On May 13, 2016 VULCANO played in Portugal for the first time… I had to take the chance to ask guitarist Zhema Rodero about a few things. The band had been interviewed for Voices From The Darkside before, so I focused a bit on updating things. It took me a few days to translate the interview, but here it is.
First of all, congratulations for the 30 years of "Bloody Vengeance"! Here we are on a Friday the 13th, the anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima here in Portugal, so a most adequate day for the celebration about to happen. To begin the interview, please tell me about what really caused the evident change in your sound between the "Om Pushne Namah" EP, released in 1983, and the demo and live album, released in 1984 and 85. You speak about the entrance of Angel and what his voice was capable of, but surely there were new musical influences as well, right?
"At the time, during the late 70s in Brazil, we were living under a military dictatorship, so there was very little Heavy Metal available. And even so, only the most mainstream bands could be found, LED ZEPPELIN, DEEP PURPLE, BLACK SABBATH. So, VULCANO began with the intention of playing a little heavier Metal, but we didn’t have the equipment to compete with such bands. There was just one factory of musical instruments in Brazil, and it was very difficult to gain access to the technology of the time and to do the sound we wanted to do. So, VULCANO began by doing some poorly played Rock’n’Roll. I loved MOTÖRHEAD when I discovered them after BLACK SABBATH, and I wanted to mix the sound of both. After that, we had our first single, "Om Pushne Namah", very much influenced by the Brazilian Rock’n’Roll of the time. The vocalist’s voice wasn’t really a rocking or Metal voice but rather closer to Brazilian popular music. So that made it difficult for us to reach what we were aiming at. Then, Angel got in and we did the demo in 1984, which was already a bit more aggressive. By then, VENOM had become an influence for us, brought by Angel. So, MOTÖRHEAD (a band I truly love), BLACK SABBATH and VENOM made our sound. Angel brought those deep, harsh vocals, unusual at the time, and allowed us to draw closer to our musical intentions. The demo shows a raw and dirty Rock’n’Roll, not very technical but with a lot of energy and attitude. Then for the live album we had a new member, José Flávio Rodrigues, who brought a heavier guitar playing style, and so it was all of this put together that is in the origin of the "Live!" album. That explains the shift from the single’s Brazilian Rock’n’Roll to a more extreme sound during those years."
In your song ‘No Mercy For Fucking Traitors’, a bit like in ‘Who Are The True?’, you lash out at false Metal. After more than thirty years in the Metal scene, how do you see the current state of Metal and all the bastardizations it was a target of, mainly in the last two decades?
"In reality that song is, musically, very influenced by our heroes. There are riffs in the style of JUDAS PRIEST, SLAYER, METALLICA… so it’s more of an homage to these bands than an attack on false Metal. We’d rather praise our heroes than focus on the false. VULCANO was always an underground band, we never chose to follow a strategy to gain money or girls, we always played just what we liked. The lyrics to that song are more of a complement to the music than the other way around. If one pays attention to the riffs, the tribute to our heroes will be obvious… and they are the true."
Do you think that the steep social differences and insecurity in Brazil during the 80s help explain the early appearance of extreme bands? Some of them were very focused on social issues, such as DORSAL ATLÂNTICA, but even those with lyrics about Satan displayed intense anger towards society, right?
"Sure, that is undeniable. This is the fifth time we’re coming to Europe, and there are people who come to us and ask, "How did you manage to do this at that time and in that way?" And one of the explanations I have is precisely that. Brazil was living under a very strict regime, so you were very limited and there were a lot of things you wished to do but could not. And the military dictatorship was supported by the Catholic Church. So there were two ways for aggression against society; either you openly wrote about politics, like DORSAL ATLÂNTICA did (Carlos Vândalo is a great friend of mine), or you attacked the Church, like VULCANO did. The cover of "Bloody Vengeance" is an attack on the Church, and in that way an attack on society. Brazilian bands of the time, like MUTILATOR, SEPULTURA, VULCANO, SARCÓFAGO, had this in common, under a military regime that oppressed us and limited our options. We could not buy good instruments, effects pedals, or even blue jeans trousers. We had no access to anything except through smugglers. We couldn’t afford anything, the country had no money. It was very difficult for a family to buy a car. So this situation was definitely one of the foundations of 80s Brazilian Metal."
