Gotye - Photo by Cybele Malinowski

Wally De Backer is old news to many. The lanky Australian with the massive voice has been releasing albums as Gotye since 2003. He sells out shows worldwide, fans flock to his YouTube videos by the millions, and he took home three ARIAs in 2011 for Single Of The Year, Best Male Artist and Best Pop Release. His breakthrough LP, Making Mirrors, came out in Australia in August, but it was just officially released in the States last week. Way to show up late to the party, America.
Gotye played a handful of shows at CMJ 2011, and he recently returned to the States for two sold-out, headlining sets, the first at El Rey in L.A. and the second tonight at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. CMJ caught up with De Backer, on the phone in his home outside of Melbourne, shortly before the U.S. release of Making Mirrors to talk about performing at the ARIAs, breakup songs and that damn clever cover by some quirky Canadians.
CMJ: The upcoming tour brings you to New York, but I know that won’t be your first time here because I did see you at this year’s CMJ. Was that the first time you played and attended CMJ?
Gotye: Yeah, first time, my first shows in New York. I’d been once as a tourist before. Which show did you see?
I saw the one at the Thompson.
Oh, all right. OK. [That show] was like a mini nightmare for me. It was kind of like, “Hang on, I thought me and my managers agreed we wouldn’t do any shows like this: middle of the day, no visuals, no lights.” I felt pretty out of my depth there. I was kind of like, “This is not the right vibe for my music at all.” And yet, some people really loved that show.
Yeah, it was great.
It was very far short of the kind of show we usually try to put on. I mean, it’s not a big deal. It’s more I’m really into a lot of the animations and visuals that I’ve commissioned for a lot of these songs. There’s a certain aspect where some of my songs, they’re quite introspective. There are definitely tunes where I feel like the visuals and the lights and darkness and me kind of not being, you know, the guy on the mic, the lead vocal guy, the vibe that I imagine for the song where the music and my part in it are kind of meant to come from a certain sound world or color world or visual space. So when you play in the middle of the day on the top floor of a hotel with a bunch of people five centimeters from your face, that doesn’t really allow you that presentation of that kind of material. [Laughs] But you know, no big deal. I got closer to that with the show at the Brooklyn Bowl and at Santos Party House at CMJ.

The vibe at the Thompson Hotel show must’ve been kind of intense for you, but the level of intensity for your performance at the ARIAs must’ve been way higher.
I don’t have the best memories of that night. I was pretty nonplussed by my performance at the ARIAs. I’ve almost been kind of like, “You know what? That would be one video I’d consider trying to remove off YouTube.” It was a real dud in my book. A lot of my music, my voice and the lyric is at center, and so inevitably I’m the focus point. There are a lot of elaborate arrangements around that, but if I’m not measuring up at the center then most of the rest can be fine, but it can still feel a bit like it lacks its core. And I felt a bit like that was what happened with the ARIAs performance. The kind of drama of the performance was great, and the band played fantastic. But I just sang terribly. I kind of reflect on that and listen to it and go, “Wow, I did really badly there.” I’ve sung this song really well live, but that was just about one of the worst times I’ve performed it.

Next page: Gotye’s take on Walk Off The Earth

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