Here’s what you probably already know about Wally De Backer, the incredibly good-looking Australian musician known the world over as Gotye:
You probably know that his catchy single, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” made him a Top 100 record breaking pop star seemingly overnight. If you’ve ever seen him in concert, you probably also know that he’s soft-spoken, affable and really good-looking (which I know I already mentioned but bears repeating; I mean—look at that picture); and if you’ve read anything about him, you’ve probably heard his voice compared to Sting or Peter Gabriel.
Those are the big ones. Now here are a few things you may not have heard:
His voice also sounds a bit like Ozzy Osbourne (listen to ‘Crazy Train’ next to the chorus of ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’—you’ll hear it too); he’s a total geek for Sesame Street and obscure foreign instruments; and even though he’s now an international pop star booking venues like Radio City Music Hall, he’s not too cool for a Death and Taxes interview (albeit a 10 minute one with a strict no-sarcasm policy).
Here’s what he had to say:
So, it’s been a pretty low key, uneventful year for you, huh?
(4 second pause)
Yeah, just hanging out.
Okay…I saw you at Radio City Tuesday. It was huge! Have you started getting used to the massive venues and high profile appearances in the last year or so?
I don’t know about used to it. I’m not sure. I guess I’m having fun doing it and it seems to be working out really well. Which is great because I’ve had times in the last few years where I haven’t loved touring or I felt too challenged by it for it to be something I want to do for months on end. But I’m really loving it now and I’m used to that, which is great. But yeah, I could quite happily go back to doing smaller gigs at smaller theaters.
What has been the biggest surprise about your recent success?
Just how everything has sort of lined up and flowed so quickly. Sometimes I think about how the record only came out in Australia just over a year ago. And it’s been in America for what I guess 9, 8 months. So yeah, I guess I lived with my second record for a really long time, like it took me 2 years to make it and it came out in Australia and over the course of 2 years very slowly, in a grass roots kind of way got out there. And then I put it out in Europe and Asia 2 years after that so I kind of lived with that material for about four years. That felt like a really long time. So everything that’s happened in these last 18 months has, I don’t know, felt comparatively felt like four years squished into 18 months.
Yeah, it probably felt like someone hit fast forward. Moving on, I read somewhere that you like graphic novels. Do you have a favorite?
I really like the work of a guy called Joe Sacco, which is S-A-double C-O. Joe Sacco writes war journalism in the graphic novel format and he puts himself in the stories. He’s a really incredible journalist and also an incredible cartoonist. He’s done a bunch of books. I really enjoyed Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” recently.
The graphic element of your show really stands out—the animation on the screen and the light show. I wondered if you ever look at graphic novels as an influence, and how visual art plays in when you’re putting together a show.
I don’t know, I appreciate different mediums and the way visual language can work in tandem with sound. But I don’t know if any graphic novels have been a particular influence on things I put together for a show or any work I’ve done that’s on screen during a show. No.
Who are some of your early influences?
I listened to The KOS a lot. I was really into “Sesame Street.” Still am. There were so many great films and characters and sketches on “Sesame Street.” I think that’s really great when you can appreciate new levels of meaning in work years later as an adult. Yeah… there’s very little creative stuff for kids that has the depth and humor and warmth of some of the great classic “Sesame Street” stuff.
I agree. What is next after this tour?
I’m not really sure. I think I’d like to travel a bit back to places I’ve been recently. I don’t know if I’ll be able to start writing anything right away. I would like to, because I’ve been so busy and sort of kept away from trying to write new material; So yeah, I’d like to travel, go back to a few places I’ve discovered, do some work with some people I’ve met whose work I find really inspiring. I don’t know. To a certain extent what I’ve done before is just a try-it-and-see approach. I’d just like to not repeat what I did on my last record which is sort of hang about on the peninsula in northern Australia for a long period and making an album in a bar. Because that was really great for a first album but I’d like to try and find some other way.
If you could name one of the places you’re inspired to go back to, where would that be?
There was an incredible place in Calgary, Canada that was completely unexpected for me called The National Music Center. They have a collection of old acoustic and electronic instruments and they potentially offer spots to artists to spend periods time there and record on their instruments. So places like that could be an interesting avenue to play instruments. And some producers whose work I really admire—they have some interesting gear and could be good places to mess around and do some experimenting. I’d like to try jamming on ideas with my band as an approach, and recording jams with them as a platform to maybe sample or start ideas for songs.
Is there anyone particular that you’re looking forward to working with?
I don’t really like to predict…really I would say my strongest feeling is trying to record with the guys in my band because we’ve done so many gigs and I’ve heard great energy in their ideas when we come out and jam and improvise on some of the songs. We’ve been playing now for 18 months doing so many great gigs, it would be great to try to create some stuff, something new.
I read you see yourself as a tinkerer, which is something that really came across in your show. Have you found new instruments that have excited you lately?
There are a bunch of things out there that I’d like to discover. Like public instruments, or installation instruments; maybe instruments that somehow use the physical world to create their sound. So that could tie into a travel album that I plan to do where we could tie in different instruments that exist only in certain locations.
What’s your favorite US city to play?
I don’t have a favorite really. I’m enjoying every city. Trying to go out in every city we’ve been to. The only city I had a lazy day and was feeling a bit down and didn’t get out was Detroit. Disappointing because I haven’t been there before. Next time. I’ve been wanting to go. But I like every city, every city’s so different with interesting pockets, record stores, interesting places to eat. A bunch of shows stand out because of the audience and you know the vibe of the crowd. And the vibe of the show. But I can’t name a certain state or city.