Gojira’s case raises a lot of questions. Even though it’s seen as a source of national pride and an achievement for these guys from Bayonne, the band’s contract with Roadrunner Records is worrying for some of the purists, who fear the comfort the financial means of a big label bring will destroy the band’s enthusiasm. Vocalist/guitarist Joe Duplantier fully understands these concerns, and he answers them with the never-ending humility that characterizes him. During this interview, we took the opportunity to shatter some preconceived ideas about labels or the band’s financial condition. It would be a mistake to think it’s as big as the band’s fame, and Joe talks honestly about it.
Nevertheless, Gojira manage to make a living from their music, even if it isn’t the most accessible kind. We therefore had to ask him advice on how to make it in this world.
We also took the opportunity to learn more about the musical evolution in the band’s next album, the lyrics, and the Sea Shepherd EP we’re still waiting for.
The following is an extremely rich and thorough interview with a very nice man who managed to remain simple, contrary to what some bitter (or jealous) people may think.
Radio Metal : What happened with the Sea Shepherd EP? How is it coming along?
Joe Duplantier (guitar/vocals) : We’ve had a lot of setbacks and technical problems that got us very late. For instance, a hard drive with a lot of takes we’d made just crashed. It was quite a hard blow a couple of months ago. We were working on the new album, we were almost ready to finish everything... When I arrived in the US, I found somebody who managed to get all the information back, meaning the EP’s audio files. I’ve been able to get my hands on them not so long ago. Now I’ve got everything, I need to sit down and work on it, there’s still a lot to do... I need to finish mixing and add a couple of vocals we’ve been recording. It’s not much, but I basically don’t have a second for myself right now, which means I don’t have the time to work on it. Nobody will do it for me, so I’ll just start working on it when we’re done with the album. We’ll release this fucking EP eventually! It means a lot to us and we’re a bit pissed off we couldn’t release it last September.
So it should be out in 2012...
You recently signed a deal with Roadrunner Records, a big label. The way it works is quite unknown and fantasized. Can you describe in practical terms what it’s like to work with Roadrunner?
A lot of these fantasies about big labels are true. People in general dread a lot of things regarding these big labels, and those fears are justified. But Roadrunner’s case is quite unique. In my opinion, it’s just a team of really professional, really enthusiastic people who do their job really well. We don’t receive any directions from the label, artistically speaking. They just pick precisely the bands they’ll sign for some reason or another. We fit in the category of the bands they signed because they already had an identity, a strength, a bit like bands like Opeth or Korn.
When you announced you’d signed with Roadrunner, the feedback was mostly positive, but some purists’ reactions were a bit more negative. These people worry because, “when a band’s situation is too comfortable, they don’t write with their guts anymore”. What do you think about that, and what would you answer to that?
I’d say they might be right. I’m not in the best position to judge. I’m in the thick of the action. As I’m talking to you right now, I’m in front of my computer, I’ve got a mike in front of me, I’m writing lyrics, I’m totally into it. Gojira really is my life, it’s my job. So I’m not really the right person to judge. I think there are people who have been following us since the very beginning and who may be more qualified to talk about what’s happening inside the band just by listening to the music. What’s important to me, at the end of the day, is the music. So maybe they’re right, but in my whole life, in my whole career as a musician, I’ve never had the time to take a rest, I’ve never had the chance to see what it’s like to have some support from a label so far, to have some comfort, to buy a house for instance. I’m so very far from that! So I remain quite far from these considerations or fantasies. I write with my guts, with my companions in adversity, and we’re more like warriors than lucky bastards that get lulled into whatever by some big label. I think those people have too much time on their hands to think about all these things, all these fantasies, but the truth is that you just have to listen to the music. You can’t really plan anything. But maybe they’re right, maybe after a couple of years with Roadrunner our music will sound like shit, I don’t know.
Do you think you can write with the same rage after 10 years working with Roadrunner, when you have a comfortable lifestyle, as when you’re in your garage and nobody knows you or listens to you, even if you have so much to say?
