Australian singer Gotye has conquered the United States with his heartfelt pop tune “Somebody That I Used To Know,” but even as it hits No. 1 on singles charts, he is eager to become someone fans will always know for his “peculiar” sound.
Gotye has enjoyed a rapid rise in fame, not just in the US but around the world, for the song of a failed relationship that features New Zealand artist Kimbra. But his offbeat music and rocket ride to stardom has led many to consider whether his career will be short-lived. He doesn’t think so.
For Gotye, whose real name Wouter “Wally” De Backer, the smash hit song stems from 10 years of hard work starting, like many others, in front of a home computer. He has three albums behind him, is playing ever bigger gigs and there is more music he wants to create. “What’s happening around the world is unexpected, but still a gradual move forward,” Gotye told Reuters.
Led by a simple rhythm tapped out on a xylophone and heartfelt lyrics that give “Somebody That I Used to Know” the feel of a lullaby, Gotye sings about the pain and anger of a breakup in lyrics such as “I don’t even need your love, but you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough.”
He said that while some people think the song recounts the end of a personal love affair and others simply respond to the angst of the chorus -- “now you’re just somebody that I used to know” -- for him it’s all about the memories, both good and bad, of any failed relationship.
“It is more about how varied one’s feelings can be and how different feelings can be after a relationship or the memories of it, and how that gets confusing and unclear,” he said.
The 31-year-old singer-songwriter from Melbourne, Australia finds the song’s wide play both amusing and odd to watch as he becomes a sort of third-party spectator to his own music.
At April’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California where he performed, “Somebody That I Used To Know” became an unofficial anthem for the crowds when DJs began pumping out remixes between sets of other bands.
The song also was incorporated into an episode of Fox’s popular TV musical “Glee” in which on-screen brothers Blaine and Cooper (played by Darren Criss and Matt Bomer) used the song to emphasize their disintegrating relationship.
“It’s weird because it’s all out of my hands ... DJs happily play mash ups from the web or put unofficial remixes into their set,” he said. “As the guy behind it, putting it out there at the starting point, I have no control over it anymore.”
At the time the “Glee” version came out, Gotye was reported by some media outlets to be unhappy with it, but he denies that and calls tailoring the tune to the two brothers, “clever.”
‘Making Mirrors’ a stepping stone
Gotye began his career in the early 2000s piecing together sample tracks in Australia that were later compiled into his first self-released album, “Boardface,” in 2003. His second album, “Like Drawing Blood,” received critical and commercial success in his home country, but it has been third album “Making Mirrors,” led by “Somebody” that has given Gotye his global big break.
“Making Mirrors,” currently at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 album chart, received favorable reviews from critics and scored 71 out of 100 on review-aggregation website Metacritic. But the singer still doesn’t think he has hit his stride, calling the album a “stepping stone” for his musical self-discovery.
“There’s some stuff which were maybe missteps or things that I shouldn’t explore as much in future,” he said, citing tracks such as “I Feel Better” and “In Your Light.”
Those two tunes have a sound that harks to the 1980s, and Gotye said he wants to move away “easy pop-production choices involving wrapping a song in an aesthetic of a certain period.”
He wants to evolve into styles he explored on “Somebody,” “State of the Art” and “Bronte,” he said, but added that he is conscious of retaining his Australian roots and his self-described “peculiar and unique” sound. As for moving beyond “Somebody,” Gotye still finds the response interesting enough to consider a follow-up, perhaps again with Kimbra.
“Maybe from the girl’s perspective,” he said, “but it’s all really funny and it could be a really stupid choice.”