Since releasing their first album Morbid Visions in 1986, Brazil’s outfit Sepultura have become one of the most iconic bands in world metal. Having gone through a public and well-documented split with their equally iconic frontman Max Cavalera at the height of the group’s career, the metal giants went through a period of change which saw them being joined by Cleveland vocalist Derrick Green.
Having been in the band for 23 years now, the band are set to document the first five albums of Green’s journey with the metal legends in a new boxset, Sepulnation – The Studio Albums 1998 – 2009. Ahead of the release of the boxset, V13 chatted with Derrick about that chapter of his career, his thoughts on joining the band at such a turbulent time, and what being the frontman for such an iconic band means to him…
Hey Derrick, thanks for your time. How’s life treating you at the moment?
Derrick Green: “I’m ok. Yeah, pretty good. It could be far worse, but I’m taking all the positives.”
You’ve got the new, massive boxset coming out soon. How did the idea for that come about?
“The idea came before the whole lockdown and everything. Yeah, the record label, our old record label, they decided to put out a box set of Sepultura before, and it was just the years that had Max on it. So we didn’t have anything to do with that. We talked with them and said we should do the years with Derrick so there’s a complete history of the band. That’s all we’ve ever wanted where people are able to have access to the full story of Sepultura.
“They agreed with that, and we wanted to help in the artwork, everything, every aspect of it. So, it came about from that, really wanting to show the whole history of Sepultura, so people can follow the evolution of the band and where it went. It’s great that it came out at the time that it did, and it’s great to finally have it out. I’m really ecstatic about that.”
It starts with Against, which was your first album with the band. What can you recall about that period leading up to the album?
“It was pretty chaotic. Nobody had any idea what was going to happen. As a band, there was a time of total transition, you know, we had no management or anything like that. Just starting pretty much back to square one. We really just were trying to survive with everyone we felt was against us. At the same time, we were against everyone but we just kept pushing on. The idea was to really play as much as possible. Do live shows get to know each other as a band. All those basic things, you know, but sped up and put out on the world map where everybody can see. You’ve got to remember also that the internet wasn’t thriving like it is now.
So I think in that way, it helped me joining the band because I wasn’t getting all the comments from all around. I was able to really focus on the music, on the band, and the moment of being there joining Sepultura. So that was incredible. I mean, to walk in naïve, not knowing how big this band is all over the world, there was no way for me to really gauge that. I was coming from New York, I had been a fan of the band but I wasn’t fanatical so I didn’t realize that people knew the band in Indonesia or India, or all over the world like they do.
It was kind of a surprise to travel to these places and slowly get this information. Every day is really, really exciting. I never knew what to expect and so that’s where our heads were at, you know, like survival and for me just like getting adjusted.”
You’ve talked about your naivety. Did you have any apprehension about walking into the band because, as you said, it was a turbulent time? Also, what did you want to bring to Sepultura?
“I had no apprehension joining, and I really wanted the gig because I had been a musician my entire life, starting at the age of 14. So, it was a dream to be in a band that was on a professional level playing all around the world and having that chance. Once I did the audition, went to Brazil and met those guys and had a little taste of Brazil and how it would be with those guys, I really wanted to be in the band. That was a dream, to be in a band like that so I was full-on.
It’s going to take some time to build the confidence of a lot of the fans because they had so many years before I joined to create such a strong persona. I felt that we had to do the same. We would take some albums to really get people adjusted and it was a fun time, you know, for me, I was really just happy to be in that position.”
Regarding the hardcore fanbase, do you think that this boxset is a way of reintroducing that particular chapter of the band to those fans who decided Sepultura is Max and Max only?
“Oh, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of people that even listened to our latest album and they want to start going back in time wondering what they have missed. How did this band get to this level that they’re at now? I mean, not to be like bragging, like the level they’re at now but I feel that there is an evolution that I’m very proud of, you know, and it’s a very natural evolution that happened.
It’s interesting, as a fan, and I love doing this, when I get into an album that I’d never heard of, I like to go back in time with that band and see how did they get to where they’re at. So I feel people can do that with this boxset you know, and each album is so different from each other. It follows in that tradition of Sepultura having each album be very different from the last.”
