Joe Duplantier is happy but knackered. Gojira’s genial vocalist has been doing interview after interview for their seventh album Fortitude. A powerful amalgamation of driving riffs, complex percussion and indigenous instrumentation, it’s hit No.6 in the UK and No.12 in the US.
“It’s a bit surreal, all that success, because it’s something that happens in another dimension almost – it’s all online,” he says, smiling. “My everyday life is really that I go get some bread, and cook breakfast.”
He usually lives in Brooklyn, New York, but has been seeing out the pandemic in the South of France, where he and drummer brother Mario grew up in an artistic household before forming Gojira in 1996.
Combining a youthful love for the blastbeats and gore of death metal with a lyrical preoccupation with existential questioning, Gojira have evolved into one of the most pioneering, intelligent bands in the sphere of heavy music.
Joe and Mario had an early chemistry
With a four-and-a-half-year age gap between the brothers, Joe used to see Mario as an annoyance. That changed when music came into the picture.
“I saw him as just a little larva,” Joe recalls. “But by the time he was twelve he was really getting into music. I saw a friend in him for life when he started to play drums and listen to The Beatles and Queen. I couldn’t deny it – ‘Okay, he’s just a kid, but oh my god he can play.’ When we were playing together there would be no age difference, we were equal.”
The brothers grew up in a weird house
“It was like The Addams Family’s house,” explains Joe. “It was two hundred years old and there were many rooms. You know how you have your dining room, your living room, and your bathroom? It was the kind of house with rooms that you don’t know how to name: ‘The dark room that has no floor.’ ‘The room with the big hole in the middle.’ We had a room to play with Lego, a room to play music, and a room to dance in.”
Mike Oldfield’s 1983 album Crises was an influence
The Duplantier brothers were raised on the music of diverse artists including Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Supertramp, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Joan Baez, Pink Floyd and The Police, but Crises stands out as a more obscure reference point.
“I love how Mike Oldfield is such a technical musician, and able to put together some very ambitious songs, but at the same time he makes you feel like it’s nothing; it’s really flowing like water,” Joe says.
They built their own studio
An ambitious Joe constructed Silver Cord in 2014, in a warehouse. The mammoth project effectively involved rebuilding the place from scratch – Joe had to build a “room within a room” to soundproof it.
“I remember the first day of building. There was this guy from Ecuador called Carlos, who became my best friend for six months. We could barely understand each other, but he could do anything. There was no food handy, no electricity, the neighbourhood was ‘up and coming’, and there was no bathroom. It was a disaster!”
Environmental activism is important to them
In 2010 they began recording an EP to raise awareness of conservation organisation Sea Shepherd. They released one song, but lost the other files; they aim to finish it one day. “You know when you’re a kid you have a hero? My Superman is [founder] Mr Paul Watson,” enthuses Joe. “He’s one of the human beings I’m the most excited about – after my family, of course.”
And they want to change the world
The song Amazonia from new album Fortitude is about the illegal fires that have ripped through the Amazon. The band met with tribal leaders on Zoom, before setting up an online auction and selling art prints to raise funds for those affected.
“One of the things I talk about often in my songs is the power that we have as individuals to change the world,” Joe explains. “If we decide to do something, if we put our mind to it, we can achieve it. I want to empower whoever’s listening to our band.”