OurVinyl had the pleasure of sitting down with Wally De Backer; or as most of you may know him, Gotye, and ask him a few questions before he buckled down for a busy week in New York City which included a performance on the Live on Letterman concert series at Ed Sullivan Theatre (which you can find a review as well as a stream of below), Radio City Music Hall, and Williamsburg Park before embarking on the final dates of his 2012 North American Tour. Despite having a steady following in his native Australia for the past 10 years, Gotye finally broke onto American soil with the global hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” and Making Mirrors became his first album to be released in the US. After his final North American dates, Gotye will find himself in Europe, and then back in Australia to close out the year.
See what he has to say about his momentous year as well as that one song that we can’t seem to escape:
GOTYE: I guess it hasn’t felt that quick. I mean its felt quicker than you know, than any other previous time in making 10 years of music. But its still been gradual to us, with a record coming out in Australia like a year ago and the single sort of starting to become successful in Australia then Europe and then the UK and then America, so we had the chance to take it step by step.
Gotye’s “Save Me”
OV: In the past year, millions of people have heard you for the first time. Do you find any differences when playing to new cities and audiences versus fans who have been following you for years?
GOTYE: Well, one difference is that some parts of the audience are mainly there because they know the one song (“Somebody That I Used to Know”) and they might even consider leaving the gig after that song. But there are clearly a very strong throng of people who have been seeing me for a long time and you can see singing the words to songs from Boardface. Its just very mixed, I guess that’s what happens when you have a breakthrough single for that moment and there are other people who have been fans for a long time.
GOTYE: Not to this extent, no. I mean, I just really hoped that I could get it released in North America, because I couldn’t sort of find a way to do that for my last record. So I just kinda jumped when it looked like that was gonna happen, [I got] some really good licensing options and you know, this much has happened with it since. I guess I’ve just been sort of chasing it in a little way, touring and preparing a live show.
OV: Has any of the success affected the way that you approach your live shows?
GOTYE: Well, I’ve been working very hard on it for a number of years. I feel like a lot of things I’ve been working on for quite a while are finally coming to fruition, in terms of things with the band and the ways my visuals and lighting are working together, that it just sort of “locks in” – which feels good. The shows are longer on this tour, getting from an hour, to an hour and a half, and then hour forty minute shows; sort of doing that every night, its actually become a lot of fun. . . So yea, it kind of feels good to be on stage for that amount of time.
OV: Why do you think that “Somebody That I Used to Know” became such a massive global hit?
GOTYE: Well, I think its a little bit of a lot of different things. But, you know, the way the video and the song go together and Youtube and Facebook and word of mouth. People’s enthusiasm allows them to share it very easily. That’s been instrumental – I feel like it didn’t start off as a label thing or some marketing scheme . . . The way it started off I guess was just some fans having lots of anticipation and sharing it and it just kept on spreading like that. Its just kind of funny like that.
OV: Could you ever have anticipated that while writing the song?
GOTYE: Um nah, nothing like that. I was just thinking of it as a piece of music and making it feel the way I wanted it to feel texturally and for the lyrics to work in a certain way. So I wasn’t really thinking about the reception commercially or critically. Your relation changes with it very much over time.
OV: The artwork for Making Mirrors, and the angular lines that are painted over the video for “Somebody That I Used to Know” seem to share an aesthetic. Was there any reason that this type of imagery was chosen?
GOTYE: Well I had already penciled it in as my album artwork (note: the cover for Making Mirrors was taken from a painting created by his father), so I looked at the video as a secondary piece of my Dad’s painting from the 80s. And I don’t know, I just started to experiment with it in Photoshop; some transparencies with pictures of me and Kimbra and eventually it just felt like it had worked. It was already the idea of the director to use this kind of slowly developing stop animation. The ideas of lines and colors tend to go with that concept really strongly.
OV: What is the concept behind the video for this song?
GOTYE: We had already made a bunch of video clips of direct camera performance which I thought were very strong because it had pieced in artful elements which made it seem like more than somebody just speaking into a camera. I guess we both knew we wanted to do something like that. I think she (director Natasha Pincus) was trying to match the rhythm and the slow build of the song trough editing. I think she did that really incredibly and that was amazing. It just really feels like it captures the rhythm and creates visual context…The editing and the pacing are the kind of way that the video is very slowly revealed and yet it holds back quite a lot.
