Roy Mayorga: The Soulfly Interview
Tribes are a good fit for Roy Mayorga. As the drummer for Soulfly, his tribal style brings a worldly edge to the metal intensity of his band. And now that Soulfly founder Max Cavalera has solidified the lineup and done away with guest stars for their streamlined new album, Soulfly 3, the group really feels like a tribe: They’re a clan with a common goal and so tight musically, they’re practically related.
“We just have good chemistry — it’s undeniable,” Mayorga says over the phone from the Southwest, as he tries desperately to wake himself up from his tour-bus-induced slumber. “Max and I both have similar backgrounds and tastes in music. He’s got that raw punk vibe, and he said that I remind him of his brother [Sepultura drummer Igor]: a street punk guy with world music influences.”
A true rock warrior with a thundering, percussive approach to metal, Mayorga and his family knew he was destined for a career in entertainment soon after he exited the womb. “My mom said, ‘Burt Bacharach made you shut up when you were crying,’ before I even had the strength to pick up a spoon,” he explains. “Music is my life. It made me happy, and I didn’t do much of anything else. I wasn’t a jock sports guy.”
Not to say that Mayorga, now 32, made a beeline for the local music conservatory when he was growing up in the Queens borough of NYC. “I took lessons for maybe a week when my teacher gave up on me,” Mayorga says. “He was trying to teach me jazz and traditional grip, and I kept bringing in records I wanted to learn first, like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Thin Lizzy. They were like, ‘Your son is unteachable. His technique is all wrong.’ They gave up on me, but I kind of taught myself.”
It wouldn’t be much longer until Mayorga ditched school altogether, quickly becoming addicted to life on the road during his first tour at the tender age of 15. “I went out with my band Youthquake touring up into Connecticut,” he recalls. “Nothing major, but for me it was pretty major, and I didn’t come back to school after Christmas vacation of my sophomore year. I didn’t want to stick around for more beatings.”
Today, in his second stint with Soulfly since their inception in 1998, Mayorga’s the one doling out regular beatings, if only to his drumheads. After a decade-plus of grinding it out in punk and gloom-metal bands, as well as a lot of live sound engineering on the side, Mayorga got the call to join Soulfly for their self-titled debut disc. While his work in the studio is nothing to sneeze at, Mayorga lives for the live experience.
“Live, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says. “It’s of the moment, right there, and it’s all instinctual. What I like about playing live is that it’s not as controlled an environment as recording. You can get up and let go of everything, constantly reinvent yourself, do a cool new drum breakdown, and get off on the vibe of the crowd. With Soulfly, the set is different every night, and I don’t see too many bands that do that these days — they’re very regimented and stagy with the program. That’s cool, but I like to play like it’s my last show on earth, break things, headbutt a cymbal.”
To facilitate his extra-extra-strength world beat/metal mélange, Mayorga has carefully figured out the right arrangement between him, his drums, and his cymbals. “I sit high on top of my kit,” he says. “I like to swing down on the toms. Everything’s pretty low, but the left side is a little higher, angled to turn around and hit it. I’ve got 11 cymbals, five of which are Chinas. I love that sound — to me a China almost replicates that sound I like in industrial bands. I used to attach sheet metal to my kit to make that horrible sound. I want to have an array of tones to choose from that are colorful.”
For maximum impact, he turns his sticks around and makes contact with the butt end, a physically taxing way of playing that definitely doesn’t work for everyone. “The way I play, I swing over my head and down,” Mayorga notes. “With the sticks turned the normal way, it didn’t come off right. Reversed, the way the weight of the stick meets the head is just insanely loud. It makes your drum project so much more, if that’s what you want. That’s when you’ve really got to stretch your arms out, because the weight of the stick makes for a lot of wear and tear on your forearms.”
Speaking of which, Mayorga learned the hard way that stretching really is necessary for an athletic exercise like drumming. “I threw my back out during a soundcheck five years ago,” he says. “I couldn’t move. I collapsed on the floor, and I heard it was the equivalent of a junkie going through withdrawal. This guy Ace-bandaged me up so I could play the show, and afterwards I collapsed again, so they took me to an emergency chiropractor. Now I stretch before every show, and to anyone out there who isn’t stretching, start doing it, because you’re going to pay.”
Now that he’s finally landed a solid job playing with the band he loves best, Mayorga can focus fully on extending the reach of Soulfly, as well as his own globally ballistic approach. “We want to take metal to the farthest place possible,” he asserts. “Fusing it with world music, like traditional Brazilian styles and even more of an African vibe. I think people like Soulfly because you can dance to it. It grabs people from the different genres they listen to. A hip-hop kid can like what we do, a world music guy can like it because it has percussion, and a metal guy can like it because of the whaaaaaa! Our whole objective is to bring everyone together, and music is the best communication.”