"The closest metal scene was two hours away. We couldn't just go and see a show." From being an outsider to playing Sepultura songs with Max Cavalera, these are the life lessons of Gojira's Joe Duplantier

Joe Duplantier
(Image credit: Gabrielle Duplantier)

Since forming Gojira with his brother Mario in 1996, Joe Duplantier has proved himself a modern metal icon. He’s sensitive, thoughtful and passionate about the preservation of the environment, not to mention a modern guitar hero and a riff machine, responsible for a back catalogue of stunning, crushingly brutal death metal- inspired bangers. But what has the great man learned throughout all of it? “I’m nearly 50 and I’m still continuing to learn and grow,” he tells us by way of introduction, as we catch up over Zoom. These are the teachings that have steered him best so far.

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“I started writing at 13, 14 years old. I was writing poems. I was bullied in school because I was too sensitive, and kids sense that and they break you. It’s easy to break the confidence of a child. If anyone has been through that, they
need to remember that they’re worthy of this life. We are the result of millions of years of stars exploding and galaxies colliding. We need to remember that, and think, ‘I am an achievement already.’ Just by being born you are a miracle.”


“I went down to the beach when I was young, and I realised it really isn’t that hard to go and spend the day picking up some plastic and putting it in bags. When I did that, I saw that people were watching and wondering what I was doing. So, there is a political act in doing that: people see you and it makes them think. Suddenly they reappraise a situation they had never thought about before.”


“I asked my friends and my bandmates to come down to the beach and do something with me. I had the idea to go and clean up the beach, put the rubbish in plastic bags, and dump it in the parking lot of the mayor’s office. We did that, it was in the 90s, and the next day it was in the news. ‘Someone took all the rubbish from the beach and put it in the parking lot with a note!’ It was interesting. You understand that everything you do has an impact; even if it’s a small thing, it can inspire someone else. That was a huge moment for me, realising that we have an impact on the world around us – I think 70-80% of our lyrical message is that.”


“We grew up in a remote area [the commune Ondres in southwest France], cut off from any metal scene. The closest scene was two hours away, so we couldn’t just go and see a show. We grew up in a bubble a little bit, and I think that helped us sound the way we do. But it is hard to know, of course. Maybe if we had grown up in a place like Seattle or New York or London, then Gojira would sound different, but we don’t have access to that alternate universe timeline to know for certain. But I believe it helped us develop as ourselves, with very little outside influence.”


“My parents weren’t listening to metal or rock, certainly not hard rock. My mom, being American, was into Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, but also listened to a lot of jazz and African music, and my dad listened to a lot of radio, so I heard lots of Michael Jackson and Prince. We had a big room that my family would play music in... Mario and I were very young, so we were just dancing around, but I do remember very quickly I was interested in lyrics. From the music I was exposed to, I think Mike Oldfield was maybe the thing I listened to back then, which is closest to what we do. That might sound odd, but it’s very mystical and unusual music.”


“The Police and Sting inspired me. They managed to make something that is very catchy and popular, but if you listen to it then you can hear that it is actually very complex and intricate. It has this pattern that you can analyse and learn a lot from. They managed to do something that is amazing – you can’t play that stuff, it’s so intricate, but equally you can’t help but sing along. Great technicality, great songwriting, there were a few things like that in my home. Queen, The Beatles... some amazing artists.”


“Our first shows were really us acquainting ourselves with the world. You know how you build your identity as a teenager, where you don’t even know how to talk to adults because you don’t quite know who you are yet? That was us back then. We weren’t fully formed, but already we were screaming into a microphone. It forces you to bring the true you out of yourself. Every single show mattered; every single moment of every show meant something. After 15 years we started to forget things, ‘Oh, we played here before!’, but back then we could have told you everything we ate before the show, what we talked about, what we were wearing, everything. Every show was an event... it still is, but now we’re much older!”


“We were aware of the importance of Download 2006. It was the first show where we knew our career could shift. Mastodon were originally booked, and we were not. They cancelled a month before, and a lot of people knew Download were looking for a band. We had played this show on the beach in Brighton, made an impression, and some people called Download and said, ‘We’ve found your replacement.’ I can remember the first notes of our opening song, Ocean Planet, resonating throughout the tent and thinking, ‘This feels important.’ It was when we were still surprising people. ‘Oh, you don’t know us? Well, get ready, you’re about to know us!’ I like that feeling.”


“All of our songs are personal, but obviously the songs from [2016’s] Magma do have that extra something as they relate to our mother dying. It’s very therapeutic when we express our grief or sadness or anger and recycle it through music. It becomes this other thing.”


“For me, it’s easy to switch and look at a song and recognise it is just a song. Some of the songs, even going all the way back to [Gojira’s 2001 debut] Terra Incognita or [2003’s] The Link, are very personal to us. But I don’t need a song to remind me that I lost my mom, and that she was young, and that I would have loved for her to see her grandchildren grow. I have to process that every day. But music is magical for that reason. You can listen to a song in many, many different ways and it will have a different meaning to every person. It’s like a relationship – the piece can evolve with the experiences of the listener.”


“Playing in Cavalera Conspiracy [from 2007-2008] was unbelievable. I grew up as a huge fan of Sepultura, and getting in a room with Iggor and Max after all those years of them not playing together was incredible. I remember Max saying to me, ‘Joe, do you know how to play Refuse/Resist?’ Only my whole life, you know? Ha ha! It’s hard for me to really express just how incredible this experience was for me. It’s the type of thing that you dream of in your wildest dreams as a kid, and it happened! I’ll always be really grateful for that experience with those guys.”

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.