Interview by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
Alan: Welcome back to Dublin. Let’s talk about your new album Machine Messiah. It’s been getting great reviews and people are saying it’s up there with the best Sepultura albums. When you were writing and recording it, did it feel special to you?
Derrick: I’d like to say, like everything we’ve written in the past, had a special feeling about it. I didn’t really know what to expect because we wrote the album so long ago, and then we were waiting for it to come out. So I was really in the dark. I didn’t know what people were going to think. Not that I didn’t care. I was curious. Especially starting the album off with a very different song. We weren’t sure how people were going to take it. But I felt really confident because we’ve been playing with this line-up for a while now and touring the last album was great. It was great working with Jens Bogren, a new producer, in Sweden. Everything felt really comfortable. So I was really anxious for people to hear it. I’m really happy with the result.
Alan: This was the biggest gap between any two Sepultura albums…
Derrick: We also took our time! That adds a lot to the imagination to create a cohesive album. And this was the second album with [drummer] Eloy Casagrande, and I think he felt a lot more comfortable in the writing process. It enabled him to put a lot more of his personality into this album.
Alan: Were there any particular inspirations or influences when writing this album?
Derrick: I definitely was listening to a lot of Swedish bands that had great producers and that was one of the reasons for going to Sweden and finding a producer. I felt that it was really important for the band to have something radically different from the last album. I was listening to a lot of really weird bands. There’s a band from Cleveland called Keelhaul. They were a big influence in powerful instrumental music. Opeth has always been a big influence too.
Alan: There is a noticeable eastern feel to ‘Phantom Self’ in particular.
Derrick: It came about from traveling and being open-minded to having those different sounds. We did a trip to Egypt, which we didn’t play. We went all the way there to do our first show there, but it was quite an experience. [The show was canceled when police shut it down due to “incomplete permissions”]. And we’ve done tours and shows in places with this middle-eastern sound. But it was an idea from Jens. He came in knowing the demo really well, and he felt that it would be great to have some string section from Tunisia to come in and he knew the people that could do it. It sounds great. It was something we never imagined at the very beginning but it just really flowed and fit with the song. It throws you a bit. I think that’s what really great about the album. It really takes you on a journey. And that’s how we felt over the past few years. It’s like going on these incredible journeys.
Alan: There have been a few great new albums from some old bands recently, like yourselves, Kreator and Metallica to name a few. What do you think about this sudden lease of new life from old bands?
Derrick: I think it’s a great time for heavy music. Kreator reaching number one in the German charts. It’s just really good timing. These are also very critical times and that adds to a lot of creativity in music. A lot of these bands that are putting out really good albums have been around for a long time, and they’re probably feeling very confident and comfortable with their writing, and just very honest. So that helps a lot.
Alan: How do you think being in a metal band has changed in the three decades of Sepultura’s existence?
Derrick: I think it has expanded. We can have Tunisian strings in songs for example and I think this gives more space for a band to create. I think metal is the biggest style of music in the world. It’s everywhere you go. Metal heads and people into metal no matter religion or race or borders or anything. It really seeps into all parts of the world. I think it’s a great time. Metal is definitely on the rise. People when they see people playing their instruments well, and performing at the top of their ability, I think it’s intriguing to have this connection again with the bands instead of sitting at home and streaming. Live shows are still enjoyable and people are still buying vinyl. This is great, to be able to put out a vinyl and people being very excited about it. I think these elements of metal really make it stronger.
Alan: Do you feel there’s more pressure to be on the road now than there was in the past?
Derrick: I think there is that pressure for all artists nowadays. But we’ve always been on the road since the very beginning. We’re that type of band. Our show is live, that’s where you can really feel it. For us, it’s normal to be touring as much as possible. But it can be brutal. Especially if you’re a singer. You have to look after your voice. In general, I think it’s great when you’re able to see as many shows as possible. There are so many bands touring, for me it’s fantastic.
Alan: We were at Metallica in Copenhagen last month when they had to cancel the show due to illness.
Derrick: Yeah, we were there on that day, when they canceled.
Alan: Have you experienced the same kind of thing yourself where you or one of the guys were unwell, and felt bad, but had to do it anyway?
Derrick: Yeah, the show must go on. I didn’t have a problem with my voice. It was something else, but it was horrible. There’s a lot of people relying on you, so you really have to take care of yourself. This is something that’s extremely important for yourself and your fans.
