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Gojira rolled into 2021 with a one-word message of steadfast resolve, Fortitude, and by god they've lived by it. Back in April, the French metal titans unleashed their seventh album to immediate critical and commercial acclaim, landing at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Album Sales chart (besting DJ Khaled), earning their third Grammy nomination in the form of a Best Metal Performance nod for the song "Amazonia" and, most impressively (in our humble opinion), being named the No. 1 album of 2021 by a little ol' publication called Revolver.
The latest round of accolades are something that Gojira vocalist-guitarist Joe Duplantier can't quite wrap his head around, given that he and his bandmates have been grinding for well over two decades to take their ever-evolving fusion of death-metal, prog, groove-metal and heavy rock to wherever there's a ceiling to shatter. On Fortitude, that meant sharpening their melodic sensibilities and hoisting their sound to new heights on songs like "The Chant," all without siphoning the sheer force of their music.
"It's almost like I can't really grasp what's going on in general in our career," Duplantier muses during a conversation with Revolver. "The fact that we are seen and heard by the world ... it's pretty freaking great."
We spoke with Duplantier about earning the No. 1 album of the year nod, staying grounded, the unique experience of returning to the road with hordes of new fans, his favorite albums of 2021 and what the next Gojira album might sound like.
SO, HOW DOES IT FEEL FOR FORTITUDE TO BE NAMED REVOLVER'S No. 1 ALBUM OF 2021?
It's pretty nuts, you know. I don't know what to think. I don't think we can call an album "best album of the year," because it depends on your taste. It's art we're talking about. But we're so excited because it means it was at least up there with some of the good albums from this year, and we really appreciate having the spotlight on us. I don't know how to explain how I feel.
Life is weird, man. I remember as a kid being a fan of Metallica and Pantera and Iron Maiden and all these giants, and they were sometimes elected "Best Band of the Year," they would get a Grammy or they would get a "Best Album of the Year" [nod]. And now that that kind of recognition is happening to us, I'm thinking, "Wait, did the rules change? Are we in a different dimension where this is possible for us to access that?" It's completely mind-boggling.
It's almost like I can't really grasp what's going on in general in our career. The fact that we are seen and heard by the world. It's pretty freaking great. I still have that thing in me where I'm a music fan, I want to work hard to get to a level where I'm satisfied with my work, and I still have that impression every day that I'm working for that. To reach that goal. So when that kind of stuff happens I'm like, "Wait what?" I'm incredibly humbled and excited and honored to be part of this band that gets all that recognition.
IT'S BEEN LIKE SIX MONTHS SINCE FORTITUDE WAS RELEASED. HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THE ALBUM NOW GIVEN THE SPACE TO LET IT BREATHE?
I feel really great. When you're in the middle of making an album like that, that's all there is — for me, at least because I'm such a psycho. I go in the studio and my wife knows that when I'm going in the studio, she doesn't know when I'm going to come out. I get lost in time and it becomes this whole universe that I'm constructing with my bandmates and I have absolutely zero distance from it.
But then after a couple months of digesting it and listening to it over and over through the whole process of mixing and mastering, you sort of lose track — it's like repeating a word over and over and you're like, "Wait, what? This is the first time I've heard that word, why does it sound so stupid?" So it's almost like you're spinning and you get so dizzy that you lose direction. So I'm in that state of mind when I'm in the making of the album, but then after a few months, and especially after playing these songs live, which was a huge step for us, I start to have a different vision on the album. It's becoming, slowly but surely, another brick in the wall of our construction.
It was everything to me for a year or two, and now it's becoming one of the steps that we took and I'm starting to slowly think about the next steps. Of course, it's a bit early to talk about a new album, but we can't help it. Mario and me, especially after doing a few tours, we're like "OK, what's the new Gojira going to be like?"
DO YOU HAVE ANY RIFFS WRITTEN SO FAR OR JUST VAGUE IDEAS?
Mario's on fire. He's throwing drum patterns at me day and night, and I'm like, "Wait, wait, wait, let me digest what we've just been through." I almost, sort of out of respect for Fortitude, don't want to think about a new album now because we're about to go on tour in Europe and it's going to be one of the biggest tours we've ever done in terms of capacity. So I'm really, really focused on that.
There's one thing I gotta say, though. As much as I appreciate melodies and exploring new vibes and new tonalities with Gojira, I'm still a death-metal head in my heart, and Mario, too. And after doing this album that's more toward a rock approach — although there're metal elements in it — I wouldn't be surprised if it gets a bit harder on the next album.
