L'Enfant Sauvage (the fifth studio record from environmentally conscious extreme metallers Gojira) is unquestionably their most successful to date. The album sold 11,000 units in its first week, compared to 4,200 sold the first week 2008's The Way of All Flesh was on the market. There's something about both the music and concept of L'Enfant Sauvage that's captured the emotional texture and tone of the contemporary moment ― the tension between technology, sophistication and civilization, and raw, wild, primal energy. This tension is manifested in the music, as well as the theme, which is often dense, intricate and self-consciously artificial in its sound while also embodying a deeply animalistic, wordlessly intense energy. Though Gojira were recently forced to cancel the bulk of their tour with Dethklok and Lamb of God due to the ongoing legal issues faced by the latter band's frontman, Randy Blythe, Gojira have salvaged several dates, including their appearances at Toronto's Heavy TO and Montreal's Heavy MTL fests on August 11 and 12. Vocalist Joe Duplantier took the time to talk to Exclaim! about L'Enfant Sauvage, and the spirituality inherent in the writing process and the live experience.
You've recently played a string of tour dates, some of which were massive arena shows. Personally, do you prefer playing smaller, more intimate venues or are you more excited to be headlining huge outdoor festivals?
Well, we have had both of them lately. We were on tour with Metallica; we performed with Slayer; and we also had some headlining shows in France. We had all these configurations in the last three months and we've really played all the options possible. We've played in front of 80,000 people in Poland and France, and the day after we were in front of, like, 400 or 500 people in a small club in a small city in the UK. It's funny; I've really had time to compare these extreme situations to each other. I like all of them! The big huge crowds are very challenging because you're in front of people who aren't necessarily there to see you, but they're curious and interested. You really have to grasp their attention; it's a challenge, but it's something. In a club, you can turn the show into a whole new experience ― you can go to a higher dimension. It's another story and you can go into a trance, a collective trance, and if all the fans know the songs and want to trip with you, you don't need to prove anything, just perform and go deep. Both are fun, but I think I'll go with the club if I have to choose a favourite.
Gojira create a very intimate experience for live performances, even when performing for a huge crowd. What are some of the things that you do specifically to create a collective trance?
It's very simple: I try to not be myself as much as possible when I am on stage. And then I freak out a bit, because I realize when I am trying to be myself that I look like a fucking animal. People will ask me, "How do you do it? You look like a beast on stage!" And I always have to say, "I am just trying to be myself, and I am an animal."
You're an animal inside.
Yeah, and I think all metalheads are. I think having someone in front of you just trying to be himself or herself or itself, without shame, is very good and very refreshing, and that's how we create something that is honest. It's an effort to get there, and I am not saying I am completely free or completely myself ― it is hard to do that.
You are always trying to push yourselves in Gojira, to be as raw and honest as possible. This moves very neatly into the subject of your album, L'Enfant Sauvage, which deals directly with ideas of wildness or the primal aspects of what makes us human. Conceptually, what inspired you while you were writing it? In particular, did you draw upon the 1970 François Truffaut film of the same name?
Not really, but I would say that François Truffaut was influenced and was treating a certain subject, and we did the same. The myth of L'enfant Sauvage ― this kid growing up in the forest, raised by himself, wolves and nature ― is very interesting because there is no right, there is no wrong, there is no punishment, there is no institution around, there is just the soul glowing in a free body that is similar to a plant or any organic material. And that's what we are on a certain level; we should not forget that. Too many people forget that and they go through life like robots. That's the message, the inspiration for this album, our lifestyle and what we are trying to communicate to people. People call us "environmentalists," but it's not true: we're not political; we're not spreading a certain message; we're not fighting for the planet. There is a little bit of that ― that's one aspect ― but the main aspect is a reminder: "don't forget to be yourself, don't forget to listen to yourself." It's a message, like, "Hey, people, we are fucking animals, we are part of nature. Let's just relax and be ourselves."
Did you examine any historical incidents of wild children or isolated children when writing L'Enfant Sauvage? Children who were raised apart from people and later discovered? The way that we interact with feral children once they are discovered is fascinating.
Not really. I just looked at it from the myth that is common and present in the French culture of the "wild child," in that sense. I remember we were talking ― us in the band ― about how we feel in general in the world. You know, we have to go to dinner with people from the record company, for instance, and laugh and talk to a lot of people and shake hands. Fuck all of that, you know? Just talk about what matters and it's hard to do that in everyday life. It's hard to be honest and sincere, and if you're bored with people you can't just say, "I'm bored; I'm out of here." Especially as a band, we're confronted with a lot of that: having to talk to people we don't know and having to pretend that we're friends and stuff. We were confronted with that a lot, and when you look at things we're just a bunch of musicians with long hair that want to rock.
The theme you are talking about translated not only into the concept of L'Enfant Sauvage but also the music, which is characterized by a great tension between order or civilization and a type of wildness. How did you work to manifest this in the music?
It is a spiritual process, a mystical process. It is like everything comes together and, in a weird way, we don't control any of it. I would say that we make ourselves available for a certain energy that moves through us. Gojira is a certain energy that doesn't belong to me, but maybe it belongs to a group of people ― to all of us, the band and our fans. But, to me, it is a manifestation of something higher, and in our whole lives we are dedicated to making ourselves available to this energy. My bandmates and myself gather in a room and the music moves through us continuously. My brother [Mario, drums] and I write most of the stuff, but, really, what is composing? It is just making yourself available, grabbing your instrument, relaxing and them boom, you play something, you don't know where it comes from. In this way with L'Enfant Sauvage, we thought about how to put words to something that you feel, how to be carried away by emotions or sensations ― this feeling that we need to deliver a message or whatever, it comes from the music. It all comes together. There is no effort other than being there together on time in the practice room.
So you would way the writing process is a channelling experience?
It is clear that you are connecting with people on a much greater scale than you ever have before ― L'Enfant Sauvage sold more than twice the units than The Way of All Flesh sold in its first week. What is causing people to pay attention to what Gojira are doing?
I think that we are worth listening to more than before. I think we are progressing. I think we are getting better and I think we have a better record company behind us promoting the record. But I would recommend people listen to our band now more than ever because before we were doing this, I wasn't sure we were good enough. But now we are good enough; we are ready. I would encourage people to listen to us now, at least give us a try, at this point because everything makes sense now. I am happy.