SEPULTURA's Derrick Green: The mediator between old and new

October 19, 2013

Want to feel old? Derrick Green has been the vocalist of legendary Brazilian metal band Sepultura for 16 years and released seven albums. That's five years longer than Max Cavalera's tenure as vocalist of the band (1985-1996), and one more album. I remember picking up my first death/thrash metal album in 1989, which just happened to be the cassette tape of Beneath the Remains. You think that sounds old? Chaos A.D. is 20 years old, and Roots is 17.

My point is, maybe it's time the metal community as a whole accepts Green as Sepultura's frontman--maybe it's way past time. Yet the age-old debate continues: the old Sepultura lineup versus the new Sepultura lineup, Sepultura versus Soulfly, Andreas Kisser versus Max Cavalera. And those involved are partially to blame, constantly throwing fuel on the fire (read our summer 2013 interview with Max here), to the point where it's almost manifested into a Dave Mustaine versus Metallica feud--just a "little" more underground. Oh, Sepultura and Soulfly now share the same record label, as well.

Yet despite the lineup changes and the ongoing soap opera, Sepultura has remained a constant for almost three decades now. And as I mentioned above, Derrick Green is now a huge reason for that, especially on the band's most recent albums, Dante XXI (2006), A-Lex (2009), Kairos (2011) and the latest, The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must be the Heart (Oct. 29, 2013, Nuclear Blast). That's a mouthful. Green--calling from São Paulo, Brazil--recently talked with Live Metal's Jeff Maki about working with producer Ross Robinson on the new release and its complicated title and Sepultura's history, and he even responded to comments made by Max Cavalera regarding Sepultura's current lineup.

I know many fans will never accept the new lineup. But here's an idea for fans to try, taken from the new album title: The mediator between old Sepultura and new Sepultura must be Derrick Green.

LIVE METAL: Just to give you a little background, I have been a longtime Sepultura fan, going all the way back to Beneath the Remains. That was probably my first---I would call it a death metal album--that I ever owned. I saw shows on the Chaos A.D. tour and the very first Ozzfest (1996). Let's just say I was a huge fan of the Max Cavalera-era of Sepultura.

Myself, like a lot of fans, took a while to latch onto the new lineup with you as vocalist. but I would really say that Dante XXI lured me back, and now with Kairos and certainly the new album, I think you got me back like full force, man. I've heard the new album and it's great. "Grief," "The Age of the Atheist" and "Trauma of War" are my favorites. 

But I'm sure a lot of the fans share my same type story, if you know what I'm sayin'. Is that at all surprising to you that it's taken so long for fans to accept you into the band, even after seven albums, 10-15 years, or whatever it's been. And is it still a challenge every day to win back these older fans?

DERRICK GREEN: It's not really that surprising. A lot of times in the world of metal when you're a fanatical fan of a band that you really enjoy, it's hard to see certain changes happen. There have been a lot of changes in bands that I have loved in the past and they made changes happen. But being an artist, I understand a little bit more that those changes were inevitable sometimes. It's just life. It's just constantly changing, and it's just something that you have to deal with. As an adult and as a human being, those things are going to happen. When you look at life that way and there are changes that happen for a reason, you can kind of get beyond living in the past. But instead a lot of people do, and I do the same because there are things I'm going to always love. But I love from that time period--that time period when I discovered Sepultura and Arise, and I had a cassette tape that a friend gave to me and it was amazing. And I cherish it, and it can never be replaced. It can never go back truly to that time. It would be silly to even think that.

For me, I think the challenge for us is the fact that we love what we do. We never walk away from this band, we have always stuck to it and we always stayed focused on creating new music. And music that we wanted to do. Everything was a process, and we knew that it would take time to evolve, to know each other, to get to do it together, to create music together. We needed that time to bond, and I think it was all a process of evolving for us. And we wanted to get better with each album, and I think we've been doing that since we've been together. And for us, that's always been our goal, to really focus on music and leave all the other stuff behind. A consequence of just focusing and doing what we do and the drive and not giving up has brought a lot of new fans that have never seen Sepultura in any period of Chaos A.D. or Roots or Beneath the Remains. So we have those new fans that truly appreciate what we've been doing since I've been in the band. And then they go back and listen to old stuff, and they have an understanding, but they're not really kind of dwelling on the past.

And then there's the old fans that we brought back who had lost touch with the band and are not really feeling the changes. But they still have that hope and that glimmer, and they still like good music. So I think that we're able to produce some good music that people are interested in hearing, so it's great to see that mix. And I know that we'll never be completely bringing back all the old fans, but that's never been my goal. Our whole goal has really just been to create and write great music.

You brought up a good point. For some reason, I didn't put it together in my head that there are new fans coming in that have never even heard Beneath the Remains or Arise. It almost seems unthinkable.

They never lived those times. They just don't see it. And it was such a fast period, too--the '80s, the metal and that scene. It wasn't something that was going on for a super, super long time. It was really quick.

OK, so I already mentioned some of the stuff I like on the album, but the album title (The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must be the Heart) ...

(laughs) Yeah ...

