Gojira: the start of a new cycle

When asked: “Is it tough to be the first French metal band in terms of celebrity?”, Joe Duplantier, Gojira’s vocalist, humble yet teasing, answers with a laugh: “No, that’s fine, it’s cool!”

It should have been expected: seeing Gojira join Roadrunner bothered quite a few people. A handful of French fans see it at the beginning of the end, and fear that this change will have consequences on the sacrosanct and slightly fuzzy notion that is “musical integrity”. Gojira’s members have obviously heard about the debate, and unsurprisingly, this non-musical criticism doesn’t even touch them. In this respect, Joe Duplantier highlights something important: “We care about art, not about integrity or sales”. Besides, the band’s latest album, L’Enfant Sauvage, was written before they even joined the label.

However, the vocalist took the time to address some of those fears.

Confronted as he is by a demanding audience, that can be very critical towards employers and the realities of running a business, Joe talks about the work involved in maintaining Gojira afloat. The band never wanted to stick to the already difficult task of making a living in France as contract workers in show business and decided to take over the world. Joe also describes Roadrunner from the inside, and talks about his team as being particularly motivated and passionate.

From a more artistic point on view, he describes L’Enfant Sauvage as the work of a more mature band, which no longer tries to prove anything and simply wants to express themselves. Speaking of which, a new album should see the light of day sooner than what we’ve been used to in the past.

« People tend to think in simplistic ways, but it’s a bit more complex than “this is good” or “this is bad”. It depends on a lot of things, and mostly on the band: if the band can do what it wants and follows the path it set years ago, everything isn’t going to change that easily. »

Radio Metal: How do you feel about the last six month, after the release of L’Enfant Sauvage?

Joe Duplantier (vocals, guitars): Things have been mostly positive, I would say. Several aspects have to be taken into account: how do we feel about the songs, and how the public, the journalists and the labels react to them. The album is well received, the reviews are good too, it’s a good sign [laughs]! There is some kind of argument about the record but overall, and especially in foreign countries, it’s very well received.

What are these arguments you’re talking about?

It’s about the fact that the band is now signed on Roadrunner, which means for some people the band has changed: « the first record will always be the best one », that kind of thing. But that’s okay, that’s normal, I don’t really care, especially since what we live from the inside is totally different. Regarding Roadrunner, we’re finally on a label that fits our position as an international band, and that we actually get something from, for instance in terms of promoting the record and so on. It’s always a bit complicated to work with a big label – Roadrunner is now part of Warner – but our heads are still screwed on and we know the music business enough not to get eaten or let people get in our way. We’re vigilant. We studied our contract for almost 6 months before signing it. We know what we’re getting into. Now, what’s important to us is to see if the songs work live: our focus is artistic above all, it’s not about seeming honest or selling records. We make so much compromises in our everyday life to make this music, we can’t get away with songs that disappoint us. It works: the tracks rock live and what’s happening is amazing.

Regarding these arguments about the fact that you signed on Roadrunner, we could see that at the end of the day, it wasn’t really a matter of music…

Nowadays we hear so many things, we see so many comments on social networks anyway… The guy just woke up, he’s still in his underwear but he’s already updating his Facebook account. You just can’t take all these comments into account. Plus I never had someone telling me face to face: “Everything you do since you’re on a big label is shit”. I know how we work and where we’re going, and more: people don’t know it, but we wrote L’Enfant Sauvage before signing with Roadrunner. This small detail allows me to say: “No, we weren’t influenced by all of this, even unconsciously.” You know, people tend to think in simplistic ways, but it’s a bit more complex than “this is good” or “this is bad”. It depends on a lot of things, and mostly on the band: if the band can do what it wants and follows the path it set years ago, everything isn’t going to change that easily.

L’Enfant Sauvage was released four years after The Way Of All Flesh. After so long, the reactions of the public tend to be more extreme, whether it be positive or negative. Is this something you noticed?

Yes. It’s pretty much the same for every record: we wrote them with a lot of attention, and every record is a chapter in the band’s story. Because of this, the whole thing’s importance is very different than it would be if we’d have a record out every year or if we’d throw away new tracks all the time on the Internet. For us, each record is a big deal, then afterwards we usually spend a lot of time on the road. Between the release of The Way Of All Flesh and L’Enfant Sauvage, there’s been a lot of things changing around the band, our management or our signing on Roadrunner for instance. All of this cost us time and energy to rebuild a team. All of these things took us about one year. We could have released L’Enfant Sauvage before if we didn’t had to sign a new contract, to take care of the new management and so on. The Way Of All Flesh was the end of a cycle: with L’Enfant Sauvage, a new one is starting. The next album won’t take so long.

« The next album won’t take so long. »

When we talked to Mario [Duplantier, Joe’s brother and Gojira’s drummer], he told us he thinks the last album is simpler, notably in terms of structures. Do you think it allowed you to reach a wider audience?

