EXCLUSIVE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW: GOJIRA’S JOE & MARIO DUPLANTIER ON THEIR NEW ALBUM, SIGNING WITH ROADRUNNER RECORDS, THE SEA SHEPHERD EP, AND MORE
photos by Gabrielle Duplantier
November 12, 2011. I’m in Long Island City, heading towards Spin Recording Studios, where the mighty Gojira have recently begun recording their new album with producer Josh Wilbur. It’s a big deal because a) it’s Gojira’s first album in more than three years, b) the band has just announced that they’ve signed with Roadrunner Records, and c) Gojira fucking rules, and I’m a massive, massive fan.
I’m still a good block-and-a-half away when I hear it. It’s so incredibly LOUD and metallic, it almost sounds like machine gun fire — but it’s too rhythmic to be a weapon. I decide it must be a street performer, banging on some sheet metal or something… except that I can see the street all around me, and it’s completely deserted. If it is a street performer, he’s very well concealed, and is apparently playing to an audience of no one.
By the time I arrive at the front door of Spin Studios — a large, steel entrance — the sound has become deafening. And as I peek through the small, submarine-like door window, I finally see the source of the sound: it’s Gojira skinsman Mario Duplantier, drumming on the door like the thunder god that he is.
Mario sees me, stops what he’s doing, and opens the door. I introduce myself; he shakes my hand enthusiastically. “Go upstairs to the studio,” he tells me. “I just to have finish this, then I’ll be right up.”
I assume he’s warming up for a take — yes, I know it’s a tad odd to warm up against a door, but who am I to tell to Mario Duplantier what is or is not normal? — until I begin to walk up the steps, and I see microphones strategically positioned all around the stairwell. At which point I realize, Holy shit, they’re recording this.
And, indeed, when I enter the studio itself, I see Joe Duplantier — Gojira’s guitarist/vocalist and Mario’s brother — crouched on the floor with producer Josh Wilbur and a laptop. “Want to hear?” Joe asks me, offering me headphones. Uh, gee, lemme think about it — oh, all right! I’m not even sure yet what the hell they’re gonna be using this stuff for, but what I hear sounds incredible. Wilbur will later express concern that people will think it’s programmed — an assertion that would be a bizarrely complimentary insult, given that it’s all 100% real.
We wait for Mario to complete his task, at which point Wilbur leads us back to his private office/mixing station. And that’s where I spend the next half hour picking Joe and Mario’s brain about all things Gojira…
There’s so much to ask you guys, I almost don’t know where to begin. Let’s start here: you just signed with Roadrunner… How did that come about?
Joe Duplantier: I don’t know. There are so many different perspectives and points of views. For us, the way that we see it is we really needed a platform for the band to be promoted and distributed properly. We’ve been in touch with a lot of labels lately since we finished our contract with Listenable [who released the band’s three previous albums]. To go on with Listenable was not an option, even though we had excellent relations with them. We really needed a bigger platform, and Roadrunner offered us an am amazing deal. They have been super into the band for years and years. They have been… I would not say “chasing us,” but… well, I would say “chasing us,” but they would say “interested.”
That’s just industry speak for “chasing.”
JD: It’s been a long story. We’ve known [the Roadrunner] guys for years and years – first as metal fans, when we were listening to Sepultura and Death and all those bands. I remember buying a CD because the Roadrunner logo was on it. It was a sign of quality. And we’ve known those guys for a couple of years. We’ve known [Senior Vice President of A&R] Monte Conner and [UK General Manager] Mark Palmer. They expressed how enthusiastic they were about our music in a very intelligent way. They really get what we’re trying to do, so we signed with them.
It’s been three years since The Way of All Flesh; it’ll be closer to four years by the time this album comes out. You took a year off. Was that part of the process because you were looking for a new label, or were you taking your time writing the new album…?
Mario Duplantier: Both.
JD: I never felt like I took a day off in fifteen years. We took some time off press and off tour but…
MD: We were constantly thinking about the band and talking about the way we would like to evolve, talking about the music, and composing. We knew that a lot of change around the band meant that we had to re-organize. It was not like we stayed home and just relaxed.
