Video Made the Radio Star
Meet Gotye, the man behind the last great No. 1 hit
By Sean GoldenPublished September 1, 2012
By Sean Golden
The slow, rhythmic buildup and big payoff of Gotye’s hit song “Somebody That I Used To Know” could be considered an apt musical metaphor for the Belgian-born, Australian singer’s rocket-powered rise to international notoriety during the past year. The second single from the excellent Making Mirrors was released in Australia and New Zealand in July 2011, and then hit the UK in December 2011 and the US in 2012. And in a short time, the song was everywhere – it reached No. 1 in more than 30 countries – and eventually its body-painted music video was just as ubiquitous.
(614) is excited to present the Wounded Jukebox music blog’s exclusive interview, conducted in anticipation of his tour stop at the LC Pavilion September 17th.
This North American leg of your tour seems pretty massive. What’re you looking forward to about playing so many dates over the next few months?
Good times on the road with some of my best friends. I’m lucky enough to play in a band, in a crew with some of my best mates. So that’s going to be great. Catching up with a lot of people from the last tour – new friends, old friends – all those things. And also, like you said, the scale of the show is quite large. We switch instruments a lot and there’s a lot of sample triggers and manipulation of sound. Even my guitar is making four or five sounds on every song. So hopefully that aspect of the show might be better transmitted at these bigger shows.
You’ve talked before about how important your live show is to you. Why is that?
It hasn’t always been. I think performing my music live has always presented this huge challenge that I didn’t always feel like I succeeded in or enjoyed that much. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve started to maybe hit my stride a little and have an amazing band. I’ve just kind of worked out how to enjoy more of the touring experience. I think the live show, especially now, is important because with this album and the single that’s become supermassive, for better or worse, people are coming to a show to connect with something more than just that song. And some people might not be interested in anything else. And I’ve been working very hard on that aspect because it’s a big part of everything else that I do – making music, sampling or playing instruments and making fairly diverse stuff.
So many of the songs on Making Mirrors have all these layers that are interesting to unpack with each listen. What’s it like for you to blend all of those elements together in production?
It’s a lot of fun! It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of making records the way that I do. Not really knowing, at your starting point, where a song is gonna go…and, as you collect sounds and find other things stick together and manipulating and stretching, and all these possibilities sort of unfurl in front of you.
What’s intriguing about this album is that stylistically, it ventures in so many different directions. I wondered where you pull inspiration from, and whom you consider your musical peers?
I do like a bunch of artists that are quite diverse in what they do on record. I mean Ween would be one band that I love dearly and who – especially after the first few albums – didn’t give a sh*t whether they stuck to one genre or developed one sound. But I love that they always sound inimitably like Ween and maintain that same perspective and sense of humor even when they were sounding exactly like Thin Lizzy on one track and like a song from Sesame Street on the next. I love that.
I’ve read that you dig Joni Mitchell quite a bit. What is it about her music that drew you to her?
I’m intrigued you’ve seen that, because when I think about it I don’t feel like I have mentioned Joni Mitchell much. But I do. I’m a huge fan, especially of her early- to late-’70s work. I don’t know; I think she’s in that certain special echelon of artists who – especially in that period – who were just in touch with something of another world, with her ability to express through her voice and the touch she had on the guitar and with her band, and the sound she developed in the ’70s. There is something so magical and strong in how she could express things unlike anybody. You just kind of feel like she’s singing directly to you.
Whether it’s listening to it or making it, what is it about music that makes you feel alive or energized?
Music has this magic for me. I find it interesting to read really great music writers. But there are different times I feel like I don’t want to read writing about music; I just want to experience it. It feels so impossible for me to wrap words around how, you know, this certain timbre of, I don’t know, a gong, combined with a sample of something combined with a turn of phrase of someone’s voice in a lyric, when put together can have meaning beyond any of those things separately or maybe even beyond any possible expectations of the meaning you think those items in the physical world could hold. That’s just a really fascinating thing.
What is it about the video for “Somebody That I Used To Know” that’s sparked such reaction, do you think?
I guess like the song, it’s quite idiosyncratic and takes a while to kind of unfold. I get the feeling especially from some of the parodies and the things people have honed in on that it strikes some kind of balance between being kind of … what’s the word? I suppose it has what you’d call a sort-of novelty aspect, with the body painting and some of the stop-time. But I think it also has a certain type of gravity to how it transmits the song. But I guess it just kind of strikes a balance between those things that people have found sort of oddly compelling (laughs).
Sean Golden is the managing editor for Columbus-based music blog The Wounded Jukebox. Formed in 2009, the site highlights artists from a wide range of genres and locales. The unabridged text of this interview can be found at www.thewoundedjukebox.com.