Gojira: 'We're Not Just A Death Metal Band. We Can Do Other Stuff'

artist: Joe Duplantier date: 11/22/2012 category: interviews
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Gojira: 'We're Not Just A Death Metal Band. We Can Do Other Stuff'
France is most well known for making great wine and cooking up wonderful food. What the country is not recognized for is exporting heavy metal. But in Gojira, the quartet formed back in 1996, France can now include metal on that list. Fronted by guitarist Joe Duplantier, Gojira straddles the line between straight-up groove and thrash metal with elements of hard rock and even classic rock. On "L'Enfant Sauvage" the band's fifth album co-produced by Duplantier and Josh Wilbur, those textures are heard on songs like the title track, "Born in Winter" and the instrumental "The Wild Healer". Duplantier admits the new record was an eye-opening experience and he pushed himself to reach places in his vocals and songwriting that had never before been explored. Speaking with a thick French accent - think Peter Sellers in "The Pink Panther" - Joe explained about this new direction and what it was like recording and writing "L'Enfant Sauvage". UG:Three years after you formed Gojira in 1999, you put together Empalot with your brother Mario. What made you want to start the second band? Joe Duplantier: My brother and I were trying to dig into metal and to find new stuff and it was very exciting but at the same time we wanted to play other stuff that wouldn't fit into Gojira really. Also it was a bunch of friends of mine like from high school; about six or seven friends that were very close to me and we just wanted to have fun. I remember when we first played with Empalot it was a big vacation for everybody. It was in the middle of summer and we were doing barbeque and drinking beers and it was like, "Hey, you know what? Let's jam" and that's how it happened. It was more of a party thing and a kind of humor we have in common with all my friends.

"My brother and I were trying to dig into metal and to find new stuff and it was very exciting but at the same time we wanted to play other stuff that wouldn't fit into Gojira really."

Very early on you were listening to jazz and classical - did those elements come out in Empalot's music? Absolutely and with all my friends we have pretty much the same references like Stevie Wonder and all these things. We wanted to express a little bit of that all together and it was mostly a lot of fun. When you did the "Toux Aux Cepes" album was it just a feeling of going in the studio and seeing what happened? Yes exactly but at the same time we could not help if we tried to be tight and pushed the boundaries and we became very picky on everything. Even though the first thing is to have a lot of fun and then we become crazy with it and that the song would make sense. What about a song like "La Trappe de Especial"? That's the name of a grandmother of one of us. Especial is like a nickname for her and nobody would know that so it's just like private jokes and laughing and completely relaxed. It was a lot of fun but because we pushed this to its maximum at this time, we started to play shows in our area and we would headline shows in front of 2,000 people after just a couple of months. It's almost like be careful what you wish for. It became really crazy and almost out of control because most of us didn't want to do this for a living and it was just to have fun. Naturally we just stopped because we had an offer from a record company and they showed us a touring schedule and we're like, "You know what? We don't care about all of this." So some of us like my brother and I mainly wanted to go on with Gojira. Our sound guy was playing saxophone and one of our techs was playing keyboards so half of us went on with Gojira and the other half did their own stuff like art studies or design or whatever. Jumping backwards to "Terra Incognita" the first Gojira album, did you have an idea of what you wanted that album to sound like? Not really. What's interesting about our first album in general I think is it's a lot of years of searching and practicing without being known by anyone. Then all of a sudden you put out a record and most of the time there's like four or five years of work behind it. And the second album will be just a couple of months of work. So it makes a big difference for us. This first album was a kind of best of all our demos and a lot of work like four years really to compose this album. Yes, we didn't have an identity and people didn't know us at all. So we were really fresh and trying to figure out what are we as a band. By the time Gojira recorded The Link do you think the band was creating more of an identity? Umm, yeah, I guess. We don't think when we create - it just happens and we do our best to recreate what we have in our minds at the time. But afterwards, yes, when we think about it it's the time where we decided, "Wait a second - we're not just a death metal band. We can do other stuff and express other emotions." Yeah, it was more spiritual, I guess and a little more simple as well. Less things going on and more atmospheric stuff and less riffs. On the "From Mars to Sirius" album the band starts to get into even more prog music with songs like "Flying Whales." Yes absolutely. I remember what happened at the time is we were a little unsatisfied with "The Link" and especially the way it sounded. I remember composing something just two weeks before recording The Link and trying to figure out, "Oh, maybe we should make that part longer" while we were recording. And on "From Mars to Sirius" we decided to take more time. We took something like eight months or something crazy like that just to compose and then five months to record. You wanted to make "From Mars to Sirius" perfect. We felt like we needed to show what we can do and to bring our potential to its maximum at this time. We were a little traumatized by the four months composing for The Link and especially by this album where we took so long. We wanted to do things right on "From Mars to Sirius". So it was definitely a lot of work and a lot of thinking behind the songs. Yeah, I guess it's more progressive. We were getting closer to what we are today and it got there by natural evolution for us. In 2008 you joined Cavalera Conspiracy and played bass on their "Inflikted" album. How did that all happen? I loved it and it was an amazing experience for sure. I don't know exactly how it happened but it was a combination of Max and Igor and they wanted to try something new and have an original combination of musicians. They could have asked like a famous bass player to do it but I know that Roadrunner Records [Cavalera Conspiracy's label] had something to say about that. They actually gave this advice to Max and Igor and said, "You should pick someone from Gojira because it's like a rising band and it's interesting. They could bring something interesting on the table."