What were the Brazilian bands you were most closely connected with back then?
"Brazil had many Rock’n’Roll and Hard Rock bands. PATRULHA DO ESPAÇO, MADE IN BRAZIL, TUTTI FRUTTI, RITA LEE, OS MUTANTES, SINDICATO… they played a kind of 70s Metal in the vein of bands like LED ZEPPELIN and DEEP PURPLE, but they had contracts. RCA had these bands on their roster. I was very close to the band MADE IN BRAZIL and Oswaldo Vecchione. I was even a roadie for them around 1974 – 1975. It was an introduction for me as to the way a band worked, what a sound system, a PA were, onstage procedures and so on. Also with Rolando Jr from PATRULHA DO ESPAÇO, who was also the drummer for MADE IN BRAZIL. When I started VULCANO it was Oswaldo who gave me the best opportunities. He would call us to open for their band, at the time we were playing the Rock’n’Roll of "Om Pushne Namah". That gave me a lot of experience at the time."
That must have been helpful in your unusual move of beginning with a live album.
"Yes, but there is a story and a reason for the live album. VULCANO are from Santos, a beach 80 km away from Sao Paulo. But there is a mountain range in-between so it takes nearly two hours to get from one to the other by car. The whole Rock and Metal scene in Brazil, with bands like CENTÚRIAS, SALÁRIO MÍNIMO, KORZUS, who played that traditional Heavy Metal in the vein of JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, was in Sao Paulo. And VULCANO being from Santos, we couldn’t penetrate in that very closed scene. Back in ’84 / ’85 we were doing extreme Metal, what you can hear on "Live!" was what we played in gigs. And there was no opening for us to play in Sao Paulo. Back then the centre of Brazilian Metal wasn’t in Minas Gerais, what later became a common place, it was Sao Paulo. We had a following in the inner state, but we couldn’t break into the city itself. And you know, when you’re young you are rebellious and resourceful, so I figured: since Sao Paulo doesn’t care about VULCANO, I’m going to record a live album and bring our sound into the city. So, with the help of a guy from a city called Americana we played that gig there and recorded it. Oswaldo Vecchione from MADE IN BRAZIL put me in contact with someone who had a mobile studio and he took his van to the gig, miked everything and we did it. But we had no money for any kind of mixing or mastering or anything, so what you have on the album is what was recorded, exactly as it was. I had the albums pressed and we placed them in Sao Paulo. And it worked out. The people there liked it. The headbangers identified with our sound, our energy."
What do you think about the impeachment of president Dilma and the rise to power of Temer, which is happening as we speak? Is it a coup in disguise? What do you think is coming? Is there actual danger to Brazilian democracy itself?
"I don’t think there is a risk to democracy because Brazil is a very permissive country. You can protest, you can do whatever you want. Concerning what’s going on, my opinion is the following. I don’t support PT, or PMDB or any party. But the way I see it, the history of Brazil was always linked to corruption. Brazil works like that and always did. The PT party allowed investigations to begin, which was previously impossible. The Federal Police simply could not investigate the government itself. So PT’s opening concerning this ended up in our current president having to answer for what had always been established practice in Brazil. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The impeachment is not based upon Petrobrás or corruption, but in some fiscal misdeeds. But then the Mayor, Cunha, is also being investigated, and the other guy invalidated the process and then brought it back… the whole thing is truly shameful. So, we have no option. No option other than waiting for the next two years to pass, whatever way, and coming the next election hope for someone different, not from PMDB, PSDB, or PT. Someone who can bring credibility to Brazilian politics and make the country grow, without all this corruption. But it’s difficult, as corruption is ingrained in our culture."
