Interview with bassist Paulo Xisto Pinto Junior
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 26, 2017
Brazilian "jungle boys" Sepultura are true pioneers from the Brazilian Metal scene and have had a long international career that has had its ups and downs over the years. Sepultura's international breakthrough albums were Beneath the Remains, released in 1989, and its follow-up album Arise, which followed two years later. Both albums have sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide which is remarkable for any Heavy Metal band these days when the sales of physical music formats collapsed with the rise of Internet downloading.
Undoubtedly, one of the defining moments for Sepulura was when the band's frontman Max Cavalera left in December 1996 to form his own band, Soulfly. Derrick Green, originally from Cleveland, Ohio relocated to Brazil and has been the band's frontman ever since. He's stuck with the band for 20 years and sung on eight studio albums, with the band's 14th album, Machine Messiah, being the latest.
Sepultura arrived in Hell-sinki, Finland on February 10, 2017, along with Soilwork and Aborted as special guests on Kreator's headlining European tour. The Metal Crypt was lucky enough to get an invitation to have a talk with one of the two remaining original members of Sepultura, bassist Paulo Jr., who was in a relaxed mood as he talked about the band's latest album Machine Messiah, the studio experience with producer Jens Bogren, robotization, music the band enjoys listening to on the tour bus, and many other things...
Luxi: First of all, welcome to Finland once again Paulo. Have you counted how many times you have been here since your first appearance?
Paulo: Kiitos. I know I have been in Finland since 1990.
Luxi: Well, to correct you a little bit, Sepultura's first live appearance happened at the Giants of Rock festival in Hämeenlinna, back in 1991, 26 years ago?
Paulo: Ah, ok. As for counting how many times we have been in your country since then, I can only say many times. I stopped counting a long time ago [*laughs*].
Luxi: Have you had some cool visits to Finland that you will cherish in your memory when you retire?
Paulo: Yes, definitely! Sometimes it's just so hard to do anything with all that coldness that you guys have up here in Finland.
Luxi: I understand. And you are not the only one who has said so.
Paulo: Then again, we've been in even colder places than Finland - like in Russia's Siberia, and that's a very cold place, I can tell you[*laughs*].
Luxi: I can barely imagine how cold it's going to get over there when it gets really darn cold. Anyways, let's have some conversation about your new album, shall we? Machine Messiah is Sepultura's 14th studio album and people in general think it's the best Derrick-era Sepultura album so far, combining old, groovy sounding stuff with new elements like the orchestrated sections in songs like "Sworn Oath" and "Phantom Self." Was one of your main purposes when putting the songs for Machine Messiah together to give a breath of fresh air to this new album?
Paulo: Yeah, you could say so, definitely! Sepultura never really repeat a record. I mean, from the day we started the band, from record number one up to today, none of our records sound the same though, of course, there's the Sepultura touch to them all. The main idea is to not repeat ourselves. We were trying to bring something new to the table with this new album; break some barriers and experiment a little bit here and there. That's why we often choose different producers, you know. I think what helped us a lot is the fact that we've been on the road for many, many years and seen a lot of different cultures and that really helps when time comes to really stop and write a new album.
On this one the concept came about when we were just talking to each other and when we went into the studio to start writing the songs, we already had an idea and that made things easier. We wanted to write an album for vinyl. We wanted it to have an A side and a B side and also an instrumental as it's been a long time since we had one on a record. I try different stuff but the main idea was, like I said, to write an album for vinyl. We had specific ideas and that really helped a lot.
Let me put it this way; when you pick an album up and put on it a turntable "the old-school way", you can open it up and go through the songs and see the lyrics so that was what I was thinking.
MACHINE MESSIAH UNDER THE MAGNIFYING GLASS
Luxi: Thinking the old-school way is always cool in my book. The album is opened by the title track which is not an "in-your-face", aggressive song but more epic and slow paced. It makes people wait for an explosion that never comes and doesn't get as aggressive as some other songs on this record. Did you want to send a message to the listeners that they should expect something a bit different from your new album that's why you chose this particular song as the opener?
