The Song Remains Insane
GLORIA CAVALERA is one of metal music’s most successful managers. In this rare interview and web exclusive, she discusses her career, both with SEPULTURA and SOULFLY.
GLORIA CAVALERA is a bit of an enigma. Married to one of metal music’s greatest icons, Max Cavalera, she is the woman who has been at his side throughout his successful music career, the manager who catapulted Sepultura onto the world stage, and if some were to be believed, the reason behind one of the biggest splits in metal music history. While her name may be familiar, she chooses to stay firmly in the background but not for one second is she in her husband’s shadow. This is a woman who has her own sense of purpose and has successfully carved out a career that has spanned some 23 years. In person she is warm, welcoming and funny, extremely down to earth and also very open as we talk about some of her experiences.
“It was in '86 that I started managing,” she tells me. “I started with a night club in '83. My brother bought a redneck pool bar in Phoenix and then one day this little garage band came in and said ‘can we play in the corner of the pool room?’, he was like ‘sure!’ He pushed the pool tables together put plywood on them and made that into a drum riser, then they just played and the club was packed. So my brother was like, ‘let’s do this all the time!’ We couldn’t afford to have big bands so we opened our club to all the garage bands and we didn’t really know what we were doing but it created this huge music scene in Phoenix because the garage bands never had a place to play. All of a sudden they had a place that only garage bands could play.”
Bands like Flotsam and Jetsam, Poison, Sacred Reich would all play at Bootleggers before they had records out and the club started to become increasingly popular, until one morning Gloria and her brother showed up at their venue only to find it all locked up. In America at that time, there was a big wave of the police closing down bars overnight she explains. They lost everything they had on the spot. So when Sacred Reich guitarist Jason Rainey called up some months later asking Gloria to manage them, she agreed.
“I hung the phone up and I looked at the kids, and said ‘what the hell does a manager do?’ I didn’t know anything at all and that was basically how I got started.”
“Every failure should just be looked at as a new beginning and that’s how you deal with failure. You just look at it as another door opened.”
She soon learned her trade on the road and to this day is probably the only manager who tours with her bands. When Sacred Reich toured in Europe she was the only person on that tour with them.
“I did so many jobs I saved the bands money paying people that they couldn’t afford to pay, tour manager, selling merch and so on, I just learned all the different jobs being on the road.
“Max always wanted me on the road. We didn’t want to be a family that ended up in divorce like most of the rock families. If you live separate lives you just grow apart and so we determined that we were gonna stay together so we spent extra money getting our own bus and brought all our kids with us. We were determined to stay a family.”
The chapter with Sepultura began with a meeting at King Diamond’s Hallowe’en show at the Ritz in 1989. Roadrunner Records' Monte Conner had been trying to get Gloria to manage the band for several months and eventually she agreed. When she took them they had already had an unsuccessful tour in America but under her management Sepultura enjoyed huge global success and became one of the most critically appraised thrash metal bands of the era. But then it all imploded.
Much has been made of the split in the press both at the time and since, it was widely believed that she had been fired as manager and was the reason for Max’s departure. But Gloria divulges that she was not fired by Sepultura. She quit. She did not offer them another contract and says that it was ultimately for this one shocking reason:
Donington Monsters of Rock, August 1996, Sepultura were due to take the stage when the news came in that Dana Wells - Gloria’s son and Max’s stepson - had been killed in a car crash back home in Arizona. With the help of Sharon Osbourne, Max and Gloria immediately flew home. She explains that while they were on that flight the other wives in Sepultura went to rather extraordinary lengths to take Dana’s body from the coroners under the pretext that the family had asked them to make funeral arrangements. Sit with that for a moment - that someone would take a mother’s dead son, without her knowledge or permission and while she was on a flight back to bury him. Fortunately, she says this was discovered and stopped at the last minute by Dana’s sister Christina. It didn’t become clear to her until later why this even happened, she could only suppose that the attempt to take Dana’s body was an effort to speed up the funeral process in order to get Max back on tour asap, for just 22 hours after the funeral, she received a phone call at 9am telling her to ‘get professional’. She was allowed two weeks off which was ‘plenty of time’ then she had to get back on tour.
