‘My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond’ The Autobiography
By Max Calvera with Joel McIver
Introduction by Dave Grohl
Review by Steve Earles
It is impossible to understate the influence Max Calvera has had on the metal scene in his by now three decades long career, but suffice to say, this is a significant book.
The elephant in the room is, of course, Max’s departure from Sepultura, so I’ll deal with that first, and as fairly as possible. The fact that it followed on the heels of Max’s stepson’s death shows bad timing on the other band member’s parts.
Clearly, even after all these years Max finds his split from Sepultura a painful thing. It’s obviously in how little he regards bassist Paulo’s contribution to the band, revealing that Paulo did not play bass on a Sepultura album until Chaos AD. Or as he writes: “Sure, I was the frontman, but I felt that we were all part of it. Andreas was the lead guitar player, and he had his share of fame. People like to see him, too. The same with Iggor, who was a fantastic drummer. Paulo was the only one who didn’t have much going for him, but he was still part of the group.”
When Max formed Soulfly he was seething with anger. He writes: “On ‘Eye For An Eye’ I had some really harsh lyrics about the other Sepultura guys, which talked about how they had stolen everything from me and I asked how they could do that. The lyrics began, ‘stole what I create/Playing with my fate/Integrity is not a game.’ Pretty harsh, but truthful.”
I think more could have been done to prevent Sepultura’s split with Max. Monte Conner admits that he’d heard rumours of problems in Sepultura, and that is why Roadrunner secretly taped Sepultura’s Brixton show. It’s worth stating that Sepultura could have been the next Metallica, something that would have been good for the overall metal scene. Look at the scene now, thousands of bands, but no one big world conquering band.
To be fair, it’s clear from reading this book that Max was pretty wild, and also that the press were making him the focal point of the group, factor in that Max’s wife was Sepultura’s manager and you have the recipe for a toxic problem brewing.
Looking back the Sepultura situation, Max reflects: “If I knew then what I know now, I would have suggested that we all take a year off. We should all have gone somewhere and chilled out. After a year we could have come back to work. That would have been the most logical, rational thing for the band to do. With all the success that Sepultura had, a one-year break from the chaos would have been great. But they didn’t want anything to do with that. They wanted to get back on the road. I didn’t suggest a year off though. I was confused.”
Which is understandable following the tragic death of Max’s stepson Dana. Max clearly feels things deeply and his honesty is commendable: “Things have never been completely normal since Dana died. Something like that doesn’t just go away: I’ve never been totally normal since my dad died, either. It’s so traumatic. It does get easier though, as time goes by. I see Gloria laughing and enjoying life again. Dana’s death also made the family closer. We felt that we were strong and that we would get through this. We felt that we would continue to do what we loved as a family, and that would be okay.”
Max tells a lovely story involving Jason Newsted: “The night before the funeral, Jason Newsted of Metallica came down, because he was good friends with the family, and he’d know Dana since he was a kid. I sat down with Jason at my house and we made a compliation tape of Dana’s favourite songs: some Sepultura, some Flotsame and Jetsam, some Fudge Tunnel, Beastie Boys, Luscious Jackson- all kinds of different things.”
“We bought a little cassette player and put it in Dana’s coffin with him and let the tape play on a loop while the coffin went down into the earth: the idea was that he would have his favourite songs with him until the battery ran out. Then Andreas and Jason did a really beautiful acoustic jam on guitar and bass, which was awesome.”
“At the funeral Gloria was still in shock. It was horrible, man- a horrible time. You can’t even begin to comprehend what she went through. For a whole year she only wore black. She lost a lot of weight and started smoking cigarettes. There’s something wrong about a mother burying her own son. It’s not meant to be that way. I wasn’t even Dana’s dad, and it hit me so much.”
My feeling on the Sepultura situation is that I don’t see a reformation happening anytime soon. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. At the moment, due to increasingly poor record sales, we have a glut of reformations and tours (interestingly, some more lucrative for the bands than when they were first active). If Sepultura were to get back together, it would have to be for the right reasons, joy of playing music together, making an album as good as what came before. But there are obstacles to this, not least the significant contribution of Derrick Green to the post-Max Sepultura, what would happen to him if the classic line-up were to reform? Why should be cast aside? He is a human being, not a disposable asset? And in people’s nostalgia for day’s gone by, they should remember that post-Max, Sepultura have made a lot of good albums, their concept albums on Dante’s ‘Inferno’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ are superb for instance. What Sepultura needs is more people to embrace the current line-up of the band, not the past one. But it would be good to see the original members all on friendly terms with each other. After all, what they did, coming out of Brazil to become an internationally successful act, is thus far unparalleled and a great achievement in itself.
Max himself is a very progressive musician. His willingness to embrace other cultures’ music in what is a very conservative genre of music is most admirable, he is a trailblazer and sadly, few have tried to follow his trail. He is very much in the vein of a Brazilian Tom Warrior, a fearless musical maverick, who follows his heart wherever it leads him. A prime example of this is his contribution to Dave Grohl’s Probot album, Red War is a superb example of Max’s talent, and his ability to collaborate with a bewildering array of individuals. I think growing up in Brazil contributed to this acceptance of other cultures. Also, Max started life quite comfortably off, then his dad died and the Calvera family were poor, so he knows we cannot take anything in life for granted and we must seize the day. A good life lesson for all of us.
Currently still blazing a trail with Soulfly, he’s back playing with his brother in Calvera Conspiracy, and his new band KIller Be Killed featuring members of Dillinger Escape Plan and the mighty Mastodon. So it’s debateable whether Max needs to rejoin Sepultura. Where would he find the time?
As to his autobiography, like all good books, it doesn’t just function on a musical level. Rather it’s an all-embracing human story, from a talented, brave, and supremely honest individual. I liked Max at the end of his story, warts and all, he is the real deal. And I’m sure when you read it, you will too.