Interviews : Sepultura
With Derrick Green
Tuesday. 6-6-06. Lunch hour. At this most unholy moment of the past 100 years, the dark overlord chose me to catch up with Derrick Green: the man behind the mic for legendary Brazilian thrash masters, Sepultura. Derrick took the occasion to deconstruct the sinister vibe behind “Dante XXI,” discuss his fiery aspirations before joining the band, and uh… chat about his infernal bowling game. Read on for the full phone interview with our neighbor from the south.
It was quite a brazen idea to create a modern day soundtrack to Dante’s "The Divine Comedy." How did this concept come about?
Well, we're working on a lot of different movies here in Brazil. We're working on soundtracks. And working together doing something like that as far as outside of Sepultura was really cool for us because it was easy for us once we had a goal or visualized something.... to go right into writing something with the same ideas that we'd been working on with films and soundtracks. To do something where you have to think of something more visual like maybe from a book. And I came up with the idea of Dante because it was something I had read. As far as "The Divine Comedy," it was something I'd read in school, so once everyone got a book, got copies of the documentaries of Dante's life, it just all started to come together after that as far as having a really strong impact on us, to give us the inspiration to start writing the album.
The Roman numerals "XXI" are fairly conspicuous. How do you see the 21st Century reflected in what Dante wrote so long ago?
There were a lot of things that were happening while Dante was alive that are still happening today as far as corruption within politics, within the church. Actually, I saw parts of Dante as far as having a mid-life crisis. Uncertainty of where is his direction in life, where is he supposed to go? And I see a lot of these problems in our society, and also within ourselves. It was something for me, where I could relate to a lot of being away from home. Dante was in exile. He couldn't go back home to where he was living. It was kind of like going through a lot of fear also. Of not knowing what to expect, and getting through that. And I took a lot of that, I could relate to that. And every one of us could relate to that. That's why I think we felt that it would be strong and we could do an updated version, because there were so many similarities between his period and now.
Which came first:? the songs or the concept? Was there a theme that kept popping up in the early material?
Pretty much, we talked and communicated a lot about the whole focus of the album, but the songs primarily came out first. And once hearing the songs, we decided to place them in certain areas of the album as far as breaking it up into the Hell. Like these songs can represent Hell, four songs representing Purgatory, one song representing Paradise. Once the songs would come out and once we had the time to listen to them, we would put them in the area that we felt they needed to go.
Who played what role when it came to writing and arranging the new songs?
We all did as far as Andreas and Igor and I. It was pretty much just going with the feeling of it. Once we had all the songs done, it was just figuring out the order. But lyrically I think that helped a lot as well, because once we had lyrics for certain songs I had the names for certain songs and we realized they could go in the order. Like "Dark Wood of Error" would have to definitely be the first song, just for the fact that it's the beginning of the book, actually. Where Dante's lost in the forest. So once we had the songs and we started adding lyrics it was a little easier to arrange the order.
The strings in some parts of the album give a really sinister vibe. Was this the idea to use a string quartet part of a grand vision or a later embellishment?
We had an idea from the beginning. Since we wanted to do a soundtrack for the book and a lot of soundtracks include string instruments, horns. You know, we didn't want to saturate the album with that, but we wanted to give that vibe... definitely a sinister, dark vibe, because that's what we were feeling. And I think we can do that very well with those instruments, like strings and orchestra, because some of these soundtracks are based off orchestras and we just felt it was natural to have pieces of certain songs to have that.
Your vocals sound especially venomous on the new album. It sounds like you really took this idea and these songs to heart. Care to elaborate on that?
Yeah, I think it was a different approach. When it came to writing this album, as far as vocally, we recorded everything and I was doing vocals then without any lyrics. Just getting the vibe of the song at the very beginning of the writing process. And a lot of the vibe that was in the studio then, we kept it and added lyrics to it, so it really captured that moment, which I think was something I did differently from the other albums. And it was just natural, and the flow became more interesting. And also just playing with the band for such a long time and feeling more comfortable just opened up being able to push it 100% as far as trying different ways and different sounds and going with the vibe. You know, feeling that Dante influence behind me I think really helped to push the vocals.
Definitely, I think it all came together really well. You've really hit your stride with this new album... In light of recent events (Columbine massacre, 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, Thai tsunami) do you have any thoughts on end times? Will Sepultura explore this avenue in the future?
It's hard to say what's gonna happen. For us, we kind of work with what we have right now as far as… our biggest goal is to tour as much as possible on this album. Especially in the States, 'cause it's been almost three years since we've been there. I think that's the direction that we're in right now, so we can get a really concrete tour in the U.S. as far as being able to play everywhere that we haven't been in such a long time. You know, get the word out that we're still around, still doing good music. We've been everywhere else in the world and it's been amazing, but our feeling is that we really want to get back to the States and play for the people there because it's been such a long time. Who knows after that?
Any idea when that might be? When you guys might come back?
