Interview: SEPULTURA – Machines and Messiahs

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There is more to Sepultura than just past drama.

When the Brazilian band surfaced in the ‘80’s with Arise, they brought their own soil to the foundation that American Thrash Metal had laid for them. It wouldn’t be long before their names were sharing the same marquees with their heroes.

But, as with all things, to bring in something new, you have to let some old go – and they did, which ironically, the media has not. Over the years, Sepultura has seen numerous line-ups and progressed their sound in ways unexpected and unprecedented, bringing in A-list guests to join them behind the glass and on stage along the way.

In spite of elitists’ anticipations, when they celebrated their 30th anniversary with the world in 2015, the world showed up to celebrate, demonstrating that the band may have changed, but the love has not. 

Andreas Kisser

This year, they return with a new producer and a new album, Machine Messiah, while keeping the heart in their roots. Andreas Kisser, co-founder and guitarist had a chat with T. Ray about what’s keeping their own machine so well-oiled.

TBS: This new album is powerful stuff.  I have to be honest with you, I did not watch the documentary diaries because, and feel free to laugh, I think that going into a studio with a band is kind of like watching a sex tape.

Kisser: *laughs*

TBS: I’m dead serious. That’s your space.  That’s your intimate space, you know what I mean?  That’s where the magic happens

Kisser:  That’s cool.  Very respectful. *laughs* Yeah, it’s true, yeah it’s cool.  I understand that.  It breaks a little bit of the surprise, as well.  It is good to see afterwards, you know, when you see those plastic albums, some treats and everything you know?  That’s kind of cool stuff, but yeah, I understand your point. I think it is cool.

TBS: I absolutely understood the purpose and applaud your bravery to let the world into the process because Sepultura is a very progressive band.  It’s a very innovative band, there are a lot of different elements.  The last time you and I spoke, which was a few years ago, we had a wonderful discussion about how you find your inspiration for your work around the world in your world experiences.  Can you tell me a little about what specific experiences you had for this album?

Kisser: Yeah, I think it is exactly that you know?  Traveling, we have to progress and go to so many different places, and this last three years after The Mediator came out, we traveled so much.  We toured non-stop. We’ve been to places for the first time like Armenia and Georgia.  We did like 15 shows in Russia, a very extensive tour, then five shows in Siberia.  We went so deep in so many different places celebrating thirty years of Sepultura during a special specific tour, play old stuff.

We did a single called “Sepultura: Under My Skin”, an homage to our fans, especially the folks who had the Sepultura tattoo, you know?  Doing that kind of stuff, then of course, Rock In Rio in Las Vegas

It is an experience, yeah it was fantastic. It brings new possibilities, new ideas, new influences, and things like that.  We see the world today, I think the Machine Messiah concept is about what we see today; the technology and the robotization of society — you know, our smart phones, computers, and virtual reality glasses, and everything.

It seems we are getting lazier and dumber you know?  And robotics and technology are not really helping us to develop our own intellect and our own brain, and have a stronger connection to nature and the universe in general.

There are so many energies and frequencies around that we cannot really explain that we somehow feel them.  Music is one of them, we cannot really explain that well the feeling we have when we listen to something that pleases our soul.  With Machine Messiah, we try to find this balance, try to find this discipline.  We are not against robots or technology, but at the same time, we need a kind of discipline, and some type of balance of not to be too much on the robotics, or depend more on the robotics and loose that human ability. And it is not a sci-fi futuristic idea, it is what we see today.

TBS: According to the website, you were talking a little bit about that concept, and there is an interesting line that you used, “We came from machines.” Can you explain a little more about that?

Kisser: This is something that is our beliefs, but it is a concept of this God-machine that created this world, and through the sphere and now we are turning back to the machine.  It helps us to create this idea of this messiah coming to save the Earth.

People put a lot of their anxieties and their fears into religion and into expecting this “messiah,” the phones and technology and robots, that’s going to answer all their problems. So, I think the relation is that, it kind of showed us a way of communicating this message through our music and lyrics.

The painting, “Deus Ex Machina”, which is painting made by Camille Dela Rosa, an artist from the Philippines.  She fit it so well with the concept that we had. You see, historically, there’s a lot of alternatives options for history that deals with UFOs, aliens, stuff like that. They came here through machines it seems like.  We use that kind of possibility as well to create this idea of this messiah.

