"Yeah, we almost died," Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier says with a chuckle. It's day 3 of the French metal band's first U.S. tour ever, and as the vocalist-guitarist explains, he and his bandmates almost didn't live to see day 1. "You know, when your flight lands, you normally have wheels come out of the plane—a red light goes on in the cockpit so the pilot knows. When we came [into JFK airport in New York City], the pilot announced that the light didn't go on. So we had a scare—they had to turn up and fly again. But we made it."
Gojira are going to have to get used to the vagaries of transatlantic travel: As of late November, when we talked to Duplantier, they were already planning their next U.S. trek, for early 2007, with none other than Lamb of God. For that choice gig, they can thank LoG vocalist Randy Blythe, who may just be Gojira's biggest fan: In the last issue of Revolver, he touted their third full-length, From Mars to Sirius (Prosthetic), as his top album of 2006.
But Blythe is hardly the only person heaping accolades on Gojira. Since the release of From Mars (in late 2005 in Europe, almost a year later in the U.S.), they have risen from virtual unknowns outside of their homeland to the single-most-buzzed-about metal band on the planet. More important, Gojira actually live up to the hype—their majestic brand of what Duplantier calls "organic death metal" has been rightly likened to Meshuggah, Morbid Angel, Isis, and Mastodon and yet actually sounds like only one band: Gojira.
And it isn't just their music that makes them a band apart. Gojira's sci-fi-inflected lyrics convey a unique message of environmental responsibility (see songs like "Global Warming" and "In the Wilderness") that has led some critics to describe the group as "ecological warriors"—a title the band members embrace. And they practice what they preach: All four belong to Green Peace and live healthy lives close to nature. Guitarist Christian Andreu keeps an organic garden, bassist Jean-Michel Labadie is an avid mountain biker, and drummer Mario Duplantier (Joe's younger brother) surfs every day when he's back home in the pristine, coastal town of Bayonne, France. Joe, meanwhile, lived for almost two years without electricity or running water in a cabin that he built himself out in the forest. While more luxuriously sheltered in his tour bus before the night's show in Rochester, New York, the congenial frontman talked to us about the joys of nature, Metallica, and, surprisingly enough, junk food.
REVOLVER How's America treating you so far?
JOE DUPLANTIER Well, for me, it's my fourth time here, but I was just visiting on holidays before, so being here to play is amazing. For the rest of the band, it's the very first time. We're very excited, nervous, impressed. Everything is much smaller in France: the cars, the sidewalk, the buildings, the pizza…
Is that what you've been eating?
We did, but we couldn't actually eat it all. The pizza was large like a table. I never saw that before. It was huge!
Aren't you guys big into organic foods? It must be hard to eat well on the road, especially in the U.S.
Yeah, we are very organic, but we also like junk food. [Laughs] And when you come to the States, you have to taste junk food, real junk food. There is junk food in France, but it tastes like shit. We try American junk food for a couple days, then we go back to rice and stuff.
For most people outside of France, Gojira is a new band, but you guys have actually been together for over 10 years. Was it frustrating not to be recognized outside of your own country for so long?
Well, when you want to become a doctor, you have to study for 10 years. When you want to be a professional metal band, you need 10 years. That's the way I see it. And also, when you're French, it's even harder. When you're a French band, everyone laughs at you: "Oh, you come from France! Hahahahaha. What the fuck, you play rock and roll?!" It's not often that you can be a French band and break out of France.
Why do you think that is?
The French metal scene is very French. We have a lot of bands singing in French, so we have trouble getting out of our borders. We can do it 'cause we sing in English. The first thing the record company wants to know: "Do you sing in English? Yeah? OK, so it's possible."
Did you ever consider singing in French?
No, I don't want to sing in French 'cause, you know, Metallica sing in English. [Laughs]
Metallica's the band that got you into metal, right? For me too.
Yeah, yeah. Metallica was the first big shock: Wow, what is that? That's amazing! I want to do that! I want to be them! Fuck! For me, it was Ride the Lightning. I was 14 years old. My one cousin was always with Metallica, Iron Maiden. I was into rap, and I really didn't understand that music. Then I started to play guitar, and I tried to play the intro to "Fade to Black," and then I was able to understand. I thought the song was great. Then I got into the whole album, then Master of Puppets, then Sepultura, and then Death. Ever since, I've been addicted.
You recently recorded a cover of the Metallica song "Escape" and put it up online. How'd that come about? Why that song?
It was just picked for the pleasure. It was pretty spontaneous. But now I understand why I chose the song because when I hear the lyric, it's not far from what we live in our everyday lives. It's about the fact that we are not like everybody else. You know, we don't have a regular job. We are a rock band. Like the song says, "I live my own way."
Your lyrics have an environmentalist message that's described on your band's website as 50 percent new age, 50 percent hippie. Doesn't sound very metal…
[Laughs] Yes, it may seem paradoxical to have a message of hope and at the same time play this violent music, but to me it's not. There is an emergency right now on planet Earth. Things are going bad very, very fast. So that's why I'm screaming, because to me it's a very important thing.
There's a lot of talk of dreams in the lyrics. Did any of the imagery on the album actually come to you in a dream?
Yes, sort of. You know, you have dreams, and you also have something like a vision. When you play music you can be in a certain state of mind. I can see things when I play live. It's not that I'm weird or something [laughs], I just like to let my imagination free. During our second album tour, we had two or three tracks with long endings, and during those outros, we can go into a trance. And I used to imagine whales—big whales—coming into the venue. That's why I started to write about whales. [From Mars to Sirius is full of such imagery, from the cover art to the song "Flying Whales."] I was very interested already by those animals because they are so clever, so intelligent. And I like to imagine sometimes whales singing when I sing. You know, pretty low, like oooouuuggh, and at the same time, you can hear the wooooooourr in the voice—you know what I'm saying? So with those kind of visions and the kind of singing that I have, I feel kind of a connection.
Have you ever gone whale watching?
No. I'd love that, but I don't like the tourist whale watching—it can be disturbing to the whales. I don't want to disturb them. I just want to meet a whale sometime. [Laughs]
You're going to be touring with Lamb of God, and Randy has been singing your band's praises. Have you gotten to hang out with him?
Yeah, he emailed me a while ago, like, "Hey, dude, I love the record! Can we tour together?" I answered, "Of course!" And then the Unholy Alliance [tour with Lamb of God and Slayer] played in Paris, and we were invited to open for the bands. So I could meet Randy at last. I don't know if you know him, but he likes nature, to go in the wild, and survival camps and stuff like that, and I'm really interested, too, so we're good friends now. We started to light a fire by friction in the dressing room.
What do you mean?
You know, you only need branches, wood, and a string. Then you make a bow, and you take a stick… I should show you, I cannot explain…
I think I know what you're talking about…
Yeah, you can do it with your hands, but it's easier with a bow.
So you guys were starting a fire in the dressing room?
Well, to tell the truth, we only had smoke. A lot of smoke.