"If I sit in front of a piano, I like to play a couple of notes and hear how it sounds and not trying to build something too crazy."

Why did they offer you the bass gig? They offered Jean-Michel [Labadie, Gojira's bassist] the gig but he could just not do this at this moment. We were just finishing a tour and he had like family commitments and stuff so I said, "Maybe I can do it? I play bass and I love playing bass and I love the Cavalera brothers." So they said, "Yes and on top of that you can sing and it makes sense." What was that like being in the studio with Cavalera Conspiracy? It was very fast and very quick and it was almost like a dream. We composed and recorded the album together in a little more than two weeks. That was really unexpected and very new to me in this way of working. Max and Igor Cavalera worked totally differently than the way you and Mario work in Gojira? Yeah, I was completely blown away. We would just jam in the afternoon and put some riffs together and at night we would record everything. It's like, "OK, one song in the books and we don't even know what's going to happen tomorrow." We wouldn't even compose the whole album before recording. This to me was completely insane but somehow it worked. Like with Gojira we can talk about a song for two months and breakdown the song and do it again until it's perfect. But with these guys it was very different and more of a punk rock attitude. Very interesting. You recorded the "Inflikted" record just before starting to work on "The Way Of All Flesh"? Yes absolutely; it was in 2007. We were in the middle of composing "The Way Of All Flesh". We were almost done and I came back to France and I told the guys my experience and they were amazed. It was like, "What did you do in 20 days?" and I said, "We composed and recorded the whole album." Then we finished our album and I told the guys Logan Mader was incredible. He's very respectful and an amazing engineer. Plus he told me, "Are you working on a new Gojira album? I would love to do it." So I said, "OK." It happened very naturally and it was great. "The Way of All Flesh" was a 17-minute epic. Do you think you had been building towards a track like this and it had been in you waiting for the right time to come out? Umm, probably yes. I think so. It's true and you described it perfectly. The feeling I have is the more we go and we get closer to the core of what we want to express really. Maybe "The Way Of All Flesh" was there since the beginning and just took time to come out. But again when we compose we don't think too much. We're like, "What do we want to hear now? What do we want to do now?" "The Silver Cord" was an instrumental track on "The Way Of All Flesh" that followed in the fashion of earlier songs like "Mandragore" and "Connected". We like simplicity and just a couple of notes together sometimes. For example if I sit in front of a piano, I like to play a couple of notes and hear how it sounds and not trying to build something too crazy. That's what we did with this song and that's what we do with interludes in general. Just a couple of notes and then we go back to the intensity.

