[Interview] Gojira: Liquid Hot Magma
BLUNT catches up with Gojira’s Joe and Mario Duplantier at Graspop Metal Meeting to dissect their new prog-metal opus.
“We will see our children growing.” That line, from the track “Global Warming” on Gojira’s breakthrough 2005 record, From Mars To Sirius, has taken on a significance that its creators – notably Joe Duplantier (vocals/guitars) and younger brother Mario (drums) – evidently couldn’t have fully acknowledged at the time.
The metal maestros, formed in Bayonne, France have long expressed environmentalist ideals, including publicly pledging support for marine conservation group Sea Shepherd. One wonders if these sentiments have adopted greater urgency now that both siblings have become fathers in recent times though. Is there an enhanced desire and responsibility to preserve the planet and leave behind a less odious world for their children? Was there a prophetic aspect to the aforementioned song?
“Well, we had that message since we were kids, teenagers, and we were not thinking about our future kids at the time,” Joe explains. “[That line] ‘We will see our children growing’, it was a mantra, a prayer for the future, for the future generations.”
Statements such as “When you change yourself/You change the world” aren’t empty rhetoric, it seems. “I kind of have this obsession with changing the world; yes, for better,” Joe explains. “It’s not something I invented, or decided to [do]. It’s a real feeling, it’s a reality for me to be… I wish our music could be like a mantra for a better vibe in the world… It’s a very natural and simple thing. When you have someone in front of you, you wish the best for this person. Even if a random person goes to you in the street and says, ‘Oh, I’m hurt, can you help me?’ You’re going to help that person. ‘Okay, what’s wrong? Are you better? Cool’. It’s a natural thing, it’s a simple thing to wish the best for someone, and that’s what we do on a big scale with our music I guess.
“Being dads definitely is changing a lot of stuff,” Joe says. “Now it’s just extremely painful to leave them behind when we go on tour, it’s very painful.”
“But it’s our choice of life and we cannot complain,” the typically more reserved Mario chimes in. “We have to deal with it.”
“We’re a rock band and what we’re doing is pushing the limits, exploring, experimenting and being ourselves. We’re not our death metal fans’ pet.”
Joe is now based in New York, while Mario’s “in between” France and the US. The other members, axeman Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie, reside in their homeland. “We are not living in the same village, so it’s harder, but at the same time it’s like this,” Mario elaborates. “We know how to organise it ourselves, and [new LP, and sixth overall] Magma also is a result of this organisation. It’s the first time we have gone and composed an album outside of France, and we love the final result. We are very proud of it, and if we were staying in France I’m sure the album sounds different. So our organisation is a plus.” Joe also weighs in: “We come from this tiny village… It’s difficult to keep four guys in a small village like that, especially with international touring and stuff.”
Maintaining this delicate balance between a domesticated existence and being part of a globe-trotting metal act shows little sign of ceasing. BLUNT’s conversation with the brothers occurs the day after the new record’s release, in the press area hours prior to a blistering set within a packed indoor stage at Belgium’s Graspop Metal Meeting festival. Already critical darlings, the quartet’s new platter has justifiably been awarded salivating reviews worldwide, and Magma‘s touring cycle is rapidly filling. The album debuted at No.11 on the ARIA Charts, and the Duplantiers are hopeful of a return to Australia in 2017.
The lead-up to Magma was certainly eventful as well. The siblings began constructing their own recording studio in Queens, New York during winter 2014; it was completed by April the next year. Initial studio work on Magma began until they received word of their mother Patricia’s cancer diagnosis. They flew back to France, eventually returning to the studio after her death in July.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Joe says of the record’s subject matter. “Basically what we were going through was shaping the record. The fact that we’re more experienced as musicians also. We’re in our late 30s now, it’s not like in the beginning when we were 16 or 17,” he laughs. “So that changes the sound of course.
