Raised in Australia, Gotye has a completely sold out US tour, over 140 million YouTube hits, and a single (“Somebody That I Used to Know”) so potent it has brought fame to groups who have covered it. Ahead of his performances at Coachella we spoke to the man otherwise known as Wally De Backer, about his recent success and getting the audience to sing along.
How did you first become interested in music?
I just gravitated towards it, and my parents were supportive enough to let me follow my own path. I started playing music when I was 16 — I started playing drums — and I have been pretty actively pursuing it since then.
You say you are interested in sounds. What kind of sounds?
If I hear something out and about and I have any way to capture it I will often try to do that. Whether it's musical things that I chance upon in the outback of Australia, which I sample quite heavily, or at a railroad crossing, there is often really interesting poly-rhythms or cross rhythms that happen with the signal bells and things like that, that spark my musical imagination, ya know, make me want to jump out of the car with a recorder and capture it to turn it into something.
Where did you first start producing your own albums?
My friends and I were lucky enough to have the house that I grew up in. In a bit of a role reversal, my parents moved out and a couple of my friends moved in after high school. My parents were our landlords and we lived there for a very fun three years, studying, playing sports, playing a lot of basketball, playing video games, hanging out, drinking lots of coffee, watching lots of movies. I had a really nice space to myself, in the downstairs bedroom studio, where I started getting really involved in sampling and producing records, often experimenting and trying to produce stuff on my own. It was a fun time.
Is it true you recorded your album Making Mirrors in your parents' barn?
Yes, they live on a really nice block of land, east of Melbourne, and my dad built a boathouse and built a barn and he was gracious enough to let me take over two of the upstairs rooms to build a studio for a couple of years. It's a nice place.
The past year has been huge for you. How did it happen?
Some of it is due to my persistence. Maybe it shows that what I am doing musically is getting more refined or is starting to find a potent mix of different things that I have been doing over the past few records and maybe it has come to something of a head ya know? Just the song “Somebody That I Used To Know” has had a potent response…But it does feel like its kinda huge because of those things that have happened with the record and with the single but there is also an aspect when I feel like there has been consistently upward momentum that I have had for about ten years.
So yeah, that's kinda nice. It's not completely out of nowhere but it has taken me by surprise how quickly its kinda crossed over and found a big audience here in the United States and other parts of Europe where I have not really released music for a while or before. But yeah, it's nice. It's exciting.
Why do you think “Somebody I Used to Know” has had such impact?
I dunno. Maybe it is a combination of a number of different things. Maybe me and Kimbra just sing well? (laugh) I get the feeling that there is an element of truth or a reflection of reality, even the fact that both Kimbra and I in the song are both unreliable narrators and breached the question in the various things we say about each other and about the relationship of love and show that infusion and kind of vacillation between say, my case in the song, this romantic reflection that's followed by bitterness and anger, this reflection of the range of emotions that can flare up after a relationship breaks up and especially the memory of how you felt at different times changes the picture and potentially blurs your confidence on how you felt or how you feel at the time.
People respond to that as a universal aspect and an idea that is being captured there. But as a piece of music I think it has a certain hypnotic quality to it and a withholding sort of aspect where it sort of starts to flare and reveal itself more towards the end of the song and it kinda hits you in the face and, well what's the word, instant gratification? Some kind of combination of all those aspects is the thing. I dunno.
So, Coachella will be your first US festival. Can we expect anything new?
I think that what actually happens at a festival is that some songs more than others actually work. They make more sense. They become better to ask the audience to sing along and to be involved and kind of have a call and response element. If there isn't as much of that in the show in the club just because of a different environment.
What do you do when Kimbra can't be at the show?
The first time when she couldn't do a show with us I was kinda stressed and had done quite a bit of preparation, got extra video and got a silhouette of her on the screen as part of the artwork for the song and the audience just kinda sang along with it anyway. I actually didn't tell (the audience) that she wasn't there and I could tell there was a lot of disappointment when they could tell she wasn't there physically and it was just a projection.
After that the band kinda went, we should scratch that and then tell them up front that she can't be there and let them get their disappointment about that out of the way and ask them to sing along. Ever since then that's the approach we have taken when Kimbra can't perform with us and it seems to work really well. People really take to it.
Can you tell us about some of the other things you are working on?
There is a lot of stuff people can find on my YouTube and video channels. Ya know, live visuals, and other things, all the songs. And yeah, people should go exploring.