Paulo: First off, as you mentioned right off the bat, it's a very slow-paced song. I think we visualized it as a big intro for the record. A lot of people, the first time they heard it, said "that's weird, it's very different" but once you listen a few times it starts to really grow on you. I guess that was the idea. You hear the long intro and then you get the very first dirty sound and it hits you like, "Wake up, we're here!" [*laughs*]
Luxi: Moving on, the next song on Machine Messiah is called "I Am the Enemy" and it has all the Thrash aggression that Sepultura has always had on every album, in one form or another. What can you tell me about the making of this particular song?
Paulo: I think "I Am the Enemy" was one of the last songs that we did, if I'm not wrong. We always had that Punk and Hardcore sound. Back in the old days, we were influenced by the Finnish Punk Rock bands. I think they're still there somehow. We're always looking to have this aggressiveness and it gives the record a little balance with the slow pace stuff. People really like that. It's good for us. It is a good song to play live, so it's fun. A lot of energy, so it's good.
Luxi: In this song your drummer Eloy Casagrande does some blast beat stuff, which is a pretty rare thing for Sepultura, I would say...
Paulo: Yes, he knows what he's doing, [*laughs*] definitely.
Luxi: Did he say, "can I try this, in this section of the song?"
Paulo: No, we started jamming and, of course, there are opinions here and there but a lot of times, he'd just come up with this stuff. Most of it is very good, he's like, "Oh, this is perfect, don't touch it." [*laughs*] He is a little machine.
Luxi: He seems to have a sharp sense of rhythm and knows what things fit to this or that part of a song...
Paulo: Yes, definitely. He's a very complete drummer. He can be very technical but at same time he has the aggressiveness of Heavy Metal music, so it's awesome.
Luxi: Yes, I hear you.
Paulo: I suffer with that because sometimes he breaks me like, "Oh, man, what are you doing?"
Luxi: Quite a drummer, then. One of my personal favorites off Machine Messiah is a song called "Sworn Oath", which has a really heavy, oppressive main riff in the beginning then the whole song transforms into an epic atmosphere soon after. How hard was it to make it sound "right"?
Paulo: Like I said, the record has its ups and downs and we wanted to have a little bit of everything - from the Hardcore and epic stuff to orchestration. A lot has to do with Jens because he's the one that brought in the Tunisian violin players (the Myrath Orchestra) and gave a lot of different flavors to the record. We experimented in the past with different orchestrations, different types of stuff like classical and this time he came up with the idea for the Tunisian players which is very good because there is a lot of room for Andreas to do a battle of violins and guitars. They ended up being a very nice touch for the record. We hope that we can bring that live sometime because right now we are playing with the track through the sound and it's working out well. We'll also play "Sworn Enemy" tonight.
Luxi: How was this song built up from the beginning to the end? There are quite a few different layers.
Paulo: Yes, a lot of this stuff was done with the guitar; he was doing the solos and I was not there. I wasn't ready. I heard lot of this stuff afterwards and said, "oh, this is really nice." I knew some of the ideas they had but I didn't know about the Tunisian thing at all, which was a very good surprise. I said, "oh, this is awesome."
Luxi: And it worked very well, I think.
Paulo: Yes, that worked. We need to use a click live to play along and to sound like the record, and it's good. It's something that we've done in the past a little bit. Maybe we can bring out some older songs that use the click as well. On Dante XXI I think we used a lot of violins, a lot of orchestrations and it's nice. It's a different option to present live.
MR. KNOB MASTER JENS
Luxi: As we touched on, Sweden's Jens Bogren produced this new album and he is a guy who has produced many big names in Metal from Kreator to Opeth to Paradise Lost and so on. How did you end up working with Jens?
Paulo: Like you said, Jens has worked with lots of bands. He produced the latest Kreator album, also the latest records from Angra, Opeth and so on. I have to say Opeth were a very big influence on this new Sepultura record. There are phases when you do record and Opeth influenced us musically and brought us some ideas, especially sound wise. He's the kind of a guy that can really inspire bands. When you bring in a producer, he needs to become sort of a new member of the band and he has to understand what kind of sound the band is after.
