Gotye: Somebody That You Now Know Too Well

Wally De Backer, known more commonly as Gotye, is set to perform at Laneway this January, headlining the event. Having won multiple ARIA Awards recently, the Belgian-Australian multi-instrumental musician and singer-songwriter has been nominated for the Grammy’s this time around. Gotye talks to us at JUICE about his thoughts on ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, and what he might have been doing if he hadn’t dabbled in music.

Excited about Laneway? Have you been to Southeast Asia before?
I haven’t thought about it too much cause I just got back from a tour. I will be excited though. I have been to Japan a few times, but it’s not Southeast Asia I guess, or is it? I’ve never actually spent any time in Singapore, so I’m looking forward to actually going to the airport for the first time.

Uh, the airport? Really? What are you expecting from your Southeast Asia tour?
Hopefully a fun show. I’m really looking forward to the other bands that are on the bill for Singapore Laneway. Some of my favourite bands are on there, Kings of Convenience, Kimbra, Yeasayer.

Having a huge hit that’s globally ubiquitous enough to garner you a suicide rumour, what do you feel about ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ now?
I don’t know (laughs). My responses to it are in the mash-up that I put up in my YouTube channel.

We read that you’re into graphic novels – being a fan of Joe Sacco and Harvey Pekar. How about superheroes comics, do you like them?
I never grew up reading many superhero comics. I did read a lot of Flemish comics when I was young, I never really had that pulp superhero tradition, so I never really got into that.

Your live shows have visual elements to them. Had you not been a music artiste, would you have been a visual artiste?
I used to paint when I was a kid but I’ve sorta moved away from it, not consciously, I just kinda failed painting when I went to primary school, but yea, I might dabble in it. I don’t know. I might spend more time outdoors I think, doing stuff in the garden, maybe working with nature a bit more.

You once associated the xylophone with the innocence of childhood. What would you connect other instruments you had used with?
Yea, that was a good one. I’ve got a special keyboard that I have had since 6 years old that’s called the Kawai FS680, and I was given that when I was 6 years old and I still have it. So, some of the sounds on there aren’t sounds that many people would know. But some of the sounds on there make me think of childhood a little bit.

You hold a very high standard on the technicalities of your shows. How does that work when you’re on tour? We imagine the standard of sound systems aren’t quite consistent…
Yeah, they’re very different things. I think, in the recent years, I guess I’ve started to get better at recognizing the fact that they’re very different contexts, and trying to focus on how the context of a live show can work best, how it can be exciting and how it can communicate something, and that’s a very different consideration when you make an album.

Do you ever feel the 2 previous albums before the last one should be heard more?
No, I think it’s lovely when people discover all the material. It’s great! But I don’t feel they should be heard more, that stuff should happen on its own. I mean, you have people coming to my shows, I guess they’ll hear a lot of older material, hopefully they’ll respond to some of it, then they might be interested to check out older albums.

Any plans for a new album anytime soon?
Well, I’m going start writing sometime soon I hope. I’ll start to connect some things at home, make a little music setup in the office. It takes me a long time to make records, so I don’t know how long it’ll take (laughs). We’ll see.

How do you feel about the parodies of your videos? With ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ being such a big hit?
Yea, you can see the mash-ups that I did on my YouTube channel recently, it contains a number of parodies and covers that I sort of reconstituted into something new. I feel like that piece is probably the best way to express how I feel about the whole thing. Sometimes I think there are beautiful interpretations and beautiful people and music that respond to the song of mine. Others are interesting, some are absurd and funny and tragic, so all of those are represented.

How do you feel about being nominated for the 2013 Grammy Awards for 3 categories?
I’m excited, you know. It’s gonna be a nice way to finish the work, Making Mirrors and touring for a long time. I’m going to go there, whether we play or not, it’s going to be a really nice way to round up having put the record out.

How does it feel being part of an Australian Festival, outside of Australia?
We played in New Zealand early this year, so I kind of have that experience a little bit already. I’m sure it’s not going to be as cold as being in Singapore, it would feel very different, with the climate probably, and the atmosphere and the audience will be quite different than in countries like Australia and New Zealand, so it’s gonna be interesting.

There are many songs equally as good, or more commercially viable on Making Mirrors as compared to ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’. Why do you think that was the song that blew up? Were you surprised at all?
I learnt a new word recently, it’s called prosody, a term in linguistics. Prosody is from Greek, and it’s the rhythm, stress and intonation of speech. Now, you could talk about the prosody of the song, and that is how the different elements of like the lyrics, the sound, and in this case, the video clip, and the arrangement, all go together. So perhaps I think it’s because of the prosody of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, that it appealed to so many people. It’s a peculiar meeting points of all those elements, the way the lyric and the melody, the chords with the textures and the arrangement and the recording, and then the video clip, the way that it presents that visually, it’s some kind of peculiar meeting point that caught a lot of people’s attention.

People are still comparing you to Sting. Were you ever a fan? Is he an actual influence on your music?
I grew up playing a lot of drums along with Police records, and I do like a lot of Police songs, so you know, it’s a flattering comparison to make. I don’t see that, many people making that comparison to Sting, that depends on the country I guess. I don’t see it that strongly in my music, maybe here and there when I sing high in my range, vocally.

Gotye will be performing at the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2013, going down on 26 January 2013 at The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. For more information, check out their website at