I think people are a little surprised, a little shocked, a little confused. Comparing it to past album titles like Arise, Chaos A.D.Roots, (AgainstKairos), which are pretty simple, this one has come out and it stands out for one, but it also seems out of place. Why this title and what is the meaning behind it?

I think that was kind the idea. We always have the simple one-word titles or very basic. And with this we knew what we wanted to do. We wanted to maybe make people think a little bit. I think we have become lobotomized, including myself, because I'm not putting myself outside of anything. I think a lot of times we live in a time where people are thinking actions or creating ideas--doing something in their head but going right to their hands. And they're missing the essential part, the heart and the compassion, that's behind what you are doing. And (the title) came from a movie called Metropolis (1927) by a director called Fritz Lang, and it's a silent movie. And it's actually the first thing you see in the movie. And the meaning behind it is just that: It's impossible to be human without having the heart dictate what you're doing and why you're doing certain things.

So I believe this album has that passion and drive and love for music. So many things I've been hearing are just about trying to be perfect, with the digital age and trying to make everything sound perfect. Like on albums and things like that, it doesn't even sound real. It doesn't sound human anymore. So this is something going back to really trying not to be perfect. We're trying to pull out that love and desire and just grabbing that moment, placing it on an album and recording it, and not being worried about those other things.

I think when the news broke that the band was working with (producer) Ross Robinson (Roots, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Machine Head, Slipknot, Soulfly) on this album, a lot of people were very interested, so you already had that going for you. But just how much of a role did he play in the title and the direction of the album?

What was great about Ross is that it changed his life when he did the Roots album. He'll admit that. It was a radical learning experience for him and for the whole band, and he was really excited to come back and to work with the band. And he is a truly passionate person. I think he had a huge impact on the direction of the album and also the performance of what we did in the studio. Something he's able to bring out in us is to really think deeply why we're there, and what those songs and those words and everything means to you. And to really project that without holding back, just giving that all deep inside you even if it hurt, or even if you're feeling angry at him and pissed at him for telling you the truth. He's a truthful producer where he has no problem telling you if you're being fake or sounding real, and that's something that really drove all of us. Also working together as a band in the studio and having everybody connected. He was always in the room when we were recording directly and was just really an integral part of the recording process. So it was a big influence on this album. I believe Ross had a huge impact.

So you mentioned Ross wanting things to be real and the band trying to create things from the heart, but did you believe that Sepultura itself was falling or trapped with the last few albums at all? Was that a reason for a departure or changeup for this release?

I wasn't feeling that we were primarily going down that road. It was just a lot of things that personally I don't like with certain bands, like a lot of "triggers" and stuff like that. Just weird-sounding albums, just things I'm not really interested in. I just know that in our live show we can play those songs that we're recording without so much help from technology--just a raw, heavy, heavy set. I think that's the important thing for us is to really if we're going to play something in a show, it's going to be better. It will at least have that drive that's behind it.

Was everyone involved with the lyrics and writing on the new album? And I know it's not a concept album, but does everything tie together in some way?

Roughly. We focused on writing a lot of things that have an impact on us. We are writing about a tsunami, a natural disaster where there's really nothing you can do about it. It's just a force of nature that's unstoppable. At the same time, during that chaos, people are able to unite and come together. It's just unfortunate that it takes a disaster for people to help each other out.

Then there's songs like "The Vatican" where we have a new pope after the old one resigned mysteriously, and all of these different secrets the church has throughout the years and they have been hiding certain things from the people. Then there were these popes who were treacherous in what they were doing and using the people, just the idea of the church hiding things and not putting it out there was just something we wrote about.

A song like "Grief" is a song that's really getting dark on what people have to go through in order to get over certain tragedies that happen in life. There was a tragedy here in Brazil where hundreds of kids were burned in a building and were trying to escape, so seeing that on the news and the parents and the things they have to go through in order to be better. Sometimes we have to go through these horrible nightmares. So these songs were really difficult at times, especially that song to write because you're really digging deep into the emotions of why you're writing the songs. And that comes from Ross making you think about what you are writing and why you wrote that. So a lot of the stuff becomes very emotional in the studio with the people forming it. So a lot of the songs came directly from what was happening at the time in our lives.

Yeah, and even vocally--we mentioned "Grief," the last song and on some others-- it sounds like you really had the chance to expand.

Yeah, we really wanted to go all out and have diversity on the album with vocals and sounds and sounds of vocals, and not have it be primarily the same. That was a goal of mine and also pushing each other to do those extremes in vocals. (The last song) "Da Lama Ao Chaos" (Chico Science & Nação Zumbi cover) is Andreas singing, and it's in Portuguese and a really difficult song to sing, so we wanted to go to extremes vocally.

Yes, there is definitely a lot of variety. I noticed that right away. It's kind of reminiscent of Roots in the way that the vocals switch up, even within the same songs.

Right. We keep it creative and fresh and not entirely repetitive, and like I said, I think we were able to achieve a lot of that having the diversity in the vocals and the drama that comes along with the song. We really dove in with that.

