INTERVIEW: Gojira’s Joe Duplantier

IK Multimedia's MODO BASS

French metal band Gojira have been a ‘next big thing’ for far too long. They’ve maintained the same line-up since forming in Bayonne in 1996, and each successive album has pushed them closer and closer to the spotlight. But L’Enfant Sauvage is going to change all that. This is the album that seems finally destined to bump Gojira all the way into at least Lamb of God/Trivium levels of fame. It combines a Devin Townsend-esque appreciation for atmosphere and melody with post-thrash rhythms, post-death metal drumming and a live, human element that’s missing from so much current studio-tweezed metal. After a triumphant run during Australias’s Soundwave Festival (which saw Devin Townsend and Meshuggah’s Fredrik Thordendal join them on stage for a historic performance of their studio collaboration “Of Blood And Salt”), Gojira are ready.

“The reason why we did that tour was to see a kangaroo,” guitarist and vocalist Joe Duplantier says of the recent Soundwave shows. “That was our main purpose! The reason why we came to Australia! And then we played some shows with Soundwave. But mostly we wanted to see a wild kangaroo. The last day of the tour we still hadn’t seen a kangaroo so we rented a car and went to the desert. Couldn’t find one the whole day. But on our way back to Perth we saw one, man! The night was falling and this huge kangaroo was jumping, and everyone was screaming in the car.” But  now that the hunt for bipedal marsupials is over, Gojira is getting down to business. L’Enfant Sauvage is their first album on Roadrunner Records. It’s a diverse collection of tracks, some heavy, some more ambient, with an unusual amount of colour and drama for most bands other than Devin Townsend and Cynic. “I don’t listen to metal a lot,” Duplantier explains. I listen to Massive Attach and Morcheeba and Radiohead, Portishead. My brother [Mario Duplantier, drums] likes Indian music. Christian [Andreu], the other guitar player, doesn’t like music at all! He likes silence! He’s like, “Wow, this is the best.” And the bass player [Jean-Michel Labadie] listens to all kinds of metal. He’s a huge metal fan. So it’s an interesting mix. We have different attitudes, and it creates something more personal. I’d like to think that through the years, as we release albums, it’s getting closer to what we are, closer to the core. It’s a nice feeling. I love this album. We reached something that Im’ really, really happy with.”

Opening track “Explosia” includes a particularly ‘Gojiran’ guitar sound, a sort of percussive harmonic drag which really jumps out of the mix. What the hell? “Yeah! It’s very simple to do. It’s not notes any more, it’s not structured. It needs to be messy, it needs to be loud, and it’s just one finger on the strings near the guitar pickups, going [makes sound like stuttering lasers], a caress near the guitar, and it creates that sound.” Duplantier explains that the sound is now a Gojira signature of sorts, an accident that appeared on tour at some point during a trance. “Sometimes strange sounds appear and we like to capture that and use that,” he says. “We like accidents. Sometimes we record a demo and I hit the wrong note and I’m like, ‘Hey, this wrong note adds a lot to the song. We’re not trying to be perfect. We’re trying to capture these little things that make it less perfect.” In fact Duplantier doesn’t even consider himself a guitarist. He says he’s unable to jam with other players, and has never taken a lesson. “I just grab a guitar and fuckin’ beat the shit out of it! And this sound, for example, was just an accident on stage. And most people would go ‘Uh oh. I did a mistake.’ But I go ‘Oh… this is fucking interesting.’ We try to catch these moments and turn them into a code, a signature. And we love to do that. I’m always trying to find new tricks on the guitar.”

One particularly dramatic moment on the album is track five, “The Wild Healer,” a repetitive, meditative, almost upbeat-sounding interlude. A moment of introspection before the brutal metal assault of “Planned Obsolescence” kicks off. “We like to create contrast in our albums,” Duplantier explains. “That was a little something I was doing on the guitar [sings riff], and I did this, like, eight years ago. I recorded a demo on my own just like that. I played it to my brother Mario and I keep all these things in my computer. I have thousands of ideas. Sometimes we’re going through these ideas and Mario listened to this and he said it was exactly what we needed at that moment.” The band felt they needed to create a contrast within the album, to lead from four heavy songs to an even more intense track. “We needed to create a little fresh air, then boom! Back to the storm,” Duplantier explains. “We like to build albums. This is part of the production. When I say production, I consider myself more of a producer than a guitar player. I like to think about the entire album and what colour, what vibe, what sound. And this is part of the reflection.”

Duplantier’s guitar of choice is a Jackson custom guitar based on the SLS Soloist model, with Seymour Duncan humbuckers. “I like the shape. It’s like a sword, you know! And what I like about Jackson is it’s really, really made for metal. It’s very simple, it’s very straight, and there is enough space between the strings to be precise. It’s flat, it’s very easy to play and it’s very easy to get harmonics, like ‘OOOOO,’ that kind of stuff. And it looks cool! Also, people at Jackson are very supportive of what we do, so when I need to make a change on a guitar, get rid of one knob and just have a volume knob, they always come up with solutions. They have excellent people working in the factories.” Duplantier plugs straight into an EVH 5150III head, and he prefers to go straight into the amp rather than use pedals, aside from a tuner and a noise supressor. “Since the beginning, I’ve never, never used a pedal. Just at the very beginning in high school I was like, ‘I need this Boss Metal Zone,’ but I discovered very quickly that to get the right sound, in a band at least – when you play alone in your room it’s something else – but when you play in a band you don’t want a band sound, you want a guitar sound, and that’s good mids, a lot of precision and, especially if there’s another guitar player, you don’t need to go too crazy. I think the key is to pay a lot of attention to the EQ on the amplifier. And depending on where you play, it could be in your bedroom or a venue, you may need to take some lows off and add some mids. And when you find the right balance and if you play right, it should sound good.”

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