“I hung the phone up and I looked at Max and I said when my contract is done on December 16, I’m walking. That’s why I left. When they told me after just 22 hours that I wasn’t professional and I found out they stole my son’s body... would you work with someone like that??”
I’m still trying to grasp what she has just told me but I would say absolutely not. “So how could I? I could barely look at them.”
Finishing that tour was hard, she recalls, she suffered from severe weight loss, was extremely stressed, all the while knowing that her son was murdered and the police had covered it up as a racing accident. If it weren’t for Sharon Osbourne and Ozzy on that tour who, she says “really wrapped their wings around me and comforted me”, she wouldn’t have made it through.
True to her word when the tour finished up at Brixton Academy on December 16, 1996, she walked. Max walked with her.
“I told him he couldn’t quit, Sepultura was his baby, his one shot, but he said he was not going to be with people who could treat someone like that. So when people say to Max all the time, go back do the reunion... Look at all the blood flowing under our bridge! I mean there’s blood flowing, it’s not a split. It was evil, it was dirty, it was despicable what they did and it was from one thing - jealousy. That’s it, nothing else.”
There’s no bitterness in her voice whatsoever, just a weary indignance at the utter betrayal that I sense she still can’t quite comprehend.
I ask her about how that affected her personally, in terms of motivation for her career, to have all her years of hard work come to an abrupt and horrible end.
“Relieved. I was so relieved when I walked away, I’m not joking. There had been trouble since Chaos (1993) but it was very subtle, but a big part of the manager’s job is damage control so I covered everything up all the time. I was really confident in my management. I took Sepultura from nothing, they could not even speak english!” she laughs, “ I could easily pick up another band.”
“I didn’t mourn losing Sepultura,” she muses, “I mourned the friendship and I mourned my loss of my innocence because I never thought that anyone would do that to me. No one took care of them like I took care of them, no one made them like I made them or knew them like I did. I just knew I was made for them but I knew I wasn’t going to give them another contract.”
A media shitstorm erupted over the split but rather than respond to the lies in the press or the much publicised feud between Max and his brother Igor, Gloria chose to stay silent, thinking it would all fade away. In hindsight she realises it was the worst thing to do.
“My mind was mourning my son so I didn’t really care about defending myself. For all those years, everybody was like ‘oh just be quiet, it’ll stop’. When people tell you to ignore something and it’ll go away, it doesn’t. It grows and it makes you look guilty because you don’t say anything about yourself.”
Accusations of her only focusing on Max were printed by the same music journalists who would ask only to talk to Max in interviews, something which bemused them both.
“There is no way a band is gonna be equal because the press people don’t allow it. The whole thing was such a sham at the time”, she recalls. “Max and I managed to walk on through it but for many years I had, and still have people who come up to me and say things to me that they read in the press that just aren’t true. I just let it go, I mean, I’m used to it now.
The title of her online blog, Growing Up Green, which she started writing in the last couple of years, contains the line ‘the story must be and can only be told by those who lived it’. I ask her if that is a deliberate and pointed statement to those negative critics?
“It’s true. I really don’t care. I walked in those shoes with them through those years, no one else did. It’s very shocking to me how people judge other people all the time. If you’re in metal you should know that we don’t judge people because we all live an alternative lifestyle, we look different. We should be the last people to judge but it seems like they’re all just ready there to do exactly that.”
Facebook really opened up her life to her fans, who for years she had avoided walking through at shows because she thought they would all be judging her on Sepultura. She has since discovered that this wasn’t the case at all.
“Now I think there’s just a very small pocket of people left in the world who even believe those stories from that time. It’s been 20 years, if you look at Max’s bands that I managed, I think I’ve proven myself.”
