Gotye Tells Us Why He's Not Worried That He'll Soon Be Somebody That We Used To Know.
To say that 2012 was a big year for Wally DeBacker is, perhaps, the understatement of the century.
Last year, when the Belgian-Australian musician recorded a song for his then-upcoming third full-length solo album in his parent's house, he had no idea it would become one of the year's biggest international hits. If he had, it would stand to reason, then the song surely would have been released as the album's lead single.
Instead, that song, based around a Luiz Bonfa guitar sample and called “Somebody That I Used To Know,” was his album's second single. And, almost immediately after that song and its accompanying soon-to-be-viral music video were released in January, DeBacker, who performs under the stage name of Gotye, became an overnight sensation in the States.
Everything, it's fair to say, changed for him.
In the weeks that followed, the video racked up over 300 million hits on YouTube, became the subject of countless parody videos and helped the song become a Top 10 hit in over 30 countries.
Though relatively known for the better part of a decade in his home country, Gotye was suddenly a household name all over the globe. And in just a matter of months.
Before his first-ever tour of Texas, which finds the singer performing at Grand Prairie's Verizon Theatre tomorrow night, we spoke with DeBacker over the phone to ask about his reaction to the sudden success of “Somebody That I Used To Know,” his favorite YouTube parodies of the song, and whether its constant play on the radio drives him as crazy as it does the rest of us.
How has the tour been going so far?
It's been going great. I can't believe we're almost at the end. Two-and-a-half months. That's crazy.
Is this your first time touring America?
No, it's like the third time really. The fourth time I've made a trip overall. A couple of other times, it's just been for promo gigs. The last tour was reasonably long — a month and a bit. But this is easily the longest and biggest thing we've done, so it's kind of sad that it's coming to a close. It's been a lot of fun.
How have people been receiving your songs that aren't “Somebody That I Used To Know?”
Very well, generally. I can tell the people that have been listening for a longer time or who have obviously gone back and investigated other records. We'll play a song like “The Only Thing I Know” which is off my first album Boardface and hasn't really come out in America. There's a sort of big ecstatic response at the mention of the title, and I can tell that people are listening because they know their stuff. “State of the Art” gets sort of strong responses from the crowd. They want to clap along and sing along. It's one of my favorite songs.
Do you get tired of hearing “Somebody That I Used To Know” everywhere you go in public? Do you get tired of playing it?
I don't get tired of playing it. I haven't been sort of confronted by it too much in public because I don't really have too much time to listen to the radio when I'm on tour, and I don't listen to the radio that much anyway.
I've had a couple of funny moments. I think I was in Portland, and I was hanging out with a friend having a drink and we stepped into a cab and the commercial station was playing a really bad edit of the song with crappy dance drums thrown on top of it. Then we got out of that cab and got into another cab because we had gone to the wrong address, and the same bad edit was playing on another radio station. I was going, “How many people are hearing this shitty version of my song?”
Why do you think so many people have connected to strongly with that song?
A lot of it is plainly obvious, because, very broadly, it's universal. It touches everybody. Everybody has had a broken relationship. People can relate to it. I don't know whether it is some kind of twist I've put on it lyrically or the way it's presented in the piece of music, but I've made it engaging to people.
Sometimes, I just like to think it is because it's in D minor, the saddest of all keys.
Have you seen many of the thousands of parody videos and cover versions floating around YouTube?
I've seen plenty.
Have you seen the mash-up I did of all of them recently? Have a look at my YouTube channel and you'll find a video called “Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra.” I spent about 50 or 60 hours downloading hundreds of parodies and then using different bits out of them and time-stretching them and pitching them and creating a new audio-video mash-up for six minutes. So, um, check it out.
Are those your favorite of the parody videos then? If not, what are some of your favorites of the ones you've seen?
Yeah, a few of my favorites are in there.
The bridge section is played by a solo guitarist called Mike Dawes. He does a really amazing, virtuosic acoustic guitar arrangement of the song. There are these Jewish dudes called Roi Lavi and the Good Guys and they did kind of a — it's hard to describe what it is, but it's kind of like a parody or cover of Walk Off the Earth's cover of my song with five people and one guitar. They're in the mash-up as well. There's a bunch. I couldn't stop laughing when I heard that Tay Zonday had covered “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Somehow, I managed to forget to include that in the mash-up. I don't know why. I don't know what happened.
Now that you've had a breakout hit, will there be more pressure when you go to write the next album?
Maybe? I don't know. I haven't really started writing new stuff yet, so I probably won't really know until I have written a bunch of things and I'm evaluating what's coming together, what kind of record it is, what my motivations are, whether it is having a heavy bearing on it or not. I'd like to think not because I didn't come at this calculating how to have a big crossover hit. I thought it had some potentially broader appeal. It kind of stood out from a lot of other stuff I had been writing. But I didn't craft it to usurp its way into the pop charts. So everything that is happening has sort of been a surprise and something to kind of work out how to respond to it as I've gone along. I don't think it's really going to change the way that I write music.
When you do write music, where does a Gotye song sort of begin?
There's plenty of playing around with samples. At least half of the songs on the new record started that way, and a ton of my old records were made that way. But, y'know, there's other songs on this record that started with me just having a backing vocal idea popping into my head me sort of layering it with a whole bunch of backing harmonies. And then with that as sort of a blueprint, working a drum groove and bass line around that.
What do your bandmates from The Basics think of your sudden international success?
I can't speak for them. You'd have to ask them directly. They've been very supportive. Here and there, it's been tough. This has obviously put The Basics on hold for a time. Otherwise, we've been keeping in touch over Skype and doing charity work with other bands.
But you do intend to keep that project alive in some capacity?
I hope so. I don't know how we're going to go about writing new stuff. We're currently putting together a couple of compilations for The Basics. One will be a retrospective — well, a retrospective for us, but possibly an introduction to new fans who've been listening to my music. The second compilation we're putting together is unreleased songs, demos and b-sides and things. I'm hoping I'll play with Kris and Tim again sometime soon.
Gotye performs Friday, October 12 at Verizon Theatre.