“Fortitude” är Gojiras sjunde album och mycket av bandets fokus ligger nu på att rädda världen, eller åtminstone det som är kvar av Amazonas regnskog. Joe säger själv att det inte på något sätt är unikt och nämner Sting i förbifarten, men det är ytterst intressant och roligt att ett band använder plattformen de har till att uppmärksamma folk om vår omvärld. I vårt längre samtal med bandets frontman avhandlar vi allt från regnskogen och Eddie Van Halen till James Hetfield och processandet av brödernas mammas död för sex år sedan.
– I´m still processing this thing. Losing a parent is natural. It´s something that should happen to you, you know. If it doesn´t happen to you it means they are losing you first, which is not cool. No parent should lose their kids. But losing a parent is a huge milestone in a lifetime, I think, and I´m still digesting this thing or processing… it´s something I´m working on here and it takes a long time and I have no idea if I´m doing the right things, internally… you know, my thought process. I almost cut myself away from it a little bit, the emotions of it. Sometimes I have conflicting emotions… anger, bitterness, relief… because she was suffering and when she died it was a relief. That can be very scary and unsettling, to feel relief when somebody dies. It´s heavy.
Going back. Who would you say has been the most important guitar player for you? Growing up and becoming the guitar player you are today? Is there one you can point at? Someone that influenced you and made you want to become a guitar player?
James Hetfield. I know, it´s surprising. (laughs) No, it´s not surprising, because I´ve been talking about him. Surprising because James is more a band leader and a singer and nobody thinks of James Hetfield as a guitar player. Some people do, but I really put it up there. I´m not talking about solos. I´m not a shredder. I don´t shred. I create platforms for songs with rhythm guitars and subtleties within them. If I´m going to talk about a guy who does solos, and it´s not original, but Dimebag. Dimebag is up there when it comes to shredding and when it comes to breaking the rules and when it comes to fucking playing the guitar like a bird is flying, that would be Dimebag for me. He´s solos are absolutely breathtaking, but James Hefield has something… if there was a school, he would be my teacher. If there was a school for rock, e would be my teacher. I want to follow his course. His right hand is a hammer, an unstoppable hammer. He´s the foundation of the rhythmic section in Metallica. I think Lars is just dancing around James´ guitar. Everybody follows James. One time we were on tour with them, we became friends with their monitor engineer because he was doing our monitors too, we hired him. We gave him like $100 in cash every day, “Can you do our monitors? We don´t have our own monitor guy.” and he was like “I got you.” Then when Metallica played, one time he gave me James´ spare in ears. This little box, a receiver. He said “Joe, come here!”, because he saw me watching James and analyzing his fucking right hand. It´s out of this world. It´s not necessarily impressive on a technical level, it´s the precision and the consistency and it´s sharp. He gives me a little radio there and I plug it in, I have my own in ears and I´m like “Oh my god, oh my god! This is James´ fucking monitors! What?” I plug them in and put it in my pocket and look at him and I was amazed to see that there was almost no drums in there. Who does that? What? Maybe there was some hi hat, but he was flying through the songs, playing and singing and it was only him in his monitors. A little bit of drums to stay connected to the rest, but some people need a lot of drums because they´re so chaotic and are just sitting on the drums, like in my case for example. This guy can do a whole show and I´m pretty sure everybody´s following him, even Lars. I think Lars follows James when he plays.
Fascinating. Did Eddie Van Halen mean anything to you?
I can´t say no because that would sound horrible, but not really. I was aware of him and many of my friends are “Aaaahhh, he´s a god!”, and I´m like “Oh, cool! I need to dig…”, but I´ve only said that a few times, “Oh, I need to listen to it.” But then Fender sent us the EVH amp one day and I was like “Wow!”, so we are connected to EVH some how because it´s the brand we use. I even have a signed cabinet in my studio by Eddie Van Halen, but I never really listened to his music unfortunately.
I thought we´d talk about some of the songs on “Fortitude” Tell me about “Born for one thing” It´s supposedly about consumerism?