Of course it’s not the same, but it can’t stay the same anyway. I’m 35 now, and if I was living in the same conditions than when I was 16, I would definitely have some serious issues! It would mean that I’d still leave with my mom and dad, in my basement, and that I would we wearing baggy jeans and sneakers, looking like nothing. As you get older, it’s normal to want to work with professionals, to want to be in touch with the world. So of course, there’s gonna be a lot of nostalgic, early fans that will say: "Yeah, on their first album they had so much rage!". But come on, I’m 35 now! You grow up, you get older and then you do what you can. I try to analyze our music and it’s true that there are things from our first album that you won’t find anymore, because we were maybe 14 or 17 years old at the time. And now, some deeper, richer, more interesting things are popping up, because we’re more experienced. It’s not the same albums, but that’s how life goes, everything changes all the time. When you buy something, at first it’s new, and then it gets old, you can’t help it. With a human life, it’s exactly the same: you change, you evolve and I think it’s interesting to remain flexible when you follow a band, and to accept its evolution.
Even if you’re the most famous French metal band, just a few years ago you could hardly make a living from your music. Can you talk about your current financial situation?
Well, that’s quite simple, my bank account is completely empty! I’m waiting for an advance from the label so I can save some money for the months to come, because basically, if we’re not touring, we don’t get any money. So when you sign a record deal, you get an advance from a label, and you have to pay tons of commissions everywhere: management, lawyers, different charges to produce the record and so on. What’s left in the end is ridiculous, it’s just one month’s pay. OK, we’re a bit famous, but we don’t sell records. Records just don’t sell. The ones we sell basically fund the recording of the album. It’s a reality you have to understand in music business in general, metal isn’t the only one to suffer from that. We didn’t have the chance to live during the great era when people made money from record sales, that doesn’t exist anymore. Now, the way to make money is selling merchandising and touring. It’ll be the next step for us, a step that will allow us to make money, but we don’t make fortunes. We make enough money to live and work full time on Gojira, and that’s huge. Some months are a bit more fruitful and we can afford a new guitar or something, but for instance it’s very difficult to buy a car or an apartment because we don’t have a contract from an employer or an insurance. We’ve got music contracts, but when you have to talk to a banker... A couple of years ago I was like: "Fuck, I’d like to buy a house! What am I supposed to do?" And actually, I still can’t.
Concretely, are you still contract workers?
I’ve moved to New York for a few months, so I guess I won’t be able to keep being one. I plan to stay here for a while because a lot of stuff is happening here for the band, so it’s better if one of us lives here. I just love this city, it does me good to be there. So I don’t know if I will be able to keep this status, but yes, the three other members of the band definitely will.
So what is it like to be a musician in the US?
It’s completely different, it’s the jungle here! Just for social insurance, it’s absolutely crazy! It’s extremely expensive. A lot of people around me who work in the studio just don’t have any. It means that if they break an arm, they’re ruined for the rest of their life. The conditions are really tough, but if you really wanna work, it’s easier to find a job. You can also get fired more easily, but there are a lot more opportunities. When I try to explain what it’s like in France, they can’t believe it, they can’t understand how it works.
You’re one of the few French rock/metal bands that can actually make a living with their music. What kind of advice would you give to our readers who play music and want to be able to live from it? What should they do or not do?
You have to keep all your fears and questions away. I remember when we started, everybody was like: "Guys, what are you thinking? You should concentrate on your studies, what the fuck are you doing?" We didn’t think about it too much and for years we just worked really hard. To those who are just starting, I’d say don’t rush, don’t spend half your time on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and so on. You have to practice, play, work very hard on your instrument, and not worry about how you’re gonna make it, how you’re gonna become a star. You have to concentrate on the core of the actual material. That’s what we did for around ten years: before we even had a website, we had already recorded five demos. I think that’s what people should do. I grew up in another era, in more "old school" times, and we recorded demos on tapes for thirty francs. My advice would definitely be to give up all the bullshit, to stop thinking about marketing and hairdos and tattoos, and concentrate on your playing instead.
