Last January, Sepultura released the 14th album of their 30+ year career, Machine Messiah. Any band with a history as long as Sepultura has experienced profound changes, internally or externally. Some of these changes are common for any band with a similarly long history, like the turnover in band members, enduring the ebbs and flows of popular music, and the recent explosion of technology and social media. Nevertheless, if anything sets Sepultura apart from their peers it has been their consistent output. It would be easy to expect, or even understand, a fallow period during such a long career, but the band has never stopped. They have released an album every two to three years, with the exception of their latest; however, that was only a result of a tireless touring schedule.
We were grateful for the chance to catch up with guitarist Andreas Kisser ahead of the bands show with Prong and Testament in Dallas, TX. Because Machine Messiah deals with the rise of technology and its profound impact on our daily lives, we took the opportunity to ask Andreas a few questions about technology’s impact on music and how it’s changing things, for better or worse.
the void report: In previous interviews you’ve said that the theme of the album was technology and how it is taking over our daily lives. So, first I wanted to ask about the album cover, which is a painting versus a digital image. Was that anything you thought about when it was time to do the cover?
Andreas Kisser: Well, everything was around the title Machine Messiah and the concept to write the lyrics and the music was to try to find a balance. We’re not against robots or technology, but it seems we’re losing an opportunity to develop our own intellect, our natural resources. So many frequencies and energies around that we cannot really explain very well. People try to give names and try to…there’s some people who have connections, like physics shows a parallel universe, like numbers and mathematics and stuff.
There’s a lot of stuff around and we seem to not be developing that and relying on robots and stuff. Like a sense of direction, like GPS, and apps for everything, food, for women…Google, if you have a doubt you go there and ask a robot. So, you don’t really exercise your own brain to seek whatever experience you had or stuff you might remember you learned in school, you know? When you had a kind of communication with people. And the end, the answer is not really important, you know? I mean the whole communication with people, that’s what a human being is about – to be interacting with each other.
So, I think in general that was the main influence and we have that very early when we started writing the album. Back in Brazil, when we stopped touring we went back to our studio in Sao Paulo and we had the name Machine Messiah, the concept, and everyone was aware that we were going to that direction and I went to the internet to try to find a new artist with that in mind. And the name of the painting is Dues Ex Machina, which had the concept of the God-machine and I was blown away because the cover was there ready for us.
And I think that’s an interesting point you brought up, because no one really made that connection, you know? Because we record the drums on tape machine still and try to get the best of both worlds. And having a painting manually done, Camille Dela Rosa, she’s from the Philippines, a whole different cultural background and ideas from the European or South American or American connection or whatever. And that’s what I was looking for…trying to find somebody new. And it was great that the cover was done in 2010 and somehow it was expecting or waiting for us there. And she was so happy to be a part of it and we got the painting and it’s fabulous and it fits very well with what we were doing and it was like one stress less, you know? To try to convince an artist to do something that we might give some directions and stuff, but everything was there ready to go.
the void report: That’s interesting, I didn’t know it was done before. But, when I was doing research for this interview I looked up her work and she’s got lots of rad shit.
Andreas Kisser: It’s amazing, right?
the void report: Yeah.
Andreas Kisser: There’s a lot of Salvador Dali influence, I think, and even Michael Whelan, the guy who did our covers for Beneath the Remains, Arise, Chaos AD and Roots. And there are some people who made the connection with the Arise cover, you know…
the void report: Yeah, that was my next question, actually! (Laughs)
Andreas Kisser: I don’t know, you would have to ask her (Laughs).
the void report: Yeah, I was going to say it kind of seemed like a modern update of the Arise cover.
Andreas Kisser: It’s even better, you know, to have that connection with our own career. And maybe she is influenced by Michael Whelan, who knows? Or Sepultura. It’s something I need to ask her. It’s really cool that the connection is there. If it was on purpose or not, it’s there.
the void report: You said that the drums were recorded to tape, but what elements of technology, be it ProTools or whatever, came into play on this album?
Andreas Kisser: To be all together there, for this album it was just myself and Eloy on the drums in the room playing together. But [it] still had the kind of feeling of playing in the rehearsal room as a band. And the songs on the drums part was just a few, or even no editing. Just a flow of performance, that’s what we were looking for. Because you could do parts and build a song on computer, but that’s so dead (Laughs). It’s so…lack of life, you know? Of energy and stuff.