He should also be the kind of a guy that can see what you're not seeing. To Jens' credit it was his idea to bring in the Tunisian violins that added a very nice and beautiful touch on the record. We would never have thought about this type of thing. So it's really important to have the right person to do all this production work. Jens is very meticulous, very unique and very clear with the sounds and he tries to squeeze the best out of each of us. When we were recording the songs at his studio, he was like, "Let's do it again, I think you can do better." We're like, "Really... Again?! OK, let's give it a go just one more time." In the end it was all worth it because the final result was even better than we originally hoped.
I had my own expectations but when I got the chance to hear the final version I was like, "Fuck, this is good". It is very important because if you choose the wrong person, one that doesn't understand what you're doing, he can ruin the whole project.
Luxi: Yes, that's true. I think Jens did a really good job on Machine Messiah as far as the production on it is concerned.
Paulo: Yes, indeed he did. I think after Andy Wallace he is one of the best producers out there.
Luxi: As you mentioned, you've got this instrumental song on Machine Messiah titled "Iceberg Dances", which is a very proggy effort. To me sounds like it has got some Jeff Waters (Annihilator) type of riffs going on plus I couldn't help noticing that one Hammond-part in this track. Would you share some background on this song and why you named it "Iceberg Dances"?
Paulo: There's a lot of Brazilian flavor in there and some Spanish flavored stuff. It's a mix of all these elements and like I said, Eloy's drumming really helps. We haven't played that song live yet but for sure it's in our list to do in upcoming tours.
Luxi: Was it Andreas' idea to do this instrumental song for the record?
Paulo: Yes, it was his idea for the vinyl record to have the ending be instrumental like Iron Maiden and all the old-school stuff, you know? It's always good to have an instrumental track too I think.
Luxi: The song "Resistant Parasites" starts with your flesh-ripping and grinding bass sound. Was that beginning done on purpose to add more heaviness to a song has quite a few parts reek of Death Metal?
Paulo: Yes. There's a little of that, just to break the ice between the other songs and have a little jazzy groove in the middle. It's a big mix, it's nice. Of course, you have to have that little crunchy bass sound in there somehow [*laughs*]. It had this old-school vibe, the old Sepultura vibe, you know, which is very nice. People really like that. We're going to play that song tonight.
Luxi: That's really cool. Your heavy and ripping bass in the beginning of this song has actually a very grinding edge to it, kind of reminding me of some Grincore à la Carcass, Napalm Death and stuff like that...
Paulo: Yes, usually it is. [*laughs*] Usually, the main sound is kind of like that.
Luxi: In the song "Vandals Nest" you have put your heavy legs on the gas pedal and showcased Andreas Kisser's Thrash riff arsenal again in a very pleasing way indeed. Did finishing this song make you feel 10-15 years younger as it is just loaded with explosive energy?
Paulo: I guess you could say so. It did make me feel a bit younger due to its thrashy, fast style. I still have to re-learn the song because the other guys have been like "Dude, we're learning," because we want to try it live and I'm like, "Oh, okay." [*laughs*] I've been lazier. But it's a good song, a lot of people really like it. I think because of the song's thrashy and fast nature and the fact it's not a long song the song is in the right place on the record.
I think that for some of the fans the song is easy to relate to. It's one of the fast songs. The fans don't have to play this song several times to like it. Like I played the album for some friends of mine from my hometown, the guys from the band Eminence. The first time they were like, "What...?!" I had to play the whole record four times and they're all said, "Let's listen again," before they said "Now I get it."
There's a lot of variation on Machine Messiah, so it's a very different record and like you said there in the beginning, it's definitely the best record with Derrick singing. It sounds very clear, and a lot of that has to do with the Jens behind the knobs. He's just amazing! The album sounds very clear and very heavy. I think people who are still making up their minds should listen to it more and they'll really to start to really dig into it. I don't think it is a very easy record to digest at first, especially if you don't have an open mind.
Luxi: Yes, exactly. I am still hearing new things out on Machine Messiah; all these little things and nuances that I didn't hear after 3-4 spins.
