Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Activist Edition,” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
Earth is in trouble. From global warming to crooked politicians demonising the disadvantaged, there’s a lot to be scared about. Heading up our special look at metal bands across the planet who are standing up and encouraging us to make a difference, we talk to a fired-up Gojira about the environment, their new album and how a life-changing loss has made them stronger than ever.
As children growing up in Ondres, a bijou, tranquil town on France’s south-west coast, Joe Duplantier and his younger brother Mario were forever building dens, collecting driftwood from the beach and fallen branches from the nearly woods to fashion rudimentary shelters in which they would hide away for hours at a time to watch the daily rituals of the natural world slowly unfurl. Memories of those innocent, idyllic days came back to the Duplantier brothers as they set to work building their own recording studio in the rather less bucolic surroundings of Ridgewood, in the New York borough of Queens, during the winter of 2014. Day after day, the pair hauled sand, wood and cement into the warehouse, working dawn to dusk with hammers, saws and trowels upon the construction in the harshest of weather conditions. It wasn’t glamourous work – the lack of basic toilet facilities at the outset necessitated shitting into plastic bags – but by the spring of 2015 Gojira’s vocalist/guitarist and drummer siblings were elated that their dream recording facility, now called Silver Cord Studio, was coming together exactly as they had envisaged it.
“When we write and record a record, we need to feel comfortable, like we’re in our own cocoon,”says Joe Duplantier. “Building this space ourselves, we were able to be particular with the materials we had around us, and the textures and visuals and lighting. We’re French, so we’re very poetic and romantic and sensitive, and we believe that everything is connected, and so if we like the walls we’re looking at, then the music we make within those walls will probably sound good when we record it.”
In April 2015, the brothers set up at Silver Cord to begin work upon their sixth album, the follow-up to 2012’s acclaimed L’Enfant Sauvage. Just two weeks into the process, however, the brothers received news from home that their mother was gravely ill in hospital, and their carefully constructed world began to fall apart.
Vivacious American student Patricia Rosa was just 20 years old when she met and fell in love with French artist Dominique Duplantier during a trip to Europe in the early 1970s. The pair married and settled outside Bayonne, where Patricia taught yoga and dance classes while raising three children, Joe, Gabrielle and Mario. Interviewed in 2013 by Decibel magazine, Patricia remembered her elder boy, Joe, as a “creative, sensitive, gentle” youngster, while Mario, five years younger, was “an expansive, funny, lovable, carefree and open child.” Today, the brothers speak of their childhood as “beautiful, organic and happy”, with both parents providing warm encouragement and support for their various creative endeavours. “It was a very nice environment,” recalls Joe. “Life was about creating weird stuff all day. And our mum taught us to respect things and people. She was always interested in the natural world, always picking up little stones and pieces of wood on the beach and putting them together to make something beautiful. She helped make us who we are.”
As articulate, well-mannered, thoughtful and compassionate human beings as you’re ever likely to encounter, the Duplantier brothers are a real credit to their upbringing. Sitting beside their mother’s bedside last year as she battled against cancer was naturally painful and traumatic for her loving sons, with Joe remembering the time as “a real nightmare”. “She was suffering so much, it was Hell for her,” says Joe quietly. “We didn’t know whether to hope for her to get better or to hope that it would end soon. It was spiritual and mental torture to not know what to wish for. We had to learn not to hope, but to just live in the moment.” On July 5, 2015, surrounded by her family, Patricia Rosa Duplantier passed away.
Left to pick up the pieces of their own lives, after returning to New York with their own children and resuming work upon their new album, Joe and Mario would often find themselves overwhelmed with emotion during their recording sessions, tears streaming down their faces as they tracked new songs. Understandably, then, Gojira’s new material became infused with memories of the past and thoughtful, poignant and affecting reflections upon life, love, loss and mortality. Much like Baroness’s beautiful Purple, another album born from harrowing experiences, the resulting collection of songs have a transcendent, uplifting quality, uncovering hope and light amid the darkness. On The Shooting Star, Joe Duplantier sings: ‘When you get to the other side, please send a sign.’ On Low Lands, the lyrics run: ‘While you drift away from all the plagues of this world, you’re put out of misery… giant monster, you won’t have to face it again.’ And on the album’s title track, Magma, his words are: ‘The poison slowly spreads, through the body and the mind. Close your eyes and drop your things, be ready to fly…’