The starting point are the drums, always. So, you have that very organic, very free. We did some stuff with a metronome and other stuff without it. Really respecting the pulse and the performance of the moment. But, ProTools are great for editing vocals, for instance. You can open so many channels and try a lot of different layers, and guitars as well. Like leads, I can put like 15 guitars if I want…if needed. It’s great for that part. And the violins were recorded in Tunisia, so that kind of connection, also…the computers and files and downloads really helped out a lot. You don’t have to go to bring all the stuff there, like we did with the Xavantes tribe [on the Roots album]. We had a tape recorder and car batteries for an energy source to record and stuff. It was done very organic, let’s say.
It’s great that we have the possibility to use both. And we are an old school band, so it’s really important to have that. We play every day on stage. We tour a lot…so many different situations from clubs to big festivals. We bring that to the studio to have that kind of feeling. It’s not our goal, but it would be something…really a challenge to record a whole album live in the studio. Especially for this style of music. But, I think it can be done. We play a lot. We have a really cool interaction with ourselves as a band. I think it can be a really good difference between the studio vibe and the live stuff.
the void report: One the big criticism of digital recording is going back to fix errors. Usually it’s the vocals that are most often cited in that manner, but really all the instruments are important and have their own voice, if you will. When you’re trying to find that balance between digital and analog, where do you stop yourself from fixing things…or are you more prone to re-record it or tweak it in mixing.
Andreas Kisser: Anything is possible, it depends on the situation. It’s not like a general rule. Anything can happen in a recording situation, but like I said we are an old school band with old school solutions. We go and try different…we change a little bit of left hand or maybe I have to change right hand. Or maybe mute with tape…like two extra strings, the first two strings, not to resonate when I’m doing some type of rhythm. There’s lots of tricks in the studio, natural tricks you can use and not depend on the robot to do it. And that’s where you learn. It’s a great school because every recording process that we go through we are a better musician after words, there’s no doubt about it. Because, of the details. Details that you change here…you listen to a producer who brings a lot of new possibilities and a different point of view about your own playing, your own music. Which for a musician can be really hard to listen to some criticism, you know? But, the producer is there for that. “You’re doing this wrong, why don’t you try that? It’s not really good” and stuff. And you have to be open to deal with that. And that’s a human interaction. A robot can fix something more superficial, not regarding performance and expression.
the void report: Over your career, going on 30 years, you’ve been able to witness so many changes. What do you think has been more profound? Changes in the musical landscape, from thrash being popular, then grunge, the Nu-Metal, or has the advances in technology been more profound?
Andreas Kisser: I think Paulo’s (Xisto Pino Jr., bassist) hair is the most profound change in Sepultura’s career (Laughs). Look at that? Nobody could expect that to happen. But, I think both, you know? Changes are happening all the time, especially during the 30 years of the Sepultura career. It’s been the most fast-paced moving changes in history or mankind, maybe. Not only technology, but the rise of terrorism, and of course internet, Twitter, Facebook. Revolutions, in like the Arab world through the internet that happened. Which is…it’s something positive in the end, because I think rock n’ roll in general came to change a lot. Long hair, hippies, drugs, feminism, civil rights, everything was parallel to that freedom of expression. And get away from the paternal 50s or 40s…very straight kind of laws.
Brazil came with that as well with the colonies in Portugal and stuff. And music and art in general really break every barrier like that. Not only music, but painting like Picasso, changing the concept of what a person should look like. I think it’s great actually. It’s something where there is no other way of developing something in a progressive form. Even though I think human beings are more stupid than ever. It’s so radical, if you’re either A or Z, it’s very polarized. Not only in the states, everywhere you see that. It’s an interesting period of time we’re living. It’s great to be here now as a musician, experiencing the world. We travel so much and stuff and we embrace those changes. It’s really hard to fight against, because you’re going to lose. Because it’s something that is here.
the void report: It’s kind of futile to resist.
Andreas Kisser: Yeah, and I think Machine Messiah deals with that. Try to find this balance, discipline. You need specific time for things, you need a balance. What you eat, exercises or when you study guitar, time with family. Like educating a kid. You come back to school, lunch, homework, exercise, then maybe play some video games. You have to have some discipline to really grow and be aware of all the possibilities so you can follow what you’re here for.
the void report: For you personally, where do you draw the line with technology…from being a great tool and also being an extreme annoyance, or even…I have friends whose lives are on Facebook. You go to dinner and they’re on their phone the whole time.
Andreas Kisser: It’s like a drug, you know? You have to realize yourself that you have a problem (Laughs). Because people are around and stuff. But, nowadays people think it’s normal to be there all the time. I think, for us we have the possibility to travel and go see places, and the stage as well, we have that connection with the crowd. Especially the ones that aren’t feeling the shows (Laughs).
the void report: Oh, we’re going to get to that (Laughs).
