Interview: Derrick Green of Sepultura

Few have been dealt a harsher hand in music than Derrick Green. Entering the Brazilian thrash/death/groove/nu metal pioneers on the cusp of legendary status after such an integral and characteristic piece of the machine exited (that of course being Max Cavalera), is something of a challenge. Now 20 years down the line, the man mountain and gentle giant is completely candid and comfortable in the group, having proved his position time and again. He’s making tea in the third story dressing room of KOKO as we talk about his twenty years in the band, their newest album, Machine Messiah, the relationship between politics and music and what it’s like to be in Sepultura right now.

Photo by Gary Cooper

How’s the tour going man?

Yeah, we’re about three weeks in now and it’s coming to an end, we’ve got one more week. It’s been incredible actually, it’s been a longtime since we’ve been on a headlining tour. It’s been fantastic, a lot of packed gigs, a lot of sold-out gigs, really good tour support, the bands have been very diverse so it makes for a really interesting show.

With a couple of these shows, you’ve been celebrating 20 years of Against. How has it been? Has it felt like 20 years?

It’s insane to think that it has been that long but the reaction of playing those songs has been overwhelming and really positive. People are ecstatic to hear those songs and it’s great to see. Hearing stories from people about when they first bought the album and things like that, it’s been a lot of fun.

Have you ever been tempted to revisit an album in full before?

We’ve done that before actually, we played the entirety of Arise and Chaos AD and it’s fun to do on special occasions and special moments, but to do an entire tour like that would be kind of boring (laughs). We have such a huge catalogue and there’s so many songs to play.

If you could choose an album from the last 20 years, what would you like to do a full album show of?

This would be great to do actually, I mean maybe we’ll do that when it comes up to the anniversary of Dante XXI and do it beginning to end. That would be a good challenge (laughs).

So it’s one year on from Machine Messiah, how do you feel playing those songs now and how’s the reception to it one year on?

It’s been great, we’ve been playing a lot of the songs off the album. There’s 6 songs (from the album) in the set and we’ve never done that before in the past. It’s been really rewarding in a way that people get to hear a different setlist than they typically do and it’s really great to play those songs live. I think the setlist is really full and there’s a lot of dips and dives. It’s not just straight and flat, there’s lots of ups and downs and it’s great.

Like you said, there is a big chunk of stuff from the new album in the set, it must’ve been difficult compiling the setlist for the tour…

It kinda worked itself out. The more we played the songs, the easier it is. They’re definitely the most challenging songs in the setlist I think. Anytime you do a new album or record some new songs, you think those are the most challenging to do live but it’s been flowing really well and the reaction has been fantastic so I think we’re doing the right thing in playing as many new songs as possible. It makes sense (laughs). When we work so hard on an album for so many years it makes sense to push it out live.

Where did the concept behind Machine Messiah and the robotisation of society and a machine deity come from? Was it a case of what you see around you?

I think it’s pretty much life around us. Just seeing so many people on their phones and other technology. It’s overwhelming. It’s surrounding us and it’s been there for a long time now. It just came from a conversation with Andreas, whether it’s good or bad, can it be balanced, a lot of those questions come to mind. I’m definitely down with technology, I like technology. I just definitely think there should be a balance. Hopefully we can create a better technology that’s not destroying us or the planet or everything around us. There’s a lot of things that are just useless technology that exists that could be much better for enhancing humanity in so many so ways so it’s really about putting that question out there and questioning things around us. Sometimes, people don’t like to see the truth so blunt and in their face. With this album, there’s songs on here like “I Am The Enemy” which is all about looking at yourself. Stop pointing fingers at other people and things that cause the problems. A lot of the time, we’re the problem and it’s really hard for us to look at that and accept it. With this topic that we had, we could go in so many directions that I think people could really relate to.

It’s not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last time that Sepultura has put politics into music. How useful do you think music can be as a vehicle for political and social messages?

I think it’s super powerful just for the fact that it’s so honest and direct and it can break any barriers you know? Whether it’s religion or countries and cultures, it really opens people up to different ideas. You can see that in music like, for example, Bob Marley. It’s so powerful that it was scaring a lot of agencies above like the FBI and the CIA to the point where it was having a huge impact on politics and people. So I think it’s a great way of spreading messages but at the same time, for us I think it’s important to just stay true to who you really are. We’re not politicians but we do have ideas of how certain things are happening around us. I think it’s our job to create really interesting music as an artist. That’s our main purpose.

Is there a point where you draw the line with politics and music?

