SEPULTURA Guitarist Andreas Kisser - "We Want To Re-Conquer The Trust Of People"
April 4, 2009, 13 years ago
Only after listening to SEPULTURA’s latest record, A-Lex, did the following thought come about: A Clockwork Orange - the classic book by Anthony Burgess and the equally influential film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick - definitely and defiantly has a lot in common with metal. A Clockwork Orange is a treatise on chaos, disorder, dystopia in the vaguely foreseeable future, the brute force of irrational behaviour and, most prevalently, human nature. As those immersed in the heavy music spectrum can readily attest, these are all themes that various thinking metal bands have explored on their own terms and over the spans of their respective catalogues. As such, the fact that Sepultura has decided to tackle A Clockwork Orange in the form of a concept record makes a lot of sense.
A Clockwork Orange is renowned for several elements, but the most important might be the language Burgess’ book is written in. Burgess - in his stroke of genius - created a new dialect that incorporated British cockney slang and Russian, encapsulating the reader in an initial sense of disorientation that mimics, as mentioned above, the dread of an oddly foreseeable future dystopia. And what becomes clear as Sepultura guitar player Andreas Kisser discusses A-Lex is that the man is passionate about Burgess’ book and especially its language, as this record was first and foremost conceived based on the written word. Kisser has not only read A Clockwork Orange, but he’s also explored Burgess’ life via biographies and has researched A Clockwork Orange to the point of finding dictionaries that will decode the book’s dialect. Fortunately for us, Kisser and Sepultura vocalist Derrick Green incorporated A Clockwork Orange’s central linguistic feature into the record, making A-Lex authentic and unique fare. In fact, A-Lex means ‘no law’ in Russian.
At the same time, one can’t deny that Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of the book has propelled this story of ultraviolence into the annals of pop culture psyche. Malcolm McDowell’s chilling portrayal of main character Alex DeLarge seared the character into adherents of the film, but what is arguably just as important as McDowell’s depiction is the soundtrack, scored by Walter Carlos (a vinyl copy of which coincidentally graces my turntable as these words are written). Carlos’ original score, as well as his seriously eerie re-creation of Ludwig van Beethoven archetypes, coats the film and adds essential features to its unsettling aura. This is also something Kisser and his cohorts have tapped into on A-Lex, using it as the basis for Sepultura’s hands-down most ambitious and adventurous track, ‘Ludwig Van’.
A-Lex, lest you wonder, is still a heavy record. It’s one that taps into Sepultura’s patented sense of aggression, the tracks here raging with shards of thrash, death metal and ‘80s hardcore. The result is that the group has created its fiercest Derrick Green-era record and, despite both Cavalera brothers jumping this Brazilian ship over the last decade, Sepultura remains as determined and motivated as ever.
First things first though, why has Sepultura delved into concept album territory twice in a row (the first being ‘06’s Dante XXI, based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy)? Are concept albums a current fascination?“Sepultura had done so much up to when we did Dante,” Kisser begins. “We worked with great producers, we recorded and played shows in many different places in the world, and we did the stuff with the Xavante tribe and Japanese drummers. And because of experiences I had here in Brazil doing soundtracks for movies, I’ve found writing for movies very interesting. Ten years ago Iggor (Cavalera) and I were invited to do a soundtrack for a movie, and since then many invitations have come to do movies with different directors and all sorts of stories with different actors. I feel it’s pretty interesting to write music for a movie; it’s different to write for a movie as compared to writing normally in a band. You have to respect certain limits, like the point of view of the director and the storyline and the characters. You really explore more of your creativity; the more limitations you have, the more creative you get. You have to do a lot more with less. And that’s why we looked for a book or a movie to write music for. It wasn’t only music though, we were also looking to write lyrics and have an artistic concept. It’s very motivating and very inspirational when you have such a strong concept, whether it’s The Divine Comedy or now with A Clockwork Orange. We thoughts Dante XXI turned out great, so we decided to do another one.”
“A Clockwork Orange is a totally different book,” Kisser continues, contrasting the two projects. ”It’s a much shorter read and it’s more modern. The movie is very well known and it’s a famous classic, so people can relate with the novel a little bit more. We were very inspired to write this record.”
Sepultura’s passion for A Clockwork Orange is clear while listening to A-Lex, and the band’s attention to detail is the mark of musicians fully on board with the project at hand. A genuine enthusiasm is apparent in Kisser’s voice as he discusses the creation of A-Lex; that’s a good sign almost 25 years into a career, no doubt.“I first saw the movie during the early ‘80s and since then I’ve seen it many times,” reflects Kisser. “I have the DVDs with interviews and extra stuff. I wasn’t familiar with the book when we started this project, but I went and did research and then read the book. I also learned about Anthony Burgess’ life. I learned when he wrote and why, and the circumstances surrounding his writing. It was very cool. I read the book and wrote the songs at different times; we were working in parallel. After two or three weeks of jamming we started listening to what we had, and then we started listening closely to see how they worked with the book. We tried figuring out which songs represented which phases of the story, and the vocal lines and ideas for titles come from everybody reading the book and re-watching the movie. Derrick wrote the lyrics and me and him were looking for all the parallels with the book and the music we had written.”