"Actually, we didn't know Lamb of God 'cause they weren't very famous in France."

You toured with Lamb of God right around this time. Were you a Lamb of God fan? Actually we didn't know Lamb of God 'cause they weren't very famous in France and they called us in 2007 for a tour. Because they heard Gojira and they were like, "Wow, you need to come to the U.S. and tour with us." I guess they were looking for bands to open for them at this stage and bring something interesting to their fans. So it was cool to be invited by a big band in the U.S. but we had no idea who they were. It was very surprising for us to play in huge venues in front of 3,000 to 4,000 people every night. We became very good friends with these guys and they're very open. You asked Randy Blythe to sing on the track "Adoration For None." Randy and I became good friends and we even went on a fishing trip. It was a camping trip just him and I talking and driving a car and he told me, "OK, I want to sing on the next Gojira." He invited himself on the next record. He came to France and slept on my couch and it was a very cool experience. He paid for his own flight and he insisted to do it. He wanted to do it and for us it was great to have this guy showing up from the States and staying one week. We took him everywhere in our area in France and he tried local food and visited old villages and cities. He was so open-minded to everything and full of energy. So he definitely brought something during this recording. We wrote the lyrics together and we talked about it and it was a very, very cool experience absolutely. Certainly you've heard about Randy's recent incarceration. Have you spoken to him at all recently? No, I didn't. When I heard the news of course I jumped on my phone and tried to call him but it wasn't possible to reach him so I sent him texts. I know he received my texts and emails. He just got out and he has probably tons of people on his back right now. I will see him actually in three days because he will perform his first show at the Knotfest. So I cannot wait to see him and give him a big hug. In 2010 you recorded the "Sea Shepherd" EP with Logan Mader. What was that experience like? It's a little sad because we were not able to keep up with our original plan. Our original plan was to release this EP last year. We had some technical problems and we had a computer crash and stuff like that. So all the files I thought were lost forever but I had some stuff on backup like the drums. So many things were lost I thought but finally I recovered the files so now we're good to go. Since then we recorded the new Gojira album and went on tour so it's still in my computer and I need to finish this and release the rest of the songs. You did release "Of Blood And Salt", which featured Devin Townsend on vocals and Fredrik Thordendal from Meshuggah. This first song we released through an English magazine. I think it's Metal Hammer - I cannot make a mistake on that. It was released in the UK through the press and we have like three more to go and they're finished. They're recorded and mixed and I just have a couple of things to add like some voices and then we're going to release these songs on the Internet. But yeah, that was a great experience absolutely. Collecting all these different people, these singers, they would say yes right away. All of them. So it was really cool. That takes us to "L'Enfant Sauvage" the new album you co-produced with Josh Wilbur. What new elements did he bring to Gojira? He definitely brought a huge amount of energy and that's why I was interested in working with the guy. I came to New York last year to find a studio first and when I found this studio, Josh was in the studio mixing the Lamb of God record ["Resolution".] I didn't know who he was really but I met him and he played some of the stuff and the way he talked about his work with Lamb of God and stuff was very, very motivating. You liked the way the Lamb of God stuff sounded? He's a young and full of energy guy so it was great. It was like natural for me to ask him, "Are you interested in working on the new Gojira?" and he said, "F--k yeah." So that's how it started; it was like a random meeting in a studio. I like it this way instead of some record company pushing him to us. It was really a meeting just like that in the studio. Were there times in the past when a label might have pushed a producer on you? No, it never happened and it will never happen. Because we did all our albums absolutely on our own and I was always producing the records 100 percent. I think it's the best way for us 'cause we have a clear vision of what we want to do when we enter the studio. There is a lot of preproduction done? Everything is ready: the intros; the outros; and the timing of the songs. But what Josh did is he pushed us to give the best performances and get the best out of us. For example the first day of the guitars I was recording this riff and we recorded it like 10 times just to get the vibe. And at the end of the 10 times I was like, "Yeah, this is it. I'm super happy with the riff." He said, "OK, you're warmed up. Now let's record the riff."

