to a click track?
No. A big part of our sound is that we don’t
record to a click track—I don’t like them. I
did one album with a click years ago and it
was a nightmare. I find it takes away the natural
feeling of the song because you’re worrying
about the click. You do get a certain
sound when you record with one, however,
and the tempos certainly doesn’t move, but
that’s not necessarily good. We lay down the
drums first playing as a group, that way the
drums have the live feel, but the amps aren’t
in the room. Then we overdub the rhythm
guitars and bass, Marc does his solos, and
then we track vocals.
How has your riff writing progressed?
The biggest change is I write a lot more
than I used to. In fact, I’ve become addicted
to writing. I used to only write when I had to
record an album, and then I would write just
enough for that album. But now I write all
the time. I grab the guitar and I don’t know
where things are going to go, but I do know
that whenever I sit with a guitar and a drum
machine, something is going to come out.
I’ve never really had writer’s block. Sometimes
when a riff is at a stopping point and
I can’t think of something else, I’ll step out
and go do something else, but when I get
back, my mind is clear. I’ll tell the guitar,
“It’s you or me!” Believe me, I’ll fight and
struggle to get that riff out.
What has caused the onslaught of writing?
It may be because I’m not drinking anymore.
I used to drink a lot, and when you do
that you don’t really feel like doing anything
else other than getting drunk, which is kind
of a waste of time, really. I went to the doctor
and he said if I didn’t quit I was going to die,
so I quit that crap. That was about five years
ago, and I’m realizing I have a lot more energy.
I substituted writing for drinking. That’s why
I’ve been able to write the Soulfly album, Omen,
and Blunt Force Trauma at the same time. I had
enough riffs for both albums.
When you’re writing with a drum machine, do
you play to drum loops or do you program beats?
I program the drum machine to fit the
riffs. I’m able to write some pretty crazy
patterns that drummers have always dug
playing. My brother, Igor [Cavalera Conspiracy
drummer], loves to learn the parts
I come up with. The benefit of using a
drum machine isn’t just so I can show a
drummer what to play, it also allows me
to get a song-type feel going quickly and
keep the ball rolling and stay inspired.
Sometimes I’ll even add bass to it if I get
really excited about the idea. When you
get going real good you can get a whole
tune just like that.
How did you record the guitars for Blunt Force
I track two rhythm guitars and Marc tracks
two. That gives us the most beef without
being too messy and losing clarity. I typically
change guitars and amp settings when
I go back and do the second rhythm part.
Do you and Marc have to work to get your
tones to mesh?
No. It comes very naturally. I do rely on
Marc to tweak my amps, as far as turning
tone controls and stuff. When it sounds good
I tell him to stop! I have so much respect
for Mark, and I love playing with him. We
love a lot of the same music. Our favorite
albums are old Exodus, Slayer, Destruction,
Kreator, Celtic Frost—all the good, classic
Do you give Marc direction with solos and
No. Mark is so good that I don’t have
to say anything. I give him tons of freedom
in both Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy.
When he tracks his solos, I usually
leave the room and let him go. He likes to
work at midnight or one in the morning,
and I’m in bed at that time—but when I
go to the studio in the morning, what he
has done always surprises me. Sometimes
there may be too much and I’ll take some
of it out, but most of the time I keep it
all in there.
What did you use to track Blunt Force Trauma?
ESP guitars—a Viper and an Ex model—
through Peavey 5150s and Mesa/Boogie
Triple Rectifiers. We ran the amps through
Marshall cabs. In Soulfly, I’ll also use a Boss
auto-wah and a Boss flanger for some of the
melodic jams that we do. Those effects make
open sections in the tunes sound funkier
and weirder, especially when you use a lot
What do you tune down to?
Most of Blunt Force Trauma was done tuned
down to D or B. Most everything I write is
between those two tunings. I dig the B sound
the most, though. It’s the heaviest. I use a
.014 gauge set of S.I.T. strings so the strings
stay really tight and they don’t flop around
so much. I use Dunlop picks.
Is it difficult to write simply?
Yes. The hardest songs to finish and even
perform correctly are the simple ones. But
there’s a fine line between simplicity and
doing something that’s been done a million times before. That’s the hard part, finding
that line. A good song doesn’t need to have a
lot of things on it. A perfect example of that
is the track, “Eye For an Eye,” from the first
Soulfly album. That whole tune has three
riffs and they can all be played on one string.
You know the old saying, “All you need is a
guitar, three chords, and the truth?” Well,
I very much believe in that. You don’t need
to complicate things.
After doing this for nearly 30 years, what is
the most rewarding aspect of your craft?
It’s watching the whole process unfold
in front of me. I go from writing the songs
with just my guitar, to watching the guys in
the band bring them to life in the studio.
Then that becomes a record that thousands
of fans are waiting to hear. But the best part
is when you eventually play those songs in
front of 60,000 people and they go crazy.
That’s when I remember that it all started
from something really small—just me in a
room with my guitar.
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