By Claire Antagonym
I interviewed Andreas Kisser, longtime guitarist of thrash metal overlords Sepultura. Teenage me was freaking out. Then a mutant hybrid giant fly/beetle/wasp starts charging me halfway through the Skype session. So this interview is me valiantly trying to keep my shit together, in all the ways. We talked about their forthcoming album Machine Messiah, the elusive magic of Brazilian percussion, resistance in times of trial and exile and of hearing Sabbath for the first time.
The last time I saw you was when you toured Australia in 2015?
“I think it was, 2015 or 2014 maybe.”
Feels like a while ago now.
“Yeah, feels like longer!”
I started standing up towards the back but then by the end of your set, you did Roots [Bloody Roots] as the encore and I was on top of a table at the Sydney show, jumping up and down on the wood.
You’ve always been a big touring band, what has been your experience of tours in Australia?
“Always great. Australia is…it’s very metal.
It’s your fourteenth studio album coming out early 2017 It sounds like sort of hippie shit but people say that there are significant numbers in life or things that are multiples of seven. Considering the trajectory of Sepultura’s career, what is the significance of this album for you, now?
“It feels like the beginning of a new chapter in our lives as a band. We just celebrated thirty years of history, two years ago, we’ve been on the road for years…we went to Australia and New Zealand and everything, all around the world. Big festivals, new places like Armenia and Georgia, places that we’d never played before. It felt like we had closed a cycle, celebrating thirty years. Actually we are celebrating thirty-two years now we are in 2016. We spent three years with the last album, we had a great label, and now it feels that we turned a page. Its like a new chapter, and it feels like we are starting something new. Of course it’s a new album, and always we have that kind of feeling. New ideas, and new experiments that we’d like to…experiment. Machine Messiah feels like a new beginning for us. After the thirty-two years on the road, it feels great to be here, now.
And if you get to ten more years, forty-two is supposed to be the answer to life the universe and everything (in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). So you just gotta stick it out for ten more years.
“I hope so. Who knows.”
I feel like this album is full of contrasts. It seems to reference a lot of different genres. There’s a lot of changes in time signatures, of drum patterns and things like that. I think that’s how it stays kind of raw, is that there is no formula behind it, and it makes a nod to all these different kinds of metal.
“Our intention here was really to explore our musicianship at the limit, at the highest level. Our new drummer is an amazing fantastic drummer. He brought a lot of new possibilities. For my guitar, playing and composing and writing new stuff. He opens new possibilities for the bass and the vocals. It’s amazing, to have such a talent, and such a motivation to work. He brings a new energy to the group, its fantastic. And we really want to try things, the instrumental song is an example, I put the classical guitar together with the…”
…It was almost like an old style of flamenco, classical guitar.
“I love that, I studied classical guitar for many years, it was one of my favourite music to hear and to play. I always wanted to interact more the classical guitar with the band, and not just in the lead in any acoustic songs, but to really interact, and the instrumental song was that. Also using the violin from Tunisia…working on a song like Machine Messiah which explored more of the vocal melody.. So we’re not afraid to try out things and experiment, as long as we feel its right, as long as we feel something real there, we go for it. And that’s why we are still here thirty-two years, every album that we’ve put out in terms of the progression of the band were very different from each other in terms of the band in the present, in the now.”
I think that is reflected on the album, even the difference between the sound in the first two songs diverge from each other. The first one is really eerie and sort of psychedelic and is reminiscent of that old, darker sort of classic rock, like Sabbath and stuff from the 70s, straight into the second track which is a thrashier punk beat. In the transition from one from one song to the other, it is interesting to me that you guys still reference different genres.
“Its great because it is an album. We had this idea to do the album like the old days, vinyl, thinking about the first song of the album, the last song on Side A, which sounds to open Side B, that kind of stuff. And this is a metal position, to have albums. Nowadays the big popstars or whatever, releasing singles, song by song…it loses all the magic of the album atmosphere.”
And I think that is one of the things that is powerful about metal is that…because I feel that the way we consume music, even the way we communicate with each other has fundamentally changed in a really short space of time…I think the whole idea of listening to an album in its entirety, listening to each song…because all our devices for absorbing music are very shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, you know…
“…Quick. It’s very quick.”
