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The Evolution of Iggor Cavalera

Sepultura founding member explains approach to ongoing growth as an artist.

Key points

  • While achieving fame and success can be a blessing on some levels, it can also put artists into a bind in terms of how they express creativity.
  • Artists may feel they need to choose between pleasing their fanbase and exploring their creativity in ways that their fans may not like.
  • Musician Iggor Cavalera balances his need for creativity and innovation while staying connected with his fans.
  • Cavalera defines his success in knowing that others find healing in his work.

Many people are drawn to playing music because it gives them an opportunity to create and grow as artists and people. Not only does music provide an opportunity to develop their skills, but also to explore their personal and emotional experience. It is an ongoing process of evolution that can be equal parts exhilarating, fulfilling, and challenging.

As this evolution unfolds, one of the most wonderful things that can happen to a musician is that others become interested in their work. In particularly successful cases, musicians are so popular and successful that music can become a career, perhaps bringing money, fame, and critical praise.

Jim Louvau, used with permission
Source: Jim Louvau, used with permission

And while achieving this success is a blessing on many levels, it also can put artists into an interesting quandary. Because while a musician may be in a perpetual state of evolution, the world does not necessarily engage with the artist and their music throughout that developing process. Rather, the world often only interacts with an artist and their music at certain moments in their journey. There is inevitably a favorite album, song, or performance that is meaningful to a fan, impressive to a critic, or perhaps alluring to a record label. And while in an ideal world, the musician is free to continue their artistic evolution and follow that path wherever it may lead, success brings unintentional pressures. People become attached to the artist at a certain moment or period in their career, not necessarily throughout the artist’s evolution. In fact, there may be covert or even overt pressure for the artist not to evolve, but rather stay at the same place musically and artistically in order to please fans, critics and labels.

How does an artist deal with this potential dilemma? To better understand the question, I spoke with drummer Iggor Cavalera, formerly of thrash metal pioneers Sepultura and now of Cavalera Conspiracy—both bands co-founded with brother Max Cavalera.

Their early work together in Sepultura made an indelible mark on heavy metal music. Loudwire declared Sepultura to be one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time. Spin magazine rated Sepultura as one of the top three thrash metal bands of all time. Kerrang! judged Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time, while Rolling Stone chose to honor Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. album as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.

After leaving Sepultura, the brothers continued to evolve upon forming Cavalera Conspiracy in 2007, putting out four albums in the subsequent decade, including Inflikted, which Louder magazine actually rated higher than Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. Iggor and Max are now touring together on the “Return Beneath Arise” tour, playing select tracks from Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains and Arise albums.

Being part of such a seminal band as Sepultura naturally means that as Iggor or Max put out new music, there will be an inevitable comparison to their previous work. Some people may want them to “return to their roots” and harken back to the magic of early Sepultura albums, whereas other people may appreciate how their approach to music evolves.

Iggor reflected on the concept of staying “relevant” in his career. “It's a struggle because you always find yourself in a lot of doubt of being relevant. Is the stuff you do still valid as something you did years ago? … Do you stick to something that you did - a formula that works? Or do you do something that you continue some kind of an evolution as a musician, and you keep trying new things,” Iggor explained. “I have a tendency of staying in that road of trying new things, even though I love the roots of things that I do … I think it's important to move forward … not forget the past, but also not be so connected, that you cannot try new things.”

In order to achieve this balance, Iggor has an almost dual-track approach to his career. One track nurtures his ongoing need to evolve and grow as an artist while the other is mindful and respectful of his audience and their devotion to his work. The key to this dual approach is Iggor’s focus on the connection that he or his fans have to his music in the present, rather than in reference to previous or potential future work. In terms of his own evolution and connection to the music, if he feels connected to a project at the moment, it does not matter whether later evolutions of his music move him in a different artistic direction.

To nurture his evolution as an artist, Iggor tries to connect to what he describes as his “gut feeling” as an artist. “I try to dig in and get that gut feeling, have that sensation of like, ‘Wow, this is fresh, I love this,’” Iggor explained. “This new idea that I have. It's a new project that I have coming up—it can be something in a studio and can be a new tour.”

To nurture this gut feeling, Iggor devotes himself to ongoing research that exposes him to new musical ideas. “I have a tendency of spending a few hours of my day just on research on music, and that's something that I do daily," he explained. “I go into different channels and research for especially a lot of music that is off the radar … different styles of music, very difficult to find.”

Similarly, he seeks out friends who are like-minded in wanting to push the envelope and explore new musical ideas. “I had one of my really good friends the other day … He was like, ‘What is the last record you heard that really disturbed you? Like, in a good sense. That when you went to bed, you kept thinking about it?’” Iggor recalled. “Those kinds of friends are very cool, where they're not just like, ‘Yeah, whatever, that was great’ … That's important to have those few persons in your life where you can be like, ‘Yeah, we can share those things.’ … I do want to hear that thing that you're not really comfortable yet with it.”

One technical way that Iggor encourages musical evolution is by physically changing his drum setup on different projects. “Every time I'm going to write or start a new project, I change things on my drum setup. So, I forced myself to look at the drums in a different way than it was before,” he said. “I have a tendency to go in and switch some things around that will be a bit of a challenge for me to play different.”

But just as he is respectful of his own personal connection to the work, Iggor values his connections to fans. It does not matter to him whether a fan is connected to his earlier or later work, or has the same appreciation for his ongoing evolution as an artist. If there was ever a connection, it is valuable to him. “The meaning of success, it means different things for different people … For me, it's the respect that I get from people. It’s the words that I hear that no money can buy—of people that appreciate the music that I made,” Iggor said. “And those things are very important at that can hear those words, where people are like, ‘Oh, this record helped me at that moment.’ And those things are quite important, you know—it’s like music, it does have a healing property.”

Yet despite how much he nurtures his own evolution in music, Iggor is still respectful of the fans’ connection to specific parts of his career. As a result, he does not include every innovation on every record. He may be more likely to leave those experiments for alternative projects, such as his recent work with grindcore legends Pig Destroyer.

“There's an element of loyalty, especially when we talk about stuff that I do together with my brother. There is this whole history … a certain fan base that really follows the stuff that we do. And then, of course, there are certain things that I do with different people that I know, it's not going to generate the same attention. And that's also fine,” Iggor explained. “I think it's about balancing those things...I think that’s also very important not to force your fans to hear something just for the sake of you showing your ego that you can do something different...Because those fans, if they really want, they will find out. If they're open to something a bit different, they will go down that road.

“And if they're not, that's totally fine.”