JD: It was also a very special and unique situation in our career. We were between labels and managers and crews… We felt so fragile and naked for a couple of months. It was an incredibly scary feeling, but at the same time, very good, because we felt so free. Basically we could do whatever we wanted, but at the same time, we were extremely worried. When you don’t have the right people around you to work on the band, you can’t relax, really, because you’re on your own. Even our webmaster changed! The whole team changed. Just a couple of people who have been following the band since the beginning are still with us somehow, especially on the road crew and stuff. Other than that, we had no manager to speak to. No nothing. We found a manager. It took us a year to create a relation with this new management, RSE, in Los Angeles. They manage Mastodon and Slayer. That was a big change, also. So we were off, but not in our heads. We were talking and doing band meetings weekly and talking on Skype with the new management and stuff and working on contracts. It was pretty intense. I’m exhausted from this time off. [laughs] Exhausted!
Were you really worried about the band’s future during that time? I don’t know what your perception is actually being in Gojira, but the hunger amongst the fan base for new music from you guys is… people are rabid! You guys sneeze and we get a hundred e-mails from people going “Gojira sneezed! Why haven’t you written about it?!?”
JD: We take it easy. We know what we’re doing. We’re recording music and performing onstage, that’s what we do. The fact that we’re successful — not like Madonna-successful, obviously — but the fact that it works and we have people that are attentive to what we do… It’s real support, but we’re still constantly worried about doing the right thing, and struggling to make a living with music. We’re not super good at business. We’re not good at Facebook and all that stuff. We’re just about music. We have a Facebook page and all that, but [now] we have someone taking care of that, so it’s cool. We’re constantly trying to find the best way to communicate with the fans.
We don’t sell shirts. We sell shirts on tour. But there are no shirts in stores. Most bands make a living out of selling shirts [not just on tour], and we’ve never thought about it. We have new management that asked, “Do you want to sell shirts?” “Fuck yeah! Of course we want to!” [laughs] It’s just hard to put your head into this. So we need to take that step to be more organized and have more of a connection with the fans. We focus on the music.
Do you enjoy that element of it – connecting with the fans? Are you into that?
JD: We have an immense respect for our fans. We realize every day that without them, this band doesn’t exist. It’s as simple as that. This band is our fans and us. We’re the band: us and our fans. There’s no question. Of course we need to make that effort. Even as a couple, it takes you some effort to talk with your girlfriend. You need to be present and stuff.
MD: From my point of view, the concept of a “fan” is that you are a human being. We feel so close to human beings in general. We talk to a humans. Sometimes relations are difficult because we are shy. I feel shy. So it’s not easy for us. But I feel on the same level as everybody. When I talk to a fan, I talk to a human, so I have to be careful.
JD: Some bands are like, “Yo, motherfuckers! It’s going to be awesome! Check this out, motherfuckers!” If we give a message to the fans or if we communicate, we try to bring something more. Sometimes we can be too picky, so we don’t give anything for two months – no information, nothing. We just don’t have anything to give. We don’t want to keep them in the dark like that. If we have something to give, we give. If we don’t have it, we don’t give.
Do you guys feel pressure following up the last album?
MD: Of course a little pressure, because when people say that they can’t wait to hear the album, it’s a message, and we receive the message. So we have to make a good album. At the same time, we want to make a good album because it’s a way for us to be balanced in our lives. We sing what we believe. We have to be proud of our music. It’s not about just making a CD and giving it to the fans. We have to do something essential for us. Usually when we are proud of our music, we know that most of the people will enjoy it, too.
That’s a good approach to take: if you like it, they’ll like it.
JD: We breathe this music. If you change one note, it’s not the same anymore. We’re very picky about what we’re doing. Sometimes even something very simple in a riff or song… the vibration is exactly what we need at this moment. It’s more than producing some sounds. It’s about us. It’s a lot about Mario and me composing. The other guys [guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie] are involved also. We jammed for months and months to create this album. Mario and I composed this mostly, and we’re brothers. It’s like something in the gut. It’s very intense. It’s impossible to lie during this process. If something isn’t good, we know it right away, and we cannot live with it, and we cannot sleep.
Do you two always agree about what’s good or do you —
BOTH: [without hesitation] Always.
Oh, really? You never disagree? That’s pretty amazing.
JD: That’s why we can trust this brotherhood. We trust that when we compose. “It’s good?” “Yeah, it’s good. Let’s go.”
