No Regrets: In Conversation with Sepultura’s Paulo Jr

“I don’t know, I’ve lost count.” This is the answer Sepultura bassist – and current longest serving band member – Paulo Jr gives when discussing how many albums frontman Derrick Green has featured on. It’s a pertinent answer – it is often hard to talk about Sepultura without referencing those seminal Cavalera-led albums we all hold so dear, the influence and quality of earlier albums like Beneath The Remains, Arise and Chaos AD being beyond question. However, to diminish the breadth of creativity on display on the albums the band have made since Max Cavalera’s exit is nothing less than wanton ignorance. Green’s tenure did get off to an admittedly rocky start (you try being the new member of a band tasked with following up an album like Roots) and it took a few years before his place as the band’s vocalist felt truly cemented, but in the past twenty-plus years Sepultura have put out some incredibly strong work, none more so than on 2015’s The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart and it’s spectacular 2017 follow-up Machine Messiah. Indeed, one gets the feeling that if these albums were put out under a different moniker, without the cultural and critical baggage that simply comes from being Sepultura, they would be talked about in much wider circles and in much more positive terms.

So we come to album number fourteen, Quadra, their third release with the 28-year old powerhouse Eloy Casagrande behind the drum kit. Born the same year Sepultura released Arise, Casagrande seems to have played a huge part in the band’s creative resurgence this past decade, following the departures of Iggor Cavalera in 2006 and his replacement Jean Dolabella in 2011. As a listener, it’s easy to hear how well he gels with the other three members. “He fits perfectly”, testifies Paulo Jr. “He’s very energetic, you know? He’s younger than us. We’re all old now *laughs* so he makes us step up our playing. It’s a good challenge for us.” This is something that comes up several times during the course of our conversation with the four-stringed maestro – the importance the band place on not repeating themselves, of not looking backwards but instead working to build on the progress they make with each album and continually challenging themselves. 

Following on from the creative and critical success of 2017’s Machine Messiah, the band once again chose to work with acclaimed producer Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios close to Stockholm, Sweden. A clear bond developed between Bogren and the band with the recording of Machine Messiah and it has seemingly only strengthened on Quadra. “Jens was like a fifth member of the band,” Paulo Jr tells us. “He would come up with ideas and suggestions too. Good producers do that, they work with you, get your best work out of you. We felt very comfortable with him, he really pushed us to the limit.”

The results speak for themselves; on some of Quadra’s heavier tracks, such as ‘Last Time’, you can practically feel the sweat dripping off the band. It would be easy for musicians of their stature to rest on their laurels, take the easy route even, but this is clearly anathema to the band’s inner workings. Commenting on the album’s sound, Paulo Jr comes across incredibly proud, declaring, “It’s definitely a step up from Machine Messiah, like a follow-up of sorts. We used that album as a reference, an inspiration. We took on a lot of our old-school stuff as inspiration too.“ In addition to Bogren, the quieter setting of the Swedish countryside seems to have played a part in the band’s creativity too. “Sweden is very nice,” confirms Paulo Jr. “When we recorded the album, it was around Spring, so not too cold! Jens’ home studio is far from the city centre. I like the noiselessness of nature. It’s a completely different vibe from Sao Paulo, with all the traffic, noise and a two-hour drive to the studio. Like with Chaos AD, which we recorded in Wales, when you have peace, you play better, there’s less distraction.” 

Even so, Paulo Jr still admits to struggling with playing in the studio. “I love the live vibe,” he admits. “I’ve always had problems in the studio. In the past, sometimes I used to just freeze and Andreas [Kisser, guitarist] has had to step in a few times. I prefer live; the travelling, everything, you have one chance to get it right. For Sepultura, playing live is in our blood.”

Like much of their most recent output, Quadra is very much a concept album. Based on the importance of the number four in Numerology, with the word “quadra” itself meaning “four ways” in Latin. The album as such is divided into four sections, depicting the four main traits of the band’s sound. It was an idea that Kisser brought to the table for them all to work on. “At the start of the writing, Derrick was still in the US,” explains Paulo Jr. “So we were writing separately and Andreas brought the idea to us. He and Eloy would work on their parts, then Derrick and I came down.” 

What started out as initially a single idea from Kisser clearly soon evolved into a collaborative effort from all four band members, even if not all of those ideas put forward made it on the album. “I brought my own ideas too, but a lot of them didn’t really work. Sometimes what sounds good to you when writing alone, when you bring it to the band, it can sound shit *laughs*.” Having all embraced the concept that Kisser brought to the band, Paulo Jr too sees how the themes and music bring Sepultura history into one place. “The album brings the history of the band together,  with the thrash elements, the death metal, the instrumental sections. That was the idea and I think it came out nicely.” Indeed, one element of Quadra that shines through is the range of styles and influences it references from the band’s back catalogue without ever sounding derivative.

When looking back at the history of Sepultura, one can’t ignore how their home country of Brazil has had a massive influence on their sound and enduring legacy. In 1984, to many in the Western world, South American metal seemed distant, non-existent even. In the 36 years since the band formed, that perception has changed, largely thanks to Sepultura’s influence. “Big changes, man,” Paulo Jr agrees. “It used to be very closed off, no-one really knew us. Brazil was just portrayed as football, coffee, carnival and women. But it’s such a massive country, full of music and it’s much more open now. Everyone wants to play in Brazil, to the big crowds. There’s a lot of different artists too, lots of culture, not just in metal but in every genre.” Evidence of this can be heard on Quadra’s epic closing track ‘Fear, Pain, Chaos, Suffering’, which features guest vocals from Emily Barretto, singer with Sao Paulo-based rock band Far From Alaska. On paper, this isn’t an obvious match, but the stirring track proves to be one of the album’s highlights and serves as further proof of a band ready to try new things. This shines through in Paulo’s words too, as his hopes for the future of Sepultura seem quite simple: “We’ve accomplished a lot so far, but there’s always new challenges up the road, new ideas to play with, new guests to work with.”

Sepultura show no signs of slowing down or letting their creative juices dry up any time soon, but as the band members get older and their history longer, one wonders how they view their own legacy. In terms of what they have achieved, Paulo states, “I think Sepultura opened up the rock and metal scene in Brazil to the world, introducing different playing. We brought new rhythms, new grooves with a different swing.” Beyond that, what should Sepultura be remembered for? “I guess to be remembered as one of the most influential metal bands of the past few decades,” says Paulo earnestly. And in regards to the band’s key line-up changes over the years, his position is clear: “I have no regrets, there were no changes that weren’t necessary. I’m still here, doing what I love.” This seems to be the key to the band’s durability and natural evolution; a heartfelt passion to continue writing and playing the music they love, regardless of the challenges that come their way. “When you have a 35-year career, you’re always looking for new challenges and ways to step it up. To me, every Sepultura album is a step forward, since day one. We never get comfortable, never reproduce what’s already been done. That’s the Sepultura way.”

Quadra is out 7 February on Nuclear Blast. For more, click here to check out our weekly song roundup, featuring tracks to get you through the week.

Words: Adam Pegg

Photo: Marco Hermes