Fall is what we're shooting for right now. We're talking with Hatebreed to do, like, a co-headlining tour and have a few other bands on the bill. The problem is our expense is such a huge horrible festival. (laughs) It doesn't allow people a lot of freedom to do other things. And that's why I say it's horrible in a certain way. It has so much to do with politics and money and not allowing certain bands to play certain shows and certain areas, which is completely ridiculous. But when people just want to make as much money as possible, they'll win it with what they can do sometimes. Sometimes things are out of our control - certain bands we want to tour with and certain things we want to announce, we have to really hold back on certain things sometimes, unfortunately. But we're definitely gonna try and make this thing happen in the fall. And it would be great to go with Hatebreed.
Do you feel like even after all these years you’re still living up to expectations of the Sepultura legacy?
I think so. For me, the reality of it is that ever since I got in the band, me as an artist, I feel that I've evolved as a part of the band. And that's the goal of being an artist in general, is to really evolve and see yourself grow. And I think I've been able to do that in Sepultura. Together, we've been able to evolve in music and really keep the life going. And that's something that's pretty incredible. Something I never imagined in my life could really happen. But being dedicated and having that attitude and that drive I think is something that's incredible. To get together with that combination of people where you can make that happen and still keep this band alive. It's been amazing.
Have there been any high points or low points so far?
Yeah, there's definitely a lot. High points, of course, certain shows were pretty incredible. Like playing Rock in Rio, which is an amazingly huge festival here and it doesn't happen too often. And just being a part of that was an extreme high point.
Low points? (laughs) There was a time when we were doing a tour with Metallica in South America. One of the shows here, their sound engineers were cutting our sound. And that was a low point as far as us flipping out on them. And resolving the problem in the end. But just playing that show with such horrible sound in front of 40,000 people wasn't that fun.
Hard to believe that would happen in South America.
Yeah, it happens. It's a weird thing when you're opening up for a band, because most of the time the [opening band] will have their sound not as loud as [the headlining band’s] sound and you can't use a certain amount of the board. And all this other bullshit. But they cut out a lot of our sound and fortunately we were able to resolve it in the end. But unfortunately that happens.
Aside from your voice, what do you think helped you land the gig with Sepultura?
Probably personality. Being open minded and being able to adapt to a different culture and different language. Just having that open-mindedness and being able to grow. And also sing and not just scream. It gave more options to the band and gave them a direction for the future. And that was what they were really looking for. And I think that's what was one of the main reasons why I got the gig.
Pretend for a moment that you didn't have Sepultura...? ? what would you be doing?
I would probably either be a fireman or working in film. Directing or writing.
Yeah, before I joined Sepultura I was gonna take an exam and go through the whole process to become a fireman.
Now, since your inception you’ve made Brazil your home away from home, so to speak. What's it like being a New Yorker/Clevelander in Brazil?
It's pretty intense. I think my life is pretty bizarre compared to when I do go back to New York. I never go back to Cleveland because my family doesn't live there. But it's very bizarre, I have to say. Bizarre in a good way. I mean, a lot of people have a lot of respect for Sepultura, so everyday I get a reminder of that. With either the autographs or people yelling out their window or whatever. It's pretty amazing. I've been able to adapt pretty well. I've been able to speak Portuguese, which helps. And I think a lot of people have a lot of respect for the band and for me even, being a Gringo. It's pretty intense to be in this band with a 22-year history. There's just so many different age groups that recognize it and respect it, so it's an honor. It feels really good to be here and to have that respect.
Speaking of Brazil, compare and contrast the typical American metal fan with the typical Brazilian metal fan.
The typical Brazilian metal fan - they don't see too many shows. A lot of times they don't have a lot of money to go see shows and so they work a lot as far as saving money to see something very special. But since there aren't that many shows, I think they're a little more fanatical. When they're at the show, I think they kind of lose their minds, you know? And they've been building it up, thinking about it for a lot of years instead of months.
I think a lot of metal fans in the U.S. get a lot of music all the time. So their reactions might not be as enthusiastic as far as really losing their mind. Because here they wait so long, they wait years to see certain bands and in the States they wait months. And sometimes even weeks. So I think just enthusiasm during the show. You can see it on their faces a lot of times, you know? They really appreciate it because they don't have that many shows. They don't have that much money to go to shows. And I just think in those aspects they just kind of freak out a little bit more, having a lack of metal shows like American metal fans.
So does it get a lot more aggressive as well?
You know, it feels that way sometimes. I don't see too many fights or anything like that.
So Brazil is well known for its beaches, women and soccer. But what about its undiscovered charms? Is there anything that's surprised you about the country?
Definitely. I think the people themselves are the biggest... it's an amazing thing for me because the attitude of the people - being very open to foreigners and having them in their country. And wanting to show the other sides than just the soccer and the women and things like that. And I think there's a lot as far as the food and just the family life here, as far as being able to hang out with your neighbors. And having a BBQ and talking to people, as far as the taxi drivers being able to hold a conversation. In the middle of the supermarket or the bakery or wherever. And people being very inviting to their houses.