Yes of course, it’s mathematical. If we’d written more complex things, we’d have lost some people. We’d have attracted fans of The Dillinger Escape Plan and so on, but the fact is that we’re getting older [laughs]! I should have found a best moment to say it, but we’re just getting older! We’re all in our thirties, and we’re not like we were when we were 19, wanting to play technical death metal and that’s it: our music is getting simpler, we shed layers as we grow up. I use “grow up” instead of “grow old” because it’s not that we’re getting soft and we want to make soft music, it’s more like we’ve matured. We’re getting straight to the point; I think it shows that we’re fulfilled as artists, and that reaches more people. It doesn’t necessarily means that our music is easier to get, just that it’s, on a certain level of course, simply better. Of course some people will want something 100% heavy, very extreme, and turn to other bands, but according to me, there’s been a true evolution in terms of tracks and harmony.

Very extreme things are related to youth, then?

Most of the time, yes. I remember when I was 17 or 18, it had to be super fast, 2000 mph. Things had to be really extreme to get my attention. But as the time goes by, I listen to other things and I’m settling down, I’m slightly less tormented. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my energy though. It’s just evolving, transforming. I’m only speaking for myself of course: some people turn to more extreme things as they’re getting older.

You don’t feel like you’ve got something to prove to others in terms of technique or extremeness, and so you express yourself somehow more honestly now?

Exactly. I think that when you’re a teenager, you’ve got a lot of things to prove to yourself, to begin with. You have this need to prove you’re the best, you’re strong. I feel like growing up, I need to express myself more than to prove anything: to express some kind of simplicity, but also some kind of weakness. You see, in the last record’s lyrics, I talk a lot about my weaknesses, about my relations to society for instance. These are simpler, more down-to-Earth things, it’s not some kind of exploration of the twists and turns of the outer space anymore [laughs]! On a personal level, it does me good because I really relate to that. It matches stages of my life. It’s a natural, human evolution. We don’t try to get more and more fans, even if, I’m not gonna lie, the more fans we have, the better we feel. The more people come to our shows, the more chances we have to be able to pay the rent at the end of the month. We have to face this kind of realities but we have this strictness and this passion for music that prevent us from writing catchy choruses just to sell more records. I hope life will prevent us from ever doing this [laughs]!

« When you’re a teenager, you’ve got a lot of things to prove to yourself, to begin with. You have this need to prove you’re the best, you’re strong. I feel like growing up, I need to express myself more than to prove anything: to express some kind of simplicity, but also some kind of weakness. »

You were saying that being a teenager is trying to prove things to yourself: according to you, does this stop once you did prove yourself these things, or just once you stop trying?

It stops because you keep getting punched in the face [laughs]! Life is always here to force you to face your own shit: if you’re arrogant then life will somehow show you how arrogant you are. At some point, you get some kind of wisdom from this I guess. Anybody who isn’t completely closed to the outside world gets some wisdom from experience: it’s something I really appreciate because I’m less tormented than I used to be, I have less difficulties with people even though I’m still a bit of an autistic or a misanthrope [laughs]! I feel better in my days, in my nights, in my dreams, and with people. This well-being comes step by step; the music, the attitude are less explosive and expressive, but you just feel good. Maybe people that turn to us now can feel this, even if we still play some pretty intense metal.

Back to the album: since it’s more “direct” – with all the reservations this word implies – did you notice some kind of change in the crowd’s attitude? For instance, as the songs are more straight-forward, does it moves more?

Not really. You know, a Gojira concert is still, most of all, a bunch of long-haired dudes with beards and band t-shirts moshing and throwing the horns. It depends on the place and the city where we’re playing: the crowds are really different. There’s the crowd from the city, the crowd from the countryside, the Scottish crowd, the French crowd, the Russian crowd… every time it’s different. It’s funny actually. Yesterday we were in Southampton in England: the crowd was kinda old, so to speak. It was dudes with old-school, Pantera-like metal bands tees, and they looked like they were enjoying the music: just seeing the way they were moving, you could tell they were long-time metalheads. The previous city was a college town, so there were more youngsters. It’s funny: there isn’t one Gojira crowd, there’re several ones depending on the city. But overall, it didn’t really changed. I still get that same feeling on stage, we still get that same thing from the public, that same energy. There’re maybe more girls now, now that you’re speaking of it. It’s a good sign for us! [laughs]

Do you really see a big difference in terms of promotion since you’ve signed with Roadrunner?