Mario was telling me outside that you have more songs coming into the studio this time than you normally do…
MD: Exactly. On the last album, we took four full, intense months to compose the entire album. I think it was very short. On this one, we spent seven or eight months composing. We had some songs… [to Joe] how do you say [speaking in French]?
JD: Extra songs.
MD: Extra songs! And that’s very cool, because it’s a good way to select the best songs. Now we realize that when you release an album, each song has to be the best ever. Now our priority is that each song has to be perfect.
So you’re not sure which songs are going to end up on the album? Or do you already have a sense of that?
MD: Not really.
JD: We have a sense of some that are going to be on the album for sure. Now, the ones that are going to be bonuses or something like that… we can’t decide because we love them all.
MD: Sometimes [a song] can be very good but doesn’t work [for the final album]. Sometimes a good song has to go be a bonus track, because it doesn’t go with the album because of tempo and the dynamic of the album. We are very picky with all the details.
JD: I didn’t record the vocals yet. It’s just the drums for now. It’s just the beginning [of the recording process], but already we can tell there is a very cool harmony. It’s very fluid and beautiful. It’s a beautiful drum sound and a beautiful balance in the songs. Sometimes we can do just the drums and go, “Wow, it’s kicking ass!” But with the vocals [completed], we’ll be able to say, “This one needs to be on the album and this one can be a bonus song.”
Can you tell me anything about the actual music on the new album, other than the fact that you’re banging on doors? How is it different from other Gojira albums? Did you have a vision for it going into the process?
JD: It’s more mature.
JD: There’s less bullshit. [laughs] There’s more intensity and simplicity at the same time. Drum-wise, for example, Mario has been serving the music, but with a lot more of his experience in the drumming, and a lot of reflection in the work. His drum fills, for example, are be simpler, yet more technical. For a real drummer to hear [what he’s doing], they’ll go “Holy shit, man. What did you do?” For someone who is not into drumming, they’ll go through the song and say “Wow, cool.” There’s more technique and more experience.
MD: It’s more ambitious. There’s a space in the songs. [hums a riff] It’s more… [looks to Joe]
JD: It’s hard to talk about it, really.
Talking about music can be difficult.
JD: We’re not trying to avoid anything…
That’s cool. I usually ask bands how their new album sounds and they go, “It’s heavier,” which doesn’t really mean anything, so I appreciate you trying to express the sound to me.
Going into it, did you say we want to make something more open and more ambitious, or is that just how it turned out in the songwriting process?
MD: We never think about it, we just play. Sometimes I want something fast, and Joe is the same. We just go to the studio every day, to the practice room, and play together, and something happens.
JD: Something totally unexpected happens. Personally, I had a vision of this album, with what I would like to see happening. I was imagining something very organic and very deep, with more natural sounds. Music-wise, it’s something like a dream and a storm… it’s magical. I had this vision with colors, sounds and shapes in my mind. I almost dreamed about it. “Wow, I feel like this album is going to be like that.” But I didn’t know. I have no idea until we see what happens when we get into the practice room.
Mario did a lot on this album, more than other albums. He’s always very active, especially with the drums and the structure. On this album, he came up with a lot of musical ideas, melodies, and sometimes riffs. It was a very good combination. He brought more musically than he usually does. I was very busy on the business side, with how to organize things and the boring shit. It was interesting also because it’s political. “Now we have more weight and we can sign a deal with whatever we want to do exactly.” I had my mind on this a lot… I was on the phone, the internet and stuff — Mario, too, actually. Christian, our guitar player, is giving a hand on paperwork and stuff. So we’re very together, but Mario took more space on the musical side of stuff.
MD: Yeah, I felt very inspired. I felt it was my role to bring the dynamic to the songs. We compose together, but I brought more dynamic than usual. I have an idea to do a song for three minutes and go, “This and this. Joe, can you help me?” He took the guitar and helped. He’s very reactive. When I talk about something, like an idea or an energy — “What about [hums drumming]” –he took the guitar, and five seconds later, he proposed something to me. It’s very interesting, because you don’t take four hours to do something. It’s very quick and fast. It was a very good combination.
JD: We learn about each other. We trust each other. Sometime I come up with something that I’m not sure about, and we try it. If it’s not good, we both know. If it is good, we both know. Sometimes he comes up with a melody and we try it. After five minutes it’s like, “Wow! Of course!” So we always get to that point where we agree on things. We always come back to this relationship that we have.
