[pullquote quote=”They’ll tell me about relationships that they’ve had…I get a lot of people offering stories of their own in response to this song. So that’s interesting seeing that come from all corners of the world. ” credit=”Gotye On “Somebody That I Used To Know””]Softly joking about his hit single, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” being lumped in between louder bands like [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Green Day[/lastfm] and[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”] Linkin Park[/lastfm] when played on the radio, Belgian-Australian experimental musician and singer-songwriter, Wouter “Wally” De Backer, or [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Gotye[/lastfm], wonders if radio audiences have the desire to turn up his song based on the softness of its production value.
With an aura of reserved reticence, it’s apparent that Gotye doesn’t readily consider that people might be turning up his song based on the sheer subconsciously poignant beauty and heartbreaking realism of the track.
His mind, doubly fascinated with the beauty of musical art in both an abstract and mathematical way, sees his music as sound waves, commenting on how, maybe, a truly radio-ready track would be a “block” of sound. Much like a quintessential hardcore band, but more dynamic and textured.
Gotye’s fans, however, might have their own, probably differing opinions on whether the warmly muzzled vocals, dank dancehall groove, and quirky percussive punctuations of “Somebody That I Used To Know” really needs that extra punch to make it compelling.
In fact, Gotye’s international hit single is one of those soul-sticky songs that is both aurally pleasurable and charmingly cathartic in a way that makes people who appreciate all different musical genres understand exactly what is going on in the song.
Turning up the volume is just a way to gently wash away any subdued sorrow at a gut level.
[pullquote quote=”It had a really nice balance of beauty and a…mathematical sort of exploration about it which has a certain analogy to the way I think I respond on a gut level to a texture of samples.”]Peaking at number three on Billboard’s Heatseekers album and voted Triple J listeners’ number one album of 2011, Making Mirrors, the album that “Somebody That I Used To Know” appears on, also appeals to Gotye on a gut level–from the music to the art.
“The artwork is a piece that my Dad painted in the ’80s sometime,” Gotye divulged, telling the story behind the heavily-visual symbolism behind Making Mirrors. “On a little piece of cardboard. He didn’t think very much of it at the time and it got effectively discarded, really.”
“I uncovered this piece and was immediately struck by it,” continued the musician. “And it took me a while. I lived with it for a few months. Finally, I ended up doing a bit of editing, a bit of photo-shopping to it to kind of tweak some of the colors and some of the symmetry to it. When I’d done that, I really decided it felt right for the album.”
“It had a really nice balance of beauty and a…mathematical sort of exploration about it which has a certain analogy to the way I think I respond on a gut level to a texture of samples.”
“It’s a very gut level thing. I like the fact that it keeps it in the family,” explained Gotye. “I mean, all the records I’ve put out have had either artwork that I did while I was young or something that my Dad painted.”
[pullquote quote=”Through the music I hope to give it an arc that gives it a greater sense of a journey through the set rather than a bunch of songs.”]Probably in an example of exquisite, pure synthesthia, Gotye has an astute aesthetic eye, saturating his live performances with “a lot of visuals” in order to get to the point where the music onstage goes from being “two-dimensional” to having “cohesion and dimension” to it with the help of “lighting, costuming” and “maybe projection-mapped” visuals to make it more “3D” or like an “actual theatre show.”
“Through the music I hope to give it an arc that gives it a greater sense of a journey through the set rather than a bunch of songs,” elucidated Gotye.
The artistry doesn’t just surface during the live show. Gotye’s music videos are stained with sumptuous colors, textures, and varied symbolism thanks to Gotye’s “favorite Australian animators” whom he asked to “come up with ideas and animate things.”
Many of his videos point to the artistic movement of Surrealism, which Gotye agreed has a definite appeal for him.
[pullquote quote=”That’s why I think I’ll always love sampling…Because it involves combining the music fandom: collecting, searching, discovering music history, and artifacts of recording that you may not have known existed and you just kind of unlock parts of your brain.”]”I guess Surrealism has a draw for me because it’s an unknown world,” said Gotye. “It’s a world of subconscious. Some things you can’t really get your hands on very easily. Things that are kind of nebulous and they feel like they’re not completely formed. You have to feel your way through that.”
Tying in Surrealism, or the artistic process in general, with music making, Gotye explained that “a big part of making music” for him “is the discovery aspect, is the surprise aspect.”
“That’s why I think I’ll always love sampling,” continued Gotye. “Because it involves combining the music fandom: collecting, searching, discovering music history, and artifacts of recording that you may not have known existed and you just kind of unlock parts of your brain, you know?”
“Discovering new music styles or artists you never knew existed,” explained the singer-songwriter. “Obscure records. And so to be able to connect that somehow to exploring things in my own music–there’s a nice circularity to it and it sort of makes those processes more connected rather than feeling though as a listener, they’re somehow separate processes.”
[pullquote quote=”I’m seeing a lot of new places and faces…I do get a bit of a sense, just from e-mails some people send me, just a little sense of how people in different countries seem to respond differently to certain lines in a song.”]Despite admitting that he is a “fairly private person” who doesn’t “often seek out maybe as much social interaction” as a lot of his friends do, “prefers a lot of time” to himself “to read and reflect and kind of process things,” Gotye, in his own way, engages in his songs in what he called “Micrommunication” on Twitter–a quip that he conjured up that has zero Google results. (After today, it should have a few more beyond his tweets.)
His music gives his fans reassurance that someone in the world understands what they are going through.