How can I say that… They’ve been working for more than ten years, and for us, that makes a big difference. When we were on Listenable Records, there was a quite small, very human-sized team – big up to Laurent Merle [Listenable Records’ manager] by the way, he’s a really good friend of ours. He’s a true enthusiast, he’s really independent, he made his own networks in each country and it’s been great to work with him: we benefited from a huge development thanks to Listenable Records. Roadrunner is an international label so the communication is really smooth, the teams are organized, they’ve got people everywhere: when we arrive to a venue, PR people are already here working and planning our promo. For us, it’s something that’s a bit difficult to explain because you have to live our everyday life for years to understand the changes that it makes. For a cycle of records, we’re saving a lot of energy when there’s more structure, more organization in all the small details of the everyday life: it changes everything, but people can’t realize that from the outside. Roadrunner is a well-oiled machine, it’s working really well, but it’s still just a label: the things we say, we write, we express on stage won’t be changed by the record label.

Did the staff that was working for you before your signature with Roadrunner followed you there?

For instance our tour-manager got pregnant [laughs]! She’s done with touring: she’s married so it’s over. Our light tech is starting off as a painter! [laughs] Roadrunner didn’t change everything: some stars happened to align at that moment! The Way Of All Flesh is about death and the end of life, and for L’Enfant Sauvage which is about birth, something practically mystical happened: we had huge changes in the staff without firing anybody. OK, we may have fired a couple of guys, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Roadrunner! [laughs] This coming and going is something that’s quite natural in a band’s life: a light tech follows you during a tour, then goes with another band, so you just hire another one. Each tour there’s at least one guy changing, either coming or going. For the last record, there’s been a lot of changes: I think only two members of the staff stayed with us. The other went their own way. We’re not working together anymore, but that has nothing to do with Roadrunner.

« In France, there’s a small tendency to criticize everything, especially bands that are doing well: people just spit on them. In the U.S., fans tend to say ‘Wow, things are going well for you, it’s amazing!’ In France, it’s more like: ‘You sell-outs!’. »

Not long after you signed on Roadrunner, members of their staff and bands left the label too: what did you feel about that?

I can say it on the radio: it pissed me off? [laughs] We were just back from a big, 10 days-long promotion tour all over Europe and guys from the New York office, Monte Conner [one of Roadrunner’s former vice president of A&R] for instance who signed Sepultura, Fear Factory, Machine Head at the time, who came to the studio while we were recording the record, left. I’ve met wonderful people at Roadrunner, I’ve even been surprised to find out how much they loved music and how much they were involved with their bands. It really boosted me, I was like: “Awesome, we took the right decision!”, and then there’s been a change of direction. Long story short, the owner of Roadrunner sold his company to Warner. It was time for him to move on. Of course it unsettled me a little bit because every time something change, you don’t know what’s going on and where you’re going. Some people have been fired too, and among them were some of the oldest art directors. Even now, nobody understand what happened and why all these changes happened. I was really shaken when I heard about that; these people had a strong character and were what made Roadrunner special. On the other hand, all the people who were working on specific tasks, for instance the Internet, the design, the promoting of the bands and so on, the second teams if you wish, stayed. Roadrunner’s entity remains thanks to these people who’ve been working for the label for twenty or thirty years. We deal with them on a daily basis, like Karine and Manon in France for instance, who’ve been working with these bands for years and years. There’s a family spirit at Roadrunner, even if it belongs to Warner. I think that all these changes in the labels are the consequence of the situation of the music business all over the world: everything is changing and transforming. No money comes from the record sales anymore: everybody’s freaking out a little bit. We tend to demonize the labels, especially when they’re successful, but we have to remember that the people who are working to get the records out in stores, who are working with metal bands and who are having the current situation of music business blowing up in their face are music fans too. I don’t want to dig down further to know why these people have been fired, it’s not my job, I concentrate on the music: new people have come, it takes time to meet everybody. We’ll see.

Don’t you think that in France, we tend to demonize companies, regarding what you told about some reactions some people had about you signing on Roadrunner?

It’s you who’s saying it [laughs]! I think that indeed, there’s a bit of that. That’s not necessarily negative though: last year for instance there’d been huge protests in front of Wall Street and I thought it was healthy. At last, a protest! In France, it became an institution: “Beware guys, February is coming, it’s time for a protest!” It’s an institution in France to criticize employers, labels and so on. I think it’s better to have both things: indeed, just because you’re a boss doesn’t mean you’re an asshole, but it’s important to remain vigilant and to rebel too. In France, there’s a small tendency to criticize everything, especially bands that are doing well: people just spit on them. In the U.S., fans tend to say “Wow, things are going well for you, it’s amazing!” In France, it’s more like: “You sell-outs!”

« There isn’t one Gojira crowd, there’re several ones depending on the city. »

We maybe tend to forget that if a band wants to make it, it has to work just like a company…

Yes, exactly. In France, there’s a very strong sense of utopia that mostly is a positive thing, but that can turn into some kind of weird fantasy, the fantasy of the star-crossed poet: if you want to remain honest, you’re doomed. If you don’t, you’re a sell out. I can’t really find any logic in this. No need to generalize, not everybody shares that idea, but it does exist.