I don’t remember what the question was, actually.
Neither do I, but I’m loving the answer.
What about working with Josh Wilbur? There were a lot of rumors going around about who the producer was going to be on this album…
JD: We talked to several people. What happened is, we were in touch with several producers in Los Angeles. We didn’t know yet if we would use a producer for the first time or not. We mostly wanted to have advice on sound. We usually do everything ourselves. I produced the last album. I was following the whole process: mixing and making sure that the vision of the band was respected in the studio. This time, we wanted to have more help from someone with more experience with producing. It couldn’t happen with a bunch of guys in Los Angeles and other places. No one was available. There were a lot of people who said that they wanted to do it, but it didn’t work out. At one point, I said “Fuck it, I’m going to produce it.” Mario was like, “Yeah, I like this idea. I like that we can be free to do whatever we want to do.” Not that it would be the opposite with a producer. There are tons of ways to work with a producer. It could just be someone who brings amazing advice, who looks at you and how you play and says, “Maybe you should try that amp. Maybe you should jam more, because that riff could be a little stronger.” I said that I didn’t want to go to Los Angeles because I wanted to go to New York because I loved this city since I was a kid. I’ve always been fascinated by New York.
You lived here for a little while, right?
JD: Yeah, two years ago, and also five years ago, I came here alone and rented a flat and stayed for inspiration and stuff. This time, I’m here to stay. I don’t know for how long. I moved here basically a month ago.
So I decided to find a studio and an engineer or co-producer/mixer or whatever to put the thing together. That’s what I did a month and a half ago when I came here. The first studio I visited was here, Spin Studios. The guys are super nice. I’m alone, and I’m like, “Hey, I’m looking for a studio.” “Who are you?” “I’m from that French band Gojira.” I visited this one first, and Josh was in this room mixing the new Lamb of God [Resolution]. I was like, “Hey, what’s up?” He was like, “Hi, my name is Josh.” I didn’t know him, never heard of him before. He played some songs from Lamb of God because he was mixing it, and then I asked him to play the drums dry without any reverb or anything, to hear how the drum room sounds here — because that’s the most important thing on the record. And it sounded amazing. He taught me some tricks, like what microphones to use and this and that. He’s young and full of energy. He was bouncing on his chair when he was playing the songs. I was like, “Wow.” I was listening on the headphones and on the speakers, and it just sounded exactly the way I was imagining the next Gojira. We’re not so far from Lamb of God, but far enough that we’re different genres.
So I felt the potential of the studio and of Josh. I called Mario and said, “I met this young guy and he’s full of energy and he’s working on Lamb of God.” Mario said, “Fuck yeah, let’s go!” So we’re co-producing this album – Josh and I. That’s the story.
And it seems like it’s going well in terms of your collaboration with him?
JD: Yeah, because we jammed for a day here in this room, and he took notes on some songs. He was totally respectful, and knows exactly where we come from. He was a big fan of our last album and stuff. So he’d say, “I think this last part could be stronger,” but with a lot of respect. He’d say, “I know it’s your music, and I don’t want to touch it, but on that part, I cannot really breathe before this other part comes.” And this is the first time someone tells us something like that. So we tried it, and were like, “Oh, you’re right. It’s better like that.” He just pushed us a little bit to make something a little better.
Sound-wise he’s doing an excellent job. Mario was using one cymbal and Josh said,”Use this one because I think it fits better with the other one.” “Yeah, but we’ve used this cymbal for ten years now!” But we tried it and were like, “Fuck, he’s right!” He says something, and sometimes, he’s right. If it’s not right, we’ll tell him. For now, he’s a great guy to work with.
That’s great. And is your first time recording in the States, is that correct?
JD: We recorded the drums for The Way of All Flesh in Los Angeles. The rest in France.
Have you found living here and doing a lot more recording here… has the change of environment affected your music in any way, or is it more like, wherever you go, there you are?
JD: I’m not sure. We’re inspired. Mario just arrived here for drum tracking and said, “Wow, there’s a lot of energy here.” Somehow, it’s an influence even on Mario’s playing.
MD: I spent ten months in France, and went to the ocean every day to surf. It was my way to work on the drums. I went in the ocean and played the drums. My inspiration came from the ocean on this album. I live in the town in France where there is nothing to do except go to the ocean. No concerts, no exhibitions, no bars, nothing to do. So when you arrive here, it’s so powerful. It gave me the energy to record.