These days she is inundated with messages and she replies to every single one. “I feel like Dear Abby or something,” she jokes, “I answer every single message I get from every person, I have 12000 friends right now. I talk to every one of them. We just lost a young fan recently, a young girl who died from cancer, so we’re all in this together. I always say that I take all the kids that people don’t want, give them to me 'cos I love them and I understand them all.
Given all that went down with Sepultura, was there ever a point where she felt like she was done with music?
“Yes, I actually did,” she answers quietly, “right when Dana died. I said 'I don’t even want to do this anymore, this is ridiculous' but Max said ‘you can’t give up, Dana would want you to go on.’ ”
But also as she was married to Max, she had to save her husband from despair.
“I had to. He was very much suffering. Sepultura hit him very hard, I will tell you. He had to accept it so he just went in and started writing.”
Meanwhile, Gloria threw herself into trying to solve Dana’s murder, something that she spent four years pursuing, even actively going into gang areas in order to get to the truth. She started the annual D-Low Memorial festival, initially to bring awareness to his case.
“That’s what I did. I didn’t sit around and do nothing. I solved a murder that the police couldn’t solve. I uncovered a lot of stuff during that time. I never missed a heartbeat. I never really stopped.
"Dana is the typical story of a metal kid judged wrong by the police just from how he looked. He was giving two kids a ride who had just bought a 12 pack of beer to take to their house, their car had broken down and he was just giving them a ride and got killed. And right away I met one of the policemen and he was like ‘oh he must have been drunk, he was this he was that’ - he was none of those, but because he had tattoos, he had piercings, they were like ‘he deserved it’... you know how it is. Just like anytime there’s a murder, oh 'it’s because they listened to metal.' ”
“You have to follow your dream because you know what? Your dream might lead to another dream that you didn’t even know you had.”
Soulfly was the fresh new beginning for Max and the family, a rebirth of sorts, the phoenix rising from the ashes. Once again Gloria built a band from nothing finding the other musicians when Max had enough songs ready to record.
“I knew the direction he was going in, it was just very clear to me,” she says. That was 1997. 17 years on, 9 studio albums and countless world tours later, Soulfly is still going strong. The longstanding feud between Igor and Max ended when Igor apologised to her several years ago and Gloria has never brought it up with him once since. “I love him, I’m very happy that our family is back together. It takes a man to apologise.”
We discuss the freedom that the band has brought Max with his endless collaborations both within Soulfly and his other projects Cavalera Conspiracy, Killer Be Killed, the rollcall of artists he has brought out on tour with each album.
“It’s true. It’s really refreshing, it gives a nice flavour all the time, it doesn’t become stale. That guy cranks out more hits than, well, I don’t know any artist like him. If you look, for example, the people in Slayer, they have Slayer. The people in Metallica, they have Metallica. What does Max have? Sepultura, Nailbomb, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, Killer Be Killed - 5 great fucking bands. I can’t even think of another artist who has that.”
I suggest that more than just a manager, she is the glue in all of this mix to which she modestly laughs that she just bosses everybody around but then admits, “Yes. I hold a lot together, I really do but I’m very lucky because right now I think I have the best Soulfly I ever had. Marc (Rizzo) and Tony (Campos), I just absolutely adore, they’re both gentlemen, they will take a bullet for any one of us and we all will for each other. I’m just very lucky to have them in my life.”
She immediately gives kudos to those behind the scenes too, the artistic people with them and the crew.
“I love my crew. My crew is very valuable, they’re just as valuable as the band but many people they’ll fire their crew every couple of tours, they don’t respect them, but guess what, they make the show just as much as the band but people just don’t realise that.”
It is really surprising to learn that Gloria has never changed her management percentage since the 80's and is still one of the lowest paid managers in the biz.
“I work because I love music. I love music,” she emphasises. “I love what I’m doing. I do many chores that I don’t get paid for and I don’t mind.”
She is also unique in that she does something other managers won’t do, she develops new bands.
“No one wants to develop a band, they want to just steal a band that someone else worked for.” she explains. “ ‘Oh you’re a little manager, get out of here I’m a big manager, I’ll take you guys over now’ and the bands go and usually they collapse. They last one record or something.”