It´s a little bit of a lot of things. I would say the main thing is a Buddhist inspired thought that is that we accept our own mortality, sort of stepping out of childhood when you think you´re invincible and you´re never going to die, which is something beautiful and we should carry it with us all the time. We´re never going to die. In a way we´re immortal and it doesn´t matter if we´re not because if we´re not we´re never going to find out. In a way we have to embrace our own mortality to be at peace because all the unconscious things, are happening within us can be tricky, and we are scared of death and of dying and it´s a taboo thing when somebody loses someone. We don´t know what to tell this person, “I´m so sorry. My condolences….” We don´t know what to say, but when someone is being born it´s a celebration. In some cultures they celebrate people´s death too and there´s music and flowers and dance like “Yeah, he´s in the other dimension!” and for that you have to believe in life after death otherwise it´s tragic. Anyway, I´ve always felt that funerals are extremely awkward and weird and we don´t know what to think or say, but if we´re at peace with that, with our own mortality and that we some day will leave this world, then we´ll be able to embrace every moment and enjoy it fully because we could get rid of that fear and it goes along with losing things and losing people. If we´re at peace with that we become more generous and we can give away what we don´t really need because we´re going to die anyway and then it´s ok. Anyway, it´s a philosophical thought and it became consumerism which I really like because I like when subjects are relevant and they have multiple angles to them. I´m really into conservation these days or since I was born. It´s really been for my entire life. Conservation and also civil disobedience I think are key to progress. We need to disobey when the laws are not fair or are unjust, because we are making the laws, aren´t we.
In times like these, a lot of people are working from home and you´re stuck there, so you just tend to buy more stuff online just to get some kind of satisfaction and you probably end up with a lot of stuff that you don´t really need.
It totally understand that and of course it´s a tendency just like drinking alcohol or using drugs is a tendency to wanting to escape. It´s a desire for magical things to happen, like “This world is just too hard to deal with! I´m just going to knock myself out.” and buying things is the same thing. We get addicted to so many things and work can be a big addiction. It´s extremely difficult for most people to just sit on a chair and do nothing. Do you ever do that? Do you ever freaking do that? I never do that. I know how good it is and I´m trying to promote that, but I never do that so I look like a fool now. Sitting on a chair doing nothing. Being ok with yourself. That would be the ultimate goal and it´s a goal of a lifetime. Honestly, I start panicking just thinking about it. (laughs)
What you said about death. The older you get the more you think about it and wonder about it. Your look at death and what happens, did that change for you when your mother (Patricia Rosa) passed away (2015) or did you always have that view on death?
The philosophy I had towards death or the idea of death didn´t really change. By the way, it was my favorite subject with my mom when we were talking. Very philosophical and we couldn´t talk about simple things like “What are you going to do next?” or “Are you going to go buy vegetables?” It was only about the idea of compassion and the idea of disappearing, death, our deep fears… she was extremely smart and spiritual and in a way I´m sort of jealous as she gets to experience that before me. (laughs) It´s just a fun way to put it. To be completely honest and casual and let´s pretend this is not an interview, but I´m still processing this thing. Losing a parent is natural. It´s something that should happen to you, you know. If it doesn´t happen to you it means they are losing you first, which is not cool. No parent should lose their kids. But losing a parent is a huge milestone in a lifetime, I think, and I´m still digesting this thing or processing… it´s something I´m working on here and it takes a long time and I have no idea if I´m doing the right things, internally… you know, my thought process. I almost cut myself away from it a little bit, the emotions of it. Sometimes I have conflicting emotions… anger, bitterness, relief… because she was suffering and when she died it was a relief. That can be very scary and unsettling, to feel relief when somebody dies. It´s heavy. All these things, I think I´m still dealing with them even though I don´t fully realize it, but I have a hint that something is not over here. This album that we´re releasing is helping me in my journey of understanding and accepting getting old and getting closer to my departure to another dimension. Every step of the way is exciting.
I´m an atheist and when I die that´s it, lights out and nothing happens. When that happens and I wind up somewhere else I´m going to feel like a fool. It´s something that comes with age, you start thinking about these things and especially when you have kids.
I know. You use the term atheist. Can´t you be an atheist and still believe in life after death, or those two things don´t go together? I´m also an atheist in a way because I don´t believe there is a god, one single mind that… I believe I´m god, you´re god, she´s god, they´re god, everything´s god. It´s just a word. God is a word and a concept. I don´t think there´s a big dude with a beard sitting on a cloud going “This is band, this is good.” and deciding whether you go to hell or heaven. I think we have full control over our destiny, I mean, if we accept the conditions and the rules of the game, because if you cross the street without looking, you might get hit by a bus, so you´ve got to consider things going on around. I´m not a religious person and I don´t believe in… but I just have a feeling that there´s more to it. But maybe I´m wrong and If I am it makes no difference. Who cares?