…And psychologically we have shorter attention spans, it has been proven that people have shorter and shorter attention spans. I think it’s something that metal continues to do, to do things that are conceptual or have a relationship with…the idea that you would have an album that you listen to in its entirety, and there’s that value in getting a track which you’ll hear not just a couple of times, on the radio or…
“Yeah exactly. It has to be a certain type of journey, when you put an album…that’s why its so cool to want the vinyl back, its open, nice, a size that you can actually enjoy the artwork, or you put down the vinyl, you listen to the whole thing, the whole journey, there’s no jumping around. Of course you can do it with vinyl but its not like pushing a button and then you’re on the next song. Its really cool that heavy metal, the tradition of…and we did as well, it is a part of the concept of the album as well, not to be too machine-like, not to be too senseless. You’ve got to keep some kind of communication, some kind of feeling. The album will have that. I still listen to albums from Led Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple, and they are still amazing wonderful. It seems like they recorded yesterday, because its so real, there’s a storyline going on.”
For me, Zeppelin and Sabbath have probably been the most important…and it sounds…its so dark now, with all that we are accustomed to, imagine hearing those chords in Sabbath for the first time, being seventeen in the early 1970s and experimenting with psychedelics for the first time…
“Oh my god.”
They started in 1968. It just would have been the darkest shit in the world. No one had ever heard anything like that before.
“Nada. I always remember the first time I heard those bands. Metallica, Sabbath…it changed, you know? It changed our lives. We are here because of them. The consequence of listening to that music and feeling and hearing that. Although in Brazil in was much more difficult to get concerts going on here, in the 80s, so it was even more…you had to use more of your imagination. And that was great, it was amazing journeys that we had, listening to vinyl. It’s great that it’s coming back.”
Sepultura started up in the 80s, the period of the winding down of a dictatorship and then over time, Brazil becoming a lot more globalised in a way that it hadn’t been. I guess when we think of music, of the globalisation of music and music being very international…but it kind of assumes that because there’s globalisation there’s centralisation and things start to resemble each other musically.
I think it’s interesting what you guys have managed to do over the years…you are known for internationalising Brazilian music and especially resistance music, but at the same time there is still a very localised identity to your sound…
“Definitely. And we live in Brazil. Brazil is an amazing place, culturally rich, from north to south. We have so much different music and food and people. All the dialects, everything is an amazing influence. It’s very musical. In this kind of atmosphere, we always have the possibilities to work with the music. When you live here, not only listening to the music and the culture, but you live in Brazil, you have to put your kids in school, do the normal stuff, go to the market. We have all the political turmoil going on here, which also influences what we write. We try to create a territory of at least a discussion, try to come up with some different options, to try to be a better citizen, a better Brazilian. It’s been an amazing wonderful tool that we have over here for expression, with lyrics and music, to put our point of view and relate with people of different countries, which is even more fantastic. It’s a privilege to use in good terms, to use our music for that. We were never afraid to be Brazilian, to try to do something different. To put the heavy music that we do with some other elements in everything. We don’t try to force our Brazilianity, we try to keep that very natural. And that’s where it’s so important to have a Brazilian drummer. No Swedish, or no American drummer would do what a Brazilian drummer will do. It’s not because it is better or worse. It’s a language that each one has in a different way. Like Cuba, as well, those percussionists and drummers are amazing. And there they have that kind of language. It’s such a privilege to have that quality and capability.”
I think, especially in terms of the percussion of the band, something I think has been important in that percussive element is those parts of the drum patterns which are indigenous or tribal.
“Yeah, yeah definitely.”
Its connected to globalisation as well I guess…where I live is right near where you guys performed in Sydney. It’s the biggest Aboriginal area, area for our indigenous people, but its become massively gentrified in a really short space of time. The result of that is that the indigenous people have basically been exiled…removed from…the housing…that’s a story of being indigenous with things changing and expanding that I feel has impact on the sound of Sepultura’s music over time.
“Yeah, it does. In Brazil we still have that problem. Brazil was created like that.”
So were we.
“…and the United States, and everybody. Because of invading, trying to change the culture…and instead of learning something new. The Portuguese and Spanish came into South America, and they basically fucking destroyed everything. Taking gold, taking all the valued stuff, trying to make the Indians slaves, and then the Africans came, it was really a disaster. So many things were decimated by the Spanish. Because of a Catholic mind, an Inquisition, a type of attitude where religion is better than the other, politics and all that crap. Its sad that this kind of stuff still happens. We try to bring that subject into light throughout our music.”
I’m particularly interested, there’s a clip in…its not Sepultura, its you in Hail! in Beirut and doing Territory. It’s a crazy thing, just to be playing in Beirut, and doing a song like Territory, with all the connotations around that…it must have been such a mindfuck, the intensity of that, the rage, so much meaning around domination and land and things, especially around that time.
“It was fantastic. It was so emblematic.”
Machine Messiah is out now on Nuclear Blast