OV: Can you talk a bit about your process for creating new music?
GOTYE: I tend to experiment with instruments I find, whether they’re obscure little synthesizers or you know, like samples from other records. Sometimes it will just be a surprising break from a record that I’ve heard; looking for something that jumps out and it prompts a response from me and I’ve used a progression to record it on other instruments. I sometimes sort of start with a lyric or idea and then respond to that and find you can play a drum part although it’s kind of varied. One thing tends to trigger another idea and somewhere along the way with a whole number of ideas, i get a little glimpse of maybe where the song can go.
OV: There have been tons of people to remix “Somebody That I Used to Know” since it’s release. What are some of your thoughts on other artists interpretation of your own work?
GOTYE: Well we have a bunch of remixes that I think are really good. I just heard one yesterday which I think i need to look up again and maybe tweet about. It’s just a really full on half time super 80s jock rock track but it works really well. And I’ve heard enough which I’d consider not very interesting, lots of trendy dance remixes, of which there may be hundreds.
OV: After a few more shows in North America, you will move on to Europe and then finally back to Australia to finish out 2012. What’s in store for 2013?
GOTYE: I’m not completely sure yet. I’d like to travel a bit, I’d like to start writing some stuff. How they go together, I don’t really know yet. . . Yea, a certain combination of those things.
The Live on Letterman Show
“Tonight, live from the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City, please welcome Gotye” was announced through a highly synthesized voice, as Wally De Backer walked through the audience to join his four other band-mates, already on stage. A rolling drumbeat picked up as an electric slide guitar played the opening notes to “Eyes Wide Open,” off of Making Mirrors. Standing center stage, De Backer lifted his head and jumped into the lyrics singing “This is the end of the story.” To many of the people in the audience and watching the stream however, this was much more of a point of departure. For many who have not yet been able to see him live, they had been missing on some integral aspects of his music. The visuals, the movements on stage between instruments (of which there were many), and actually being able to decipher what goes into each track only heightens our interaction with the music. As “Eyes Wide Open” went into its first chorus, De Backer moved behind a set of drums and began pounding away providing the song with a huge rhythmic boost. Simultaneously, a gorgeous backdrop of exotic landscape scrolled by on the screen behind the band.
Gotye’s “Eyes Wide Open”
Gotye quickly turned up the funk with “The Only Way” off of 2006’s Like Drawing Blood. Here we have a track that sounds like it could have been off of Police’s Synchronicity, with tons of different atmospheric and percussive effects layered over a deep bass line. The next track played was “Easy Way Out,” a song that relies much more heavily on guitar. A Japanese style animation played along to the lyrics in the background depicting a central figure running away and turning to needles for an escape. The music builds up to a large climax fronted by guitar solos before ending abruptly.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing songs played was “State of the Art.” As a dubby bass line emerged, the video for the song appeared on the screen and all of the animated characters began bobbing along to the beat. With the vocoder turned up, De Backer produced a highly synthesized voice while simultaneously pounding away at the array of synthesizers around him. Technology overtakes all in this song as the monstrous synthesizer machine in the video enslaves it’s human subjects (be sure to check out the music video).
Towards the end of the set the band kicked into a familiar two note shuffle, signaling the beginning of “Somebody That I Used to Know.” The screen behind was a bare white wall that was beginning to be drawn over with lines and colors as the song built up similar to the video. Missy Higgins was welcomed out on stage to fill in the female vocal parts of the song, performed by Kimbra on Making Mirrors. The song seems to promote an intimacy between the two voices and despite a wide range of tones being used for each, there is still a very conversational tone to this song that seems to reverberate with the listener.
The set was closed with “Hearts a Mess,” which similar to the former song, tends to build up and die down in peaks and valleys. It’s difficult not to liken De Backer’s voice to that of Peter Gabriel, especially in a track such as this. The use of exotic percussive sounds top backing the song perhaps helps to solidify that argument as well. It was certainly a treat to see him playing in the intimate confines of the Ed Sullivan Theatre and the streaming video that you can find below captures this perfectly. There’s a whole lot more to Gotye than just one song and it’s in people’s best interests to explore even further; be sure to watch the streaming video of the Live on Letterman performance below and see for yourself. . .
Photos from the show courtesy of John Filo/CBS
Interview and review written by Jesse Zryb
OurVinyl | Senior Writer
Below is the stream of Goyte’s stellar Live on Letterman performance