On "Bloody Vengeance", besides Satan and demons, you speak about nuclear war, which was usual back in the eighties… I’m thinking for example of BATHORY’s "Blood Fire Death". Do you think that after the end of the cold war that danger really ended or is the world getting increasingly dangerous, with authoritarian figures like Putin in Russia and an emergent Trump in the USA?
"Things did change, the fear of nuclear war lost some of its relevance. Now the really frightening menace is financial power. If China’s stock market falls 5%, the whole world feels the consequences. There is a domino effect. I don’t think anyone will start an international war with missiles or anything these days. But the financial global system and the financial balance between countries is something that can become a real problem."
How about Angel, is he still tattooing in Santos? A couple of years ago I exchanged some e-mails with him; he was considering coming to work in Portugal…
"He is. He had his own studio for a while, and now he’s working in a large shopping centre in Santos. He is fine, sometimes we get together on Thursdays (his day off). He is a bit away from the Metal scene now. He’s been in Italy a short time ago, and he has a daughter who lives in the USA, and a young grandson now. His life now is doing tattoos and living a calm life."
How was his departure from VULCANO?
"It was a bit troublesome, he was going through some personal issues. He had to decide on some priorities in his life, such as his job, his teenage daughter, another young kid, his wife, and all that conflict between family life and a band. He couldn’t spend his time traveling and being away for long periods of time, and as a tattooist he makes his money mainly during the weekends, and because of all those reasons he decided to leave. I think he regretted it a bit after we did the first tour afterwards, but by then we had Lousada singing so the place was taken… But we were all ok about it. So his departure was his decision."
What about the new vocalist, Luiz Carlos Lousada, who also has a very potent voice, very adequate to VULCANO? How did he end up in the band?
"He had actually sung with VULCANO a few times already. Back from ’96 or so. When Angel couldn’t do a gig, Luiz would step in. We already had that connection. So when Angel went away we called Luiz and did the European tour. When we went back, we decided we had to present Luiz to the public, which meant recording a new album. So we did "Drowning In Blood" with him on vocals."
I guess you realize that the Brazilian bands’ evil black English is celebrated by the worldwide Black / Thrash fans. Even DESTRÖYER 666 indirectly mention that in the song ‘Sons Of Perdition’. Why the hybrid Portuguese – English song title ‘Domínios Of Death’?
"That was indeed just a mistake we made, now we correct it when we edit the song or have it in compilations (well, you shouldn’t, haha! ‘Domínios Of Death’ all the way!! – Rick). That kind of thing happens, in the song ‘Bloody Vengeance’, for instance, Angel sings “your meat” instead of “your flesh”. There are many mistakes like that. We sing it right these days, “your flesh”. Under the military regime, Brazil didn’t give you many chances of learning English, except if you had a lot of money. You had just basic English at school. So it was hard to have fluency. And so we had dictionary English with the wrong grammar. But somehow, I read a review of "Bloody Vengeance" one day that made me realize what you say. There is a special charm to that English together with the music and the attitude."
Yes, SARCÓFAGO for instance have sentences translated word for word that can only make some sense to someone who knows Portuguese (or even specifically Brazilian Portuguese, like “He put the virgin of four”). The physical distance made it impossible for many of the Brazilian bands to ever play in Europe, or only manage to do it very late in history. In the 90s, I remember only seeing SARCÓFAGO and DORSAL ATLÂNTICA in Portugal. This is the first time VULCANO came, but in the past few years you had the chance to play Europe a number of times. What do you think of the European experiences?
"As you said, we only came to play in Europe very late; the first time was in 2010. It was a totally new experience, and very impressive for us. That first tour was hard and tiresome, and we thought it would be the last time we’d do it. But afterwards you feel the wish to do it again. However, the invitations we received were always from Scandinavia. This time we worked with a Brazilian guy who lives in Germany and works in a booking agency. And we pressed him a bit to try to get the tour to include the Iberian Peninsula, where we’d never been. And he did it. We had received several invitations to come to Portugal previously, but it was too hard to do it directly from Scandinavia."
