Interview: Joe Duplantier of Gojira on authentic metal, emerging from France, and fighting alongside the Sea Shepherd

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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]odern metal is a joke for the most part: literally, in the sense that what once was a genre born of teenage nihilism and underclass frustration has turned into a culture of ridiculous arrested-adolescent tropes. There are teenage metal fans walking the earth today who were probably raised in skull-emblazoned onesies and baby sleeveless leather jackets, for whom the Slaytanic Viking cartoon gobbledigook of today’s metal landscape is perfectly ordinary and inevitable.

Which makes the metal band actually making music about something all the more rare — like Gojira, whose scorched-earth fury is in service of song cycles dedicated to the contaminated oceans and dying species of our troubled planet.

Perhaps it has to do with the quartet’s rural French upbringing, or perhaps it’s the way that, in isolation, they internalized and fused the Metallica records and biology classes of their childhood. Either way, the end result is furious molten metal that is not beholden to some eternal early-’80s bullet-belt fantasyland.

We caught up with Gojira lead chanteur Joe Duplantier, in the midst of a never-ending U.S. jaunt supporting What Is Left Of The Band Once Known As Slayer, to discuss charred oceans and rural isolation.

Vanyaland: So you guys are touring with Slayer, who have gone through a lot of lineup changes; and yet Gojira has managed to hold onto a completely stable lineup for your whole career so far. What do you attribute it to?

Joe Duplantier: I don’t know — I don’t really think about it, but people always find it so odd that we’re still together. I guess we’re just lucky to have found each other at the beginning, in the same area, almost the same village. We’re like family, you know, so we have ups and downs. But the key to our success in staying together, as a band, is communication. Communication, and not doing drugs!

Gojira existed long before non-French audiences had ever heard of you; what was your formation like, and how did you emerge from the French metal world?

We started in the southwest of France, in the countryside, and it took us a lot of years to play shows in proper clubs. We spent, first of all, something like four or five years just recording demos and jamming. We didn’t really have a goal to become a professional band, we just wanted to play for the love of music. And that’s what our band is based on, we never had any intent to become a big international band.

Finally we were like “Okay, let’s record an album,” and from that moment it became something like an ignition to promote our first album in France. As a French band, there were no open doors to international markets; in France there’s no tradition of international bands, at least in rock. So it took a long time to find a record company that would distribute us in England; and that was really amazing, to be distributed outside of France, it was an event in the French metal scene!

So it took a long time, but how we felt was that we were ever-moving, step after step, always getting a little better and better. So that kind of kept us together, because we never went down, we never played a show where people threw tomatoes at us. Each show was a success for us, and even if we played a show without a lot of people there, there was always one guy who was like “That was awesome!” And we never had times when we went downhill, which a lot of bands deal with. I mean, it’s hard, because everything moves slowly, but we’ve liked it that way, it’s worked out for us.

It seems like your isolation was a big key to your sound, attitude, and ultimate success.

We were isolated and there was no scene around us. There were some groups of bands in bigger cities, but where we were, we were on our own. We were influenced and inspired by Metallica, Sepultura, Death, Morbid Angel, and some English and American bands, and they were all from far away, something that we could never reach. So we allowed ourselves to be creative when composing, we didn’t have a band next to us saying “Oh, you can’t do that.” We weren’t influenced by medium bands, just big bands! In a weird way, that allowed us to be ourselves.

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