Another amazing track on the album is “Amazonia” Have you ever been to the Amazon?
Not yet, but I´m about to. We´ve played in Brazil several times and I have a friend in New York that is an artist, activist… she´s a writer and an artist that performs in the street and is available to challenge people´s thoughts and political concepts. She´s an anarchist and she helped me. With her guidance and other people too that I connected with… amazing people, and they allowed me to connect with some indigenous leaders of the Amazon forest. Several tribes, several communities and one of them being the Guarani Kaiowá. They used to be two separate tribes, but here are so many attacks and they´re harassed. The Brazilian government is doing everything they can to steal their land right now and it´s been happening for a long time. There was sort of a break for the Amazon forest and its inhabitants for about 10 years between 2005-2017. The deforestation slowed down because there were so many efforts from the international community and artists and actors and activists were working so hard to raise awareness. It became a thing in Brazil where they went “We can´t do whatever we want with the Amazon forest. People are watching, people care.” There was a branch of the government called FUNAI that is supposed to manage the forest and protect it and do whatever it takes for the indigenous to survive. Unfortunately Bolsonaro was elected and there was an uprise of the right wing and now this dude has been in charge for a few years and he brought back the deforestation times ten. The little break that the Amazon forest got for ten years was not even a break by the way, but it was a little better and there was hope on the horizon. We´re talking about the Amazon forest my friend! It´s not like a little park down the street. It´s the last gigantic, old forest which took millions and millions of years to perfect. This incredible eco system that we´re destroying. Why are we doing this? To produce more meat, to produce soy beans, to feed the cattle and to produce gold. There´s a big gold rush… I know it sounds incredible and it sounds like it happened 200 years ago. “What? There´s still gold to be found?” Well, guess what, there is and it´s a curse for the Amazon forest. When we wrote the song we felt strongly about the horrible fires that were set in the Amazon forest two years ago. I don´t know if you remember, but there was like 80.000 fires at the same time and guess what! Even though the news were trying to take it easy and say “Half of it is normal, half of it is criminal.” No, it´s 99% criminal. The Amazon forest is under attack and mainly by the government of Brazil who wants to take the opportunity. There are trillions of dollars to be made from the land of the Amazon. I talk to a lot of activists, politicians and scientists, just like Sting did in the 90´s if you remember?
I actually thought of Sting.
It´s not original what I´m trying to do here with the guys, but it doesn´t need to be original, it needs to be done. We need to care about this forest. Personally, I don´t want to live on a planet with no Amazon forest. 10 % of all species on Earth, plants and animals, are in the Amazon forest. There´s a conservation endeavor that I feel I need to be part of because I live for that. I feel I´m more of an activist in my soul, in my spirit, in my bones, than a musician. I feel more in my place like… tied to a tree… I don´t know. I didn´t even try that, but maybe I should try. Anyway, there´s a contact with the Amazon tribes and there are beautiful projects to empower the people, to educate people how to defend themselves. I feel like I didn´t really explain what happens to the indigenous right now, but they are being killed, shot. One of the tribes that I´m following and talking to is Guarani Kaiowá. It´s a small community in the south of Brazil and they´re still considered an Amazonian tribe and last year, in one of their communities, there was eight hit and run. Eight people died getting hit by cars and one of them was a four year old boy. They are under tremendous attack and Bolsonaro is asking all the farmers, the big corporations, to go in there with tractors, dragging fire and to se their land ablaze so they will have to move and they can get the land and grow crops and put cattle on it. They have absolutely no regard for these special, precious frogs, snakes and trees that live there. The indigenous people are also the only ones that can properly plant trees. They know what tree needs to be planted when in the year and with what tree next to it. Usually it´s a set of three or four seeds that need to be planted together. You plant a tree that is going to bring oxygen, one to bring nutrition to other trees and one tree which will repel bugs otherwise they´re hot going to make it. All the programs you see on TV like “Plant a tree in the Amazon!”, it´s bullshit most of the time, because people won´t know how to do it. They just throw seeds from a helicopter and then it starts to grow and they take a picture like “Yeah, look!” No, no, no, no… if you´re not an indigenous person you can´t do it properly, so we have to help them. We are going to start an operation to send money to people that know what they´re doing over there. That´s my speech about the Amazon. We can go to the next question now. (laughs)
Something tells me that you´re a fan of Greta Thunberg?