With the new record coming out, it would probably be easiest to say that, but what do you feel has been the strongest record with the band? And then maybe on the flipside, what is the weakest if you think there is one?

It's hard to say because with each, even if we felt it was a weak album, that album kind of helped propel us to the next album and the next. Without one of them, we couldn't have moved to where we're at now with our best album. I honestly think that. But on each and every album, there are certain parts and things that really helped us build to this point. So I'm kind of grateful for having those, even though at the time it didn't seem like I was getting the acknowledgment that I would possibly want. But I think now it's interesting to see because there were certain songs that were going over OK, but are so much better now over time. Even stuff from Against, to play stuff live from that, people really respond more aggressively for that than in the past when we played it. So it's interesting to see that change. People are yelling out the songs that in the past weren't yelled out before. I've been able to see that evolution and that part of us is kind of cool.

How about going back to the Max-era of Sepultura? Was there are strongest album and then a weakest one for you?

I guess the weakest would be when they didn't have Andreas playing in the band. I'm not just saying that because I'm playing with Andreas now, but I honestly believe that when he joined, he really changed the dynamic of the band into something more professional in a way. I don't know if professional is the word, but probably more interesting. Because Andreas was playing with six strings and he plays a different style and likes different styles of classic rock to everything. And I think he gave them a chance to expand for so much more when he joined the band. And it's better when you hear it especially in the solos and in the songwriting. It just stepped up a whole different level.

I think my favorite was definitely Arise because it was the first album I was introduced to. It's one of the most powerful albums because I think they really started to step into their personality more, and they were feeling more creative and confident in their writing. It wasn't so much more (sounding) like other groups, but having a definite sound of their own. So Arise is my favorite, but Beneath the Remains is something that once I got into Arise, then Chaos and Roots, I went back and listened to Beneath ... and it's such a great album.

What has been you lowest point in the band since you have been in Sepultura, and what has been the highest?

I think the low was definitely Igor leaving. That was a pretty horrible time to be in the band. We had worked so hard on what I think was a really great album and never had the chance to tour with him on that album, even though he recorded everything. So that was probably a pretty big low, and there was definitely like some big decisions being made at that point of what to do.

There have been so many highs, but I think one of the biggest ones was playing Cuba. There had never been a metal band in there before and we were the first. They don't have many bands that play there at all because they're not allowed to play. I think the tour with Slayer--one of my first tours--through Europe was a really big high and touring South America with Metallica was a pretty extreme high.

OK, so answer this how you wish. I kind of feel like a double agent because I actually interviewed Max a couple of weeks ago and he had some pretty strong comments. I honestly just asked him what he thought about you guys working with Ross Robinson again, thinking that maybe he'd be interested or maybe he would have said it was cool that you guys were reconnecting again. But I got the exact opposite response, with him saying he "didn't give a fuck" about what you guys were doing, Ross hadn't done anything good in a long time and that the band shouldn't even be called Sepultura. Do you have any response to this or would you rather not go there?

I usually don't like to talk bad about people, especially in interviews. It doesn't really come out professional, I think. And it doesn't really change anything. For me, I prefer not to. I don't have any problems with anybody. I think the situation I was in when I joined the band, I heard a lot of the same stuff even with (drummer) Igor in the band--and he's a Cavalera. With Igor, Andreas, (bassist) Paulo (Pinto Jr.) and I, people said we should change the name, but I got to see a different side to what people are seeing.

I'm seeing from the inside where A) Igor played drums on all the Sepultura albums, up until he left. So he was just as much as part of the band as Max. B) Andreas played all the solos, played the lead guitar on all the Sepultura albums that people were talking about, and Paulo, as well.

So I think they were really hurt when fans were implementing that Max had written everything. But he was the front person, so you could understand why people would think that he did mostly everything. But in the band situation and what made everything so powerful and connecting at that time was they were playing together. And the fact that the combination of those people together created Sepultura and that's what Sepultura was--it was a group. It wasn't like one person writing everything and that was it.

Once you have that understanding, you see that those guys didn't quit. Andreas, Igor and Paulo wanted to continue. So they have been in the band for so many years and have done so many things together that they have the right to keep the name and continue on. At the same time, with me being in the band at that time and playing and them asking me to be a part of Sepultura, they said, "This is the band, and this is what we've been doing." It meant that I had to move my life to Brazil, learn Portuguese, travel the world, play and do everything, putting everything into it.

Once Igor left, he decided to leave freely. He wasn't kicked out or anything like that or anything dramatic. He just didn't want to play anymore. He wanted to move on in his life and do other things, different things. And so for us, we believed in the band. We didn't want to walk away from anything that we had been doing. We truly love and enjoy what we're doing, and we always fought for the name and for the respect. And we've always had a good representation of presenting the band live. It's extremely important for people to see us and that we're capable to play the songs correctly. For us, it's always in our hearts--the idea of the band and that we still believe, of course, legally and morally, and anyway you want to look at it. We will always have that name, and we will always fight for it. That's who we truly believe that we are, and we've been representing for the past 16 years, and Paulo and Andreas for even longer.