Paulo: Yeah. There are all kinds of elements to be found on this record. Sepultura is about 32 years old and some (die-hard) people would like us to still be a Death Metal or Thrash Metal band. But no, this band has been about a little bit of everything for years. However, I can understand their opinions and respect them.
Luxi: And why should you hide your roots in Brazilian music when they can add a nice touch to your music?
Paulo: Yes, they have always been there somewhere and the way that we produce them may be a little bit than on our past albums.
Luxi: It's relatively easy to spot these original, rhythmic Brazilian touches within your music. It's in your blood...
Paulo: Definitely yes. We cannot escape them. [*laughs*]
Luxi: Was it difficult to find the balance between faster and slower songs on Machine Messiah?
Paulo: When we started to record the album, we went through all the songs and thought, "We need a fast song, we need the one that's straightforward." Then the rest of the songs started to build up naturally. I think that's how it all happened.
Luxi: Did you feel hungry to reach the next level in Sepultura's career?
Paulo: No, I never say we've reached the top level; we're just having a very good moment in the band. Everybody is very happy and we know we have the time to know each other. Eloy has been in the band for five years. We did a lot of touring together and when you take that time and you start to know each other better, things start flowing better. It's a very good moment for the band. Everything's very well organized nowadays so we know what's going on all the time. When we leave the house to go on tour we know exactly what's going on. That really helps us to focus more on those essential and important things in the band, what we do the best; just playing music and being on the stage.
We have a very good team, not only the band and the crew, but behind us as well. We have support from the record label. Everybody understands what we're doing so it makes things easy for us. I think that it is reflected in our music. When we do something, we are more relaxed. You put your love in what you like so I think it all comes out very easily. It sounds natural.
Luxi: I hear those wise words from a very experienced musician...
Pauo: Yes [*laughs*]. When you have trouble, you start to think of different things, you lose your focus very easily and it just doesn't work, not only in music but in any situation. At your home, in your office, whatever you do.
Luxi: Reading the lyrics from Machine Messiah makes you feel bad as a human being with how lost we are with our identities and how scary all this new technology around us can be, how governments all over the world are exploiting all this new technology for their own purposes without really caring about the consequences. You could say that we are the slaves of this new technology; we just cannot live without it, you know...
Paulo: It's called robotization. People have all this new technology available, for example let's take cellphones. If they are taken away from us, we are lost. Sometimes I think about how hard it is for me not to touch my cellphone. The thing is we have been travelling outside Brazil since 1989 and I was talking to the other guys about how we didn't have them back then. We used to write letters and send out postcards back in the day. Now you just go and click the phone, it's like, "Okay, I'm here." There are good things and bad things about it but the thing is, people are becoming the slaves of all this new technology, you know.
Luxi: Indeed. We get addicted to all this technology. Robots of many kinds have slowly but surely been taking away jobs from humans, leaving many of us unemployed...
Paulo: I know, that's a scary development. But there are both good and bad things with technology, but mostly, it's been used the wrong way to manipulate and control people. For instance, in Brazil, they use that a lot and well-educated people know this very well. Taking control of these less educated people by modern technology for their governments. It's good because stupid people, ignorant people don't cause any problems, you know. When you start to become aware of things and understand them better, it causes problems for all those people in governments that have power. You just need to understand how you may be manipulated and try to live the best you can against this type of control, just get to know your rights.
Luxi: The people that know too much are considered a threat in many countries because when you know too much it isn't easy to control you.
Paulo: Yeah, that's true. It's part of the system but there are a lot of people there that still can think with their own brains and put out good work, so...
ABOUT TOURING... AND MORE TOURING
Luxi: You will be on the road for this new album basically until mid July 2017, first here in Europe with Kreator, Soilwork and Aborted and in April you'll tour with Testament and Prong in the States. That's a lot of touring so how has your touring life changed from the days when you were in your twenties? Obviously no hard parties every night after a well-done show, right?
Paulo: We don't party too much and hangovers last longer now [*laughs*] But it's good, this is the beginning so we have a shorter set and for when we play with Testament. We only play an hour which is a good beginning because we play four new songs out of 10. I think our crowd is very much enjoying this moment with us and we are definitely going to come back for a headlining tour with a full set, adding more new songs. Two or three more songs, if not the whole record, I don't know yet but I think we should be prepared for that anyhow.
