On the back of Gojira’s recent and hugely successful UK tour, Annie Slinn sits down with frontman and metal tastemaker Joe Duplantier in a discussion of everything from inspirations to activism.
There are many reasons attributable to Gojira’s success. Innovative, full of talent and having recently released Magma – arguably the best metal album released last year – the French band have been propelled to Grammy nominations and sharing the stage with Metallica, accrediting them as one of the most important bands on the scene right now. On the backlog of their UK tour, we interview their frontman, and delve a little deeper into their musical past, present and future.
My main inspiration as a writer is this spiritual business, you know, the spiritual world. Because I see myself as a spiritual person, I would say everything is sacred – this interaction we have right now is sacred.
Joe Duplantier, the Gojira vocalist and guitarist is jovial, gentlemanly and witty. A deeply intelligent man, his worldly-wisdom resonates through the lyrics on Gojira’s latest album. “It’s hard to define the inspiration for this album. We have got to be honest with how we feel at the moment, and it’s important to look at the big picture. My main inspiration as a writer is this spiritual business, you know, the spiritual world. Because I see myself as a spiritual person, I would say everything is sacred – this interaction we have right now is sacred”.
We tend to disconnect ourselves. It is a world of selfies. By being over-connected, we are losing the connection with ourselves… people are scared to face their demons, their fears and even their own beauty.
Joe’s eloquence portrays him as a thoughtful, kind individual who is not afraid to identify the issues of the world through lyric and melody, rhythm and distortion. Gojira’s conscientious music has been present since their first releases, and is shown through their symbolic album artwork. “The first album presented a meditant with rolled arms, in a ball, to explore himself. The second was a tree which represented the link between the sky and the Earth. We use a lot of images in yoga and Buddhism, and old traditions”, describes Joe, “there is a lot of wisdom there”. He dissents to the modern world, “we tend to disconnect ourselves. It is a world of selfies. By being over-connected, we are losing the connection with ourselves… people are scared to face their demons, their fears and even their own beauty.”
In their performance, Gojira address this disconnection; they play a part in reconnecting the audience. During their sell-out show in Bristol’s O2 Academy, fans were chanting “GOOO-JJJEEEE-RRAAAHHH” in unison; moving to the heavy riffs and applauding each song. While the show appeared polished and professional, Joe reveals not every song is as easy as the metal titans make it seem. “From the ones we play tonight, ‘Pray’ is probably the most challenging. It’s very technical – the right hand thing at the beginning – it requires full attention… and the singing part, I never know if I’m going to be able to do it right, it’s a nightmare!”.
Gojira are unique and refreshing, which is key to their success. This distinctive style is likely cultivated through Joe’s eclectic musical background. Unlike a lot of metal artists, Joe does not identify as a metalhead: “I’m not just a metalhead!”, he laughs. The artists that he admires are diverse, and somewhat unexpected, “I remember being blown away by James Blake and Bonobo. I like electronic, hip-hop. It would be weird to play metal all the time, watch metal all the time, listen to metal all the time”. It is unsurprising that Gojira are so admired by a wide variety of fans; while they have a strong, metal grounding, the influences of other genres resonate throughout their music – particularly on Magma – which makes them so accessible to people of different ages, ethnicities and musical backgrounds.
Reflected in the technically complex songs on Magma, including the triplets at the start of ‘Pray’, Joe developed his musical talent from a young age. These humble beginnings have been translated to Gojira’s style: the intricate rhythms and guitar bends that show off Joe’s ability. “So the first guitar I learned to play was a very old, beat up classical guitar that my mum owned. I started when I was eight or nine, and then five years later my Dad bought a classical guitar with nylon strings”.
Joe describes the Metallica classic ‘Fade to Black’ as an influential song in the development of his playing ability, “I was starting to play guitar and I thought it was beautiful. And the rest of the album, it’s a good album. I was fascinated by Metallica. I was watching all the interviews, the movies – I wanted to be James Hetfiled!”. During melodic moments on the record, including ‘Low Lands’ and the song ‘Born In Winter’, from Gojira’s previous release, the influence of ‘Fade to Black’ is notable. And, having recently announced a North America tour with Metallica later this year, it would be interesting to see a young Duplantier’s response to sharing the stage with his idols. You’ve made it, Duplantier. And rightly so.
Metal fans today undoubtedly have a lot to thank Duplantier parents for, who not only provided their eldest son the tools to become the modern hero of the genre, but for creating Mario, the younger brother. Mario is one of the greatest metal drummers around at the moment. His metronomic hail of double-bass bullets dominates the live show. It is incredible. “I’m super proud of my brother,” says Joe, “when he does a solo, I’m like, ‘you hear that? That’s amazing!’. I’m always at the front and he’s at the back… but he’s the loudest so that’s fair”. The Gojira sibling bonds are clearly well-tied in music, as Joe reflects on some impressionable gigs being those he attended with Mario during his teenage years.
And now the band have taken the role of influencing a generation of angsty teens themselves. From this sell-out Bristol show, to world famous festivals. Joe even attributes some of Gojira’s success to the festival scene, “there’s maybe like 50,000 people there like ‘oh my God! Who are these guys?’ and they find out about our band”. Adding to this rockstar lifestyle, the frontman has also praised his signature Charvel guitar to the band’s image “I used the tele shape… back in the day I had a Flying V. I’m being really honest, and I’m more attracted to the more classic shape, so I think the tele is great”. He laughs about maintaining the “classy” image – “for example, I really like this hoodie, what do you think?”. We all agreed it was a fine hoodie.
It’s not fair to think humans have rights, dogs have rights, cats have rights, but not pigs… what kind of animal builds factories to raise and kill? First of all it was a political thing, then a spiritual thing, then a health thing, and now it’s an everything thing. It’s the future.
Joking aside, part of the reason Gojira are so enjoyable is that they refreshingly focus on the message of the music, as opposed to the look. Joe has been involved in a lot of activism, particularly for animal rights, something he is evidently passionate about. “It’s not fair to think humans have rights, dogs have rights, cats have rights, but not pigs… what kind of animal builds factories to raise and kill? First of all it was a political thing, then a spiritual thing, then a health thing, and now it’s an everything thing. It’s the future”. Duplantier’s forward thinking is most expressed on Magma, particularly in ‘Silvera’, which questions the detached, cold nature of humanity.
The creativity of Gojira’s music is no doubt harnessed from their own Silver Cord Studio, as Joe states “I built everything, arranged it, the colours are exactly how I wanted them”. Such an environment appears to have planted the seed for Gojira’s future sounds – “we’re very inspired to write a new record. We want to complete the Sea of Shepards EP, that kind of thing”. With the prospect of even more good things from this original and inventive band, fans of great music and excellent live performances will wait with baited breath. Gojira are a force to be reckoned with, and are simply sublime at what they do.