I had a thought the other day. Gojira are pretty damn popular, right? They’ve sold enough records to flatten Tokyo, toured the world with bands a big as Mastodon (repeatedly), and generally impressed the hell out of the metal community by writing some of the most massive elephant riffs of the last decade.
So where are the Joe Duplantier soundalikes? He’s an incredible vocalist, one of the most distinctive in the scene. But it’s rare that I hear a new band and think, “man, this singer is totally biting Gojira.” And here’s why: it’s fucking HARD. I don’t know the science behind it, but for whatever reason it’s much easier to just straight up scream than to pitch scream. Most mere mortals would blow their voice out halfway through a 30 minute set (and still miss most of the notes in the process). Hell, even the greatest metal vocalists of all time have either seemingly done permanent damage to their voice via repeated pitch screams (Philip Anselmo) or gradually moved towards cleaner delivery (Devin Townsend).
But hey, at the very least you can aim for stealing Gojira’s guitar tone. I had a chance to talk to the Joe about his guitar and vocal craft, and although he keeps it simple I was surprised by one or two components.
Gear Gods: I talk to a lot of guitar players, but I don’t get a chance to talk to a lot of vocalists about their craft. Now one of the signature elements of Gojira is of course your vocal style, so I was curious of how you developed your tone of voice. Did you come to it mainly from the singing end and get more aggressive with it? Or did you come from the screaming side and then develop the pitch aspect afterwards?
Joe Duplantier: Well my singing was mostly very brutal at the beginning, really death metal when I started screaming. And then I started singing a little. I felt like I needed it.
It seems like [the pitch aspect] was there right when Gojira formed. Was it something you developed in previous projects, or did you just decide that was the right style for the music you wanted to make when you formed Gojira?
No, I didn’t really decide what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a fireman when I was a kid. A firefighter, you know? So that’s what I decided, but in the end I’m standing in front of a microphone and screaming. So really it came just like that. I had no control [over] what I’m doing. I don’t decide to do this. It’s stronger than me. I have to do it. I can’t help it.
When I was a kid I was listening to a lot of music, and I was listening to Metallica. I was heavily influenced by the old school scene that, now it’s old school but at the time it was new and fresh and amazing.
One thing that I noticed is that when a group gets a popular as Gojira you expect them to be influencing a lot of other bands, but I haven’t heard many other vocalists that have copied your sound too much. I was curious if you think it’s because the particular way that you do the pitch screaming is just a difficult style of vocal to pull off properly?
Yeah, it is very physical. It’s very tiring. I don’t have a technique to it though, my singing. It’s all from the gut. I’m screaming really loud. A lot of singers are singing more slowly and have this technique to recreate, I’m just screaming at the top of my lungs. It’s not something to recommend.
After a lot of touring, how hard is it on your voice, especially compared to other times when you did a more straightforward screaming? Do you find you have to be really careful and treat your throat properly?
I’m fine now, but I remember at the beginning I had to be extra careful. Each tour I would have to drink a lot of water and get my strength. For every singer it’s the same, really. I got used to these types of screams and it comes pretty naturally. I learned with time how to keep it really raw and what frequency in the voice [to focus on], how I should push this way or that way when I’m singing, you know? If I guess, there’s a kind of technique that keeps my voice from being destroyed completely. But each time we practice after a tour, after a few months, it’s difficult to go back to screaming. It hurts. There’s more tension. And sometimes I can blow my voice, so I have to be careful.
One last vocal question: in the studio, how do you prefer to track? Do you prefer a large diaphragm condenser [microphone], or a handheld one? And do you know what model of microphone you use, or is it different every time?
Yeah, in the studio I like to use a [Shure] SM7 like a lot of people. It’s already kind of compressed, and it gives direction to the recording. It’s already kind of mixed, almost. [It’s] a little dark, but for the studio it’s perfect. And on stage I like to use a [Shure[ SM58. It’s a classic. I’ve tried so many other microphones and this one is definitely the one I like the most. The sound guy usually complains because it captures the feedback on stage, and the cymbals… whatever’s happening on stage. But for me it’s the microphone I feel the most comfortable with. I tried the [Shure] Beta  on my voice because it’s more directional. A different sound guy that we worked with insisted that we try that, but it’s not working for me. The SM58 for me is the best for live [performances].
I’ve found that the Beta 58 tends to be a little brighter.
It is a little brighter, yeah. I even have to change the volume inside the song, because after two or the shows it becomes almost dark because I’m spitting in the microphone so much.
So about Gojira’s guitar setups: obviously you guys have a very big sound with a lot of low end. How do you make a point of getting the note clarity? What’s your setup?
It’s a pretty simple setup, but it took us 20 years to get there, to find the right balance I guess. We’re still looking for the perfect combination; we can always find better. But what we have so far… Personally I’m using the limited edition of the EVH. It’s a modified version of the 5150 III, called the “Stealth.” It’s killer. The gain is insane. In general we’ve been using EVH for 5-6 years now, or even more, and we don’t need to add anything. We have a tuner and a noise suppressor and a delay pedal, and that’s it.
What type of delay pedal is it?
