It’s been ten months since Wally De Backer, a.k.a Gotye, first warmed the radios of broken-hearted Americans with “Somebody That I Used To Know.” That song became a megahit, and the Belgian-Australian indie-rock artist, turned pop phenomenon, had no idea that his single would spend eight long weeks at Billboard’s top spot. With the release of his album, Making Mirrors, and a North-American and European tour underway, De Backer’s impressively diverse body of work and dedication to his music stands to challenge any assumptions that he’s just a one-hit wonder. We managed to tear De Backer away from his busy tour schedule, where he reassured us that he’s not too lonely when he’s recording, nor is he that concerned with becoming a “commercial success.” He just makes music.
So do you prefer to be called Wally or Gotye?
Yeah, call me Wally!
Where are you guys right now?
We’re in North Carolina for the first time. I’m just sitting in the band room. Yeah, we’re in Raleigh!
You had two shows this past week here in New York, how did those go?
They were great, actually. I think we all felt like they were the best shows in New York that we’ve done so far. Obviously they were fantastic venues and the crowds were lovely. But maybe in the past we’ve come off from some really great, vibe-y, energetic shows, and then come to New York and felt just a little bit more distance. The crowd hasn’t been quite sure or maybe we’ve just had slightly flat shows. Here we came to New York and both the Manhattan and Brooklyn show both felt really fantastic. That was a good feeling.
Did you have any down time to hang out and see the city?
Yeah we had some fun, which was great! We went to see Missy Higgins and Butterfly Boucher do their show in Brooklyn on our night off. I saw Butterfly play for the first time, which was great. Yeah, I got to go out, catch up with friends and have some drinks. I went to the Museum of Modern Art one afternoon, so that was good.
I read somewhere that you love hunting for records at various thrift stores in Australia. Did you have time to check out a few here in the city?
Not yet! No, I haven’t really gone out and found any stores here. Hopefully I’ll have a bit more time the next time I’m in town!
So what’s it been like for you, as a solo artist, touring and splitting the bill with bands like Chairlift, Givers, Jonti, and Missy Higgins?
Oh, it’s been fantastic touring with all the people who’re supporting on this tour, because they’re all pretty much my favorite bands. It’s just been a real honor to play with them. They’re all absolutely lovely people and we’ve become good friends. So that’s been fantastic. But all the guys in my band and a bunch of dudes in the crew are really close friends as well. It just feels like we’re one big happy family traveling together, which is just fantastic fun. It certainly doesn’t—when you say, “as a solo artist”—feel like I’m on my own on the road, you know? I’m hanging out with the guys in the band regularly, and getting to know the guys in the support bands has been fantastic. So yeah this tour’s been super, super fun! It’s been great.
How would you compare touring to your experience recording Making Mirrors? You recorded the album in a barn on your parents’ property. That had to have been a bit isolating.
It’s true. Yeah, here or there maybe, but sometimes when you have a glimpse of something, when you have an idea, you can kind of feel it and you’re working towards it. I find that I sort of lose myself in that process, I’m not even really aware of myself or the fact that I’m alone. I’m just putting meaning into the software or the instruments that I’m working with, and just trying to make that sound painting that I’m seeing in front of me come to life. I can lose hours doing that without really being aware of what I’m doing. So it doesn’t feel lonely. Usually when you lose yourself that way, and you feel like you’re progressing and really connecting with what you’re putting together sound wise, then yeah being with other people would just be distracting, you know?
Did you have any clue that “Somebody That I Used To Know” would become such a hit?
Why do you think that it resonated with so many people and was such a success as a result?
Oh, there’s all the backwards masked messages that I worked into it.
Has it been at all intimidating, having such a huge hit and now maybe feeling as though you need to replicate that fame? Were you ever afraid after the success of “Somebody That I Used To Know,” that you’d wind up a one-hit wonder?
Oh I don’t know, the whole term one-hit wonder is based around the concept that—well the pop world is an interesting place—so I think that there are one-hit wonders out there that are one-hit wonders because they only had one song that they released. They might be novelty hits, or because maybe they only ever wrote one really good song. Basically, I just make music. I think there’s been a bunch of stuff that I’ve done that’s been different, interesting and possibly better musically or lyrically than “Somebody That I Used To Know.” But I’m aware that it’ll never work in a contemporary radio format, or that it doesn’t have that broad appeal or universal subject matter that means a lot of different people will relate to it. But that’s fine! I don’t really care one way or the other. Maybe I’ll be a one hit wonder to some people.
Have you watched any of the video parodies and covers about “Somebody That I Used To Know?” Like “Some Starwars That I Used To Know” and the Glee cover?
Oh, I’ve seen a ton of them! Have you seen the mashup that I did of over one hundred and thirty covers and parodies of “Somebody That I Used To Know?” It’s on my Youtube channel, it’s called “Somebodies: A Youtube Orchestra.” It’s basically over a hundred and thirty different fan videos, covers and parodies of “Somebody That I Used To Know,” mashed into a new six minute piece of video/audio.
That sounds amazing. Do you come up with the story line for your music videos?
It’s mostly collaborative with the directors. Sometimes I’ll leave the music with them and they come up with the concept, and it’s so strong and fully formed that I don’t need to throw any ideas in myself. I keep track a little bit of how things are developing, if it’s something that doesn’t feel quite on point then I might bring it up and sort of keep an eye on how things are working out. But it’s really song by song, it depends on the collaborator. Depends on how they work, how they go through style sheets, or ideas, whether they do treatments or whether I trust them to simply just go to work, because I know their style and I know they’re going to come up with something great. Yeah, it’s been a whole different range of experiences. Sometimes I’m communicating through a range of producers to the artists, other times I’m just like, I love what you do and I know you’re going to make something that seems to be what this song feels like and go for it. Then I just see the end product and I’ve never been disappointed.
How old were you when you started tinkering around with music?
Around fifteen or sixteen years old was when I first started playing drums.
What’s your favorite instrument to play?
I gravitated towards the family piano because I was interested in working out the songs that I was listening to. How they kind of worked and the chords that were behind them.
What’s something that you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?
I’m enjoying David Byrne’s book How Music Works. It’s great.