Do you think that too many bands nowadays just go and play in front of an audience even though they barely know how to play their instruments and their own compositions?
Not every band is like that, actually. I think there’s a lot of very talented bands emerging from everywhere, especially in France. I know that sometimes, you’re surprised by a band that’s been around for two years, that can kick everybody’s ass, and they just deserve more attention. My advice would be not to think too much about how to be successful, but to keep on working, to go on stage and then just go for it! You have to believe in your music and to keep in mind that everything is possible. That’s just true, everything is possible! You never know, maybe the next Metallica is currently hiding in the middle of nowhere, like somewhere in the Creuse or something. There’s no rule, no need to care about statistics, about what usually happens. I remember that everybody was telling us to go to Paris if we wanted to make it. Well, no, we stayed in Bayonne, and it didn’t keep us from being successful abroad.
All the more so since your music isn’t exactly very accessible...
It’s because we’ve put our guts and all our heart in it, and because we’ve never lost hope.
Regarding the next album, you’ve been insisting in an interview on the importance of jamming. You were saying that big bands, before actually writing, were spending hours rehearsing and so on. Can you develop that thought?
When you listen to a record, you want to hear people playing together. Whether it be a singer, an artist or a band, whatever, it has to be real. What’s interesting is to feel the vibration that exist between three, four or five musicians, and you can only get this by playing together as a band. We’ve already composer on a computer, but you just can’t skip the rehearsing stage. There’s this trend that gets bigger and bigger, that consists in editing the drums on a computer and drawing up crazy plans, then not being able to play them on stage. So yeah, I do think jamming is important.
It seems that you worked with a producer for the first time for this album.
Yeah. I’ve always been involved in the production, basically I’ve always followed Gojira’s recordings from A to Z. I do the pre-production myself every time. We record ourselves in our rehearsing place, then we go to the studio with a producer, but I follow the whole process, I take care of the artistic management: "Right here it must sound like this, there it must sound like that." Production is a very precise thing. For this record I needed somebody to bring something new to the band, especially to our sound. And I stumbled upon this guy, Josh Wilbur, who produced Lamb Of God’s records and many others. He’s full of energy, he gets new ideas all the time. We produce the album together.
Did Josh give you any artistic advice or was he just sticking to the sound?
It’s quite hard to give us artistic advice... For him it’s difficult, because he’s working with a band that does exactly what it wants. So yeah, from time to time he’s giving some artistic ideas, but mostly regarding the performance itself, like: "This note vibrates, try and play it more flatly", and so on. It’s just very technical stuff, he doesn’t really get involved in the melodies, the atmosphere, the tracks’ structure. That being said, for one of the songs he told us he thought some kind of development was missing at the end of the track. We talked about it with Mario, and we thought he’d just pointed at the song’s weakness, and we totally agreed with him. He’s like an hear, an eye from the outside, he points things out at us and then we agree or not. But his input is mostly about the sound. He and I had a couple of meetings in New York to talk about our approach regarding the sound, I explained what I wanted and when we placed the mike, it was just like I wanted it, how I’d explained. He makes my expectations come true from a technical point of view.
Is not listening to the ideas he could have brought up a choice on principle, or is it just that his ideas didn’t seem relevant?
That’s a very interesting question... That’s the problem, actually. It’s a bit of both. It’s on principle because when a band has an album out, if the producer changed the melodies and so on, then it’s no longer the band’s record, with its strengths and its weaknesses. I do want to keep some of our weaknesses, some of our mistakes, because that’s what makes us truly ourselves. So yeah, it’s mostly on principle, but then sometimes he’s suggesting very relevant things so we’re listening to him. We just keep the right to choose if we like it or not at the end of the day.
You said in an interview that people won’t be disappointed or surprised by your next record. Don’t you think that what your fans like about you is your way to keep on surprising them?
