Sepultura’s Paulo Pinto Jr: “Just keep to the tempo on the bass drum and on the snare, so the guitars can breathe more and you’ll have more body in the song”

Paulo Pinto Jr.
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Few names in the metal world command such authority as Sepultura. Founded in 1984 by brothers Max and Iggor Cavalera in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the band went on to shape the metal landscape all over the world, and their influence can still be seen and heard to this day. 

Although they faced challenges in 1996 after frontman Max left the band, and again when Iggor followed suit a decade later, bassist Paulo Pinto Jr, six-string shredder Andreas Kisser, vocalist Derrick Green, and drummer Eloy Casagrande have kept the name of Sepultura alive and relevant.

“I think it’s been the unity we’ve shared up to this day that’s kept us going. We still have the desire to be up on the stage and it feels good,” says Pinto, as he explains the band’s secret to longevity and survival. “We have a strong relationship, not just within the band, but with the management and the booking agency too – everyone. Everyone is thinking the same way and that gives you a lot of energy. 

“When you have a team that looks out for you like ours, you don’t have to worry so much. We can just concentrate on the music and nothing else. When you have good people behind you who watch over you, it helps us concentrate more on what we like to do – which is be on stage and play music.”

Despite major setbacks over the pandemic, things have barely stopped for the Brazilian thrashers. Releasing their fifteenth studio album, Quadra, in 2020, followed by an all-star quarantine collaboration titled SepulQuarta in 2021, and finally Sepulnation, a behemoth five-album box set celebrating the band’s music from 1998 to 2009, not even a global catastrophe can stand in their way, it seems.

I like groove, but speed is also good. If you know how to use groove with speed, I think that’s the perfect combination

“The idea was to release the first era with Max and Iggor, but for some reason we couldn’t put it together because we didn’t have an agreement sorted out behind the scenes,” Pinto explains about the idea behind Sepulnation. “So, we decided to split the eras from the old and new, because it wouldn’t be fair to have a box set without Derrick on there. 

“He’s been there for such a long time, and he’s proved himself over and over again. He belongs to the band. It would be a lack of respect if we did that release without him.”

Working with metal royalty such as Anthrax’s Scott Ian, Devin Townsend, Danko Jones, and Trivium’s Matt Heafy on SepulQuarta was a hell of an experience for everyone, as Pinto tells us. 

“It was great to be able to work with so many people during this time. It was an idea that we were doing for ourselves, but then we started to open up the frame for friends and guests. It wasn’t supposed to be a record until we realized that it came out better than we thought. 

“I was doing all the recordings in my garage, and it wasn’t something I put that much thought into, I just plugged in and played. I wasn’t being particularly picky with my playing, like I would be with a full-on record, it was more like a jam with friends instead of playing a part 200 times over until it’s right. It was a good project.”

Though we would be happy to dissect the band’s evolution riff by riff, at the end of the day it’s their mastery of speed and groove that have defined their sound. With such diversity of rhythms and techniques, which style does he prefer to play, we wonder?    

“I like groove, but speed is also good,” he laughs. “If you know how to use groove with speed, I think that’s the perfect combination – especially from a bass player’s point of view. If you try to play the bass like a guitar, to me that doesn’t make too much sense.

“There’s a lot of bass players out there who do that and play with a lot of fast picking. I try to break that down by picking less and letting the bass breathe, giving more body to the song, especially since we only have one guitarist. I have to figure out how to fill out the empty space where the second guitar is. I have to bring the clean and distorted sounds together, building up the different sounds.”

He’s freely admitted in the past that the recording studio is not exactly his favorite environment to be in. With the band’s latest original release, Quadra, being a cavalcade of technical riffs and complex progressive structures, how did he feel about taking on the challenge?

“I think I’ve gotten a little better than I was before,” he chuckles. “Things have gotten more complicated musically, and I was suffering going through Quadra. There was so much stuff that I had never done before. If you compare Quadra with other records like Chaos AD or Roots, those are very simple records to play. 

Quadra is much more technical than those records, but I think that’s a good thing because the bass parts have to be readapted to Andreas’ changing style. Those songs are pretty complicated, but I think it’s going to be fine when we get the chance to play them live – eventually. It’s going to take about a week for us to get back into shape, and every single muscle is going to hurt, but we’ll get it.”

On that note, what are his thoughts on a less-is-more approach when it comes to technical bass guitar playing in metal? 

“I think that depends on how you go. I think when you simplify things it fits better somehow, because bass is a unique instrument. You need to understand that in rock music you have those simple bass-lines which are very solid. Take Billy Sheehan, for example: He made songs very strong with simple lines which gave more freedom to the guitars and the drums to fly over the place, which is great for the approach. 

“You can play more complicated stuff when there’s a need for it: I learned that from [former producer] Andy Wallace when we were recording Chaos AD,” he continues. “I remember I was trying to do something like following the guitar exactly and he was like, ‘Try playing less notes. Just keep to the tempo on the bass drum and on the snare, so the guitars can breathe more and you’ll have more body in the song’. That advice has stuck with me ever since.”

In terms of equipment, Pinto has remained loyal to Zon basses. Does he remember when that relationship started? “I think the first Zons I got were around the end of the Chaos AD era, and I still have them. I went through Fenders for a while, which I loved, but I’m back to the Zons. They’re my main basses.”

What else does he have in his tone arsenal? “I’m using Darkglass as well, and they’re great. I like to change things up sometimes. I have a Fender pedal that simulates a Leslie speaker, which was fun to play around with. That’s about it, as well as a wah pedal.”

What those Quadra songs did for me was that they helped me to learn how to lock in with the rest of the band

As the world begins to open itself up again, the long-awaited Quadra tour will be starting this year. Is there one song in particular that he loves playing live but which was torture for him to play in the studio?  

“Oh, there was a few,” he laughs, “but what those songs did for me was that they helped me to learn how to lock in with the rest of the band. I really love that feeling. I’m the only one who says we have to put those songs back into the setlist, because I’m like, ‘We have too many songs off Quadra right now!’ I think I can answer that better on the tour, because there will be a whole bunch of them. Just all of them!” 

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