Tonight, brothers Max and Igor Cavalera (founders of thrash-metal pioneer band Sepultura) take the stage at the House of Blues Sunset Strip, kicking off a brand new tour with namesake project Cavalera Conspiracy. Joined by not-so-newish bassist Johny Chow (former celebrity bartender/manager at the Viper Room), the band is set to unleash their most recent and most brash recording, Blunt Force Trauma, to ravenous metal fans around the globe.
Taking time off from his hectic touring schedule, Chow returned to his former home — The Sunset Strip — and joined us at tasty Mediterranean eatery and hookah bar Pi On Sunset to smoke some watermelon flavored shisha, and share stories about the time invested in climbing the ranks to metal glory. Here’s what he had to say…
So you want to give us some background — how you came to join the band, that sort of thing?
Well I hit Max up on MySpace and we became MySpace friends and… No! [laughter] Actually, a friend of mine, Justin Hirschman, who works for [booking agency] Artist Group International —he books Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy — he hit me up and said, “Hey, you should send your rez to this woman,” who happened to be Gloria Cavalera [Max Cavalera’s wife/manager of both Soulfly and CC]. And she hit me back right away and said, “Hey, we're not really looking for anyone right now, but if we do, I’ll let you know.” So of course I didn’t really think anything of it.
Two weeks later, I get a phone call and she says, “How current is this picture?” And I say very current.
“Do you have a passport?” Yes.
“Do you have anything I should know about? You can’t leave the country, or a record?” Nope, nothing, totally clean. So she’s like, alright, I’ll have Max call you in a week.
Long story short, I met up with the band in Madrid, Spain, in May of ’08. Met them in the hotel; met the whole band, the crew. We had one, couple hour rehearsal… And prior to this, I had to learn the entire CC record, and probably another 20 Sepultura songs, plus a bunch of Black Sabbath covers. And you know, I guess at that level…they knew I could play, I wouldn’t have been recommended otherwise. So it’s just more about jiving with people personality wise.
You have to live with these people on a bus for months on end. It’s tough enough to live with your good friend as roommates. Imagine being thrown in the mix with people you might not gel with in an everyday living situation.
What was that like for you, joining a band with sort of your idols or people you looked up to growing up? Had to be a bit surreal?
Are you kidding me! The way I grew up…[my friends’] first show was Van Halen at the Memorial Auditorium, where my first show was 7 Seconds and Youth Of Today at a fuckin’ painter’s hall or VFW post, and the stage was a bunch of tables set up together. Big cafeteria tables…but it was cool. The angst, the aggression, the simple thing of attainability, achievability. You know, I remember thinking, “I could do this!” Whereas if you went to a Van Halen or AC/DC show, they’re playing on such a big, grandiose level that you would never think it’s something you could do.
So that’s what led me into hardcore, and Sepultura, thrash metal, and hardcore crossover… It was incredible for me to get that call… Something I grew up on, and I don’t want to say idolized, but I loooved that shit growing up.
So you must have been pretty nervous?
Fuck yeah! Hell yes, I was more nervous the first time I jammed with them in a couple hour rehearsal, than I was the first time I stepped foot with them on stage, in front of 30,000 people in Madrid, Spain.
Do you know what the size of the biggest crowd you’ve played in front of is?
In ’08 we did a huge run of festivals, and we did Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium, and we were direct support for KISS on the main stage. It was a three day festival, and we were the second to last band to play… Playing in front of Gene Simmons, and his rows and stacks of cabs, crazy dude!
That was a 70,000 people outdoor festival. Download Festival was 50,000…but we just got done playing Sao Palo, Brazil, opening up for Iron Maiden... And I’ve played arenas before, where there’s that many people. But you know, you go on early and you’re really only playing for a few thousand.
But this was 70,000 people, like for real. Inside a bowl! And what really tripped me out about it was how loud it was. You don’t get that kind of noise from open air festivals, but to hear a crowd like that in a contained stadium, it was just so loud, it was fucking LOUD! I had to scream at my tech between songs just so he could hear me.
So do you get more nervous playing festivals that size or is it more nerve-wracking playing a more intimate club type gig?
When it’s a sea of people, it’s less personable. You probably have a 20 to 30 foot gap between the stage and the crowd. You’re like 10 to 20 feet up in the air away from the crowd. So, you know, you’re just up there doing your thing, which doesn’t make me nervous. I’m more nervous playing at the Viper Room in front of all my friends; 150 people I know.
Speaking of the Viper Room, you were a longtime bartender there. How did being in this sort of music Mecca/hub help your career?
Well Tommy [Tommy Black, Scott Weiland’s bassist] got me my job there. I actually came in as a barback! Six to eight months later I was managing... And you know being a touring musician, I think it’s good for the upper management of the place too… They like it because when whatever said band is in town, they’ll come down and visit the Viper to come see me, come say “hi,” and the next thing you know you have an after party for some big show.
And also, while I was working there, I presented some shows and brought in some pretty big stuff like HIM, Fireball Ministry, Armored Saints, a bunch of CKY shows.
I’ve heard from many touring musicians that after finishing a tour and sort of going back to your “day job,” that they often experience this sort of post tour depression, and it’s a bit of an adjustment getting back to “real life.”
Well ya know, I’ve always had a job. I’ve never sort of been that bum musician that sort of sleeps on whatever current girlfriend’s couch, and mooches off her… I’ve never been that dude really. I’ve always been responsible that way, trying to have a job.
… I call it a “postpartum tour depression” sort of thing man. It’s weird. On tour you’ve got people pampering you; you’re in your own fucking world.
I remember when we were on tour with Disturbed, when I was in Fireball Ministry, and I’m walking through the stadium, chain smoking cigarettes, and there’s placards everywhere saying, “No Smoking.” And I’m just thinking, what the fuck; I’m living a lawless life. None of these laws, wherever I go, apply to me. And you get in that head frame… and I’m not the type of person that ever gets bigheaded, but you have to check yourself…
On the road you get everything you want, from whatever food you want, to… not that I partake in this stuff, but any sort of excesses you could possibly want are available; and it’s your choice whether to get into that stuff or not. I don’t drink anymore, and I’ve got a family, so I don’t get involved in that sort of business.
Finally, the new record Blunt Force Trauma was just released. You’re first time recording with the band since joining the lineup. Tell us about that.
Yeah man, recording with those guys was definitely nuts. I’m fully a part of things now, which is great. Even to the point of adding my own flavor to the record.
You know there was nobody telling me, “Play this!” They let me do my thing, and I definitely felt like I sort of left my own mark on the record. And you know, it’s doing really well.
Cavalera Conspiracy headlines the House of Blues Sunset Strip tonight, Thursday, April 28. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $27.50. www.hob.com
Pi On Sunset, offering tasty Mediterranean fare and fragrant hookah blends, is located at 8828 Sunset Blvd. www.pionsunset.com
Photos courtesy Jessica Pix, Rocket Queen Photography
--Brent X Mendoza