Brazilian Guitarist Andreas Kisser: "The Spirit Of Sepultura Is Still Very Much Alive"
Band Photo: Sepultura (?)
Prior to Sepultura's headlining show at Higher Ground in South Burlington, Vermont, I was honored to sit down backstage with guitarist and songwriter Andreas Kisser for a discussion of the band's past, present, and future. A Sepultura mainstay since 1987, the classically trained Andreas has contributed vastly to the band's signature sound and handled lead songwriting duties since the 1996 departure of founding frontman Max Cavalera. Among the topics addressed was the persistent controversy over Max's replacement by current frontman Derrick Green, and what Andreas considers a stubborn unwillingness to move on from the past and accept Sepultura as it exists and thrives today.
Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): This tour is almost over for Sepultura. How does it stack up against other recent North American tours?
Andreas Kisser: Well, last year we did a tour after being away from the States and Canada for a long time. That tour was amazing, really good. This time around was a little difficult, I have to admit. The West Coast was great, Canada was great, but the East Coast was more difficult at times. I don’t know why. But overall, it’s been very positive, y’know? The album is out, we’ve been receiving positive responses all over and stuff, and it’s just the matter of being here. America was always very difficult. It’s a big country, and you need huge support from media and everything. But we have a great label here, Nuclear Blast, which is doing a great job. This album, our first with Nuclear Blast, how can I put it? … It brought us back to the States, y’know? So it’s another beginning here, and I guess we just really have to spend a lot of time here. We’re still coming back to play the Metallica [Orion] Fest on June 24th in Atlantic City, which will be a great opportunity for us here in the States. And we’re still looking for a different tour so we can come back again in 2012, depending on the package and stuff. Maybe we’ll open for a bigger band or something, I don’t know. We’ll see what we can do. Overall, it’s been very nice.
Mike: As for the difficulties you mentioned this time around, what do you think some of those might have been?
Andreas: I don’t know, man. First of all, we had to try and find a package that would work here in the States. I mean, this package is pretty good. Death Angel has a lot of history and they’re good friends. Krisiun came from Brazil and have a really good following, and Havok’s a really cool band from Colorado. So it was hard to find that, and the sooner you have the package and start promoting it, the better. But this time it took a while to put everything together. And then, I don’t know – overall, it’s just really hard to reach everybody in the States. The East and West Coasts are kind of different. [Laughs] It’s a very big country. So we just have to work a lot more here, to push our album harder. We got really good support this time, but we still have a lot to conquer here. We still have a lot to do – more media, bigger media, with the Metallica Fest, which is a good chance. So just grab those chances and do the best that we can, and see if we can develop something cool, like we’re doing in Europe and South America and everywhere else, pretty much.
Mike: “Kairos” [2011, reviewed here] has been a pretty big album for Sepultura. So far, are you personally satisfied with how it’s been received worldwide?
Andreas: Yeah, very much. It’s a very special album for us, because we talk about ourselves. Sepultura itself is the main influence on all the lyrics and music, and I think the album celebrates the actual moment of Sepultura – what we are now. We have 27 years of great, beautiful history, with a lot of changes inside and outside the band. We’re still here, touring around with a strong album and an amazing label behind it. So yeah, overall, I’m very happy with the result. We had a sound partnership with [producer] Roy Z, working in the studio with us. We’ve had our new drummer Eloy Casagrande since last year, and we’re developing this new chemistry. So it’s going well!
Mike: The past couple of albums were pretty experimental, and “Kairos” has a much more straightforward, simpler metal sound. What drove that approach while composing these songs?
Andreas: Well, two years ago, we celebrated 25 years of Sepultura. And naturally, when you do something like that, you go back and remember where you started, where you came from, how difficult it was, how great it was to learn new things, and the bands you were listening to at the time. I think that was the main influence – our own history. So I guess there’s a little bit of the thrash element from the past, from “Arise”  and “Chaos A.D.”  There’s a little bit of the early death metal stuff, and a little bit of the percussion… like the guest we had from France, Les Tambours du Bronx, that came and did a song with us. So it’s just Sepultura the way we are today, y’know? All the experimenting we did helped to get us here. From “Roots,”  from “Nation,”  and all that. From “Dante XXI”  and “A-Lex,”  all these sources of influences, ideas, and hooks and stuff. So I think “Kairos” is just a consequence of all that. It’s great to experiment, to do something different, and try to work with orchestras and different instruments and stuff. After all, we’re musicians. We have the privilege to meet different people and other musicians all over the place, and we grow up a lot from that. “Kairos” is a consequence of everything. But I agree though; it’s a little more direct, more straight to the point, simpler. Simpler is better. [Laughs]
Mike: The addition of Eloy, who’s about half the age of the rest of you, struck me as symbolic. It reminded me that Sepultura is less a mere band than an institution – greater than any one man.