Andreas Kisser: But, you know, I think that it’s something…I think we’re privileged to have such great possibilities to see so many different places in such a short period of time. Everyday we’re in a different place or a different country. It keeps our mind, I think…we talk to more people. Fans or interviews or whatever. We exercise our human abilities doing that. Of course, a connection with my house and kids, the robots are great for that (Laughs). That’s the thing, to try and balance that.
the void report: As far as positives about technology, I read in a recent interview that you did where you said that technology has made it a lot easier to write on the road. Well, first I was kind of surprised you said that because I don’t meet many bands today who still write on the road.
Andreas Kisser: I write all the time. Especially with the phone. We can keep an idea anywhere. Even if you do something with your mouth, just singing a melody. Or using the notes just to write song titles and stuff like that, that we might use in the future. Just keep ideas or whatever concept we have and use those and develop into songs. I also have my laptop with ProTools and stuff and use a drum machine to create sounds and riffs and ideas. On the road we also have a lot of spare time to do this. There’s lots of waiting and sometimes you’re not in a place where you can’t go out and do shit. So, it’s cool to have that kind of possibility as well. To keep the ideas mounting. It’s great to have options.
the void report: In terms of technology and the distribution of music, or availability, what are your thoughts on streaming services, as a music fan or for Sepultura specifically.
Andreas Kisser: I think as a fan it’s great, for a band it’s horrible. Because they don’t pay much at all. But, it’s an amazing tool, no doubt about it. You’ve got the whole history of music in your hands, basically. Type a name and you can find anything. It’s something that is still part of this transition phase and we’re still learning to deal with possibilities.
Metallica just released an album very differently from anything that any other band did. Ten video clips, each video clip being released in a different part of the world exclusively. It’s very interesting, you know? This is some possibilities that this type of business opened that we didn’t have in the past. So, there’s so many possibilities there, it’s crazy. Like Shakira, for instance, releasing singles not albums. A song here, a song there. It’s another process for artists of that size or that style of music. It’s great, we’re all still learning. I think Spotify and streaming it’s a great thing, but us musicians and writers need to fight for our rights. We have to pay bills as well.
the void report: Let’s talk about how technology has changed the concert experience. This is a much debated topic among myself and my friends. I admit that I do take a few photos during a concert, on my phone, but I never do video! So, how have you seen it change? When you see fans standing there through multiple songs just filming, is that an annoyance?
Andreas Kisser: The metal crowd is not as much as other crowds, I should say. A metal crowd is in the mosh pit, they like to head bang. Maybe some people do that. In the end, it’s their problem. They’re missing an opportunity. They’re missing life. It doesn’t annoy me. It’s not something that’s going to break my focus, let’s say…or my performance. If they’re enjoying the show in that manner, I respect that. At the same time, I think they miss a lot. They lose a lot of the momentum if they have the phone there looking through the screen while the show is happening.
I have great memories from my first concerts. When I saw Kiss in Brazil in 1983, of course no technology involved, but I have everything here (points to his head), I didn’t need a tape or any photos to remember that moment. And that show changed my life because I really wanted to be a musician. I think they should give a chance for themselves and keep their phones in their pocket and enjoy the show.
the void report: I admit, I can get a little cynical about it. Like, “I paid my money, I can do whatever I want.” But, last year I saw Megadeth and I was about five or six rows back and Dave Mustaine comes over to the side of the stage where I was and starts a guitar solo. Then the guy in front of me whips out his phone to take a video, but then the guys in front of him pull out their phones, too. And there were like six people with phones waving about because none of them could get a clean shot because everyone elses’ phone was in the way. And it was like, “Great, guys. We all missed it” (Laughs).
Andreas Kisser: (Laughs). You have to go to YouTube now to watch the guitar solo.
the void report: So, how do you listen to music today? Digitally or physical formats?
Andreas Kisser: On the road, mostly digitally of course. Through the iPhone or iPod, but at home I have a vinyl collection. My son is 19 years old and he also plays guitar and he loves vinyl and stuff. We are increasing our collection of vinyl and we listen to vinyl a lot at home. Which is great. Recently, I went through my cassette tape collection. I have lots of old demos and they sounded great. I was surprised after 20-30 years that they still worked. But, both [digital and physical]. I’m not an enemy of the robots. It’s just try to find that balance and a reference. When you listen to vinyl and you go to digital you have that feeling. They’re different somehow, frequencies and stuff. When you start having a better ear to define things. For my profession it’s good to have as much references as possible.