[Update: Gojira’s concert at Irving Plaza, originally scheduled for tonight, has been postponed due to the blizzard. It’s been rescheduled for February 19.]
No one sounds like French metal band Gojira–or, rather, they sound like no one else. They bear the European death metal hallmarks of speed and rhythmic trickiness, but instead of reveling in the blood, guts, nihilism, etc., that characterize the lyrics of their peers, Gojira concern themselves with saving the whales. (Yes, literally.) In the brootal world of heavy metal, it’s, well, weird.
Anchored by brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier (on guitar and drums, respectively), the four-piece band retain their original lineup now 11 years since their debut. (No drama? Also kind of weird.) We spoke to Joe about the odd upbringing that continues to influence his music–and about how to explain metal to your grandmother.
You’ve said you and Mario grew up in an old house that was considered kind of strange in your town. Could you talk about that a little more?
It’s pretty striking when you go in this family house where we grew up. It’s not like normal houses. It’s very raw. It’s open to the wind. There’s dust and leaves everywhere, but it doesn’t matter. It’s an old house…It was very free. That was a big influence on us, I think.
Our parents were artists, and my mother was born in the states, so she had a different attitude and way of expressing herself. She was…louder than other moms. [Laughs] You know how in France, people talk super quiet. So, we had this American mom, and our dad is a painter, and they’re not the kind that teach you how to be polite and to live properly. Our house was a happy mess, without heat. Just with fire in the winter. It was tough, but a very happy childhood. I couldn’t understand sometimes other kids because they were very different. They would play rugby and do stuff that was really common in our area when we were doing theatre, music, and stuff like that in the house. The house was also far away from the village, and it was surrounded by trees, with forest animals. For me, it’s kind of normal to be not like everybody else.
It’s interesting that you grew up feeling different from others, like an outsider, because your music is so unique among heavy music. People call it death metal, but you don’t sing about gory, bloody things. You have a more uplifting message. How would you classify your own music? What kind of metal would you call it?
It’s hard for me to classify. I like to say it’s music. I know it sounds cliché, but I like to say we’re just playing music. But of course it’s metal. It comes from the gut, really. We don’t have so many influences from other bands. For example, growing up, we were not part of a larger group of several bands. There wasn’t really a scene. So, I think that’s helped us to be more ourselves, and we were not in competition with another band, for example, trying to go faster than them or heavier. We were really on our own, and I’m really glad because we didn’t have too many influences. And concerning the lyrics and the theme, we don’t need to exaggerate the difficulties of life and how “gore” it is already. It’s enough to talk about your emotions, and it’s gore enough. You don’t need to add all these clichés, you know, bloody images and stuff like that.
The title of your most recent album, L’Enfant Sauvage, suggests the idea of a feral child, kind of a Kaspar Hauser theme. Do you identify with that?
Yes, absolutely. I think it’s a statement. It’s, “This is what we are: a feral child.” When we express things through music and lyrics, we don’t talk to the metal community. We talk to people in general. That’s why also, probably, we don’t use all these clichés. If I were to explain to my grandmother what we are, I’d rather say that we’re feral children than vampires or monsters, you know? It’s a softer way to present ourself. We don’t need to exaggerate. Being a feral child is already strong enough.
See also: The Ten Best Metal Albums of 2012
Something about Gojira’s music that stands out to me is that, although it’s heavy, it’s also very beautiful. I honestly can’t say that about most metal. Is beauty in music important to you as a songwriter?
Yes, absolutely. We are actually obsessed by this. We want our music to be beautiful and moving. We all like our different kinds of music. Myself, I like Radiohead, Portishead, Massive Attack, and things like that. They have very strong, moving melodies, and there’s also a very naïve aspect to it. We like to keep it simple and naïve and something that will move you. Very simple melodies, very simple themes. The drum patterns are often very tricky and complicated and sophisticated, but the melodies we want to keep simple. It creates a kind of natural balance. Because if the melodies were complicated and tortured, it would be a nightmare. But, it’s just what we want to express. We want to be moved. I guess we’re very sensitive people–like all metalheads, probably.