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In Extremis

'We Are Part Of This World': Gojira Interviewed
Toby Cook , August 15th, 2012 05:18

Toby Cook meets French metal troupe Gojira, whose new album L'Enfant Sauvage adds to a back catalogue impressive enough to earn them their very own adjective

Gojiramazing. There are not many bands, in any genre, whose particular attributes are so incredibly ineffable that they've earned their own adjective. You'll rarely if ever, for example, hear someone utter 'Iron A-maiden-zing' or 'SunnO)))-believable' – 'Lulu' is perhaps the only exception, which, thanks to Lou Reed and Metallica, has come to be a byword for a poorly realised, fermenting pile of steaming effluence that is too horrific in sound to even be used as a means of torture in Chinese gulags (example: "Man, that Skrillex album is utter Lulu") – but 'Gojiramazing' (and we assure you it is a word; Google it!) is unquestionably the only accurate way to describe just how fiercely unique and sonically devastating the French death metallers are.

Not only one of the most consummate and decimating live bands in existence, such is the scope and vision of Gojira that they are arguably one of only a few bands on the entire planet that can claim to be in the same league as Tool and Mastodon, in as far as they have managed to expand their sound far beyond the confines of the death metal scene that birthed them without sacrificing one ounce of their punishing heaviness. And much like those two American metal behemoths, the French quartet did not arrive at their sound overnight. Rather, it has been a slow evolution from the dense and, comparatively speaking, conventional sound of 2001's Terra Incognita through their previous career high, the near unclassifiable From Mars To Sirius, which included the aptly titled track 'The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe', right up to current LP L'Enfant Sauvage, which sees the band delving into almost prog territories.

It did, however, take them four long years to record that follow up to The Way Of All Flesh. The Quietus caught up with guitarist and vocalist Joe Duplantier before their sold out show at London's Islington Acedamy to find out what took them so bloody long.

Hi Joe! So, it's been for years since the last Gojira record – what took you so long?

Joe Duplantier: What took so long? Life!

No, I don't know. A lot happened actually. We were touring first of all. I remember at one point we decided that it was time for a new album – it was two years after the release of The Way Of All Flesh and we were like, ok, it's time now. But then we were invited by Metallica to tour with them in the States. So obviously we were like, 'Err, ok, let's do that instead'!

Well, you don't say no to Metallica, do you.

JD: Exactly. So then we started to compose and we were invited again to tour in Europe and to put a DVD together because we had accumulated all this really good footage, so we decided to work on that; we had the idea to work on an EP for Sea Shepherd too. So a lot happened in those four years. And most importantly we changed management and we changed record companies – and that was a huge deal for us, like, to deal with that – to go through lawyers and band meetings, deciding what's the next step for Gojira, y'know? Should we go completely independent and release our stuff on the internet, or do we still need a push from professionals?

We knew that the whole music industry was in trouble, in the toilet – y'know what I mean? But there are still people out there who know how it works and what needs to be done with a band to take them to the next level, or however you term it. So we decided, no, let's consider the offers that we receive. We talked a lot with our lawyer - like, a lot – for management, for record companies, we even had to rebuild our website and get a proper webmaster, because we didn't have a webmaster – we were fucking naked, in the dark! And this took us, I would say, a good year, just to build a new set up around the band. It's a lot of work. I know that the fans don't get that sometimes and they don't know what's happening in our everyday life – it's a lot of e-mails, conference calls and all that. But now we finally have a set up we're happy with, and we're good to go.

The title of the record – I don't speak French so I'm probably going to mangle the pronunciation – L'Enfant Sauvage

JD: Beautiful!

Thanks! Any way, it translates as 'wild child, right?

JD: Yes.

Now, to me, the first thing that pops into my head is some dodgy hair metal band or Billy Idol. Hopefully that's not what it's referring to – what does it refer to?

JD: Yeah, that's exactly why we didn't call it The Wild Child, actually. This title means a lot to us, but in French… That's the thing, it's impossible to translate really; the best way to translate 'L'Enfant Sauvage' would be like 'Mowgli', y'know?

Oh yeah, ok, I get it.

JD: Like a child that had no parents – no human parents – a child that grew up in the forest, raised by mushrooms or by wolves or whatever. It's the idea that human beings are also like plants or animals, they belong in this world, right? We tend to think that we are separated from nature, and we talk about nature like it's something else: 'We need to get closer to nature…' No, you are nature, man. These walls are nature, this recorder [points at dictaphone] is nature, y'know? We are part of this world. And also there is this idea that an enfant sauvage, a child that grew up in nature, is not confronted with others, with emotions, with guilt and identity, so it would be a state where you are closer to the essence of things.

What I want to say with this title is that we, Gojira, are l'enfant sauvage, that's how we describe ourselves, individually and as a band. And also our fans and everybody on the planet; each person has that inside, y'know, the fucking organic material and also the soul too, and we should keep this precious idea in our lives.

As I understand it, with The Way Of All Flesh you dealt quite heavily with the subject of death, whereas the new LP deals more with rebirth – can you elaborate on that a little? Why the change of perspective?