Yeah, maybe. I don’t know why I said that, it’s ridiculous! Sometimes I’ve got something in mind, I say something, it’s transcribed in some way and then when I read it I’m surprised. What I meant is that I don’t have anything special to say, you know what I mean? It’s Gojira, there’s gonna be double bass pedal, sharp guitars... I hope it’ll be a Gojira album in which people who like us will find what they like about us, except more powerful. Since the beginning, what we do is a kind of a quest for power, depth, beauty, poetry, dream. We keep on aiming high when we’re working on our music. We really have huge expectations, so if we manage to make a hundredth of what we want to do, it’ll be nice! [laughs] So when I say they won’t be surprised, it’s just out of false modesty, because of course I hope that they’ll be surprised and that we’ll fuckin’ kick their asses!
Now you’ve signed with Roadrunner, you will have to control your communication way more carefully, because everything you say will necessarily be said again! [laughs]
Yeah, but it’s funny. I’m not afraid to contradict myself, it’s not important, I’m not at the head of a country! [laughs] Basically, it’ll be okay, it’s gonna be an amazing record, I’m quite happy with it for now. I’m currently recording the vocals so I can’t really have a lot of hindsight, but I still think it will be quite thundering. It’s full of energy, and way more mature than before. I already love this record, even though it’s not finished yet.
You really like to experiment with sounds from objects that have nothing to do with actual instruments. Until now, you’ve used bamboo a lot. What did you use on this record? A door, from what I’ve heard?
Yeah, that’s a transition for the album. Mario wrote the whole thing from A to Z, he created a kind of rhythmic pattern. I insisted on the fact that we had to use some unusual sounds, because being in a band doesn’t mean you have to stick to a bass, a guitar and drums. We’re here to express ourselves, we’re artists, so why not use a door or a tub to make noise? Why should we restrict ourselves to drums? So we wanted to broaden our horizons a bit regarding the sound, by experimenting like we always do on our records. When we walked into the studio, we discovered its metal door sounded awesome. Mario came back with his sticks, tried a few things out, and then we thought: "Wow, we need to experiment with that!" After that, other things will come as well.
You wanna know everything? [laughs] I’ve got other slightly exotic instruments in mind, but I need to work on it, I’m not there already.
Then it means you will have to bring a door on stage when you play live!
[Laughs] No, that’s precisely what’s interesting in recording an album. There are three different schools. Some bands only wanna do on the record what they’ll be able to do live. Some think of the album as an unlimited space of artistic freedom, and then change their music so it can be played on stage. We follow the third way, we’re in-between, a bit of both. We’re an old-school rock/metal band, some of our tracks are like "one-two-three-four-bang", it’s great and we can do it on stage without any problem. We don’t use any specific effects but we allow ourselves some space on our albums to go further, to add absolutely crazy endings, to put some backward guitar effects, metallic plates, wind sounds and so on. Then we go on the road with only two guitars, a bass, drums and still play everything.
On your previous album, Christian [Andreu] and Jean Michel [Labadie] were more or less left out of the writing process and pretty much discovered the tracks just like the other listeners. Was it the same on this record?
[Laughs] It’s a bit exaggerated. No, it’s not the same, the four of us really worked together on this record. Mario and I build the core of all compositions, we work on the production, on all the arrangements, most of the time it’s just the two of us in the studio. But when we’re actually giving birth to a song, when we’re really composing, that’s the four of us. There’s the four of us in there, playing the songs together, we’re very united in that. Even if Mario and I like to meet up to talk, work on the arrangements, it just flows naturally. They’re not excluded from any process. For that matter I think they were happy to spend some more time in France while we were starting the work in the US.
You said you were starting to work on the lyrics. Can you tell us what the album’s gonna be about?
Fuck, this question pisses me off! [laughs] This album will ultimately be about very personal things, just like every Gojira record. But since I’m working on it, it’s a bit hard to talk about it, but there’s something more human on this album than on the previous ones. Before, I tended to write about life and death in a very generic way. I was speaking from a very spatial point of view, talking about humanity as a species, about other dimensions. These are things that fill me, I was very honest when I was writing about that, about the various potentialities that exist in the universe and that inspire me. This time, though, I went back to kind of daily issues that are more connected to our identity within society. I’d say it’s more down-to-earth. I talk about my issues with freedom in this life, in this society, about the identity issue: what am I? I’ve got a name, a status, I sing in a band, I’m French, I’ve got a first name, a social security number, but what I am beyond that? I feel like a wild child who just came out of the woods.