Are there recent bands you’ve been particularly enjoying?
"Yes, although for me “recent” applies to bands that were created in the 1990s. NIFELHEIM, for example, is a band that I find sensational. They do what I wish I could have done. I love their sound. I also love the scene in Paraguay, the bands from there. Not many, but some 3 or 4 bands… Paraguay is a small country, but it has some very good bands. VIOLENT ATTACK, CACERÍA, are bands I love… I’m very much into this Latin America Metal, such as MASSAKRE from Chile… I love a band here from Portugal with an album called "Conjuration Of The Southern Circle"… it’s DECAYED. The singer on that first album sounds very much like Angel to me. I also like many Brazilian bands like CHEMICAL DISASTER, ANDRALLS, SKINLEPSY, and there is a certain revival in Brazil with young bands playing old sounding Metal. What I don’t really like is what I called the “pasteurized”, processed sound that has nowhere else to go. When you have nowhere else to go you end up sounding like everybody else and so you have all these bands sounding the same. Then you need a lot of creativity to escape from that. In Brazil there is a band that does exactly that, VETOR from Praia Grande, close to my city. The way I evaluate a band these days is the following: on tour, people give me a lot of CDs. And I listen to all of them. At home, I play them loud on my stereo and I go brush my teeth or whatever… and then sometimes I hear something that catches my attention and I go back and hear it again. So I just go about my business at home and if something hooks me, it’s good. That’s my criterion, and if it isn’t met it’s because it all just sounds the same to me."
Ok, so how about the future of VULCANO? How do you see the band in the course of the coming decade or so?
"The coming decade? That’s hopeful… I’m 58 years old now. I don’t think very far ahead. I think about the forthcoming months. What I have planned is the following: first, there is a Brazilian producing company doing a documentary about VULCANO. This makes me very happy; it was their initiative, not mine, we have no money involved or anything, and this will be a chronicle of what VULCANO is. They interviewed a lot of people connected to our history. It will be released in the next couple of months. Other than that we already have 25 new songs, and 11 of those have the drum tracks recorded. Originally I intended to have had them released early this year, but I postponed it to the second semester. We released "The Man The Key The Beast" (2013), then we released "Wholly Wicked" (2014), we released the live in Stockholm album, "Live II Stockholm Stormed" (2014), so I figured that even in Brazil people didn’t have the time to assimilate all of these. You need to give them some time to listen to the albums. So these two albums (the 25 songs) will be delayed to the second half of the year and perhaps the beginning of next year. I also have something else, an album that has been recorded since 2014… I don’t like to use the term concept album, but it tells a story. So far, no label in Brazil was interested in it because of its length, it’s only 20 minutes long and so they say it’s an EP and won’t sell. It’s called "The Awakening Of The Ancient And Wicked Soul" and it is divided in three “books” around the same theme. They are written by three different people: myself, Carli Cooper, who always wrote with me since the 80s, and Fabiano Barroso, who wrote with me since the 90s. Musically it’s a little different; it’s Heavy Metal, a kind of mixture between BLACK SABBATH, RUSH… it’s great. So that is a target for the second half of this year. I showed it to the producer of the documentary, and he had the idea of doing a short movie for it, retelling the story visually. He is producing it now, it began some two months ago and we will end it when I return from the tour. It is VULCANO, but a little different, with elements inspired by our heroes as I previously stated. So my plans go only this far. We will also probably do a full South American tour for the first time. Logistics is a big problem; flights are not as regular as here in Europe. Sometimes you have to go to very distant flight scales, or else you spend all your money. And in a van it’s worse, because you have the Andes Mountains to cross in very long and time consuming travels. But for the first time we have a booking agency taking care of that, so we’ll do it. And hopefully we’ll return here as well."
So, there you have it. Thanks to Zhema for his good will that nearly got him late on stage because of this interview. Hope you the readers enjoyed it… and support this amazing oldschool band! Hail VULCANO!