So how did this banging on the steel door thing come about? Was it pre-planned, or was it something off the cuff that you just came up with today?
MD: Usually, when we record in France, we have a lot of stuff around, like a piece of metal or a piece of wood. We love to experiment with percussions and make strange noises. We have a big space in our practice room, and we usually find something and go, “Oh this piece of wood looks cool,” so we take it and go “whack!” This time I didn’t bring stuff to the U.S., so all the wood and the percussion stuff was in France. So we had to compose in the environment. We thought about this, and maybe tomorrow we’ll take a walk around the neighborhood to find more stuff [to bang on]. So in this way, we will feel New York on the album.
JD: We always experiment on albums. On each album there is at least one track with strange sounds that we recorded in the forest or in the studio.
And you said that at the end of the day, there are going to be nine songs on the album?
MD: Nine main songs with a couple of interludes.
And the bonus stuff.
JD: I know that at the beginning of this recording, I thought, “Okay, let’s not make another epic album. Let’s make something a little shorter.” So when you go through the album, you want to play it again right away, instead of getting a little tired and saying. “I’ll listen to it later.” We’d like to keep it entertaining. So we were thinking of making a shorter one this time.
Speaking of short, I almost hate to ask, but… what’s going on with the Sea Shepherd EP?
JD: With the what?
With the Sea Shepherd EP?
MD: What’s that?
The EP you guys have been working on…?
[The Brothers Duplantier stare at me blankly — it’s incredibly awkward. And then they suddenly burst into laughter.]
You had me there for a minute!
[They continue to laugh.]
I know you guys lost a bunch of stuff unfortunately. Do you think that it’ll finally come to fruition at some point?
JD: Yeah, it’s just these small things that come at the wrong time, the wrong moment. The whole process is very difficult. We just regret that we started to talk about it, actually. We should have kept it a secret. Because there’s no problem. We like to take our time anyway.
We went to Los Angeles to record this with Logan Mader. We had a lot of people involved in this, and everybody doing things for free. Even our lawyer here in New York did some paperwork for free. All kinds of people brought something for the cause. We felt after awhile that we had this responsibility to all these people. There is a lot of controversy with the Sea Shepherd, but we don’t give a fuck, because they are just amazing people dedicating their lives to doing something good. Even if you do something that doesn’t look so good… the goal is something pure. They just want to protect life in the ocean. It’s beautiful. We want to contribute to that.
We’re almost done; we just have to add a couple of things. When we were almost finished, we had a computer crash, and lost the hard drive. We’re still trying to get some stuff off of it. We have vocals that people sent, and some bass that we recorded. We arranged a lot of stuff after Los Angeles, because we had to hurry when we were there. Back in France, we recorded some stuff, and then we lost that. We still need to re-record some stuff and maybe hopefully we’ll get the vocals out of this hard drive that crashed.
MD: It’s such a nightmare.
JD: Yeah, it’s a nightmare. We sent [the crashed hard drive] to a guy in France who took forever to come back to us. We had to chase him, and at the same time, prepare the new album. When it’s a nonprofit thing and people do things for free, everything takes more time, which is normal. Everybody has to work and do their stuff to feed their families. You cannot push people and go, “Do that and that.”
MD: I think that there was no luck.
It sounds like it.
MD: It was so bad, but we’ll get that done for sure.
JD: We love the songs. They are Gojira songs with other people singing.
“Of Blood and Salt” with Devin Townsend and Fredrik Thordendal from Meshuggah… I’m not clear if it leaked or was officially released, but it sounds great. People were really stoked on it.
JD: That was the first one done. The others… I could play them now because they sound as good as that one, but some things are missing. It’s likem “Ahhh! We’re going backwards now.” We’ll get that done eventually. We cannot say when really. We also have a terrible lack of time because we’re working every day on this album.
Well, on behalf of all the Gojira fans, we’re happy to get new music from you however we can.
JD: That’s great. I want to say that to all our fans that are reading the interviews and caring about our music in general. I think our fans recognize that we do this with our heart. We’re honest when we do this music. We’re struggling in our lives to keep up and still do what we do with respect. We try to respect ourselves first, but really I want to thank all our fans that are going to read this interview.
Gojira’s Roadrunner debut will be out sometime in 2012.