He’s not just “someone that we used to know,” and he’s definitely not someone that the world just used to know. BTR has been a fan since The Basics all the way up to his 2003 debut solo album “Boardface,” which was released in Australia.
We’re talking about musician Wally De Backer, better known as Gotye. His second album “Like Drawing Blood,” which dropped in 2006, won him his first huge musical exposure. It positively brims with catchy, dark pop tones and dragged out 80s-synth, a style the public was obsessively craving at the time of its release.
“I was working full-time at a library,” Gotye told BTR, in an interview that took place nearly a decade ago–long before the dust of stardom had settled on his shoulders. “Yeah, it came together, bits and pieces, in my bedroom and various shared houses as I was moving around during that time.”
That album took two-and-a-half years to make, and is now certified platinum in Australia.
“I’m still just trying to push the production side of it, of what I can do myself and how good the engineering can be,” he told us then, about self-producing his music. These ambitions eventually culminated in the album “Making Mirrors,” a 2011 widely-anticipated release that features the Grammy-winning song “Somebody That I Used To Know.” That album effectively made Gotye a household name–you couldn’t find a radio station that wasn’t playing it, or an iTunes library from which it was absent.
“There’s that tendency to sometimes get over things, or feel like you’ve almost completed them when you’re about three-quarters of the way there,” Gotye said, explaining the hazards of juggling multiple music projects at the same time. “Just keeping a train of thought to make sure a track gets finished, or a project gets finished…it’s like a constant barrage.”
Gotye recalls that he was luckily already somewhat acclimated to touring and working in collaborations thanks to time spent with his successful band The Basics, but still describes the feeling of going solo as a kind of occasional “straight-jacketing.” Still, he felt the positive aspect of having the freedom to change his show night by night outweighed any negative.
Far from intending a tour for his album “Like Drawing Blood,” Gotye originally made a promise to himself not to perform any of the songs live.
“This project is just about making tracks in my bedroom,” Gotye said. “There’s no limit to what I can want and try, to do genre wise or production wise and that’s great because I’m never going to play it live.”
He never imagined the possibility of playing the songs with a 12-man band, mostly because the amount of effort and organization that goes into a project of that magnitude is overwhelming. But with what he called a “sudden perspective shift” and newfound confidence, the 12 piece band materialized before his eyes, and the grand tour for the album “Like Drawing Blood” blossomed.
“It’s been a long birth and a long life span for this record,” he shared. “It has been both great and completely unexpected all along the way, but also sometimes a bit deadening in terms of being able to write music.”
Even if Gotye felt that way, he didn’t let it effect his creative headspace; after “Like Drawing Blood” followed “Making Mirrors,” which became an instant hit and even took home a Grammy in 2013 for Best Alternative Music Album.
That being said, upon hearing the release Gotye wished the album could have sounded “more dense.” He admits that he released it at a point where everything felt fresh so that it didn’t become soured from excessive second guessing and tweaking.
“It could’ve headed that way, I think if I hadn’t been as committed to touring so much with The Basics,” he mused. “Perhaps there’s a bit of self-imposed challenges with writing my Gotye stuff, so that I do push it a little bit to the side. It’s just to me challenged, so that I don’t get into this kind of malaise, saying things like, ‘I could be finished, but I’m just going to keep tweaking that and tweaking that.’”
The pauses Gotye takes from his work add random spurts of intensity that he believes are positive. He sometimes takes breaks as long as half a year before re-familiarizing himself to what he has made, which he says makes the music almost sound like it’s written by a completely different person.
Since “Like Drawing Blood” was first released in Australia, it slowly made its way around the rest of the world–giving Gotye extreme reach. Surprisingly, it didn’t reach North America until long after its success in Australia, Asia, and Europe, which is part of the reason why getting together a North American tour was also an almost impossible. It was only after a a year had passed since the release of “Somebody That I Used To Know” that he was able to put together the massive 30-city U.S. and Canada tour.
“With the kind of music I’m writing, it’s not necessarily really right in the moment; it’s not a kind of a flash in the pan, trend based,” Gotye said. “Because people have come to it and have had a lot of fresh energy for it, even two or three years after I’m really ready to move on to something else.”
That still rings true–nearly six years after his last album his popularity has not noticeably declined at all.
Back when Gotye chatted with BTR, he said his taste in music was currently all over the shop. “I’ve been downloading odd stuff from the 60s, like lots of BBC Radiophonic Workshop stuff,” he said. “You know, all the sort of tape machine, electronic experiments they did in a special wing of the BBC.” This type of electronic sound is strongly prevalent throughout Gotye’s music today.
When “Somebody That I Used To Know” came out, it was a hit all over the U.S. You could’t walk into a shop without hearing the melancholy sound pump out of the speakers. As an artist, it can be bizarre to hear your own music playing in a random place while going about your day.
Gotye recalls a time hearing his song “Learnalilgivinanlovin” while getting a burger at a KFC. “I kind of met her eye for a second and only then did she recognize me and was like, ‘this is you,’ and I was like, ‘uhhh… yeah,’” he laughed. “So I got my burger and I felt quite awkward about it.”
As a self-produced musician, Gotye has the freedom to create whatever he wants, whenever he wants.
Last year on his website he wrote, “basically, I’ve been doing a bunch of stuff, and it’s been super great fun times, and you’ll hear something on the Gotye front at some stage…then. When I’ve completed this thing. And other things.”
We know we speak for the world when we say we’re excited to hear what’s next for Gotye.
To hear the rest of our interview with Gotye, tune into this week’s episode of the Discovery Corner.