Gojira: ‘It’s not just a trend, it’s a movement, it’s a revolution’
Joe Duplantier of French metal four-piece on how an epiphany led to a lifetime of environmental activism
Joe Duplantier (2nd left) and Mario Duplantier (2nd right) with Christian Andreu (left) and Jean-Michel Labadie in Gojira.
When Joe Duplantier was in his early 20s he had “a little bit of a crisis”. “I just ran to the forest and started to build a cabin like a crazy person. I lived with only fire and water I could gather from the stream and I didn’t have electricity or anything. I wanted to create that experience.”
He lived there for about two years around the time he was writing and recording his first full album with his band Gojira. The French metal quartet he formed with his brother Mario and guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie have gone from strength to strength since the release of Terra Incognita 20 years ago but the impact of Duplantier’s “epiphany” in the woods can be seen throughout their music.
They are about to release their seventh album Fortitude and the theme of environmentalism remains to the fore. Its second track, the Sepultura-inspired Amazonia, pulses with fury as Duplantier screams “the greatest miracle is burning to the ground”.
Not content to shout into the void, the band started a fundraiser to support former Brazilian vice-presidential candidate Sonia Guajajara and the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil, an organisation that represents around 300 indigenous ethnic groups in Brazil. Operation Amazonia has raised more than $200,000 so far, through donations and an auction of signed instruments backed by Slash, Metallica and Devin Townsend among others.
Duplantier says the indigenous are “the last humans in their right mind. They actually know what’s up and can actually live with the planet. If we were all living like that, there wouldn’t be any problem.”
The extinction of so many species is going to be one of our legacies
Fortitude’s third track addresses his swings between pessimism about humanity acting as a “parasite” and his desire to do something about it.
“Another World is a tantrum … I want another world, f**k this world but when the tantrum is done, oh of course this is our world, this is only thing we have handy ... This is all we’ve got.”
He has been vegan for seven years and believes “something’s wrong with us” in how we treat animals. “The extinction of so many species is going to be one of our legacies. It took billions of years to create these species and in 40 years, boom, thousands and thousands of species are extinct because of us.”
But he is more optimistic about a change in people’s attitudes and believes “it’s going to be normal soon to be vegan I hope, it’s not just a trend, it’s a movement, it’s a revolution”.
The band has expressed support over the years for the controversial anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “All they are doing is enforcing laws that are violated all the time. Paul Watson said I’m going to do it. I’m going to call them out, I’m going to cut the nets. Thank you, Paul Watson, someone is looking out for us.”
The brutal riffs and Mario’s breathtaking drumming on 2005’s From Mars to Sirius and 2008’s The Way of All Flesh secured their place as one of the most significant metal bands of their generation. However, Gojira hit another level of notoriety after touring with Metallica in 2009 and again in 2017. While on tour in Lithuania, Duplantier met his wife in a bar Lars Ulrich brought him to, saying to Loudwire in March that “I tell my kids… Lars is practically their godfather”.
A Grammy nomination followed in 2017 for Silvera off the album Magma. The deeply personal album, recorded in the wake of the death of the Duplantier brothers’ mother from cancer, marked a further shift in a more progressive direction with shorter, more melodic songs and cleaner vocals. Fortitude is another step down that road.
“We have things that we want to explore. I love singing which I want to develop more. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the way the stars are aligned that specific day when you do that specific song,” says Duplantier.
“We could have a blast writing a super technical death metal tune or a super chanty poppy well-structured, well-balanced song.”
The Chant, a warm slow-burner described by the band as a “healing ritual” is the heart of the album and its call to “get strong” embodies its activist message. Duplantier accepts “this is a new thing for us. It’s just a desire to sing more and to create more beautiful things.”
Duplantier, who is normally based in New York, is back home in the small town of Ondres, north of Bayonne, where he was visiting his father when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. That complicated the mixing process for Fortitude, with Duplantier “singing down the phone” at 6am to veteran Florida-based producer Andy Wallace, who worked on Slayer’s Reign in Blood. “And then my kids would jump on my head at 8am after two hours’ sleep.”
Gojira have played Dublin’s Academy a few times over the years and Duplantier is keen to come back to Ireland soon. “There’s something real there. You can tell there’s history in rock in Ireland.”
They were scheduled to perform at Sunstroke last summer but that festival was cancelled and Duplantier doesn’t expect a 3Arena gig with Deftones planned for June to go ahead. However, “we’re not just going to walk away on people, if it doesn’t happen this year, we’ll make it happen next year.”
“After a year and half not playing a single show we’re a little rusty, even the gear is rusty”, but he’s keen to get back on the road.
He hopes the US leg of the tour with Deftones will happen in August and after that plans to meet the tribes the band are helping in the Amazon. He hopes society can learn a few lessons for what happening there.
“I think it’s possible for humans to achieve the status of human, with the spirituality, the concepts, philosophy we have without being so destructive. [But] I’m not here to provide solutions per se, I’m just an artist making tantrums.”
Fortitude will be released by Roadrunner Records on April 30th