Is it possible that one day, Gojira will move to the U.S.?

No, I don’t think so. I mean, it depends on what you mean by Gojira: I don’t think we will all move to the U.S. I spend a lot of time there, but we spend a lot of time on the road anyway.

Stupid question: does the status of leader band of the French metal scene is a hard one to bear?

No. It’s OK, it’s cool [laughs]! I don’t spend my days thinking about it. It’s important to put things into perspective: it’s quite incidental to me. There’s a lot of amazing bands in France that rock and that are following their own path. For instance, some of them only tour in France by choice: they’ve got a family, it’s more convenient, they don’t necessarily have conquering ambitions. Since the beginning, we chose to conquer, which can seem paradoxical when you hear the message the band delivers. We threw ourselves body and soul touring all over Europe without getting paid, living on Income Support and struggling during the first years. There’s no secret: we played in bars in England, in Germany, in Spain, and at some point, people just know you. It’s not something unreachable: you just have to be in a certain mindset and to be a bit crazy too [laughs]! I’ve talked to French musicians that are way better than us musically and technically and they told us: “I don’t want to bother to go play in the U.K., I’m a casual worker with kids and a wife: what I’d do in bars at the other side of Europe or worse, in the U.S.?” Wanting to have an international career is a specific mindset. We did have this mindset: we really wanted to travel and to meet new people. It could have been anybody else, but that’s what we were craving for, so we went headfirst for it. I’m pretty proud of our status of first French metal band. Then there’s a lot of other French band that have a lot of success in foreign countries, even more than us, like Daft Punk for instance.

You’re touring with Klone and Trepalium: did you chose them?

Yes. It’s not the first time we’re touring with Trepalium because we love them and we’ve known Klone for a while now. We had a long list of bands that wanted to open for us, and in this list, Klone and Trepalium were available, so we just said: “OK guys, let’s go!” It’s actually the first time we’re an all-French line-up in foreign countries and I’m pretty proud to announce on stage: “You’ve come to see bumpkins coming straight from the French countryside!” [laughs] We’re all coming from the countryside; Trepalium, Klone and Gojira, it’s Poitiers, Boimé and Bayonne. Klone and Trepalium rock like crazy, they’re great musicians and groove like hell. People see these things actually. There’s something you hear quite often in the feedback from the public: “It’s awesome! There are things going on in France!”

Did some international bands applied for the slot?

Yes. There were European bands, we didn’t call for bids in the U.S. We sent the message to European tour managers and the list was quite long, yes. But I have to admit that I didn’t know the bands: it was bands that weren’t really famous and that needed to tour with us to do some promote themselves.

« Since the beginning, we chose to conquer, which can seem paradoxical when you hear the message the band delivers. We threw ourselves body and soul touring all over Europe without getting paid, living on Income Support and struggling during the first years. »

You did several concerts in France, but none in Paris. Is there a gig planed in there?

Of course: you can’t skip Paris. There’s been a missed opportunity: we absolutely wanted a beautiful tour date in Paris, but we kinda let it slip. Since the Elysée Montmartre burned [note: a famous Parisian venue], we’re falling between two stools, if you will: we can’t just play at the Nouveau Casino just to say “We sold-out”, but we can’t play much bigger venues either. Because of that, we had a hard time finding the right venue, and then we were kinda late, things just didn’t work out. A gig in Paris is all we’re talking about these days, so we’ll try to do a good gig in a good venue because we really want to display our show to people. Last time we played in Paris, it was opening for Metallica at the Stade de France: it wasn’t a Gojira concert, but Gojira’s guys in Metallica’s stage. We have a show that’s visually great, we took the artwork in 3D on stage, we have lights and we really want to show that at the beginning of 2013 during a beautiful Parisian tourdate. It will work out.

Can you give us a date?

No. If I gave you a random date, all the band’s partners that are actually working on finding a date would kill me [laughs]! I can’t announce something that’s not planned at all already.

Can you update us on the Sea Shepherd project?

It’s dead calm. The last news from the front are: nothing’s happening at all [laughs]! We let this down a couple of month ago. Basically, the thing’s been almost done for month now, then we worked on the album, we toured, and I didn’t felt like working on it again. It’s a matter of time and availability. It’s 100% unpaid work and we’re caught by our lives: we have to tour in order to pay the rent… I hold this project very dear to me, we will do it, but right now, I can’t give you a release date or anything. I talked too much about it at the beginning: I should have kept my mouth shut [laughs]! But it’s not a bad thing because the goal of the project was to shed light on their extremely important fight, and then get the people to take an interest in their cause. It’s been the case already, they got messages from people coming to them thanks to Gojira. Mission accomplished, then.

Interview conducted by phone on November 16th 2012
Transcription : Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net
Translation : Chloé

Gojira’s official website: www.gojira-music.com

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