Do you have a particular favourite piece from that chapter?
“I don’t know if I have a favourite because each one there’s something very unique about each episode of what was going on with those albums. I really enjoyed the Dante XXI time. I think it was such a great album. I love the artwork, the whole theme. Everything I thought about it was pretty unique. I really loved the Nation time because we were really expanding. It was the first time that I was able to be with the band at the beginning of the writing process because with Against, a lot of the material was written already. We were really trying a lot of different things with Nation, we had a lot of time to record and a lot of interesting ideas came out of that album.”
One thing you touched on is in the beginning, a lot of Against was already done. How did that work with you coming into the band?
“A lot of the material, but not all of it. A lot of ideas came about in the studio and we were at so many different studios. We were in Brazil. We were in LA. There was some recording done in Japan on Sado Island. All over the place. It was also an introduction to Pro Tools. Howard Benson was the producer at the time and it was his first time interacting with Pro Tools. I mean, they were just coming out so that’s how long ago it was and that really changed the game and recording.”
You came into the album and that period as the new guy. Do you still feel like you have to prove yourself to people, or was there a point where you didn’t feel like the new guy anymore?
“I definitely feel that I have to prove myself every time I step on stage. From all different aspects as the new guy. As the guy from Cleveland. As this black guy in the world of metal. There’s always proving myself with it. I just figured that the best way and the most comfortable way was to be myself and just let people see that and that’s always worked. Just really opening myself up not being afraid to show really who I am.”
What was it like for you to join the band, going out to Brazil for the first time, that whole experience?
“It was incredible. As I said, I’d never been to Brazil, I knew nothing about the culture or the language. I didn’t have any Brazilian friends. I didn’t know anything about it. I was completely ignorant of Brazil. I probably even thought that they spoke Spanish there. I went to the library, got out a few books because there was no real internet at the time, had my library card and just tried to see what this place was about. I didn’t do it justice, you know? It didn’t really exist in my mind until I was actually able to set foot in the country and meet people and start to talk to them. Then the realization of what this place is about started to brew in my head.
Then, after living there for 20 years, it radically changed my view of Brazil. For the first time where I didn’t really live there, I was just skimming interactions with people who are super fans of Sepultura. Walking around with them, everyone recognizing them and honking their horns and asking for autographs all the time. That was a trip because, again, there was no internet or anything. Then it went to me moving there and that started happening to me. After touring, people started to know me as the new face of Sepultura so I had to adjust my life of getting recognized and analyzed every time I went out of the house. That takes some getting used to.
I never imagined that would be my life so it was rough. I have to say I was a little depressed because I’m not that type of person. I like to be the fly on the wall and kind of check everything out. You know, I don’t want to draw any attention but it was impossible not to because I’m this huge guy, like 6’3 with dreads and tattoos. It’s impossible not to see that’s you from over there so that drew attention the way that I looked and not only when I was with the band. It was every day, but the majority of the time, positive, positive, positive. I mean, 99 percent of the time, Brazil was a place that always kept faith with Sepultura with all the changes that happened. They always want the best for the band because they’re such a strong representation of Brazil, outside of Brazil.”
What about the internal relationships joining as the new guy and then moving to Brazil? Did those relationships change?
“Yeah, it was all absolutely comfortable, it became much easier and we learned a lot about each other. I think you can hear that in the albums where our tastes change from travelling and meeting different people and being around certain bands that had an influence on us as well. Politics, everything around us was changing so that had an impact as well. I think we grew closer. We came to understand how we could interact with each other better. You know, going through different management and thinking of ideas and all these things, we just really started to evolve.”
Talking about changing tastes, the boxset includes the covers EP. You’ve talked about music and how your music tastes changed. What covers would you pick now if you were to repeat the EP?
“That’s a good question. Oh man, I might overthink it that you know? I definitely know that I would love to do covers of bands that aren’t metal bands that people would never imagine us doing things that really again influenced us from growing up that and things that are challenging artists. There are so many cool artists to cover and I’d want it to be original too because I’m not really into doing covers, but if we do it our way, and recreate a song then I’m really into it.”