So you’re trying to find your place in the world?
I think I’m quite comfortable with my current place in the world, but I’m thinking about it. I also take into account all the pain around me, everybody’s identity issues, the people who spend their life missing out, missing stuff, which finally kills them. They’re just waiting for one thing: retirement, and when they do retire, they’re seventy and they’re suffering because they just watched their life pass by. I’m thinking about all of this, I’m trying to figure out my issues with freedom in my own life, what is freedom... The closer you get to yourself and to your heart, the closer you get to others.
So do you consider yourself free?
Yeah, but I can’t help but notice that even though I chose to be a musician, and I am, even though I can choose to record an album, and I do, getting up at 8 and taking the subway to go to the studio still gets on my nerve. I’m free to make the decision to do what I wanna do with my life, but I’m not free to do whatever comes to my mind every second. This album is a reflection on what freedom is.
Basically, you’re wondering whether freedom can really be absolute...
Yes, or at least where you can find it. I think you can be handcuffed, behind bars in a cage and still feel free, it’s more like a state of mind. It’s something that’s happening in a spiritual, moral level. I don’t think it’s a physical condition, somebody in jail can be way more free than a billionaire on his yacht. The album isn’t an essay about philosophy, it’s not something that claims to give you the truth, it’s just a reflection.
Would you like to be more free?
Of course, it’s my main concern in life.
Do you already have an idea for the title?
Yeah, but I’m not one hundred percent sure about it, and I don’t wanna disclose it yet. I didn’t even tell my mom!
Nowadays, a lot of newish bands change their line-up quite often, but you never did. What’s your secret?
We’re just lucky we found each other, the four of us. I used to not talk about that too much, because I don’t really believe in luck, but still, we found each other and we get along very well. We went through hard times, ups and downs, but we’ve always overcome them through discussion, by talking to each other. Communication is really important in a band. I’d say that’s the secret.
Can you picture Gojira without one of you guys?
Your questions are definitely pissing me off! [laughs] No! Even if it happens one day, I don’t know how I’d react. Right now, I really have a hard time picturing that. The main part of what makes the band’s strength is the fact that we’re so close. I don’t really like your question, I don’t wanna think about that! [laughs]
Now that you’re an international band, you inevitably don’t play that much in France anymore. What does it feel like to find your audience back? There was a lot of emotion when you played at the Sonisphere last year...
Yeah, that’s true! When we go on tour, we’re really focused on doing everything right. Wherever we are, we try to do our best and give everything we have. To tell you the truth, we’re not even trying: we’re at our best all the time. We’re in a trance, and in the end, we analyze what’s happening and what we’re feeling when the show is over, like: "Wow, it was awesome to play there!" We’re very industrious, very busy, we have to change our guitar strings, get ready, warm up, concentrate, and we tackle every single concert in the same way. It’s true that the Sonisphere gig was something. We’ve played in France a lot and that’s still a big part of things, we do a lot of stuff in France compared to some other countries. It had been a while since we’d been on stage and the crowd was amazing. There were something like 30,000 or 40,000 people!
We’ve heard that your brother Mario was painting. How it is coming along?
Yeah, he’s hopelessly hyperactive!
It looks like all drummers are hyperactive...
Yeah, that’s true. First of all, to be a drummer, you must be a bit crazy. Mario is a very talented, hyperactive guy who’s creating all the time. His creative production is unceasing. He never stops, he takes photos, he paints, he draws, he plays drums, he composes on a synth, he surfs... He’s hyperactive! It doesn’t show immediately because he’s a very quiet, composed guy, but in fact he’s incredibly creative. Everything he tries, he does it amazingly well.
Interview conducted on Friday December 16th, 2011 by phone.
Transcription : Isa
Traduction : Chloé
Gojira's website : gojira-music.com
This post is also available in: French