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Interview with Jean Dolabella (Sepultura)

Emerging from the Brazilian music scene to international acclaim in the late 1980s, Sepultura took the thrash metal sound to new heights with their breakthrough Beneath the Remains, before enjoying commercial success in the early 1990s with their classic records Chaos A.D. and Roots. But following the departure of frontman Max Cavalera, the band spent the next decade undergoing various line-up changes, with Derrick Green taking over as vocalist while Max’s younger brother, Igor Cavalera, stepped down as drummer in 2006.

Prior to being hired as Igor’s replacement in Sepultura, Jean Dolabella had cut his teeth in the metal groups Udora, while also collaborating with a variety of musicians from Brazilian artists such as Tianastácia to the group Rockfellas, alongside former Iron Maiden frontman Paul Di’Anno. Dolabella made his studio debut with Sepultura in 2009 with A-Lex, a concept album loosely based on Anthony Burgess’ controversial novel A Clockwork Orange and the subsequent movie adaptation from legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.

Jean talks about his influences, experiences in the industry and his work with Sepultura.

How did you first come to drum professionally and what do you recall of your earlier groups? Did you always want to play in a metal band and which drummers were you inspired by?

I started playing drums when I was very young but I started playing professionally when I was fifteen. Before that I played in bands with friends and it was always related to rock or metal music. After, when I started working with music, I played in many bands and many music styles. I always wanted to play music and live off of it, I never thought it had to be a metal band, I love playing metal but I’m not only a metal drummer, I’m a musician. I don’t want to be stuck inside a music genre, never wanted.

There was this band I played that I consider to be one of my biggest schools in life. We played only covers, but I was young and I learned a lot about how everything works. It was my first time playing to a click track and we played a lot of different styles of music. Doing four or more shows a week for two years, that really helped me to develop my playing. I was always inspired by a lot of musicians, not only drummers, and this changes from time to time. Eddie and Alex Van Halen, John Bonham, Dave Lombardo, Dave Grohl, Igor Cavalera, Mike Bordim, Jeff Buckley, Carter Beauford, This is back then. From nowadays, Joshua Redman, Dave King, Steve Jordan, Tomas Haake, John Mayer, Brian Blade and many many others.

Amongst the groups and artists you have collaborated with over the years are Sonia Andrade, Udora and Kátia Moraes. Having performed with such diverse musicians what kind of style did you enjoy playing the most and which of these artists had the most impact on your career?

I enjoy the most when I love the music I’m playing. It doesn’t matter if it’s funk or rock or metal, when I like the music I enjoy playing it. All the people I worked with have taught me a lot in a way, but Udora made definitely the biggest impact. That was the first band I really put everything I had for it. Of course we were naive at the time and we didn’t know a lot, but we were so into it and we believed in it so much that everything we wanted we conquered, almost everything.

After we won a contest and played for two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people at the Rock and Rio festival in Brazil, we moved to LA to try something bigger. We lived in a van for a month, we signed a major deal with Clive Davis, J Records/RCA, recorded our first record with Matt Wallace producing it and we tour the US twice. The label wanted a single that we didn’t have so we ended up getting dropped. Meanwhile I got a scholarship to study at the Los Angeles Music Academy. We recorded another record with the producer Thom Russo and for a lot of reasons I ended up going back to Brazil and quitting the band.

Igor Cavalera was such an integral part of Sepultura, with his drumming and percussion giving the group a unique sound that set them apart from other metal bands. How does it feel to be following in his footsteps and how did you approach adding your own style while still being faithful?

It was hard in the beginning. I felt some pressure from the outside but most of it from myself. I really wanted to be faithful and keep what Sepultura always had but at the same time I never wanted to copy or to play like Igor. I started trying to bring everything I thought was most important as far as drumming structure. After that I started putting my own voice in between. Now that we’ve been touring for four years and recorded one record with this line up, it’s a lot easier.

Having grown up in Brazil were you a fan of Sepultura prior to your involvement with the band and how did you come to be invited into the group?