You came into a band who have put out some really iconic metal songs. What was it like trying to put your own twist on those and recreate them because there are a few songs in that catalogue that have defined metal?
“Actually, that was probably the easiest part because I already had in my mind what those songs meant to me being a fan. Also learning a lot of new songs that already exist was pretty easy. I think memorizing a lot of the lyrics was probably the toughest part.
You know though, it was great, like a discovery base for me. There are certain things like Schizophrenia, Beneath The Remains that I wasn’t that familiar with so it was great to be introduced to those songs, especially with Andreas’ playing who composed a lot of that stuff and Paolo there. Also, we had like nine years with Igor so it was intense. I felt the full power of the songs but it was pretty easy because, as I said, I was a fan of the band, and I had the material and I love it.
I think it was much more challenging, doing new songs, creating songs, then having to do those live. That was a whole different thing, bringing up something new, that was extremely difficult at times. It takes some time touring on those new songs. I’m learning to do those live and finding places for those in the setlist, but it’s great. You know, when you’re so focused on wanting to do your best with the new material, so it’s been working out pretty well.”
Sepultura have got a massive back catalogue now and there are certain songs fans will want to hear regardless. As you sit down and put a setlist together these days, how do you manage that?
“It’s interesting because there are different generations of Sepultura fans. We’re lucky to be able to still have a young fan base. There are people that just started listening to the band when I joined the band, which was 20 years ago, over 20 years ago. So you got to remember that there are people that will be asking why we don’t play more songs from my time period. We started to change the setlist to have a well-balanced setlist of the history of the band then at the same time playing a new release like playing a lot of songs from like Machine Messiah.
We played six new songs in our set when we first went out and toured on that album. Doing things like that people want to hear the entire history, not only just old songs. That also ends up being the same show because you’re only playing old songs, it’s not as exciting. As a fan, when I go to see a band, I love to hear their new material. If they put out a new album, I’ve been listening to it over and over so they might play a new song I like.”
Having fans come up to you and ask you to play more material from your era, that must be a massive buzz for you given the turbulent situation you walked into and the fanbase…
“Absolutely. I never really sat and thought about it in that way, but it just slowly started to happen and more and more people saying they’d love to hear a little more mixture in the set, like ‘I’m an old school fan but I’d love to hear more of your time period.’”
One thing I’ve read you’ve commented on and that is how it’s a massive honour being part of the band’s history. You’ve also talked about being a fan of the band. What would teenage Derrick Green say if he could see you fronting what is one of the most important metal bands of the last three decades?
“Keep going and treat yourself well. Definitely, in my younger days, I would probably be very proud and also my mind would be blown away. As I said, I never imagined being in a Brazilian metal band, learning Portuguese, and living in a completely different country. I kind of knew I would live outside the U.S., but I didn’t know how. This is the best of everything. You know, I couldn’t imagine anything better than this. It’s a great story and, as you said, it’s an honour to be a part of this history.”
On a personal level, what does Sepultura mean to Derrick Green now?
“Oh, man. Tradition. Evolution. Discipline. Attitude. Perseverance. I think of it as a mixture of all those different things.”
Ok, well, I think that pretty much wraps it up. Just to finish off, we’ve got you coming back for Download next year…
“People have had time to listen to a lot of different music over this pandemic and that was one positive thing. One of the positive things that I could take away from this whole episode of everything happening around the world and the pause is that people have had time to really listen to the album. I feel that, and I’m excited about playing the songs and playing again on stage.”
What are your plans for next year? Well, what have you got lined up?
“Well, we’re going to do North America in March, April. We’ll probably do some warm-up shows in Brazil in February, we’ll see how that goes. Then we have all the rescheduled festival gigs in Europe for the summer. South America, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, you know, we have to do it all. And I just can’t wait. We’ve had a good, almost two year break which is way too long. The longest break that we’ve ever had in the band’s history so that’s a little weird, but you know, we just kind of work with it.”
Definitely. Have you got a message then for fans that are waiting for you to come back?
“Take care of yourselves and stay safe. Keep your ears open for all the news that’s coming out of Sepultura and we really look forward to seeing you guys upfront, close, and personal. We missed you. We’ve missed every single one of you.”