"It's a lot of years of searching and practicing without being known by anyone."

Josh Wilbur pushed you a little bit out of your comfort zone? I was like, "What? Who's that guy, man? Really? Are you kidding me?" He said, "No, let's see that each note needs to be really the best ever." So he was pushing me all the time and that's the main thing he brought to this album is to get the right performance. How I would sing the words and articulate and what I want to say and what I want to do. This is the first time you've recorded an entire album in America. On "The Way Of All Flesh" we recorded the drums in Los Angeles and I had my own experiences on the side with Cavalera Conspiracy and I did record some stuff in studios. But it was the first time we did an entire album in an American studio. Was it a different emotional experience recording at Spin Studios in New York than it has been working in the French studios? Absolutely there is. There's something in America in general that is really different than in France or in Europe in general. It's like the relationship with people - it seems like people go more straight to the point. Americans are definitely louder than French. They speak louder and there's something about this as well. It shows that the American culture is based on a very fresh history in this country and it seems like there's no time to lose [snaps fingers] and we need to move forward. You like that quality of moving quickly in the studio? Everything is in the future and the present moment when in Europe it's a lot of history there and a lot of things happened and the fight for the civil rights in the middle ages and all that. It seems like there's a whole different structure in people's minds and in the recording studio you can feel all that. It's like, "OK, we're gonna talk about things for a long time very quietly." Here it's more spontaneous and more, "OK, we need to get this done. Bam bam bam." I like this and I think we need this as a band because we tend to think too much. So it was a good influence on Gojira this experience, this American vibe. You described "L'Enfant Sauvage" as a "wiser but heavier" album. By wiser you mean more attention paid to the riffs like you just described? Expanding the songwriting? We have a desire to get rid of our influences. Of course we don't want to get rid of it but we want to find our own signature and our own energy. We're still completely influenced by all the bands we grew up with but at the same time we believe we have something personal to express. The more we get rid of these layers [the more we can sound like ourselves.] This technical part in the music sometimes is attractive because it can be very impressive and a demonstration of technique or something like that. That has always been the eternal struggle in metal music-balancing the technical and the emotional. We're getting rid of all that naturally after album after album and we're getting closer to the core of the music and to what we want to express deeply. That's why I said "wiser" and maybe closer to what we are truly you know. Without being scared of what people are going to think or whatever. And we're not scared to really disappoint 'cause it never really happened. Since the very first show we try to be ourselves with what we are and what we have. It seems like people dig it and understand it. We're not really scared to disappoint people and over the years we've become more relaxed and more, "OK, this is what we are and we're gonna do it." Are songs like "L'Enfant Sauvage' and "Liquid Fire" the first two singles, examples of how you're trying to create more of an identifiable Gojira sound? Yes absolutely but at the same time we don't decide the direction really when we get together in the practice room. We don't know what's gonna happen. There is no sense of "we're going to make this kind of album." We just have a feeling and a kind of vibe. It's very physical actually; it's inside. Sometimes we get together and there's a lot of melancholy in the music we play and we accept it and we embrace it. We try to keep it exciting so we don't linger on something that's going to become depressive of course. But if it's sad, it's gonna be sad and if it's technical, it's gonna be technical. We just take things as they come and build songs. At the end of the day it really represents what we are and the state-of-mind and the spirit of the moment. But there is no really direction - you know what I mean?

"We're not just a death metal band. We can do other stuff and express other emotions."

