Born For One Thing
Guitar World|June 2021
Joe Duplantier details the themes, tones and influences that led to Fortitude, GOJIRA’s cinematic, hard-hitting and uplifting new album (plus songcraft, Death, Whammy pedals and that fine-looking mahogany Charvel...)
By Brad Angle

FOR A generation of young headbangers, GOJIRA are the new titans of groove metal: progressive, heavy-hitting riff giants continuing in the lineage of Metallica, Sepultura, Pantera, Lamb of God, and others. And just like the six-string legends that preceded them — Hetfield, Cavalera, Dimebag, and more — central to the French band’s success is a modern metal rhythm guitar hero: Joe Duplantier. But good luck approaching him with that kind of praise.

“I’m not an awesome guitar player,” retorts Duplantier, who’s also Gojira’s singer, producer, and primary songwriter. “Sure, I have my technique and experience, but if you drop me in a room full of people jamming blues, it’s gonna be a little difficult. There’s going to be a lot of wrong notes in there. [Laughs] I don’t have my scales down and I’m not a shredder or anything.”

Duplantier’s humility (and lack of blues chops) aside, what the musician does possess is that enviable, elusive holy grail for a guitarist: a unique voice. He calls it the “Gojira language,” and it’s instantly recognizable from the moment the cavalcade of distorted pick-scraped riffs, propulsive hammer-on rhythms, and intoxicating atmospherics come roaring out of his amplifier.

Since Gojira formed in 1996 (first as Godzilla, before adopting their current moniker in 2001), their career has followed a steady trajectory upward. Duplantier and his band — which also includes his brother Mario Duplantier on drums, bassist Jean-Michel Labadie and lead guitarist Christian Andreu — have continuously refined their musical chops and expanded their artistic vision across six albums. And with each one, from 2001’s fierce debut Terra Incognita and 2005 breakout From Mars to Sirius to 2016’s Grammy-nominated Magma, Gojira have earned more fans, more critical praise, and more respect from many of their own heroes. Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe was an early backer (and guested on 2008’s The Way of All Flesh), and Metallica, Slipknot, Rammstein and others have personally recruited them as tour support.

Gojira’s seventh and latest record, Fortitude, is primed to be their biggest outing yet. The initial preview of the album arrived back in August 2020, when Gojira surprise dropped their first new song in four years, “Another World.” Fans went wild — and the epic rager became an instant hit for the band and their first Billboard-charting single ever. Six months later, in February of this year, Gojira premiered Fortitude’s second punishing single, “Born for One Thing” — and its accompanying video topped a million views within days.

So, by all measures, expectations are pretty high ahead of the album’s April release (via Roadrunner Records). But Duplantier isn’t really sweating it. While he’s definitely grateful for the external praise and accolades (“Being nominated for a Grammy was incredible!”), he says any pressure he’s experiencing is self-administered — and stems from his own infinite ambitions. “People ask me, how do you deal with the pressure?” he says. “I’m like, ‘Honey, this is nothing.’ [Laughs] This pressure is nothing compared to the pressure I’m putting on myself. This is our life. We have a purpose to create something artistic, something to survive for eternity…”

Duplantier is discussing these points with Guitar World via Zoom from France. The guitarist was born in Paris but has called New York City home for some years — it’s where he started his family and launched Silver Cord Studio in Queens (where he recorded and produced Fortitude). But because of the coronavirus, and NYC’s cramped living situation, he’s temporarily renting a house on France’s southwest coast, near Biarritz, to get some breathing room and be closer to his extended family and the rest of his band. Duplantier grew up in this same picturesque region along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s where he learned to play guitar — through a deep-dive study of Metallica’s catalog — and eventually hatched the idea for Gojira (after discovering his younger brother Mario’s innate drumming skills). It’s also the same area where he met his co-guitarist Christian Andreu.

Like Duplantier, Andreu was a Metallica obsessive growing up. “Kirk Hammett is the guy!” Andreu says today. “I watched all of Metallica’s concerts and videos and I told myself that’s what I wanted to do.” The young musician says he spent his teenage years alone in his room learning guitar with the help of tablature. His monastic dedication helped him develop a solid toolkit of technical skills, but he didn’t grasp the full creative power of his instrument until he connected with Duplantier.

“I wasn’t too bad, but when I met Joe, I discovered an artist,” he recalls, “someone who puts his entire soul into every note… He taught me how to become one with my instrument. How to play with power and precision, being tight and exactly in time. It was always so natural for him.”

Duplantier, for his part, remains a humble collaborator and politely deflects any six-string compliments as they arise. (“I’m mainly a producer — that’s how I feel with music!”) But his skills are indisputable — as is his continued commitment to using his platform to address issues close to his heart: namely, the survival of planet Earth. Environmental activism has been a major thematic element in Gojira’s music from day one: from Terra Incognita (inspired by Duplantier’s two-year experience living in a cabin without electricity) to Magma (a twofold study in grief about the passing of the Duplantiers’ mother and the potential ruination of the planet).

Fortitude continues Gojira’s ecological mission — though this time the band rallied behind one additional unifying, and very humane, objective: uplifting people. “Magma was written during a very difficult period for the band,” Andreu says. “It transcribed nostalgia, sadness, and sometimes anger. Fortitude is much more focused on what’s happening on our planet … [and] that it is possible to change things.”

“I wanted people who heard Fortitude not to feel sad or grey,” Duplantier adds. “We wanted to come back with an album that was the opposite to Magma: very glowing, full of interesting things, musically rich with a message that inspires strength.”

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