by Andy Kaufmann
His friends call him Wally, but the name on his birth certificate is Wouter De Backer. He’s best known by his stage name, Gotye, a cheeky permutation of the French pronunciation for Walter. Born in Belgium but raised in Melbourne, Australia, the 32-year-old breakout artist has been part of indie band the Basics since 2002, but it’s the video for his infectious solo track, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” that has accumulated over 300 million views on YouTube.
Although the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Gotye is a new phenomenon only to this hemisphere. Last year in his native land down under, he won six ARIA awards, the Aussie equivalent of the Grammy, including Best Male Artist and Producer of the Year. His latest album, Making Mirrors (Eleven), has gone gold in the UK, the Netherlands, Canada and New Zealand as well as America. Meanwhile, in France, Belgium, Poland and Australia, it’s gone triple platinum.
This is an unusual breakthrough. He uses samples, but isn’t a hip-hop artist. He has a passion for quirky instruments, like the one-of-a-kind Winston Musical Fence located in Queensland’s outback. His influences range from Motown to world music (with arrangements that pack everything from Turkish drums to a horn break from a Taiwanese folk song). And despite his newfound popularity in the pop sphere, he considers himself a “tinkerer” rather than the world-renowned multi-instrumentalist he’s become.
Music Connection: It seems you found success all around the world before breaking into the American market. Was that by design? Had you tried to enter the American market previously? How have you approached the American market differently?
Gotye: I tried to find a US label for my last album, but didn’t have a manager/label/agent so it was difficult. I ended up putting it out digitally myself. The main thing with approaching America on this new record is spending a lot of time here, playing lots of live shows, because it’s such a big place.
MC: Your music has been covered on TV shows like The Voice, American Idol and Glee. Are you surprised by the way in which you’ve penetrated the pop space?
Gotye: Yes, quite surprised.
MC: Your first album was made up primarily of samples, but stylistically you’re far away from rap and hip-hop. Do you think you’d be doing the type of music you’re doing without the legitimacy of samples within the public’s mind?
Gotye: People who create music using samples do it in vastly different ways, and I think the legitimacy of it in audiences’ minds varies. It doesn’t really have a bearing on me. I find sampling so inspiring as a songwriting and producing process that I would be doing it regardless of whether certain people accept it or not. It allows for certain sonic qualities and musical results that I find exciting.
MC: Your approach to creating music is exceedingly methodical. Why do you feel you’re able to get better results that way rather than just jamming away?
Gotye: I jam with samples sometimes, or on regular instruments. My approach song to song varies quite a bit.