YOU SAID THAT PLAYING FORTITUDE SONGS LIVE HAS BEEN A BIG "STEP UP." HOW SO?
The whole show [comes from] a different dimension, a different vibe, a different flavor, almost. It's almost like now we're coming back with seven albums and we have more songs or "hits" that people are going to sing along to. There're new faces at the shows. Also, we're in a very strange time after this whole lockdown that shocked the whole world and we're still in it, but now shows are possible again.
And we're part of the first wave of bands going out there, because we've been trying to go on tour for a while and [after] releasing this album it was just impossible, so we kept canceling tours and postponing them. And now, at shows I ask, "Who's seeing their first Gojira show?" and half of the audience would raise their hands on the tour we just completed. So that was incredible to witness.
And also, I've heard a lot of people saying it was their first show ever. Period. And it makes sense when you think about it because some kids were 15 or 16 when lockdown hit and then there were no opportunities for them to finally go to their first show ever. So, all these candidates for their first show ever had to wait almost two years, and all of the sudden, next thing you know there's hundreds of them at every show. That added to the uniqueness of this experience.
And some of the songs are challenging for me because I'm singing more and screaming a little less. So technically, it keeps me on my toes. And we have to be able to adapt [our setlist] being the death-metal band that we were 20 years ago and [having slowly evolved] but we're still playing these songs where everything is cranked to the max. So we're playing a song like "The Heaviest Matter of the Universe" that's really, really intense and requires a lot of distortion on pedals and very little wiggle room for anything bluesy or subtle. And then all of the sudden we're playing "The Chant," which is supposed to be very subtle with a different kind of sound. So [learning] how to switch from one sound to the other live — all these little challenges are very interesting for us, and it's working pretty well so far.
WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST REWARDING OR MEMORABLE PART ABOUT RELEASING FORTITUDE AND TOURING ON IT SO FAR?
We are expressing more and more clearly, something that we have to communicate with the world. Sometimes I'm thinking, "Wait a second, you've been saying the same thing over and over for almost 25 years." Not exactly the same thing but, "Be strong. Be compassionate." And there's nothing cheesy or lame about it. Talking about love and understanding and compassion and self-love and self-respect and respect toward other beings, humans and animals. I think it's a powerful message and it's a bit Jesus-like. Although we're not religious, there's something spiritual about our message.
I realize with time that when somebody has an important thing to say in their lives, they have to say it over and over to be heard. So basically with this album, we're reaffirming our message of compassion, of love and respect, and also a little bit of, "Don't fuck with me." But in a different way. We're fine-tuning what we have to say. And clearly the message of this album is "Be strong. Stay on your feet. And take a stand." And we're in a time in our lives where so much is changing and we all think about revolution sometimes — what if, what if, the world could be a better place — but it starts from within each and every single one of us. It's not very different from the chorus of "Silvera" from the album Magma. "When you change yourself, you change the world."
WHILE WE'RE ON THE TOPIC OF GREAT ALBUMS, WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE ALBUMS FROM 2021?
I gotta say that the album Mastodon just released is blowing my mind. They're not falling in any traps [sonically or] production-wise. They always know who to go to to expand their sound. I like the dynamic in their sound, I like the textures, I like their solos, I like the trip that you take when you start listening to their albums. Especially this one, which is an hour-and-a-half long, which blows my mind how they fit this together. What I love about Mastodon is its four entities that bring so much to the table. They're also my dear friends, which is a plus.
And there's another album that blew my mind, and I heard about them as being a rip-off of Led Zeppelin, it's Greta Van Fleet's The Battle at Garden's Gates. I think these kids are very talented — I hate calling them kids, by the way, because it shows how old I am. Seeing a bunch of 20-year-old's grabbing vintage instruments and fucking laying it down like they do, like in the good ol' days. You can say they sound like Led Zep or this or that, it doesn't matter to me. I have more faith in humanity when I hear that. I'm like, "Yes, some things are not lost." That album is absolutely amazing.
I also discovered [another LP] recently through Jean-Michel Labadie, our bassist, who's really into new bands and every Friday he's listening to every single metal record that comes out, which is crazy. And he turned me onto that band Urne. I'm in touch with these guys now because I listened to their music and I think it's really good. So [their album Serpent and Spirit] is one of the good surprises from this year.