Perfectly. It's all about being in the moment with Gojira. Absolutely. It's interesting because I think the less we try to give a direction, the more interesting it's gonna be. You said earlier you're not afraid to disappoint your fans. On "L'Enfant Sauvage" you do the instrumental "The Wild Healer." Where does a song like that come from? It comes from the childhood. I remember being excited by some of the stuff The Beatles would do or Mike Oldfield or Michael Jackson. I remember being excited by music. Like when you're a child and you start to dance on the music 'cause it's so good? I like to keep that alive in what we do and of course we have a lot of intensity and we need to play metal. It's a need that we have like we need to play that music but we want to bring some contrast in there. To sometimes reconnect with a simpler, happier vibe and melodies and then go back to the metal. I think it makes the heavy parts heavier when you have some contrast here and there in an album. I enjoy these moments when I listen to a record in general. How does the Gojira audience react to a song like "The Wild Healer"? Well I read some comments that people are unhappy and "This is completely useless. We want some double kick." I understand they're probably younger than I am and just want to be crushed constantly by the music. But most of the time people totally get it. There's a communication with our fans and the audience in general that is very simple and fluid. People get it. "Planned Obsolescence" was a great example of how you and guitarist Christian Andreu build guitar tracks. Describe that process. Christian has a very good ear and most of the time it's a discussion between Mario the drummer who is my brother and myself. So we have kind of a dialog going on and sometimes it's just the both of us playing and the two other guys know what's going on. They know we're brothers and we need to do our stuff a little bit and then they join us. With Christian what I like is he has no reference - he doesn't listen to music at all. That is an interesting vantage point. He's enjoying being here in the band with me and we get excited when it's weird. We're on the same page really so we never struggle or there's never tension like, "I think we should do this. No we should do that. That part sucked." We always agree on stuff and it's very organic and it's very simple. We have a simple communication. It's an unspoken thing. We're not guitarists - we don't consider ourselves guitarists. But we make ourselves available for the band and we just want the best for the song. So it's more like we're trying to build a wall of guitars instead of being impressive as a guitarist or whatever. So it's very, very nice to work with Christian and we have a very good complicity. "Pain is a Master" goes through several different sections and sounds fairly complex arrangement-wise. How did that song happen? Before we record we definitely do pre-production so we know what's gonna happen when we enter the studio. But when we composed that song I remembered this song was very, very fast to compose. My brother and I were jamming one night and it was pretty late. I remember it was a good moment and we jammed and I put my guitar very loud. I remember it was super loud and we were just into the music and we were just staring at each other without talking. You know how that happens you know what I mean? That sibling communication. Sometimes we're like, "Let's redo that; that was great. We need to keep that a little longer." Then when we had the core of the song and we worked on the structure a little bit more but it was very fast I remember. We didn't talk at all almost for that one. It's a paradox because it's more complex and technical but at the same time it was so easy to compose. It just happened. Your vocal on "Born in Winter" had a lot of melody and texture to it. Did you push yourself as a singer on "L'Enfant Sauvage"? Yes, I think I always had that. Even in the previous album I always wanted to sing. But for the first time I feel confident enough to try it and to do it. It takes a lot of confidence to sing in a simple way just like, "OK, this is my voice. I'm gonna put this voice in the song without screaming or putting layers and layers of voices." So I think I'm more mature. I grew as a musician and a singer enough to do this today and to feel OK about it and to accept the weaknesses and the weak points of my voice. I really enjoyed this and I want to go more far in this direction. Who were some of the singers you were listening to? Maynard from Tool is a big influence but it came pretty late. I didn't understand Tool until a couple of years back. But now I listen to his stuff and I'm like, "Wow. I'm blown away." You're on tour now? Yeah. We're in Pontiac, Michigan and I'm about to put on my jeans and my metal shirt and my wrist bands and get onstage. Do you get nervous or any kind of adrenaline rush before doing a live gig? Absolutely. Just sometimes with fatigue when we're very tired from the road, sometimes it helps to be more relaxed somehow. It's a paradox but sometimes when you're tired it's easier to get onstage just because you're less nervous. Today is one of these days so I'm not too nervous. But yesterday for example I was shitting my pants before getting onstage. Play all the good notes tonight, OK? I will. Thank you. Au revoir. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2012
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