Potential earmarks of success: sold-out national tours; two platinum-selling albums; Ashton Kutcher tweeting about you; Lily Allen tweeting about you … Chad Kroeger from Nickelback playing your track in his studio?
All of the above has happened to Wally De Backer, the tousle-haired musician behind Gotye, affectionately and near-officially known in Australia as Our Gotye (on par with Our Nic, Our Heath and Our Hugh). The stage name of the CMJ 2011 multi-instrumentalist and producer comes from his Belgian mother translating his birth name, Walter, into Flemish and then rolling that translation into French. As Gotye, De Backer records oddball, heartstring pop, using a “mixed recording songwriting process, kind of weaving a sampling DJ approach with bits from a sound-bites perspective,” he explains via Skype from his home in Melbourne, the white cord of headphones trailing out from underneath his mop of hair.
De Backer’s success started snowballing five years ago when he self-released his album Like Drawing Blood in Australia. It was a lush pop masterpiece that he threaded together with a sweep of emotion using borrowed samples and new sounds. The nation fell in love with it and, within a few months, promptly picked up more copies than De Backer expected for the entire lifespan of his second solo album.
A similar thing happened with Gotye’s most recent release, Making Mirrors, which he recorded as a one-man band and producer inside of a barn about an hour outside of Melbourne. Listeners connected with his inadvertent accessibility and pushed Gotye to the top of the pops. Back in August, De Backer’s album and its lead single, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” landed a triumphant double punch at No. 1 on both the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) album and single charts simultaneously—the first local act to do that since Silverchair in 2007. The video for the latter, featuring a naked Gotye and his naked female vocal counterpart, Kimbra, has also lifted De Backer’s profile internationally with over seven million YouTube views and counting at time of writing (and was what led Ashton to release his Gotye praise in under 140 chars to the Twittersphere). (Note: between time of writing and publishing this piece online, the view count has now upped to over 12 million views – Ed.)
“I feel like on this album I haven’t made super challenging music,” he says. “I just think I’ve made very diverse music.” The 12-track LP brims with earnestness that shies away from being cheesy as De Backer grabs pop and gleefully whacks it off-kilter. De Backer knows what makes a song contagious, but he infiltrates the structure with weirdness—be it through field recordings of a fence twanging in the Australian outback for the song “Eyes Wide Open” or just his choice of electronics to pad out the production. “I really like a lot of odd music, I suppose,” De Backer says.
Gotye has united the tastes of mothers and daughters, hipsters and bogans, and even pop fans and metal heads. “I think the lyrics and melody must be key to it,” De Backer thinks aloud, “because I do get a lot of comments like, ‘I’m a metal head, I love metal, I never listen to other music, but I really like your music.’ The lyrics and the experience must be resonating somehow.”