TBS: One of those things that I found so fascinating was this juxtaposition, this irony between the concept of the album and your use of traditional percussion. On a broader scale, it can be interpreted as a subconscious message to go back that, no matter what we are still animals within.

Kisser: Yeah, to have a balance, to create the discipline. We need the discipline to achieve anything in life: in your job, in a profession, whatever when you go for you doing your exercises, when you organize your day, you need some type of discipline.

From the time you eat, the time you work, the time you have to relax or leisure time, and sleep, you need a type of discipline otherwise you wouldn’t develop anything, you wouldn’t grow. You need to set some boundaries to create a type of a routine so you can grow healthy and organize your ideas.  I think Machine Messiah deals with that as well, try to find this balance.

We’re not against robotics, but at the same time we cannot lose this human ability to be humans.

TBS: What about for you?  What is your relationship with your iPhone?

Kisser: Well I think the same as anyone else. *laughs* It is a constant struggle… because you can use it for anything.  To order a cab or to use GPS when you drive, or to order food, and to do anything.  You don’t even realize, but sometimes to put it aside and go out or go to a movie theater or something, you don’t do normal human stuff.  I try myself to have my own discipline, but I know it is hard.

We all know it is very hard because are using a robot right now to communicate with each other which is great. But, at the same time, it is great to be on tour where you see the fans face-to-face.

It’s one thing to Skype and it is another to talk face-to-face, it is a very different experience and a very different situation. But to use the best of both worlds, the recording was a little bit like that.  To record drums, we used old school tape machines to have that kind of old sounds and that natural sound of the tape and then we throw everything in the computer and use all the tools to add it, and it is much faster, quicker to deal with that kind of stuff.  That type of balance, at least, I try to in my own daily routine.

TBS: What was the production approach this time as opposed to other projects?

Kisser: Just a different producer really. We changed producers, because it is great to have a different perspective of Sepultura music, a different opinion.  It is a different studio, different equipment.

Jens Brogen

It is great to have that kind of unknown territory where we risk and we do new stuff and we do new things, and we try new sounds and new instruments, whatever.

Jens Brogen is a very characteristic producer that goes a lot into the mind and soul and meaning of things.  Very spiritual, very organic, and yet uses a lot of effects and a lot of pedals and stuff all over the place.  In the end, it is a lot different.

He also understands Sepultura music. He loves the band and was very excited to work for us. Jens was the perfect choice for the album we wanted to make.  It sounds much better than I expected, it’s fantastic.

TBS: Now, I have to ask about “Ultraseven No Uta

Kisser: *laughs*

TBS: Of all the bonus tracks, you picked that one?

Kisser: It is a robot with a heart, what can I say? It was so popular here in Brazil, and I’m sure in the states as well.  I mean there’s a Japanese series I watch like every day when I was very young in the 70s.  It was so popular throughout my generation, we felt we could do something special for Japan.

We did this karaoke stuff where we’re practicing Derek (Green) is singing in Japanese, which was a huge challenge for him. But we had a Japanese coach there in Sweden that helped Derek to pronounce and to make the Japanese sound believable.

TBS: *laughs* It sounded like he was having so much fun.

Kisser: Yeah it was great.

TBS: And now you’re going back on the road as of March 31st.  If I understand, the tour is not going to be as extensive as the 30th Anniversary, but you’ll still be covering some considerable ground.

Kisser: Yeah, we just came from Europe with Kreator. It was an amazing tour a great start for the entire run.  Now we’re going to North America with Testament and Prong. It’s going to be extensive tour and we’re very excited for the opportunity.  It’s a great package, same label Nuclear Blast — Testament put out an amazing new album.

TBS: Yeah, they did.

Kisser: We are in a very great momentum in Metal, it is in a great momentum.  Lots of bands putting out some great stuff, it’s good to be here as a part of this with Machine Messiah, with Nuclear Blast.  We are with a nice set-up here and very excited to be on the road again.

