Catching Up With Gotye
This has been a landmark year for Wouter “Wally” De Backer, better known to music fans by a pet name that his mother used for him as a child—Gotye. After releasing his third full-length album, titled Making Mirrors, in 2011, Gotye saw a steady growth in exposure from month to month, and by this year, his music was being featured on the likes of American Idol, Saturday Night Live, and Glee. Gotye’s inescapable mega-hit, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” is a rare feat that managed to find an audience first amongst indie fans, then rock radio listeners, and, finally, the mainstream, pop-listening public.
The year will conclude with several months of touring for Gotye, launching in Salt Lake City on Aug. 22 and eventually concluding in his homeland of Australia before the holidays. We caught up with Gotye to discuss transitioning to bigger stages and larger audiences, his yearning to create art, and his remarkable year.
Paste: It’s been about a year since Making Mirrors was initially released. Describe the process of how the album has blown up for you and how the success might have taken you by surprise?
Gotye: Well, it has taken me by surprise and it’s all been really gradual, coming in stages. I was initially poised to release the album independently in different markets around the world, and I wasn’t really sure what was going to be feasible with the small marketing budgets that I could spend myself. My managers were potentially going to go even on it with me as co-investors. And, we were already changing the scale at that point when we were considering things like touring.
But, when “Somebody That I Used to Know” came out, the opportunities changed significantly. In the matter of a couple months, we managed to set up some really amazing licensing deals in multiple territories, all while I was on a fairly large scale tour with a ten-piece band that I had put together. There was a lot about the shows that I was trying to process and keep track of, and at the same time I had multiple labels in ten different territories in the world, all offering very different ways to release my album. But, we got through it and ended up with a fantastic arrangement of people who have been amazing to work with in putting the record out around the world.
Paste: Here in America, where people were previously less aware of you as an artist, you might be viewed as an overnight success, but in reality you have been paying your dues for a decade both as a recording artist and with the band The Basics. Because you have put so much time in to get to this point, do you think that allows you to be able to better appreciate and enjoy the recent few months?
Gotye: Well, even there it has been gradual. I’ve been lucky to have a sort of consistent momentum. I don’t think I have had any chance to take things for granted, it’s just that my perspective on what success is for me has been changed. I remember thinking in 2006, when I put out my second Gotye record in Australia and it was made the featured album if the week Triple J radio, that it was a magical highpoint, and the support of that radio station in Australia has been instrumental in allowing my music to find an audience. So, yeah, when the album was featured, I was like “That’s it! I’ve made it!”
But, you contrast that with my other band, The Basics, that also made what I thought was a fantastic record around the same time and we were touring really hard. I was basically spending all of my time touring with The Basics and there my solo record was coming out at the time being featured on the radio station, but radio weren’t really as supportive with The Basics material. We had good crowds coming out to that tour, but we were still struggling to make ends meet. So, it seems like I’ve always had this sobering perspective of the balance of things, even when success has come my way.
Paste: Speaking of your successes, you’ve been able to participate in some pretty amazing things this year, from being featured at Coachella to performing on Saturday Night Live. Is there anything that jumps out as a highlight?
Gotye: Well, that week that you just mentioned, where we played Saturday Night Live, two weekends of Coachella, and two huge shows in San Francisco and L.A., that was a quite a highlight. We had already had such a fantastic tour through Europe and touring through the U.S. for the first time, and the band and crew are all such good friends, that having these amazing things happen to us and have all this positive energy coming our way… Yeah, it was a high week.
Paste: And now you are beginning a new batch of North American tour dates, starting on August 22 and running through Austin City Limits on October 13. The venues have increased in size and prestige, including stops at Red Rocks, Radio City Music Hall, Ryman Auditorium, and many more. Is there anything jumping out at you on your itinerary that you are particularly looking forward to?
Gotye: Well, you mentioned two of them. Red Rocks is a place that I have been aware of since I was eight years old and first heard U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky. So, to be playing there… well, actually, I wouldn’t say it is a dream come true, because playing live for me has been more of an after-step, and I’ve spent more of my focus on recording and trying to make more interesting sounding records. I wasn’t one of those kids dreaming of stepping onto the huge stages of the world to thousands of people, as amazing as that experience is. But, I have been aware of Red Rocks since I was a young kid and realize that I’m going to be playing this beautiful amphitheater to thousands of people. It’s incredibly exciting.
And, yeah, another one you mentioned is Radio City Music Hall, which has such a history. Playing New York City is actually always a thrill.
Paste: Because the scale of the tour has increased, is there anything you are changing about your performance to accommodate the increased size?
Gotye: Well, we’ve added seven or eight songs to the set. But, yeah, I’d have to say there are parts of the set are going to be presented on a more epic scale, because of the size of the screens and the visuals. And, yeah, it’s in the music, too, in the form of big reverb and other touches.
In contrast, though, there are also going to be more parts that are stripped back and more intimate moments. Covering that much more ground, to a larger audience with more space, is a big challenge. But, I want to portray the varied dynamic of my record in the live show, too. So yeah, I’m trying to push the outer edges in both directions as far as I can, with both bigger statements and more personal, intimate moments, and trying to work out how we can present that and have it make sense.
Paste: Does thinking about your live performance in these terms increase the pressure you put on yourself, now that you are considering all these aspects of the show, rather than just showing up to a club as a band and playing songs?
Gotye: I definitely feel an increased responsibility and I’ve been striving really hard, especially in the last several months, to make it as memorable and interesting and varied of a live show as it can be. But, it’s kind of a difficult project. If this had happened with The Basics, we might not have changed anything about what we had been doing since 2004, when we were playing to five people in a little pub. But, that’s just the nature of that group and how it worked strongest when it was just this stripped-back, three-guy band. It’s like The Black Keys. They are now playing these massive venues, but they don’t have to incorporate a theatrical concert experience, which wouldn’t suit the music, and they are amazing at what they do.
But, I’ve been a guy who has made these sort of sound collage records that wander off in different directions, so I feel that over the years it has been quite a challenge to make that next step onto the live stage and make it feel as live as possible, reducing the amount of backing tracks and samples. That is something that we have really pushed ourselves toward in the last year, to make this material make sense live.
Paste: After North America, you are continuing on to Europe, Dubai, Japan, and eventually back home to Australia before Christmas. What is the plan after this touring concludes and have you began to think about future recording?
Gotye: Only in very vague terms. I might take a break, but when I take a break there is the possibility will want to do something creative, because I’ve felt pretty cut off from that for a while, even though there is creativity involved in putting together these live shows. But, I just noticed it recently when I was working on the little mash-up project that is out now on my Youtube channel, and if felt really great, reminding me what I do all this for. I missed being touch with these great possibilities that come with something that you are making, not knowing what it will become, challenging yourself in your brain, working out the mechanics of it.
So, I’m eager to get back in touch with that, but it will be at least early next year before any new music could happen. And, it might even be some other project. I don’t know yet. It could be tracks for an album, or it could be some completely different format.