Andreas: Definitely, definitely. It’s almost like KISS, man – we’re gonna go forever! [Laughs] The main reason is that the SPIRIT of Sepultura is still very much alive, y’know? We’re still going to different and new places. We’ve been in Cuba, the Philippines, Morocco, South Africa, and even Réunion Island near Madagascar – many different places. We’ve always done that! It keeps us alive and fresh with ideas; you always meet new cultures and new music. That’s what Sepultura is all about. We live the moment. “Kairos” talks about that, the “now.” It’s a concept of time that is not chronological; it’s just the moment, here. What we are today. THAT’S what matters. So we respect our past, but we’re not trapped there. We’re celebrating what we are now, and that’s very “Sepultura!” We always bring some new ideas. We worked with percussionists in Brazil, then we went to Japan and worked with percussionists there, and now we have this French group that’s totally different! So this is Sepultura, and we have so many different fans, because regardless of the lineup formation, we have so many albums different from each other. If you look at “Schizophrenia”  all the way through to “Roots,” which is the same formation, they’re very different from each other. Very different. It’s almost like a different band, and we were, really. We were growing up as people. We were getting married, having kids, and stuff like that. We changed; it’s natural. We not only changed as people, but we changed the formation, we changed the management, we changed the way we sold music – from vinyl to CD, from CD to downloads – everything changed, and Sepultura is still here doing music. That’s the beauty of it all. So this, here, now, is Sepultura. The rest is just a bunch of ideas and concepts that people have in their minds. It’s very hard to define a Sepultura fan, and in consequence, it’s very hard to define Sepultura in his mind. [Laughs] Everyone has a different perspective. There are people who prefer the old death metal stuff, people who prefer stuff like “Arise,” people who didn’t like Max and started to like us because of Derrick – we have everything, and we respect everything. It’s all a part of what we are today. We play music from all the albums, and we don’t have these politics, like “We’re not gonna play that song because so-and-so wrote it, or some label released it…” Fuck that shit! We play music because of the music itself. So why change our name when we still have the same energy flowing?
Mike: I’m curious about that. In writing about music, I’m constantly confronted with other people’s opinions…
Andreas: Oh, yeah. The endless battle! [Laughs]
Mike: Right, and I’m always hearing the whole “Change the name, change the name” argument. How do you guys react to that personally, and deal with it on a consistent basis?
Andreas: Well, we just do what we have to do. We do our job. Like I said, people can talk and express their opinions however they want. As long as you have a brain, a mouth, a tongue, and a way to express, then speak up! You’re entitled to your opinion, and I respect that. Of course I don’t agree with them all. There are so many opinions in the world. But somehow, we still live together on this ball. [Laughs] So speak up, whatever, man. But when it comes to what we do… If we listened to everybody, we’d be stuck in one place. You listen to this, you listen to that, and you’re not gonna move, y’know? We’re here to be ourselves, not to please everybody. [Laughs] We’re here to do our music, to express our opinions in our art, like a painter or a poet or anybody. And as soon as you do that, express an opinion, then you’re gonna have feedback, good or bad. That’s life, and it’s great. So keep talking! [Laughs]
Mike: Speaking of expressing yourself through music, I’m reminded of one of my favorite new tracks, “Mask.” The lyrics are a pretty obvious message to your critics. Did any specific experiences or encounters inspire that song?