“I’m seeing a lot of new places and faces,” said Gotye regarding his international success. “I do get a bit of a sense, just from e-mails some people send me, just a little sense of how people in different countries seem to respond differently to certain lines in a song.”
“They’ll tell me about relationships that they’ve had,” continued Gotye. “I get a lot of people offering stories of their own in response to this song. So that’s interesting seeing that come from all corners of the world.”
One corner of the world Gotye will tackle soon and is “looking forward” to is the Coachella desert.
He plans to attempt to bring out a “ten piece band” that he’s been performing with in Australia in order to accomplish that theatrical feel he’s trying to conjure up with his live show.
Inadvertently, through the art of viral video in some ways, Gotye has reached a global success thanks to the cover-version or remix “tips of the hat” to him on Youtube.
[pullquote quote=”It’s been curious…It’s like it makes the internet more interesting for me, to come on and see someone just completely take the song out of context and try to put it into a really euro-disco realm or something like that. “]Even though Gotye doesn’t like to sample contemporary stuff in his work, he finds all the covers interesting like a “cover version by a Canadian band” where “five of them” are “around one guitar playing a song, each with their hands on different parts of the strings and different parts of the guitar. Three of them doing the different vocal parts.”
“Very clever and really well-realized,” admitted Gotye. “So I can see why people have sort of shared it avidly.”
Even the parodies “tread a line between being fun and mildly offensive,” although “there are a couple covers that are complete debacles” that Gotye finds hilarious.
“It’s been curious,” continued Gotye. “It’s like it makes the internet more interesting for me, to come on and see someone just completely take the song out of context and try to put it into a really euro-disco realm or something like that.”
[pullquote quote=”It’s the first dance remix of a tune that I’ve genuinely been ‘Wow, this is amazing, this is a really exciting mix.'”]One such example of a “Somebody That I Used To Love” reworking that “made the internet more interesting” for Gotye is a “brilliant” remix by a Los Angeles production team called [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]4FRNT[/lastfm] that’s immensely popular on Hype Machine and that Gotye was excited to announce that he was going to première on KROQ that day.
“It’s the first dance remix of a tune,” said Gotye, “that I’ve genuinely been ‘Wow, this is amazing, this is a really exciting mix.”
In terms of his own songwriting, for Gotye the “music ideas” come first, he said.
[pullquote quote=”I play with sounds. I throw a lot of ideas at a wall…See what sticks and see what then inspires the possibility of a song.”]”I play with sounds. I throw a lot of ideas at a wall,” elaborated Gotye. “See what sticks and see what then inspires the possibility of a song…Some aspects of what became the final track there [on “Bronte”], some of the chord ideas, some of the loops, they were already floating around but I had no concept and no melody idea to sort of attach to them.”
“And then,” continued the musician, “When that sort of experience came along in my life, it made an instant connection and an idea for a song–a very clear idea and intention came about then.”
“Bronte,” the lo-fi lullaby closer to Making Mirrors was inspired by an “experience” Gotye had watching some friends of his, people he loves “dearly,” deal with the death of their family dog–a dog in its early twenties named Bronte.
[pullquote quote=”Right at that moment, I sort of matched it up to a bit of music that had been sitting around for a while and everything just kind of flowed from there in a matter of hours…Yeah, it’s melancholic, but I see it as more hopeful than the sad aspect of it.”]”It was on its last legs. It had been for a while,” said Gotye introspectively. “They were kind of lovingly still taking care of it. Feeding it, help it sort of just get by and they finally made the very difficult decision that it wasn’t a good existence anymore for the dog to be alive so they decided as a family to get the vet down to their place and let the dog go together.”
“And I was really struck by that plan, I guess,” continued Gotye. “I kind of knew that was happening at that time and I felt a very…arresting sort of feeling. Right at that moment, I sort of matched it up to a bit of music that had been sitting around for a while and everything just kind of flowed from there in a matter of hours…Yeah, it’s melancholic, but I see it as more hopeful than the sad aspect of it.”
Part of the reason that the song “Bronte” was brought up was because I wanted to know if “Bronte” was Gotye’s homage to one of his musical idols, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Kate Bush[/lastfm], who wrote a very popular song called “Wuthering Heights” based on a novel by Emily Brontë.
While Gotye said that he is “generally inspired by Kate Bush,” the song wasn’t connected to her.
But, prompted by Lisa Worden, KROQ’s Music Director, Gotye did relay a personal story about another one of his favorite bands, a story that brought everything full circle.
[pullquote quote=”I was hugely obsessed with most of their early ’90s/late ’80s records, which for me directly inspired me to want to produce albums and write songs.” credit=”Gotye on Depeche Mode”]”[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Depeche Mode [/lastfm]just were the band for me when I was a teenager,” admitted Gotye. “I was hugely obsessed with most of their early ’90s/late ’80s records, which for me directly inspired me to want to produce albums and write songs.”
“Watching their documentary 101 about their huge tour in the late ’80s was the first place I heard about KROQ,” continued Gotye. “Certainly at age twelve or whatever it was, I never would have known about any other American radio stations, but I watched this documentary going, ‘Yeah. Right. So there’s this radio station KROQ that kind of gave Depeche Mode their platform in the States.”
“Yeah, so it’s weird,” concluded Gotye. “It’s like KROQ has been weirdly on my radar. So now I’m sitting here. It’s interesting.”
Are you a huge [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Gotye[/lastfm] fan? Check out more posts on the Australian musician!