It usually takes two years of touring for each record. I think The Mediator took a little longer because of the 30th anniversary of the band. We ended up being on the road three years because of that. Usually the cycle is around two years so we have this one right now, then we go to the North America and then we have some stuff in Brazil. After, we will come back for the festivals. Our booking agency is even talking with some agencies in countries like Australia and Japan. I don't know if it's going to happen but I hope so. There's a lot of ground to be covered. The European agent, he's already thinking about some headlining tours at the end of the year. It should be a long run.
Luxi: Touring like two years in a row.
Paulo: I hope because we're going to be opening up for Testament but I don't know if it can happen again (i.e. opening for Testament). We can go back to United States and I'm sure there's still South America to be covered and all those places that we went to on the Mediator tour, which was great. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. We went to China, and we also went to, I don't know... There are so many places in this world that we've been before. We would like to go back to countries like Cuba, The Philippines, Indonesia, etc. There are a lot of places to go, and I hope that we can do it because it's great, that's the best part for me to be on the road. To be able to travel and see different places on this globe.
Luxi: You could live your life much worse than that, seeing beautiful places that you have never seen before.
Paulo: Exactly. I love seeing new, exotic places all the time. We will try to go back to Egypt again and there are some places in Africa that I hope we could do as well.
Luxi: How do you prep yourself before you go on stage? Do you have any sorts of, let's say personal "rituals"?
Paulo: I just warm up a little bit with some stretching. Eloy does the same and so does Andreas. Derrick does his vocal exercises and we just try to relax as much as possible before the gig.
Luxi: Trying to take it easy before that "all-hell-breaks-loose" moment is always a good option to have, keeping in mind there's lots of work to be done when you hit on the stage you know.
Paulo: Actually, just before going on the stage we are always like, "Dude I feel sleepy, oh boy I do..." After the show, everybody feels fully awake, energized and not sleepy anymore.
Luxi: Yes, because you have adrenaline rushing through your veins...
Paulo: But it's a good feeling. We're happy to still do what we do and I hope that we can continue for the next two years.
Luxi: I am sure Sepultura won't go away that easily. What do you listen to when travelling by tour bus?
Paulo: We have a lot of DJs on the bus. Everybody brings their own stuff and we play it throughout the bus. There are no rules. You can hear anything from English Dogs to Michael Jackson [*laughs*]. The stuff we play is everything from Elvis, Iron Maiden, Voivod, Sabbath, there's no rule really.
Luxi: How much time do you spend checking out new bands these days? After Sepultura made it big back in the day, the Metal scene changed a lot and now the Internet gives you access to basically everything that's available...
Paulo: To be honest with you I am very lazy and unless if I see something at a festival or something that I like, then I don't go looking. Andreas has a radio show and he's involved with more new bands because people send him material all the time. But I'm an old rock 'n' roller. I'm a Rush guy but I like it all. I haven't had a chance to see Rush's whole set yet; just pieces of every single one. But I try to do as much as I can.
Luxi: When Max left the band after the Roots album back in 1997 it was a dividing moment in Sepultura's career. Some fans stuck with the band and some abandoned Sepultura completely. Do you find it irritating that some Sepultura fans - or should I say ex-Sepultura fans - won't just accept that Derrick has been in the band longer than Max was?
Paulo: No. I respect everybody and all their opinions and I don't care because we are going to keep going. We are very happy with the way the band is today. We're very happy to go on stage, the four of us, and we're having the time of our lives right now. I think it is the highest point of the band musically and we cannot please everybody. We are doing what we like. I know we may lose some fans but we have gained a lot of new fans and I know that because we're still here [*laughs*]. I've been in Sepultura almost 33 years. We're still here and I guess we will be sticking around a bit longer... [*laughs*].
Luxi: That's cool. Thanks Paulo. It was nice to see you again and all best for tonight's gig as well as the rest of the tour.
Paulo: Much thanks my friend. It was a pleasure.
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