And it wouldn’t be a bona fide aural re-creation of A Clockwork Orange without incorporating the aforementioned dialect as well the disconcerting futuristic (dis)harmonies.“The language in the book is great,” Kisser exclaims. “It’s something very creative from Burgess. He was a very transient guy who lived in many different places in the world, and he could speak Russian which he mixed with the British cockney slang in the book. We really liked the words, so there’s many, many words and phrases in the songs that we took from the language. It’s very musical and it’s a great language to write around. And we had to represent Beethoven somehow. Without Beethoven it would be an incomplete opus (laughs). Especially in the movie, the impact of the music is essential. And in the book, Alex cites a lot of different composers. Classical music is a weapon for him, and it’s essential. It seems like classical music is even more important than food to Alex. We had to portray that somehow, and from day one working on the album that was our big challenge. So we did the song ‘Ludwig Van’. I wanted to do the ‘Ninth Symphony’ and represent, as much as we could, what Beethoven did. It was the same approach as when we worked with the Xavante tribe on Roots. We went into the tribe and we used one of their traditional songs. We didn’t change what they were doing, we just added Sepultura to it. And then we did something together. It was the same approach we did with Beethoven. We tried as much as we could to keep the original format and tried to adapt the band to the orchestra and vice-versa. It was a great experience and we learned a lot during the process. The book inspired us to do something like that, and without the book we would have never taken on an ambitious project like ‘Ludwig Van’. That’s the beauty of having a strong topic behind the record. We can do things we wouldn’t normally do. You don’t know if you’re capable of doing something or not if you don’t try (laughs). We really tried and we worked hard on it. We got our friends in to help us, and it was a great process. We came out a little better, if I can say that. We came out with more experience and we developed throughout the process. We did something we didn’t know we were capable of.”
Sepultura hasn’t gone all S&M; (remember that METALLICA experiment?) on us though, and no edition of something as violent and nihilistic as A Clockwork Orange could be considered in tame terms. Therefore, A-Lex is still a brutal record that espouses the psychotically detached rage of its central character and his world.“The book really brought out the place and the flavour,” explains Kisser. “It’s very chaotic and it’s kind of a future age where nothing is certain. There’s no government and no police, and it’s all very grimy. There’s chaos all around with gangs and violence, and the album reflects that. It’s in-your-face and we tried to express that with the music.”
Since Dante XXI, Sepultura has seemed more focused than ever on touring hard and reclaiming the crown it achieved with such statements as Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia as well as its classics Beneath The Remains, Arise, Chaos A.D. and Roots. Despite the fact that Max and Iggor Cavalera released the surprisingly impressive CAVALERA CONSPIRACY record in ‘08, Kisser is still certain about Sepultura’s place and its future.“We want to re-conquer the trust of people,” Kisser says. “With the changes we had with the departure of the Cavaleras, it was very difficult to re-build everything. I think it’s great that Iggor started to talk to Max again; after all, they’re brothers. Everything’s cool with Iggor, and it’s cool that he’s doing what makes him happy and that he’s with his brother again. I mean, we can’t force someone to be in the band when he doesn’t want to be in a band with us. But we’re following our own way here, and I think we’re at a point now where we feel great again in Sepultura. Jean (Dolabella, drums) has brought a lot of new ideas and new motivation to the band, and he’s an amazing musician with many options and possibilities. It’s very exciting to be alive and to be alive with our band that has such a history. To still be here and relevant is amazing. And it’s great doing new stuff and talking about the new stuff. A Clockwork Orange is a great book and an interesting topic, and next year we’re going to be on the road. We’re going to really explore A-Lex live on stage and really give a great concert and see what happens in the next year or two. Hopefully we’ll be playing a lot.”
Will that playing include a reunion with the Cavaleras?“I don’t know. Who knows? There’s nothing going on with that now. We’re very focused on what we’re doing with A-Lex, and if something like that were to happen it would have to be done right. We’d have to really talk to each other and discuss our feelings and the different directions and all that. We would have to develop something interesting instead of just going on stage and playing ‘Roots’, y’know? But we’re not thinking much about that because we’re so focused on the new record. We really respect our past and we’re looking towards the future and enjoying doing that.”
The one message that comes through the most during the course of the interview is that despite the internal acrimony that Sepultura has seen throughout the years, the band is still having fun making records. One surely feels that optimism running through A-Lex.“If we didn’t still have fun making new records, we’d stop (laughs). It doesn’t matter what kind of profession you’re in, you’ll always have difficult times and hit bumps in the road. But that makes you better. Experiences like that in life allow you to grow and learn. There’s always something new and exciting to work with. Sure, we’ve changed members and labels and management, but we still play music and travel which is amazing. We love to do that. And we love to visit new places: we did shows in Cuba, India and the Philippines and it’s amazing to see that people have followed our career for such a long time and that they respect the band so much and they’re so happy to see us in their country. It’s great and it’s very exciting. To be on stage, that’s why I’m a guitar player.”