I think when it comes to the point of preaching to somebody and taking up sides, it becomes really not our cup of tea. I think it’s really important to put things out there for people to make their own choices and their own decisions and where they stand and what they stand for. But like I said, I think it’s important for us to really write heavy stuff, stuff that we enjoy playing. I think a lot of the music that comes out that we’re doing is a lot of our personality. Putting more of that into our communicating in the music is really interesting to do.

Is there a degree of “walking-the-walk” in Sepultura?

Yeah absolutely. I think people see from example, we’ve spent so many years together and we’re playing better than ever. We’re very tight, all living the lifestyle that we have and I think that has a big impact on a lot of people and what they see. It can influence a lot of people. It’s really important to be behind what we’re singing or playing and I think people really see that in our set.

So it’s quite well documented how much you come from hardcore and hip-hop…

I love hip-hop. Especially in the States, I think there was something really amazing about how punk and hip-hop were coming out at the same time. It wasn’t being played on the radio. Those styles of music were very underground and very rebellious, so for me at 13, 14, I was really influenced by both because they were really new to me and they both had strong social messages that I could really relate to. As I was feeling a little bit alienated at school and stuff like that, it was a place you could go to shows and meet other people who had that same feeling and connect with the music. So I’ve always been really into both and to see the growth of both scenes is really interesting as well.

Is the love of both of those genres something you get to channel in Sepultura?

In a way, I mean I’m not going to come out with a rap song. That would be kind of phony because I’m not a good rapper (laughs). I’m influenced by a lot of the flow, the rhythms and the beat of the lyrical content that’s in good rap. It’s really interesting that does have an influence for sure. Especially hardcore, you can hear that in a lot of Sepultura and that will always be something in the mix.

So with these newer bands on the bill (like Fit For An Autopsy) and with modern metal seeping its way into Sepultura slowly over the years, what are your listening habits these days?

It’s all over the place really. Fit For An Autopsy were a band that I had never heard of until we were doing the tour and I really started listening to them and I thought “Wow this is great” and live it’s even better, so this was a pleasant surprise. Goatwhore are fucking fantastic as well. They’re a band that I didn’t know too much about, but it’s word of mouth a lot of the time with these bands. I’m still influenced heavily by bands like Opeth, all their stuff is always really interesting. There’s this hardcore-type band called Turnstile who are really cool and their new album is great and I love the energy when I watch videos of them.

Are you into Code Orange per chance?

Yes. I thought the first album was really cool and I love the vocals, I just want them louder! (laughs). The newest album is really cool as well, they have a lot of energy and I’d like to see them live. Power Trip are another band I’d like to see live. I’ve really appreciated their last few albums, they’re really awesome.

Well you’ve had the album out a year, done a bunch of tours, what’s up next for the band?

Well, after this we may go to Brazil and play a few shows and then maybe have a tour in Australia, New Zealand, Japan. We’re going to be playing Australia and New Zealand with Death Angel, then we’re coming back to Europe for some Summer festivals in August so we’re pretty busy till the end of the year. In the Fall we’re planning on doing something in North America, we have a documentary movie coming out in Fall. We have a load of live footage from the Rock in Rio show that we want to put out as a package in August.

Is this documentary around the Machine Messiah time or is it more of a historical one?

It’s on the whole history of the band and it’ll show why the band are still relevant, what we’ve been doing and why we’re still here. It’s called Endurance. It’s really interesting because we had a lot of guest people speaking about their experiences with the band, Corey Taylor from Slipknot, Scott Ian from Anthrax, Lars Ulrich from Metallica. It’s really interesting and it’s showing how the band came to where it is right now and why it’s still going. There’s some live footage from the 30 year live anniversary show and in between you see stuff from the the Live in São Paolo show. It’s pretty cool, even for people who aren’t into metal just to see this really incredible journey. So that’s coming in the Fall. It’s already been shown all around the world at film festivals and stuff like that but it’s finally coming out for mass public viewing.

So with that in mind, what’s it like to be in Sepultura right now?

It’s fucking great man. It’s such a great combination with the label being so supportive. There’s a lot of chaos going on behind the scenes but it stays stable. I think that helps with the evolution of the band. We’re just in a very good spot, we’re excited about even writing the new album, there’s ideas flowing much earlier before than ever so I think it’s the best position to be in Sepultura and we’ve really worked so hard to get to this point. I think a lot of people can see that growth and respect that, which is also super important as musicians.

Images by Coops Gig Photography

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