Alan: Hetfield knew his voice was bad. He stepped up and said “I know I’m not at my best. I want to stop. Do you want us to keep playing?”
Derrick: It takes some serious balls to do that. I heard him say that. It shows a lot. Then they canceled one show but then went on to play the following shows. I thought for sure they’re going to cancel them all. It takes a lot to do that.
Alan: Obviously Machine Messiah is getting a lot of play in your current setlists. Half of your set is made up of tracks from this new album. Which is great, and I’m looking forward to hearing the new stuff live. But the rest of the set is almost exclusively 20-year old material. And nothing from the many albums that were written and recorded since you joined the band. Why is it that you omit so much of your back-catalogue, and those albums in particular?
Derrick: Right. We started this setlist for this tour, and we’re talking about changing it up a bit with certain songs from my phase and before that. The third song we play is ‘Choke’, which is from when I first joined, and it’s a significant song because it was the song that I heard in my audition and got me into the band. But there are so many songs to go through. I definitely want to be able to change out one of the older songs, which we could do.
Alan: There’s a lot of talks that goes on between Max and Sepultura and we saw a comment he made recently about Sepultura not being relevant anymore. I’m not going to get into that, but I think most Sepultura fans would appreciate seeing you play a more evenly spread setlist including more of the post-Max material.
Derrick: I agree. That’s the main reason we’re doing five songs from the new album. Because I think it’s important to show what we’re doing now, and like I said, we’re still working out the setlist. This isn’t our headlining tour, so this is going to change. At the end of the year, we want to come back and do our own headlining touring, so then we’ll have more time to play. So we’re very limited for time at the moment. Honestly, there are a lot of young fans who want to hear those old songs live for the first time.
Alan: When might we see a headline tour in Europe?
Derrick: November/December is the idea. Hopefully, we’ll be able to come back to Dublin. It’s one of the greatest places to play.
Alan: Speaking of rivalry. Do you think it can be a good thing or a bad thing for bands?
Derrick: I don’t know. I don’t look at music like sports. I get kind of tired of shit-talking between bands. It’s kinda tiring and boring. It takes away from a lot of the energy that could be going into listening to the music. It’s been so many years, but people are beginning to listen to some more of the older stuff that I’ve been on and I can tell from the reaction of the crowd when we do play those songs that people are really really into it. I think the rivalry thing is just boring and really juvenile for me.
Alan: What did you think about Lady Gaga performing with Metallica at the Grammy’s?
Derrick: That was really weird. That big screw-up. But I heard the rehearsal version of it, and it’s cool. They’re really daring. I’ve gotta give it to them. I think it’s great when you put yourself out there and try different things and you don’t look back. You just do it. And that’s what they’ve always done and that’s why they’re still relevant to this day, hated or not. They’re still one of the biggest bands in the world.
Alan: If you guys were to perform with a “popular artist”, can you think of anyone you’d choose?
Derrick: Maybe somebody from Massive Attack or Prodigy. I’m sure there’s a list of artists I could think of that would be interesting to work with.
Alan: I believe there’s an upcoming Sepultura movie. Can you tell us some more about that? What can we expect?
Derrick: Yes. It was filmed over the past seven years. We have a Brazilian director. It’s basically just telling the story of why we are still here today. It shows a little bit of the past. It’s showing the difficulties of being on the road as well, like being away from family and things like that. It’s not only for metal people. When you watch it, you definitely get a sense that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes in music. It’s not just everybody partying and getting fucked up every night. There’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of things are happening. It’s an interesting movie about why we are still here today. What led up to this and what was the past? I’m really looking forward to it coming out this year. I’m not sure of the release date.
Alan: Is there any live music in there?Derrick: There are a lot of images from a tour we were doing in the UK. On top of that, there are a lot of interviews with people who were influenced by the band, from Corey Taylor to Phil Anselmo to Dave Ellefson, and Scott Ian. It’s their point of view as well and how the band had an influence on them.
Alan: Are you going to be in Europe for Summer festivals this year?
Derrick: Yeah, we’re going to be back for some festivals. They’re going to be announced at the end of this tour.
Alan: Any last words for your Irish fans?
Derrick: It’s great to be back here. This is probably one of the best places for us to play. We’ve always had a lot of support here.