There's a lot of things as far as art, as far as bands. Incredible bands. Great ideas in the film industry here. Like doing our video clips here, we work with an all Brazilian production company. And they've been great. The people we've worked with are very creative. And I think that adds a lot creatively – ideas limited with the amount of money and things like that. And I think they can come out with a lot of things even better than Europe or the U.S. just because they have to be more creative with less. And it gets their mind working. And they come up with things from a different perspective. And for me that's great because I feel that I am an artist. And being around this type of people and the environment, it's helpful for me because I can see a different view of something I really enjoy to do as far as music or film or things like that. So I think these things are amazing in Brazil.
And as far as nature and things like that there's places in north Brazil that are not filled with tourists and pollution and things like that. And you can still see a lot of the beauty in nature in this country. And for a very cheap amount of money. And so I think those things a lot of people miss out on because of a lot of the negative things on the news. Because that's what makes the news. And they're seeing isolated incidents in Sao Paolo and Rio and the two major cities here. But everywhere else in Brazil it's very secure and very safe and extremely outgoing people.
We all know that soccer is the number one past time over there. Who are you going to root for in the upcoming World Cup: USA or Brazil?
Well, I'm gonna root for Brazil but I love the USA team because they've been getting better and I've been watching them make progress in each World Cup. In the last World Cup it was amazing for the U.S. team. I really am rooting for the U.S. in this cup because we got stuck with such a horrible beginning group with a lot of difficult teams. So I don't think it's fair, but I like to root for the underdog. And I definitely feel that the U.S. are extreme underdogs of course in the World Cup. And, you know, I like watching them play. But I'll be rooting for both. I definitely will have to be rooting extra hard for Brazil because I'd love to see them get six more stars as far as being six time World Champions.
So what are the other guys in the band like around this time of year?
Pretty much freaking out and focused on it. Planning out where they're gonna watch it and the surroundings. They're fanatical about it, you know? They're excited. I think the whole vibe of the entire country is pretty intense right now. I mean every place starts to decorate for the World Cup. All the bars, all the little bakeries. Every little area you can imagine, everyone is getting ready. All the stores. I mean it's a huge national thing. They're all excited.
Is there any picking on the Gringo?
No. Because they kind of have it in their head that the U.S. will definitely not even be close to the finals. They're very serious. They're realistic also – I mean they just know that there's no possible way. But they like to laugh about it if anything. They encourage it. Because they feel that a lot of Americans don't give a shit about soccer. Which a lot of Americans don't. But when they do see [Americans getting into soccer], they think it's kind of cool. Because it just adds to, you know, they know it's a growing team and they realize that it's going to take time for the sport to get bigger there.
Alright, so let’s do a shotgun round. I'm gonna ask short questions and you tell me what you think.
Who's the taskmaster of the band?? Who's the clown?
(laughs) Um, I guess Paulo would be the clown and Andreas would be the… what'd you call it?
Right, that would be Andreas.
What's been playing on your iPod recently?
A lot of Mastodon. Um. What else? A lot of Bad Brains. Ummm... and a lot of Massive Attack.
Ever met Max Cavalera? What was that like?
Never met him. Seen a show, a few shows, but never met him.
What are your favorite songs from the Max era of Sepultura?
Nah. (laughs) Um, I'd have to say "Dead Embryonic Cells." Um, "Ambush." Those two come to the top of my head right now.
What's a current trend you'd like to see die?
(laughs) God, there's so many. Um. Probably the bad rap trend. Well, no... maybe the emo trend. Well, that's not as bad as all that horrible hip hop that's going now. Maybe all that. Yeah, yeah... Just all the cheesy hip hop shit that's been going on. Like 50 Cent I can't stand.
Outside of Brazil where are your best audiences?
Mmmm... anywhere in Central America. South Africa is pretty intense. And Australia.
Who have been your favorite bands to tour with over the years?
Motorhead. Danko Jones. Slayer. Hatebreed.
What is your most non-metal trait (i.e.: what are your guilty pleasures)?
Uhhh... bowling? I don't know if bowling is very metal.
Yeah, I don't know.
(laughs) I don't really care. But maybe bowling. I don't know.
It's hard to imagine you in those shoes.
(laughs) They're massive and I love them. I'm a fanatical bowler.
You ever bowl over 150?
No. (laughs) Not recently. I didn't say I was good.
What's something that not many people know about Sepultura?
Hmmm... wow, that's a good question. (quiet... thinking) Oh, that they had somebody translating the lyrics for them before "Arise." As far as songs they would have in Portuguese and they would have a friend of theirs translate them to English. So a lot of those songs were translated by a friend of theirs I actually got to meet.
Alright, last question. Aside from the fans, what keeps Sepultura going?
I think our passion for music. You know, Sepultura's become something other than just us and I think as individuals it's our passion for wanting to play music and our drive. Yeah, that's what I really think keeps it alive.
Alright, well I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. Good luck in the future and I hope to see you in the fall.
No worries. Okay, take care.