No, I´m not a fan, but… uhm, why not. Sure, why not. There you go.
It´s pretty interesting. A teenage girl and everything she´s done.
Absolutely. You know, she embodies a lot of things that I´m promoting big time. She´s a living proof that with your two little hands and your two little legs, you can go somewhere every day and raise a sign and end up on the cover of Time magazine and make a difference. I mean, I appreciate her very much, very much and I feel the fact that she has no filters and just plays on all these emotions. Of course people like to talk shit about her every time somebody´s trying to do something, everybody´s shitting all over them and it´s so sad.
Last song I want to talk about is “The trails”
Well, I wrote the damn song and I sang the lyrics and now I have to talk about it? I don´t know what to say, bro. It´s a cool song. Check it out! Nah, what am I on? (laughs) It´s a very challenging song to play because it goes (sings the riff). It sounds like there´s a delay on the guitar, but there´s no delay. It´s just guitar playing. Strings stroking. I can say one thing. In a previous interview somebody mentioned that they couldn´t remember a song where I was not screaming at all, so there´s no screaming involved in that song.
You produced the album and it was recorded in your studio (Silver Cord Studio) in New York. Were you all together there or how did the whole process of recording the album work out?
Eehhhh, next question. (laughs) Ok, I´m going to tell you. It´s mostly Mario and me and more than people might think. I´m not necessarily keen on revealing all our little special secrets and stuff like that, because we are a real band and I want to keep that perception. I don´t want people to start thinking “Ok, I get it. It´s only Joe and Mario.” It´s sort of that sometimes, but the guys are… I don´t know! We´re a real band in the sense that everyone follows every step of the way and then we go on tour and we´re all on the same page. We all give everything we have to give and everything that we can give. All the energy available in us goes towards the project and some of us have more inspiration and energy for some parts of the job. I love being interviewed and I´m a fucking rat in the studio. I spent two years in that studio nonstop every single day except for a few shows where we went out. I keep weekends for my family, but other than that I´m just in the studio nonstop. If you want to get me out of that studio it´s like trying to get… you know these shells that are on the rocks where you need to get a knife… that´s how you would have to do to get me out of the studio. It´s impossible. I´m screwed to the chair and I won´t let anybody else sit on that chair. It´s a bit of a problem sometimes, but I have people helping me. Johann Meyer is such a tremendous help. He´s our live sound guy and I need him to engineer the album. We can spend evenings talking about one detail. “Are we putting two mics on that cab or one mic?” and we can talk about this for months and say the same sentence over and over like crazy people. We´re going insane on one little detail and it´s such a passion of mine, producing albums. I love that.
Do you become a workaholic?
Yes, 100%. I don´t know what to do when I stop working. I don´t know what to do with myself. It´s problematic, but I´m so blessed with two beautiful children and a beautiful wife. I try not to be a dick and neglect them. I love them dearly so it keeps me balanced somehow. But I have an addiction with work and music in itself is a drug for me. I´d like to listen to music right now as we speak. The new Mastodon believe it or not.
Do you get everything, musically, out in Gojira or could there ever be a solo album from you where you would explore different things?
I am exploring different things since 2000-ish when we started making our own studio and stuff. I have maybe 100 or more demos that I did just for myself. It´s because I need to fulfill that passion for singing and music and weird stuff and to experiment, but I wouldn´t want to start a solo career. I´m way too busy. Making a demo, writing a song, recording a song is fun, but then you have to talk about it to guys like you and then you have to go on tour and play it a zillion times. It´s insane. What I love is to create songs and just let them breathe. I have fun doing that, but then it stops there. I´m not going to play it to anybody, I´m not going to release it, I´m not going to talk about it in an interview, I´m not going to play it 50 times on stage. That´s going to ruin it for me. I have this solo career already, believe it or not, but I have zero point zero fans. Maybe one day I´ll open the door and make a little collection of these songs, but they´re little things, little objects. They´re not tremendously groundbreaking or anything. They´re just for my personal development and it feeds Gojira in a way because I experiment with my clean vocals and stuff.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk