Interview: Sepultura Frontman Derrick Green Talks About Writing Robot Sex Jams with His Funky R&B Group Maximum Hedrum
Over the past 16 years, the Cleveland-born bellower Derrick Green has created an indelible image of himself in the minds of headbangers as the frontman of the long-running Brazilian metal squad Sepultura. To fans of the band, he’s a wide-eyed, gravel-throated totem, who looks entranced as he barks out classics like “Arise” and “Choke.” But now, to complement his demon-possessed persona in Sepultura, he’s showing off another side of himself.
“I wanted to do something that people would never recognize me as me,” he tells Revolver from his home in São Paulo, Brazil, where he’s working on a new Sepultura album. Then, with a laugh, he says, “I think I’ve succeeded.”
This new side of Green is that of the sunglasses-wearing, checker-suited sex-jam crooner of the electro R&B group Maximum Hedrum, which he cofounded with N.A.S.A. producer-DJ Sam Spiegel. On their just-released self-titled debut, the pair has crafted 13 freaky, funky sci-fi-influenced songs about sex, robots, and having sex with robots. The album features guest appearances by funk legend George Clinton, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, Beastie Boys producer Money Mark, and Beverly Hills Cop score composer Harold Faltermeyer. It’s about as far from Sepultura as Green could possibly get—”Ph.D” is a song about a woman with a Ph.D “in sexuality”—but as the music proves, and as he reveals with the excited way he talks about Maximum Hedrum, he’s had fun finding this new side of himself.
REVOLVER Maximum Hedrum started with Sam Spiegel asked you to sing on some demos. What attracted you to the project?
DERRICK GREEN The fact that I wouldn’t be screaming. If I’m going to do a project, I want it to be something completely different from what I do with Sepultura. It just makes it more interesting.
Were you worried about how Sepultura fans might accept your new group?
It wouldn’t have mattered because I was stoked on it. Now that it’s out, I’m impressed. I think there are a lot of people in the metal scene that have an open mind and a wide variety of music that they love. I’ve always loved other styles and forms of music, so I just wanted to show that side.
What does Sam think off Sepultura?
He doesn’t really know too much about the metal scene or even that world, but he thinks it’s interesting. Because there will be metal kids or Sepultura fans who are saying, “This is cool that you’re doing something totally different.”
So, diving in to Maximum Hedrum, what’s with all the robots?
Sam had an idea to write songs about the future and technology, people’s connection with technology, how they interact with music technology now. Are people more connected now than ever? Or are they really distant because they’re all using these things and they’re not physically really together? So we wanted to do something about the future and how people have been using technology for sex and other emotions.
How did you come up with your black-and-white checkered look?
Black and white just reminds me of yin and yang, and I think the band has this dynamic that’s like R&B slow jams and party songs. You just really can’t tell where it’s going. The suits reflect that. It’s contrast.
What about the outfits that look like venetian blinds?
That came from a dream that Sam had. I had never heard of anything like that. So we found somebody who could make that outfit. It’s really out there, but it worked out. It just looks so insane. I never imagined it would be so cool in the end. I thought might be really, really cheesy. But I’m really loving it now.
You’re a pretty tall guy.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s a lot of venetian blinds.
George Clinton sings on “Keep in Touch.” Did you ever think you’d be duetting with him?
I never imagined that would happen in my entire life. I was just a huge fan. I discovered him as a producer of one of the first Red Hot Chili Peppers albums. I was really into punk and hardcore and I was like holy shit, George Clinton is P-Funk? And I just fell in love with him.
How did songs like “Robosexual” and “Ph.D” come together?
“Robosexual” is about a robot wanting to make love with a human, but she’s not gonna get with him because he’s a robot. And with “Ph.D,” we wanted to have a song about a girl who really knows what she wants and she’s sexy. So she just plays guys all the time but they still want to be with her. It’s like, she’s just really well taught in sex. It was like, My God. I would really want to be with her, because she knows everything. I can’t even remember who came up with that one.
All these oversexed songs. I’ve never written songs about girls or anything like that. it’s kind of funny saying that, but this is the first time writing with a different emotion, instead of anger or aggressiveness. It was cool to collaborate with Sam on the lyrics because it was my first time writing like this.
It sounds like a fun record to make. What was the best time you had in the studio?
We recorded in Prague with the Philharmonic Orchestra there. They’ve done all these incredible movies and soundtracks. Harold set it up. Hearing someone say, “‘Robosexual,’ take one,” and then seeing the whole orchestra playing was just so crazy. Everything had to be translated from Harold from German to Czech. It was one of the best experiences of being an artist, being able to record with this orchestra.
Plus, I’m sure you were able to hear lots of funny European pronunciations of “Rhobosessuál.”
[Laughs] Yeah. More like, “‘Robosex,’ take one, jah!”
So when can we expect one of Iggor Cavalera’s MixHell remixes of Maxmum Hedrum?
I’m going to meet up with Iggor when I’m here in Brazil, because MixHell are working on a new album. I definitely want to get with him. A remix would be great.
Finally, what’s up with Sepultura right now?
We’re writing the new album. We have a lot of riffs from last year, stuff we’ve been writing on the road. Now we’ve been able to slip into the studio and start working on the new album. It’s going pretty well. We’re writing for the first time with our new drummer, Eloy Casagrande. He’s 25 and he’s got a lot of energy. It’s great to be able to write with him. It’s exciting.