Andreas: It was mostly through the Internet, this endless battle that you just mentioned, with people expressing their opinions. And what we hate the most are the people who put Donald Duck there, like a cartoon picture, and then act like they’re the owners of the truth. [Laughs] So speak up and show your face! Show your name and give your arguments. Have an open and fair discussion. I cannot stand it when people say, “Oh, this is better, this is worse,” and “I’m this, and I’m that,” and they don’t show their faces or names or anything. So “Mask” is about that. And it can be applied to any situation, in our own business with managers or band members, or whatever. With fans old and new, and even with friends and family. You have certain situations where people hide themselves, and they don’t show themselves or look you in the eyes. So speak up! You have to be yourself, good or bad. And like I said, we’re not gonna please everybody. We’re not here for that. So we might as well have an encounter, express what we feel, and grow better from that. But the Internet gives the impression that if you write a blog or something, it’s more “official.” And on Wikipedia, you have so many people putting information there, and you don’t even know if it’s accurate or not. But if it’s there, it must be true! [Laugh] “Mask” is about that kind of idea. Take your mask off and let’s talk. We’re not afraid of talking about anything regarding our past, our history. I’ve never had an interview where I’ve had to say, “No, let’s not talk about that.”
Mike: On that note, Max was recently asked in an interview about his feelings on a possible future reunion with you and [bassist] Paulo. Here’s what he said: “I’m just waiting to see what happens. If it’s meant to happen, it will happen. Right now, I feel like it won’t happen. I’m not counting on it. If it happens, great – I’d be excited to do it.” What’s your position on that?
Andreas: None. [Laughs] I mean, there’s nothing going on. Since he left the band in ’96, this kind of shit has been going on, this “reunion” talk. Especially in the “age of reunions” that was the 2000s, y’know? Everybody came back except the dead people who couldn’t be here to play together. [Laughs] So we felt a lot of pressure, but it’s just not part of us. If we did something like that, just for business purposes, it could really destroy our past, present, and future. That’s something we never plan to do. This is coming one hundred percent from HIS side. Whatever he’s talking about in interviews, or whatever magazine is giving him a “way of talking” and trying to create a mess through the press, it doesn’t concern us. I’m not interested in that. Whatever he has to say is just like any fan’s opinion. He’s entitled to it and can say whatever he wants. People have so many different expectations, y’know? Some people are waiting for Jesus to come back to Earth. But we’re working so hard to keep the spirit of Sepultura alive, and doing something forced just makes no sense.
Mike: Do you consider it selfish of people to keep demanding something like that, ignoring the hard work that Derrick has put into the band, and all he’s been through with you?
Andreas: I don’t really understand why it’s still such a big controversy. We’ve seen so many different stories like that, and it seems that only Sepultura isn’t allowed to have a breakup like we had. [Laughs] Let’s see, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Metallica… For whatever reason, y’know? A death, or different ideas and stuff. Bands change! I didn’t choose for it to be this way, but it happened. We couldn’t really handle the way things were. And then we had the changes with [former drummer Jean Dolabella] and stuff, but at the same time we lost a great musician, we found someone fucking amazing as well. It happened with Derrick, it happened with Jean, and with Eloy, and like I said, the spirit of Sepultura is still very much alive and well. I think people who decided to leave us a long time ago should stay there and accept their own choice, [Laughs] and not try to reproduce something that isn’t there anymore.
Mike: On a forward-looking note, Sepultura is playing on the Barge To Hell later this year, again with Krisiun. Have you guys ever done a show on a cruise ship before?
Andreas: We did in Brazil, like two years ago, off the coast of Rio. It was great! A great experience for us, and we really enjoyed having a lot of rock ‘n’ roll and metal people around. I’ve heard these kinds of cruises are going on everywhere now, and I think Barge To Hell will be great. A lot of different bands, good friends, and it’s gonna be fun to end the year with a party. [Laughs]
Mike: And how about future music? Any songs written?
Andreas: Well, we have ideas floating all the time, and demos and stuff, but we’re pretty much focused on what we’re doing right now. We’re preparing for the Rock In Rio show in Lisbon on May 25th, where we’re playing with Les Tambours du Bronx, the percussive group from France. We’re gonna do versions of Sepultura music with them, old Sepultura music, and we’re gonna play their music and stuff too. So we’re working on that, and I don’t know… Pretty soon, we’ll start working on something new with Eloy, and see if we can get ready for new music early next year.
Mike: And lastly, what can I expect from the setlist tonight?
Andreas: Well, of course we’re playing a lot of the new stuff, but we play the whole history. Like I said, we try to play songs from every album. We’re playing some B-sides from “Arise” too. But basically, we play a lot of the new stuff that mixes well with the old stuff. I think it’s gonna be an interesting show for a Sepultura fan!
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