TBS: For you guys, I know the world isn’t big enough for you. You hit on a very poignant note this is a really great time for Metal.  In general, there have been so many, I wouldn’t necessarily say progressive, but I would say many Metal genres going into directions that are so beyond the boundaries now.

Kisser: That’s true, yeah.

TBS: Sepultura is still, no matter what you guys do, you manage to stay in the whipped cream on the cake.

Kisser: Well yes, we never really stopped.  Changes inside the band, the lineups and formation, changing labels and management, of course, like 33 years of a career is not really a shock.  You just see so many different changes.  But mostly the change is outside the band, from vinyl to CD and all the technology, downloads, all the music industry changing so quickly.  Labels are losing their power.  Bigger labels buying smaller labels and stuff.

A lot of stuff changed but we are still here because we embrace those changes and we never really tried to fight back.  It is something that is so natural, you know, inevitable.

At the same time, we put our message and our feeling and our music out there, without any fears let’s say.  Metal is a very radical. It used to be a [much] more radical world. To introduce changes was always very difficult, but we were never afraid of doing something like that.

That’s what we hear, I think rap was mixing with Metal that gave a lot of new possibilities for Metal.  Metallica did so many different stuff, especially using American country music as an influence for some albums, especially Load and Reload.  Us, bring in the Brazilian music, the percussion and everything.  So much the music out there, and women coming more and more participating in Metal, creating bands and bringing a lot of the lyrical, classical side of music — that is true Metal, as well.  It is great to see so many different mixtures and possibilities.  That’s why Metal is the most popular music style in the world.

TBS: You think so?

Kisser: No doubt about it. Oh yeah, no doubt about it.  Sepultura played in 76 countries.  You see Maiden or Metallica or any other band, they can go anywhere in the world regardless of the religion or the politics or anything like that.  It is really hard to find another style of music where there are so many possibilities, you know? It is amazing.

We played in Cuba and we saw so many Metal bands there. We played in South Africa, an event from Botswana, it was fantastic. Russia, we played Siberia, so many different bands mixing weird instruments with heavy music, it is fantastic.  You know Indonesia, all those places, it was great to see. Iraq, even places like that, that are so difficult.

We went to Armenia to play and a band from Iran opened the show, but they cannot perform in their own country so they have to travel to play.  If they perform in their country they go to jail.  And still, with all those problems, they keep the band alive, they listen to the music, and they keep doing their stuff.

It is freedom in music, a statement of freedom to express in the manners that you want, the screaming and distortion and making noise. It’s great to have that privilege to have music in your life and to be able to make music.

Sepultura started like that after a military dictatorship, it was like for 20 years in 1985 when Sepultura started when democracy came back and it was open.  Rock In Rio came to Brazil, and we started to have possibilities to do our more freely and without censorship and all that stuff.  It’s great to see that Metal, it gives hope to many people around the world.

TBS: With that, do you think the Grammys should give more respect to Metal?

Kisser: Oh yeah, of course.  Why not?  We have great representatives in Metal that it should have more respect, not only at the Grammys but all over.  We have here in Brazil so many awards that ignore Metal completely, which is ridiculous. It’s almost like the Oscars and comedy, you know?

TBS: *laughs* Yeah.

Kisser: Only the actors, they don’t give the respect.  I mean Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, Jim Carey, so many amazing geniuses in the comic world that never got an Oscar because of their comedy acting, you know?

TBS: The reason why I’m bringing this up with you, is that it wasn’t so much Metallica performing with Lady Gaga that was so controversial, because Lady Gaga is a Metalhead.  But, the biggest problem that everybody seemed to have were the “moshers” in the back, which was interpreted as a mockery.

Kisser: I see. I guess I agree with you, that’s kind of unnecessary.

TBS: Also, when Megadeth won the award the house orchestra played Metallica’s music.

Kisser: Oh, that was so weak. So disrespectful. That was ridiculous, why are they doing that?  Besides playing “Master of Puppets” all wrong, with no understanding.

I loved Mustaine’s take on it, taking it easy and making a joke on it because what are you going to do about it?  Yeah, classic, very stylish.  But, it was so disrespectful.

It is so unbelievable that they [The Grammys] don’t know the difference between…you know.  It seems that the Grammys only knows Metallica as a Metal band. They need to get educated.

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