Breakout indie music star Gotye tells Subhadra Devan his music is a delicious gumbo
A MEGA hit from Down Under, Somebody That I Used to Know, has been covered by artistes in TV shows The Voice, Glee, American Idol and Idol-style shows in Europe these past five weeks alone.
“Well, I’m flattered that so many want to interpret it,” says the man behind the song, Gotye, a multi-instrumental Belgian-born musician and singer-songwriter from Melbourne.
“I do wonder if some people are sick of hearing the song... there are so many versions. But the fact it’s being still remixed shows there’s a lot of love for it, and that’s great,” the 31-year-old says over the phone.
“I remember that I played Somebody That I Used To Know for my parents, and my dad said, ‘well you’ve done it. that’s a world hit’,” says Gotye, who had a rock-n-roll band called The Basics for 10 years, and did a folksy, singer-songwriter album with his girlfriend, Tash Parker.
“My dad was the first to officially pick it!” recalls Gotye (real name Wouter De Backer) with what sounds like a gentle chuckle.
The song is in its third week at the No. 1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 songs chart, and No. 1 on Malaysia’s MixFM. Digital sales are at least 400,000.
In case you missed the shows, Somebody That I Used to Know was covered by Lindsey Pavao on The Voice (2) on April 9, while Glee’s Darren Criss and Matthew Bomer sang it on the Big Brother episode a day later. The next day,
American Idol contestants Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips did a duet with the hit.
Gotye has had two indie studio albums before the release of Making Mirrors last year. It’s a slowburner of a success story.
How do you pronounce your name?
Gotye, like Jean Paul Gaultier (the fashion icon).
Is it true you didn’t like how Glee covered your song?
That’s not quite true. I found it really interesting that two male vocalists were used for the song in the show.
At one point (when doing the album), the mix engineer Francois (Tetaz) said to me that I should consider a male vocalist. This was before I found Kimbra (with whom Gotye duets on the song in the album, Making Mirrors).
So when I saw Glee, it was like what Francois had suggested had finally come true.
While many like Somebody, do you have your own favourite?
They are not the ones which are commercially successful. State Of The Art is one of my favourites. Actually, I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve written, in terms of musical ideas, concept, lyrics and the production work. Because of that, and how peculiar it is.
In my heart, I’d love to think it could be a hit but it’s probably too idiosyncratic for most people.
Describe your music...
I’d say it’s a delicious gumbo.
Not arty pop?
Well, a lot of the songs (on Making Mirrors) are melancholy.
Response to the album
I didn’t think the response would be as wide, and go this well commercially around the world. There’s a lot of good stuff out there, and I wasn’t sure about how people would respond musically to some of it, but yeah it’s amazing how people have taken to it.
It seems to appeal to everyone. I’ve had people in their 60s coming up to me after a show, saying their kids put them on to my music or their grandkids at school, who saw it on TV. Different aspects, the different kinds of songs (on the album) appeals to different people.
On the mix of sounds
It’s natural for me. I experiment a lot with electric and acoustic instruments. I like to sample. I take a cobbler’s approach to putting music together. One musical idea often prompts another. And, I respond to the combination of the ideas. I have another instrument that feels like it can suggests itself... the act of songwriting, producing and arranging tends to happen simultaneously in a very fluid process rather than in different stages.
So, because of that, it takes me a long time to make a record but that’s mainly because experimenting takes a long time and sometimes I have to work through a lot of ideas that don’t work or don’t seem very good, which I may revisit later. That spark that turns a series of experiments with sounds, loops and grooves into a song only happens every so often. Making Mirrors was two years in gestation. And I was not really on full time. I was touring with the rock ‘n’ roll band The Basics, doing some Gotye shows. I also took time off making music because I wasn’t seeing clearly where I was heading.
It came from lot of experiences like my family friends who had a dog, and that led to the song, Bronte. State Of The Art came from a response to a second hand electric organ given by my parents and the relationship I developed with the kind of different sounds from it. So, lots of different things lead to the lyrics.
The high school music department at Parade College was a formative experience. I had very inspiring music teachers there who were open-minded and encouraged students with an interest in music to follow one’s heart, to work hard and develop their instrument.
The time I spent, in my teenage years, on music at the school, that’s when I learnt about harmony and theory. And that’s also when I met the guys with whom I started my high school band called Downstares (So) the time I spent pursuing music as a teenager was a big reason why I kept doing it.
You will be on tour from August to December. Is Malaysia one of the stops? I don’t think this year. Most probably next year.
His family’s take on his career?
My parents have always been supportive of my passion in music. At different times in the last 10 years, they were sometimes worried about me choosing a career in pop music, as it’s difficult to be successful.But things have gone better and better these past few years, so now they worry that I work too hard, don’t take enough time off when touring. I’m lucky that they listen to my music and records. And they give their opinion on the songs. I find that really great.
Who joins him during tours?
A lot of my friends join me, to recreate the sound (in the album). In Australia, I have a 10-piece band, and internationally, I am with a five-piece band. I have a lot of musical friends who are fun to tour with, and like to sing.
On the success of Making Mirrors
It’s incredible how successful this record has been — like a huge cherry on top of eating a pretty good cake.