The People Vs. Joe Duplantier: The Gojira frontman on whales, activism and Evil Mario

As the French metal masters Gojira gear up for their long-overdue Fortitude UK and European tour, frontman Joe Duplantier sits down to answer some of his biggest fans’ most burning questions…

The People Vs. Joe Duplantier: The Gojira frontman on whales, activism and Evil Mario
Sam Law
Gabrielle Duplantier

If there’s one thing that’s underrated about Joe Duplantier, it’s his winning smile. Whether wielding The Heaviest Matter In The Universe or lending his weight to any number of worthy causes, the Gojira frontman is known for going about business with the steely purpose and razorblade poise of a gentleman assassin. Wiping the sleep from his eyes at two o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the south of France, however – fewer than 24 hours since stepping off a flight from New York – we’re disarmed by how damn happy the modern metal master seems to be sitting down to talk.

“I’m jetlagged and a bit confused, but I woke up for this interview,” he laughs. “I’m back in France to practice with the guys for a full week before we head out on tour. It’s the first time we’ve all been in a room together just to rehearse in years. But, with all the postponements, we’ve been waiting so long for these dates that we want to be ready. We need to bring something new to the table.”

Having waited so long to see Joe and his bandmates in the flesh, we thought we’d open the floor to you, the fans, pose some of your most pertinent questions. Safe to say, he tackles them with an open mind and a mischievous twinkle in his eye…

Betty asks… What was your first show as a fan?
“I grew up in an area in the south-west of France where there is a lot of Basque rock. I saw a lot of those bands in small bars and cafés growing up: acts whose names I don’t even remember. They sing in the Basque language and it’s very political, so a lot of them aren’t even really known in the rest of France. One early show I do remember is when I saw Death in Bordeaux on the Symbolic tour. There were maybe only 80 or 100 people there. I’d just had surgery to have my wisdom tooth removed, so I already looked like a hamster, then a kid slamming in the crowd hit me in the face with his boot! That was definitely my most epic early gig experience.”

James asks… If you could be part of a package tour with three other bands, past or present, who would they be?
“Death. Morbid Angel. Then it’s a three-way toss-up between Metallica, Tool and Meshuggah. I think that would be a pretty popular tour…”

Joanna asks… What is your favourite venue to play?
“From an audience perspective, you might think of Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver Colorado [where Gojira played their 1,000th show on May 11, 2017], but, as a performer, that’s somewhere that feels very intimidating because of how elevated the audience are. It looks like a wave of people crashing down on you, which is cool in a way, but it takes me out of my comfort zone. I like to be on top! I guess I’d pick Élysée Montmartre in Paris. That was the big venue that we targeted growing up and was always fun to play. I’m not sure whether they still put on a lot of shows there [they do, according to the website]. It’d probably be a little too small for us nowadays anyway.”

Sophie asks… What is your favourite Godzilla movie?
“Godzilla Vs. King Kong – the old one. I watched it recently with my kids and the scene where King Kong picks up Godzilla and spins him by his tail is still priceless. The new ones are entertaining and pretty well done, but they just aren’t as epic. Plus, Godzilla keeps getting bigger and bigger. Isn’t he already big enough?!”

Scott asks… Do you have a favourite sports team?
“I might disappoint some people, but I’m going to say the Pittsburgh Pirates. I don’t like soccer; I like baseball. I like Pittsburgh as a city, and I have family in Pennsylvania who basically forced me to be a Pirates fan at a young age. Back then, I thought they were great. Turns out they’re not!”

Paige asks… What are your favourite hobbies when off tour?
“Making fire! Really, just building a fire, then sitting there staring into the flames. It turns out that’s what I do the most off tour. Beyond that? I like to build things. I like to draw with pencil and ink. I do a lot of the merch and artwork for Gojira. And, of course, hanging out with my family!”

Bhumika asks… Who are your favourite underrated bands?
“That’s a hard question, because I always think, ‘Oh, that band’s so underrated…’ when I’m already talking about them, but it’s hard to pick them off the top of my head. I guess Prong are less known than they should be. It’s weird how they influenced so many other big bands – like Korn – but so many people don’t seem to know about them. Also, what counts as underrated? Being a family man, I don’t get as much of a chance as I’d like to stay up to date with all the newer bands coming through. Fortunately, despite being the oldest in the band, our bassist Jean-Michel Labadie is our resident ‘teenager’, spending all of his time listening to new bands on his bike, then keeping us all up to date. He introduced me to the British band Urne last tour, who are really great. But you can’t really say that Urne are underrated as they’re so new to the game. I hope they end up on a lot of people’s radars!”

Ryan asks… What’s happened with the Sea Shepherd EP from 2011?
“The one track that we did bring out, Of Blood And Salt featuring Devin Townsend and Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah, was great, but then it got buried – at first under technical issues, then under all of the other things we have going on. Some of it got lost; some of it needs rebuilding. Before we brought out [2016 album] Magma, we had a meeting and decided that it was something we wanted to release before the album, but the record label wanted us to release after so that it didn’t interfere with all of the expectation that was building. After the album came out, it turned out that we were so busy that we barely had time to catch up with life. You have to rehearse, you have to be ready for tour, you have so many interviews and obligations. Then the same thing happened during [2021 album] Fortitude. There are three more songs somewhere on a hard drive still to come out some day. I will release them before I die!”

