When progressive metallers Gojira popped onto most headbangers' radar—around the release of their 2005 breakthrough album, From Mars to Sirius—it seemed as though they had come from out of nowhere. The way the group's vocalist-guitarist, Joe Duplantier, tells it, he and his bandmates, which include his drummer brother Mario, sort of did, hailing as they do from a small, provincial town in southern France. Now with the release of an epic new record whose title, L'Enfant Sauvage, roughly translates to "The Wild Child," Joe explains just how wild his upbringing was.
REVOLVER When and where were you born?
JOE DUPLANTIER I was born in Paris in 1976, in a hospital. I grew up in a town in the southwest of France called Biarritz.
What are your parents like?
I have an American mother. She decided to travel with a friend in Europe when she was 23. She met my dad and she never came back to the States. She's a yoga instructor. My father is a painter. He does big-format works, like compositions of armies going into cities with bridges. It's kind of a mix between architecture, cities falling apart, crazy people. He will fill a big sheet of paper with only faces and strange characters and monsters, stuff like that.
The name of the new album means "the wild child." Were you a wild child?
Yeah, I spent most of my time in the forest pretending I was an Indian, making fire and cabins, and I experienced very young a relationship with nature, with trees, the ground and leaves, flowers, and the frogs and the fishes.
You're in a band with your brother, who is five years younger than you, but do you have other siblings?
Yes. My sister was born when I was 2. My parents told me that I was very upset when she was born. I'd take a box full of—you know those small cars, made of metal? I dumped those in her crib when she was a baby. It's horrible. Her name is Gabby. She's a photographer. She does all of our promo photos. We're very close to her.
Did you have a job before you went into music?
I went to the university for two years, then I went to a school where I did art studies for three, four years. I was working kind of as a designer on the computer, making books and posters for a short time, but I started to do only music very early. I lived with nothing. I lived in a cabin for two years with no income.
What was that like?
My dad taught me how to build a small cabin when I was a kid. I had a crisis when I was 24 and I started to build this cabin, hang out in the woods for two months. I had a girlfriend at the time and she came by one night and said, "This is awesome." We lived there for two years, lived by candles, drinking water from the stream, cooking by fire.
I had the band already and that's when we released our first album [2001's Terra Incognita]. A lot of the lyrics for that album came from that experience. Feeling close to—I know it sounds cliché and cheesy—but close to the trees and birds. Waking up every morning surrounded by plants was awesome.
When and how did you first discover metal?
Almost every summer, there was a family gathering when I was about 14 and one of my cousins was listening to Iron Maiden, Metallica, and the Beastie Boys, and a lot of stuff that I was not familiar with. I was trying to play guitar, and he taught me how to play the intro to Metallica's "Fade to Black." It had a strange effect on me like no other music.
When did you form your first band?
Instantly after that. I'm very impulsive. My first band was in high school. It was called Eclipse. We'd do Metallica covers, but we weren't good enough to do them right.
When did you start playing with your brother?
He started a band when he was 12 years old, and I was 17. They were 10 times better than my band at the time. The first time he touched the drums, he was very, very good. He was better than the drummer I had at the time. So after school, I would jam with him. And we started to have our own band on the side called Godzilla [Gojira is Godzilla's Japanese name].
After you officially formed the band Gojira, was it hard to establish yourselves?
It took a long time. It was in 1996 when we played our first show after being together for four months. Every year, we would release a demo. We would sell these cassettes to our friends and at shows. We would have to travel two hours to the closest city to find gigs. After four years, we said, "Why don't we release an album?"
Lamb of God championed you early on. How did that happen?
Chris Adler [Lamb of God's drummer] heard of us. One time, he went on a fishing trip with Randy [Blythe, Lamb of God's vocalist], and he cranked the CD in the car. Randy said, "Who the fuck is this, man?" He said, "It's that French band I told you about." That's how it started, and Randy became a huge supporter of the band. He would talk about us all the time, even when giving interviews.
Was your friendship with Lamb of God the reason you got to tour with Metallica in 2009?
Part of the reason, yes. Also, James Hetfield told me that he first heard us on the radio. He heard the song "Flying Whales" [off From Mars to Sirius] and he said, "Damn, that is great." He actually took a picture of his radio because the name of the band was on it.
Some other musicians you've been able to connect with are Max and Iggor Cavalera, who have played in Sepultura and Soulfly. What was it like playing on the Cavalera Conspiracy album?
That's a very strange story. We got an email that said Max and Iggor are getting back together and they would like to collaborate with Gojira because they thought what we were doing was fresh and original and cool. They asked our bass player to come, but he couldn't do it. It was right after tour, and he had a trip planned with his family. It was torture for him to turn it down. I said, "I can do it. I play bass." I jumped on a plane and we did this album [2008's Inflikted] in 15 days.
But I was not really sure if I could play bass. So we set up the gear and Max told me, "OK, let's jam a little bit. Can you play a Sepultura song?" I said, "Fuck yeah." I wanted to play "Territory," so Iggor started playing. I was like, Fuck, this is incredible. I'm jamming with Sepultura! It was a great experience.
Recently, you relocated from France to Brooklyn. Why the dramatic move?
Ever since I was a kid, I've been very attracted by New York City. I had posters of the Statue of Liberty in my bedroom. When I was 13, my uncle took me to New York. It was crazy, full of action, full of people. Since that day, my goal was to live here and see the impact of this activity on me. It was never the right time because I was working so hard on the band. I'm in my mid 30s now. I thought, Maybe it's time for me to do this now.
You also recently got married.
I met my wife a couple of years ago when we were on tour with Metallica in Europe. We had a day off in Lithuania, and I saw her twice in the city during the day. At the end of the night, Lars invited us to a bar to drink some wine, and she was there. It was very strange because it was the only day in my life in Lithuania, and I saw her a few times. We ended up talking and fell in love. Now, a few years later, we're married with a baby.
When was your daughter born?
She was born on Friday the 13th in the dead of winter in 2012. She's 6 months now.
Did her birth affect the way you think about music?
I don't know if it has changed that much, but it is definitely something else, man. I feel like I'm less important than before. How I feel, my little concerns, it doesn't count anymore. There's something more important. I have to be here for someone.
My life is more beautiful now. It was already great—she's not a savior. It's just everything is more beautiful.