“We have other inspirations, not just death metal. When we started to play together we were listening to a lot of Morbid Angel and Death, but it was not the first music that we listened to. Before that we listened to The Beatles and other stuff; Mike Oldfield is a big inspiration for both of us. Somehow these deeper influences and roots, and first connections with music are coming back from the depths, you know? They are as important as the death metal influence. That came with us being in our late 30s, having kids. Of course we had a death in the family and that was a big deal… We’re older, we have other influences and just other things we want to explore.”
Although early material was indeed heavily rooted in classic death metal, Gojira have since transcended such a tag, albeit without entirely neglecting their origins. “People have expectations, that’s something we cannot change,” Joe comments of any potential backlash for eschewing some of their former extreme tendencies. “We cannot ignore our fans, we cannot ignore our fan-base. But we cannot follow their lead, and give them what they want from us, that would be ridiculous. We wouldn’t be a rock band anymore, we would be a jukebox. We’re a band, we’re a rock band and what we’re doing is pushing the limits, exploring, experimenting and being ourselves. We’re not our death metal fans’ pet,” he adds with a laugh.
This ethos included a greater emphasis on clean vocals throughout Magma – an element which can prove mighty polarising among extreme music devotees. “Mario changed his approach also to drumming,” Joe offers. “We think a lot, but also we were very inspired too, and that’s something else than thinking, it’s disconnected from the brain. We feel inspired, we have things we want to express.”
“The way we view our artwork, our lyrics, our approach, the show. We want something authentic and real.”
“I think also when you evolve as a human being, sometimes you try to simplify things in your life, in your head sometimes,” Mario believes. “When you turn 20 years old you think about so many things about existence. You’re shy and you don’t know how to react in society, and when you turn 30, things are changing, you simplify the way you talk to people. Everything changes. So it’s a big challenge actually to simplify. So on this album it was also a desire and goal to, ‘let’s do it more simple’.”
Although streamlining their lives and musical output in many respects, on the flip side the elder Duplantier laughs as he discusses the considerable undertaking of building their Silver Cord Studio premises. Said process entailed many lengthy days of physical labour. Oh, and defecating in plastic bags initially due to a shortage of bathroom facilities. “It’s a crazy story. It’s a fucked up thing to build a studio when your job is to write songs, play music and make records. But the music business is a hard business, for everybody. For record companies, they have to reinvent their job. But for musicians it’s even harder. It’s becoming really difficult to make music. We have to go out on the road and play a lot more, maybe two times more than before.
“In the past bands would release albums, make money with their albums, plenty of money. You would sell a million records like that,” he states, snapping his fingers. “There would be so much money that they could go to a big studio anytime and say, ‘Yeah, sure, a thousand dollars a day’. For us now we have to be very careful because when we get an advance to record an album, it’s just enough money to make a record. So [there’s] less money in this environment, so we have to think, we have to be smart and building a studio was a move to try to cut the middle-men and do our own thing. But also we have that thing in us that we like to produce our own albums.”
BLUNT suggests that building their own facility may also be somewhat attributable to seeking a life beyond Gojira, and/or alternative source of income within the current problematic music industry climate. “I was hoping that it would be, but so far it’s just… it pays for itself,” Joe says. “It’s not really a big revenue stream, but maybe, who knows,” as his brother politely interjects to suggest in will.
Aside from Gojira, Joe enjoyed a brief stint with Cavalera Conspiracy, while more than a decade ago the brothers played in the multi-man, avant-garde project Empalot. However, the duo don’t envision making music again in the future that doesn’t serve a grander purpose, even if it scratches some creative itch. “We were nine musicians on-stage, the lyrics were totally random and it was weird poetry, aggressive lyrics, and this and that,” Joe remembers of Empalot. “It was a lot of fun, but the tone was a bit detached, you know? It was just fun, but Gojira is all about being ourselves and being real. Being true to ourselves and show, try to express our true nature in the way we play, the way we view our artwork, our lyrics, our approach, the show. We want something authentic and real.”
Magma is out now through Roadrunner/Warner.