Caitlin asks… Is it difficult to write songs in English and capture the feeling you want to get across?
“Not really. When I listen to some of the lyrics I wrote years ago, they can sound a little weird, a little off, but I grew up with an American mother and it feels like some part of my psyche – maybe the left side of my brain – is actually more connected to English. Even if it’s not perfect, sometimes it’s easier for me to translate a lot of ideas into English, where they would feel too heavy or complicated in French. Also, we’re mimicking everyone that we grew up with: the Metallicas, the Iron Maidens, the Led Zeppelins that we all listened to as kids. English feels like the ‘official’ language of rock in the same way that Italian feels like the ‘official’ language of opera!”

Sean asks… What’s the most evil thing that Evil Mario has done?
“It’s something unspeakable; something that I dare not even mention here. It can be very difficult to be on tour with Evil Mario, because he’s so out of control and we have to transport this big cage around to keep him in. Plus, he’s very strong! I once saw him eat somebody’s eyeballs with chopsticks (laughs.

Dan asks… How are you able to preach environmentalism and then jet off on world tours?
“That is a fair question, and it’s something that’s extremely challenging. Knowing what the right thing is to do in life can be very challenging a lot of the time: trying not to leave too much of a large carbon footprint. Ultimately, we were faced with the choice of stopping touring – effectively quitting – because this industry is polluting, or keeping going because our message might be able to do some good. We’re not saying that we’re out there saving the world, or that our message is so incredible that it’s going to change people’s lives, but we do have an influence on our listeners. Our message is to be yourself, to do what you’re supposed to in the world, and then we should have a better world. If every single person does what they’re supposed to do in their heart – what they’re good at, what makes them happy – then it’ll be a better, cleaner, more sustainable world.”

Murray asks… What was the inspiration for the change in sound for Fortitude?
“It’s something that we always had in us. If we think right back to when we were writing Terra Incognita, we were all already fans of things as varied as Sepultura and Mike Oldfield, but we had other things that we wanted to express first. We wanted to go fast and loud and dark, and concentrate on building that atmosphere. But even then we would be experimental with the weird transitions and even the outro on that first album. Over time, we organically dissolved those elements throughout our music. We found ourselves writing those big choruses we’d always wanted to have. Also, as we find ourselves playing bigger and bigger venues, it inspires us to create songs that fit those spaces. On top of that, with age, everyone wants to do different things!”

Lee asks… Would you rather be a whale or a shark?
“A whale, because they’re less hunted and [vilified] than sharks. Sharks have a bad rep, but we need to understand that we don’t need to be in awe of something to care about it; we don’t need to love somebody to want to protect them. We became this parasite that’s taken over the entire planet. Sharks only live in certain areas. The same with alligators and elephants. Just because we’re everywhere doesn’t mean we should [try to eradicate] them.”

Jon asks… Will you ever play From Mars To Sirius in full live?
“It’s certainly crossed my mind as we begin to approach the 20th anniversary of that album. I’ve been listening to it a lot recently, thinking about which songs would fit in with our modern set. It feels like a lot of the songs back then were very long, with a lot of different parts. That’s not a problem for us technically, but [I’m not sure it fits] with our goal nowadays to just go out and have fun. So we’ll see. If we do decide to do it, we’ll have to rehearse – a lot!”

Matthew asks… What are your favourite snacks on tour?
“Being vegan on tour used to be difficult, but it’s easier these days now that I get to ask for whatever I want (laughs). A few years ago, when we were a little less important, I’d always have to make sure that I had olive oil and bread, so that if worst came to worst I could put some olive oil in a bowl with salt and bread. Olive oil is very important to me – I can feel it go into my joints and muscles and bones, which I really need to survive on tour. Aside from that, I eat a lot of quinoa and avocado. Maybe that’s the most hipster answer ever, but it is such a healthy fat. The problem is that it doesn’t grow where I live! Also, I need my coffee! I’m not a super-healthy eater. I like a lot of junk food. First and foremost, I’m vegan for the animals, but I do notice how much better it makes me feel!”

Jared asks… Will you ever re-release Godzilla songs?
“That’s going to happen, for sure. Is there any set timescale on it? No.”

Pam asks… What activist organisations would you like to work with in the future?
“There are a bunch of them out there doing a great job, but I can’t get involved with everybody. I do meet a lot of activists in New York even if I don’t necessarily put it out there. My wife is a performer in New York and she is friends with people in the Estonian group Non Grata. Through them, I’ve met all kinds of people who fight on this front or that. I’m particularly passionate about animal rights – groups like Direct Action Everywhere – about helping kids and homeless people, and about the situation in Tibet. As I grow older, I can see myself getting more involved with First Nation groups and [combating] the illegal pipelines that go through their lands. For now we’re busy being musicians and going on tour, but there are a lot of groups I would like to connect with!”

Stephen asks… If you could go back in time and change one thing about your life, what would it be?
“Nothing. Whatever I’ve been through has led me to where I am today, my children, and all the beautiful people I’m surrounded by. I often think about how every little decision that I’ve made has led me to this point. I try to look at things from that perspective, and to embrace the absolute perfection that surrounds me – even when it looks like chaos. I often say to my daughter, ‘Can you imagine if I didn’t take that flight, or miss that bus, that I might never have met your mother?!’”

Dimitris asks… What can we expect from the next album?
“We’re really at that time when there’s nothing to say. Of course we’re talking about it, and Mario is really on fire recording a lot of drums, but, in terms of songwriting, I have a lot of catching up to do. I guess I’m still digesting what we did with Fortitude before I properly move into the writing phase. It’s killing me that we’ve still not properly toured that album in Europe. It’s hurting our souls, but finally it’s happening!”

Gojira tour the UK and Europe starting February 11 – get your tickets now

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