Yes, I was a fan of the band and the first big concert I’ve been to was Sepultura in Uberlândia in 1991, Arise tour. On that day I manage to go backstage and get a pic from Andreas. Its funny to think that nineteen years latter I’m here on tour with them. Stanley Soares, our FOH sound guy, works for Sepultura for almost seven years and he was the guy who recorded Udora’s first record and several other records I played in. He told Andreas about me and at the same time Igor decide to leave the band I had just come back from LA. Andreas called me to ask if I wanted to do an audition. I listened to all the songs he said they were playing lately and I went to São Paulo two weeks later for the audition.

We played the whole show and talked for a few minutes. After that I came back to Belo Horizonte, the city I used to live in. A couple of days later Paulo called me saying I was the one.

With Max Cavalera having left Sepultura in 1996 and Igor leaving in 2006 do you feel that the band felt that A-Lex marked a new beginning?

Definitely! That was a new beginning and it’s growing and getting better. We’re finishing the A-Lex tour and getting ready to start tracking the new record that’s gonna come out through Nuclear Blast in Europe where we just signed the deal.

How involved are you with the writing of the songs and would you say that structuring the songs is very collaborative?

I’m totally involved in the writing process, we’ve been putting all the energy we can into the new stuff as we did with A-Lex. Now it’s even easier because we know each other better. We like to work as a group when we’re writing so everybody is part of the writing process.

A-Lex is based on the novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, which is evident with such song titles as Moloko Mesto and Forceful Behavior. Whose decision was it to develop a concept album and do you find this put restrictions on the subjects that you could explore with the album?

Sepultura has done some movie soundtracks before and Dante XXI was based on the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. It was natural to do one more concept album and A Clockwork Orange is such a strong theme that we all thought it would be great to make an album based on it. It’s very different to make music this way but at the same time that you’re sort of locked in the story, that bring so many ideas, it’s great. It’s a restriction that ends up giving you more ideas.

Aside from A-Lex, which Sepultura album do you feel is their strongest and which songs in particular do you enjoy playing live?

I guess the album that stands out the most for me is Chaos A.D. Not only because it’s a great album, it’s also because it was such a big influence on me when it came out. The whole thing of being in a band and travel the world hit me. Specially because they are from Brazil and believed in their music so they went all over the world, that to me being a fifteen-year-old guy listening to that record and seeing that it’s possible to really get somewhere when you believe in what you’re doing, it was very strong. I pretty much like to play all the songs live! It changes from time to time.

Last year you also collaborated with Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser on his first solo album Hubris I & II. How would you compare this to the music you were doing together in the band and how did this side project come about?

Yes! It was great to be part of that! There’s no way to compare it though, completely different styles. That was something that Andreas was planning for a long time. He was writing and collecting one riff here and there until he thought he had something ready. It was a long process. We recorded the drums and then he added the other ideas and called people he wanted to be part of it. It came out really great!

How did Rockfellas first come about and how did you become associated with such musicians as Paul Di’Anno? How would you describe this band and how would you compare it to your work in Sepultura?

It was an idea of doing a band with good musicians together to play classic rock stuff. Paul was supposed to go to Brazil to make his solo tour and we got together to talk about it. It was great because we chosen to play songs that no one would ever imagine to see him singing, like Message in a Bottle by The Police, Superstition by Steve Wonder, stuff like that. We had so much fun!. We didn’t write any music together, it was just fun! we were playing everything we wanted to play. With Rockfellas I used a very small drum kit compared to the one I use for Sepultura. Since we haven’t written anything together as Rockfellas, it’s hard to compare. I’d just say that I could play a lot more loose with Rockfellas.

Jean Dolabella

Jean Dolabella

You also run workshops, can you elaborate on what kind of classes you teach?

It varies a lot. Most of the ones I’ve been doing are more like a ‘workshow.’ I go with Augusto Nogueira, the guitar player from the experimental project I have called Indireto, and we play songs off our records. Then we open it for questions and usually we talk about everything. We talk a lot about techniques and exercises but we also talk about music in general, being musicians and our lives on the road.

What kind of projects do you have lined up for the future and are Sepultura working on a new album at this time?

I’ve been doing a lot of things with Indireto and we’re putting out our first full length album in October, 2010. It’s a record that has a lot of great musicians involved like Milton Nascimento, Ptty, Ramin Sakurai and many others from Brazil. Sepultura is already working on the new album and we want to start recording in December of 2010.

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