For the past seven years she has been developing Incite her son Richie’s band whose third album 'Up In Hell' is due for release September 2nd; also for the past two years, her youngest sons Igor and Zyon’s band Lody Kong who she describes as avant garde. But there is no special treatment for the boys and they cannot be accused of coasting on the Cavalera name.
“I don’t hear that anyway. They’re all different so you can tell they’re not really influenced by Max’s music. Maybe they’re influenced by our lifestyle but the only thing that anybody could say is that I put them on tours with us. Well guess what? Every manager does, that’s our business, that’s what we do.
It doesn’t matter to me. Max doesn’t help them at all with any music or any artistic direction. If he comes around Lody Kong, I tell him, ‘get out of here, I don’t want any of your feedback or anything.’ I want all of them to stand with their own bands, and they do.”
She says she tries really hard to make her kids levelheaded. “I always say, keep your feet on the ground. There’s no reason to think you’re more special than anybody else. It amazes me when I go in somewhere and I see people falling over Max just because he wrote a song and there will be a baby doctor who probably saved thousands of lives and he’s just sitting at a table and no one knows he exists. I still don’t quite understand that concept of celebrity. I tell Max - you’re not God,” laughing, “I don’t care what he says!”
Does she worry about her sons’ careers given the current state of the music business?
“No not at all. I never worry. I’ve never been a worrier. My one fear for all those years was that something would happen to one of my children when I was on tour, and it did. And I lived through it. And I know that my son would not want me to stop living, that is one thing.
"Life is the most precious thing that all of us have and people don’t realise one is all we have. There is one life for us and you need to live it and not weigh or judge it on what other people say. Every failure should just be looked at as a new beginning and that’s how you deal with failure. You just look at it as another door opened.”
Nonetheless, how does she see touring sustained in the future if no one pays for the music now? It’s already a struggle for many artists who find themselves constantly on the road just to make a living.
“Good question”, she nods. “The fans are really hurting music right now, they’re killing it and they don’t realise it. All they care about is not spending the money on music but they don’t care about a $600 phone, $2000 mac laptop, flat screen tv but they do not want to pay for music and it’s very sad. Some day they will realise it. I know so many bands that will never come to Europe and no one will see them here, and it’s a shame and it’s because kids won’t support them. It makes every band be a flop to their label ‘oh you didn’t sell enough’ dropped after one album. It’s the way it is, you just have to live with it. You have to keep going. You have to really believe in yourself. You have to follow your dream because you know what? Your dream might lead to another dream that you didn’t even know you had. You never know.”
The Soulfly Tribe, the band’s legion of fans worldwide, is much more than a clever affiliated name, it has become a global movement.
“We’re the biggest tribe in the world! We’re everywhere!”, she beams. “It’s a lifestyle, it really is. We’re just starting to seep our tribe into the Middle East right now. The Muslim religion is not gonna stop us, we’re going in there. We’ve got Facebook friends now in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, I’ve got a kid that sneaks in the TV channel and facebooks me. They’re breaking through. In fact, Max wrote that Killer be Killed song Forbidden Fire for my friend in Iran, but it’s for all the people in the Middle East. That’s what it’s about: the government shall not say music is forbidden.”
I’m struck by this woman’s authenticity, her humanitarian dedication and distinct lack of 'queen bee' attitude, her realism and belief in her path despite all that it has thrown at her. She is a pioneer of music in its true sense, traveling the globe and connecting with her tribe in person, unafraid to blaze trails into new territories.
“My real story isn’t about me,” she concludes, “it’s about so many people attached to me who I look after really. I feel like I’m blessed to be able to walk the Max Cavalera years with Max. That’s a part of music history. I’m very happy that I was able to have God place me in this time, to have the insight to see what was important and to stay with what was important, not to give up and not to walk away and I know I can help a lot of people.”
The Max Cavalera autobiography: My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond is out now.