It’s an MXR Carbon Copy. And for the noise suppressor we use a Boss NS-2 or the MXR Smart Gate. We’re not sure if that’s the best but we’re using it right now and it works pretty well. And the tuner is a Boss TU-3.
You mentioned that it took you a long time to settle on your sound. What were you using previously? Was there anything that you had in your right and you thought, “this isn’t working for me”?
The very first amp I used was a Valvestate Marshall. You know, I liked those amps. They’re very precise and sharp. The low end is very transistor.
Yeah, those are what Meshuggah used to use way back in the ‘90s. I saw Meshuggah back in 1998 and they were using those Valvestates.
Yeah, there’s something about them that we couldn’t replace with real tube amps, but it’s difficult to get something warm. It’s just super sharp, but we liked that aspect. And then we went to Mesa Boogie amps, Rectifiers. We used Peavey, the 5150. And then one day Fender sent us this EVH head and I tried it, and I was like, “holy shit! This is everything I was looking for.” Bill from Mastodon is dying to try it. I think he’s going to try it today. We’re on tour with them in Las Vegas.
The importing thing that I forgot to tell you is we have this cab simulator we plug between the head and the amp. It’s something that captures the sound of the head. So it’s not like a Line6 or an Axe-FX or something. It’s nothing like that. It just reproduces that cab for the PA. We send it into the PA, but it’s the sound of the head, really. It’s still the EVH sound. And on top of that we’re putting an SM57 on the amp to get the real sound of the cab, so we have both sounds for each guitar player.
What brand is the cab simulator?
That’s a Torpedo. It’s a French-designed cab simulator. It’s a brand called Two-Notes Engineering. That’s an amazing tool. I use it a lot to do demos, and even in the studio I used it because it’s so good. You can choose the type of microphone, like an SM57 or whatever on the cab, and it’s the sound. It’s amazing.
Do you know if it’s digital, or is it analog?
It’s digital, I think.
I’ll research it. I’m curious about that now. What about the guitars you’re using?
So we have our signature models. Christian [Andreu], the other guitar player, is using a guitar from Jackson. The Randy Rhodes signature model. And I’m using Charvel guitars. I have a signature model and I’m very excited about this because we’re fine-tuning it now. I’ve been using this model for two years now, on the road, a year-and-a-half, maybe, and I always ask them to change something. Like the neck was too thick or too thin, and then it was perfect. And then the pickups and this and that. I’ve been working on this guitar while touring. It’s very precise, and it’s adapted not just for me but for any metal guitar player.
I have the Tele shape on the guitar because I love Teles in general. So I used some of the features of the Telecaster in there, but I changed it and made it a fucking killing machine for metal. The sound is very full. There’s a lot of high end and low end. I love this guitar, and I’m still working on it. It’s almost finished. It’s going to come out and be available in stores pretty soon, so I’m very excited.
How did you start designing the guitar? Was there a particular model of Charvel that you started from? Or did you just say “I’m looking for something Telecaster-shaped with this type of wood” and basically start from scratch?
Well first of all I tried to work with several brands, and you’ve got to find the right people. It’s all about the people when you’re in a professional band. Fender, Jackson, and Charvel are in the same house under the Fender brand, and those people are always there, and supportive of the bands from the beginning. I’ve been using Jacksons for years. But then one days I found that I needed to move on to another shape, another sound. I was more and more attracted to other guitars, and I told them, and they were like, well let’s do something. I’m not a geek; I don’t know the technical language of guitars in general. I just choose guitars, and this is the perfect guitar for me. This Charvel is simple. It’s solid. It’s amazing.
Have you settled on what type of pickups you want to have in there?
It’s a custom pickup. I went in there, to the factory in [Los Angeles]. I was trying several pickups and I talked to the engineer for Fender pickups. I was explaining exactly what I needed, the kind of response. It’s a passive pickup that has a lot of gain. The way it responds to the low end is very important because of the type of music we’re playing. I need the low end to bounce, that kind of “oooooom.” With [many] passive pickups you don’t get that. It goes “fmpt, fmpt.” I needed a lot of life in this one, something that I could work with. It’s amazing the difference from one pickup to another. It’s a key element to the guitar that I never paid attention to before.
One last thing that I wanted to ask you about: you’re known for this very big tone, and I wanted to know how you go about replicating that in the studio. Do you do a lot of layering, or use a lot of different amps? It seems like you might layer some cleaner guitar on top of heavy guitar?
In the studio sometimes I will use an old guitar like a Tele to double some parts, you know, to make it more rock and roll. Because in the studio we work so hard to make it tight. So I want to add a bit of mesh in the tightness. So yes, I will use another guitar on top of that. But it’s in the mix. You can’t really hear it, but you can feel the texture or whatever. But basically we’re using the same thing in the studio and live, the exact same thing.
The same amps? You’re not mixing it up with layers of a different amp or anything?
The same thing. We’re not scientists, you know, looking for the perfect thing. We just play with our hearts. We’re very primal and simple people. We go on the road with our amps and guitars, and we go in the studio with the same stuff, our companions. It would be strange to change everything.
Gojira are back on the road, as always. They’re again hitting the road with Mastodon, still supporting their last record L’Enfant Sauvage and its follow-up live DVD/CD/Hardcover Book Les Enfants Sauvages. Here’s a list of the upcoming dates.