JD: It's just another point of view in order to talk about the same thing really. Since the beginning, since the very first demo even, I've been obsessed with the human condition, the soul, why we are here, and is there an answer to that question - the mysteries of life in general. Are we a body? Or are we more than that? And if we are more, then what are we? I'm full of questions, but there are no answers really, just intuition, and a strong intuition that we are more than just flesh and blood. And that's it man, it's just a different point of view in the same topic.

But it does at least appear to exist in a more positive end of that same spectrum – is that the case?

JD: Well it's funny you say that, of course talking about birth seems way more positive that talking about death, but if you read the lyrics man, it's actually darker! [laughs].

Right, ok!

JD: I mean, talking about death could be talking about freedom, like 'Finally, at last, I'm free from this world of pain!' And talking about birth could be like, 'Welcome to this fucking mess dude!' It depends on how you see it.

I hear, though, that during the recording you became a father for the first time, right? Was there a conflict there, at the time, of this quite drastic change in your life with something incredibly positive and yet having such negative take on a similar subject with your music?

JD: I don't know, I don't want to become cheesy just because I've become a dad, y'know? I don't want to sing lullabies all of a sudden, I still have my dark side, and dark stuff to deal with. Becoming a parent is definitely the most powerful thing that you can ever really imagine, y'know. I don't know if you're a parent at all?

No. Well, not that I know of. One of my best friends has just had twins though!

JD: Oh my god! How old are they?

I think about eight or nine weeks, something like that.

JD: Good god. Say congratulations to him, but also say that I'm sorry! But dude, it's a trip man, it's amazing. Of course I'm very influenced by what happened and talking about birth and becoming a dad is not completely disconnected, it's relevant in a way, but everything is influencing me when I'm writing.

I'm pleased to see there's still excessive use of the, I don't know what you'd call it, the 'Gojira fret slide' thing. Is there a name for that by the way?

JD: Well people all give different names to that – the 'pick scrape', the 'whale scrape'… I've heard so many different names for it. I just call it the [makes high pitched swooshing sound] 'weeeeegghhh'. It all came from an accident on stage once actually, we were touring and there was a part in the song where I was going 'beeeeww', from the high notes to the low notes on two strings – 'weeeeew'. And then I started to move my right hand and I heard it go 'CREEEEEEEEWWW!!' And I was like, that's great – 'CREEEEEEWWW!!' We're maybe not the first band doing this but it really came from the stage, from the live experience. And the on the next album I was putting it everywhere.

You spoke about it a bit earlier when we were taking about the album and the environmental aspects of the band. Obviously you are well known as a band for being very environmentally focused , which is great, and it's great that you speak out about it - but is there a conflict with the fact that you are an internationally touring band? I mean flights, tour buses, the 'carbon footprint' of the band and the festivals etc that you'll play at…

JD: No, there's no conflict there at all. The carbon footprint is not the only thing. Through art you can inspire people, in one way or another, and I think that that is more powerful for the moment. Like, right now, for us, it's worth taking a plane, I believe. And that's why I do this. If one day I believe that it's bull crap and that we're selling out, then I'll start to feel bad. But we're all part of this, y'know? Like, I have a car, I have an electric light in my apartment – I mean, I'm not living in the forest anymore! I used to!

What, really?

JD: Yep, for two years. That was very extreme. But I had to choose at one point, 'Ok, am I going to go completely out of society and the traffic, or do I have something to do?' And one day I felt that I had something to do in this… mess, because I believe very strongly in what I do, it's like a mission to us. It's not a job, it's not a hobby, we just dedicate our lives to this. Like, right now I would love to be with my baby and my wife, more than anything. But I'm here, because it's a mission. It's not about what I like or what I want to do.

So this carbon footprint issue - we should go a little deeper into this and think, ok, we're using a bus, right? How many people on this bus – 14 people. If these 14 people were at home right now they would use their cars, they would use their electric lights, they might go for a walk in the mountains and drive their car there, but they don't do this. So for now, 14 houses are turned off whilst one bus is rolling. People come up with this carbon footprint issue all the time so I started to think about it like, 'Whoah, no, wait a second, we never took showers – on this tour for two months I showered three times, c'mon!' So we are saving water, we're saving electricity…

And I guess there's that aspect – you mentioned it yourself – you could go off into the forest and eat berries and shit in a hole…

JD: I really did that. I was using candles and water from a stream, for two years man, in a cabin, made of wood that I built myself.

But I guess the difference is that that is only one person making a difference. If you're out there touring, ok, you're using a bus and whatever, but you're spreading that message to thousands of people, I guess that is what makes it worth it?

JD: Yeah. I mean, we say 'message', but I have a hard time calling it a 'message' because there is no particular message to music, right? But It's energy, it's really an energy, like, we give from ourselves 100% on stage and people get something from that. We are not just an ecological band, we want to share something with people, we want to share an energy with then and that is so precious man, it's very precious – people need that. We need that.

L'Enfant Sauvage is available now via Roadrunner Records.