Over the past year, the songwriting core of extreme-metal group Gojira – siblings Joe and Mario Duplantier, who handle vocals and guitar and drums, respectively – went through the wringer. Their intention was to relocate their base officially from Bayonne, France, to New York City, construct a studio and record the follow-up to 2012's L'Enfant Sauvage. Joe managed to build Silver Cord Studio in Queens, but before long, life got in their way: The brothers put the sessions on hold when their mother got sick and eventually died. When they finally restarted the process, everything the brothers went through coalesced into a heavy, as-yet-untitled 10-track new record, due out this summer.
"We had a bitter taste about the album when everything was going on," Joe says. "We'd say, 'Fuck, what about the album? Fuck.' It took us months."
"But at the same time, it became the soul of the album," Mario says. "We respect the fact that this album took a long time, because it's full of emotion."
It's a cold, late December night and the brothers are sitting in the mixing room of Silver Cord with a couple beers, looking through tracks they'd made with fellow band members guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie, both of whom still live in France. A gray guitar sits in the corner. Tiny toy dinosaurs sit atop speakers. The logo for a Marshall amp has been clipped to say only "Mars," perhaps as a nod to their breakthrough LP, 2005's From Mars to Sirius. Joe, who has long brown hair, futzes about with a computer that makes the mixing desk's faders fly. Mario, who wears a hat and seems generally more reserved, leans back and sips his beer.
Watch an exclusive teaser for Gojira's forthcoming album, including new music:
Once they feel comfortable, Joe hits play on a song with the tentative title "Indiana," as in "Indiana Jones." Immediately, it's clear the band has taken a different route with the album compared to past riff-fests. It begins with a taut, almost-industrial rhythm and brittle guitar line. "Another day in the dark," goes one growly lyric, as the tune gives way to a thumping, mid-tempo groove. It ends with Joe singing a monk-like chant. When it's done, Joe says, "It's a bit nerve-racking playing it for someone," and laughs nervously. He then cues up another song.
The next track opens with a heavier assault full of jackhammering drums before an almost Middle Eastern lead guitar line blares out. "Time to open your eyes to the genocide," Joe sings, again not screaming, as the lead rings out. The main riff uncoils and retracts throughout the tune, complementing a rattling, almost vibrating guitar solo. When it's done, Joe explains that the working title is "Silvera," because it was the first song the band wrote since he'd opened Silver Cord.
"We always take a word and put '-a' at the end," he says. "For example, we did a song that sounded like Slayer one time and we called it 'Slayera.'"
Joe and Mario loosen up, chatting with one another in French until the singer breaks into English explaining that they worked with 12 songs for the album before ultimately deciding on 10. "We want a short album," he says. "Something less epic than what we usually do. People's attentions are shorter now. So a lot of the songs are four minutes." He then leans over the mixing desk and cues up another song in Protools.
"This one, for now, is called 'The Shooting Star,'" he says. "It had another name, 'Calgary,' because we found the riff when we were in Calgary."
"Touring with Slayer," Mario adds. "On the tour bus, Joe found the main riff."
"It was two years ago," Joe says. "We've been working on this shit for three years."
"The Shooting Star" begins with a gloomier, more drawn-out, almost gothier riff than the others. Joe sings about darkness, hiding and the titular shooting star in chanted, layered vocals that he's buried in reverb and other effects. As the song progresses, his growling vocals accentuate the other vocals, and it ends with swelling guitar and jangling percussion.
When it's done, Joe shows how he recorded his own vocals on the song. "Usually, we put 16 guitars and one vocal," he says. "Instead, we put two guitars and 16 vocals." He and Mario erupt in laughter.
The last song they play is another jagged, mid-paced, galloping number with sorrowful, gothy vocals, militaristic rhythms and guitar accents with more akin to feedback squelches than solos. It's also one of the most compelling and nuanced cuts they're willing to share. "This song is very epic," Joe says, highlighting instruments buried in the tracks ranging from flute to a cowbell from the village where their grandmother lives in Portugal. Mario explains that the rhythm in the beginning alternates between three and five, rather than the typical, more headbangable four. "It's a nightmare," Mario says.
"We learned a lot about death." – Joe Duplantier
One of the boons for the band was being able to work at its own pace in its own studio. Construction began on Silver Cord – a giant space in a big warehouse in a rundown-looking section of Ridgewood, Queens – in November 2014, the same month Mario moved to New York. Now it has curved sound boards and guitars lined up on the walls. An amp sits in a special enclosure in the big room. But Joe still remembers how difficult it was to get to this point.
The building had barely any electricity when they started, and he cut his hands, smashed his thumb with a hammer every other day and often found himself coughing up blood after installing fiberglass. "There was no toilet," he says. "We had to shit in plastic bags and shit. We couldn't wash our hands. It was horrible." He paid an undocumented worker every day in cash to get it done, and carried sand, concrete and wood himself. "My wife was concerned," he says. "She'd say, 'How are you going to go on tour if you cut your hand?' It was crazy but I don't regret it."
They got the studio into recording-ready shape by the beginning of April. Mario tracked drums, with Joe playing some guitar along with him, for about 10 days until they heard that their mother was sick. They dropped everything, flew back to France and sat with her in the hospital while she got surgery and until she died. They then toured and got back into the studio, where they spent another four months recording.
"I felt physically, mentally exhausted," Joe says. "At the same time, though, the way it happened was beautiful. We were all around her. We had to cancel a few shows when she died, but it was very enriching at the same time. We learned a lot about death."
"When you read Joe's lyrics, for me, I cry right away," Mario says. "They're very deep and to the point. No bullshit. We recycle our sadness and depression in the music."
"Mario was recording drums, and I was playing guitar with him, just trying to help him know where he's at in the song, and both of us would start crying at the same time," Joe says.
The album is full of moments that remind the Duplantiers of their mother, a woman who encouraged them from the very beginning and bought Mario his first drum kit when she saw how fascinated he was by Metallica. "She was amazing," he says.
"The songs were half-written while she was sick," Joe says. "After she died, I still had to finish them. So one song was like, 'You're going to make it,' but the second verse is 'You didn't make it.'"
But as difficult as that time was, they still had hope. Both brothers became dads during the period between the release of L'Enfant Sauvage and the completion of the new album. "It changes you," says Joe, who has a two-year-old and a four-year-old. "On one hand you're blessed by a miracle and at the same time your life becomes a world of shit." He laughs.
Mario, whose kid is two and a half at the time of the interview, says becoming a dad also inspired them to write shorter songs. Joe jokes that it's because they're only able to listen to shorter songs while their kids nap. "They love it," he says of their children's opinion of the band's music. "'Daddy, can you play loud music?' And then they go crazy, like, 'Be careful, your neck!'"
Now, with Gojira's new album set to come out, the Duplantiers feel accomplished with everything they worked on. They have bands who want to record at Silver Cord and they're eager to show a different side of themselves on the new record and see how their fans react to it. "You're the first ones to hear this, other than some people at our label and our wives and kids," Joe says. Mario laughs. "Even our friends haven't heard this."