What happened to Gotye? The story of Australia’s bravest songwriter
In 2011, Australian singer songwriter Gotye released ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’. The track was taken from his third studio album under the Gotye name, ‘Making Mirrors’. It’s first single, ‘Eyes Wide Open’ released in October 2010 was met with both positive critical and fan reception, and reached number 25 on the Triple J Hottest 100 of that year. The second single, ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ with New Zealand singer songwriter Kimbra was released on the 6th of July in 2011 and would change his financial stability forever, but not his perspective on songwriting and music creation. The track was a smash hit for Wouter “Wally” De Backer. The single has gone on to achieve over 700 000 units sold in Australia, reaching 11x platinum status, and a wopping 8 times platinum in the US, selling close to 9 million units. Not to mention, it also peaked at number 1 on the singles charts in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and Germany, and 46 other countries. Its music video is currently sitting on 1.7 billion views. With the project, he toured the world in 2012, from Korea, North America, Japan and the Middle East and concluded the tour in December in Australia. This was the last time he toured as Gotye, and the last body of original music music released by Gotye.
Not driven by any form of monetisation, disgruntled by the worlds constant force of advertisement, in a 2017 interview with news.com.au, Gotye revealed he bravely chose not to run online advertising on his music videos. This includes no advertisements the billions of times viewed ‘Somebody That I Used’ and foregoing potentially millions of dollars in revenue. “I’m not interested in selling my music,” said Gotye, “That’s the reason I don’t put ads on my YouTube channel, which seems strange to people in today’s climate, but that is a decision you can make. I’m like that with all my music. I generally never want to sync my music for products.” He continues, “Ads are calling for our attention anywhere we turn in the world. If you can do something you care about and that other people care about and keep it out that world that feels like it’s all about ‘hey buy this stuff’ then that’s a good thing.” Uniquely, he also allows student film makers to use his music royalty free. “I’ve got my own set of rules I made, if a student film wants to use my film I say yes across the board, there’s no money involved. If someone wants to use it commercially I look at what the budget is and the creativity of the project.”
If he wasn’t already a boss already, 50% of the royalties from the track are directed to the estate of Luiz Bonfa, who he sampled heavily in its creation. Rather than advocating for a higher percentage of the royalties to the track via courts and law logistics, he decided that to focus truely on his creative spirit, he didn’t want to be in places that would drain his energy. “I decided it made more sense to focus on creative things and not get hung up on money and lawyers and courts,” he stated in the same 2017 interview.
After the release of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, entitled fans demanded the release of new Gotye music. Many rumours spread online about the passing away of Gotye as he completely removed himself from the limelight. To address the rumours and the future of the Gotye project, in a 2014 newsletter he stated, ‘there will be no new Gotye music’, but hinted at the possibility of it in the future. Gotye never planned for the limelight, while it elevated his music career to undeniable levels, it never phased his creative ambitions as a true artist and songwriter. Rather, he diverted his attention to other projects and art forms.
In 2014 he launched independent record label ‘Spirit Level’ with Tim Shiel. the label was founded initially to release a one-off album made by American band Zammuto, and transformed into a home for artist development and management, with artists located in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Vermont and Oslo. The label, now spearheaded by Shiel, releases a range of left-field projects. From the idiosyncratic electronic noises of Tennis Pagan, to alt-pop slow burners from Wauwatosa and composition based pieces.
De Backer also remained within active as a band member of band, ‘The Basics’ who released two albums across 2014 and 2015. Formed in 2003 with Gotye as a founding member, the band is still active to this very day. In 2019 they released their record, ‘B.A.S.I.C’, and are currently sitting at 13 studio full length albums. Gotye never stopped making music, instead he turned to a passion project to pursue his creative needs. Their discography includes moments off pop-rock, electro-pop, alt-country and reggae. They’ve performed over 2500 shows around the world.
Gotye’s most commendable and unique contribution to music post ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ is his contributions to the preservation of electronic music pioneer, Jean-Jacques Perrey’s discography. After being told his work sounded like the legend’s, he fully indulged in researching Perrey’s music and fundamental 1941 invented instrument, the Ondioline. After befriending him, and with only 700 of them in the world he purchased two. “It took five years of active searching before I got one. The inventor Georges Jenny only made about 700 of them but there’s nowhere near that many left in the world and even when you do find them, they’re usually not in working order,” he stated in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2017. In his 2018 interview with Broadsheet, he describes the instruments purpose, “You can dial in an incredibly wide range of sounds on the ondioline, and the unique mechanics for playing it allows you to create sounds very sensitively and with a musical deftness I just feel isn’t present on most other electronic instruments from the ’40s — or decades since”. After years of working with engineers and producers, he attempted to re-master Perrey’s early Ondioline recordings. Eventually he did, releasing gorgeous compilation album, ‘Jacques Perrey Et Son Ondioline’ in May of 2017. His ambition however did not stop there, taking a six piece orchestra, titled The Ondioline Orchestra and performed Perrey’s work live. Locally, as a part of Sydney Festival, he presented Gotye Presents A Tribute To Jean-Jacques Perrey at Carriageworks in 2018.
So long story short, Gotye has not gone anywhere. De Backer is an artist, composer, a singer and songwriter that does, and has done everything on his own terms. Removing himself from the limelight was not as big a decision as many people would imagine, as his ethos never changed as an artist. To create, spread and empower the music he loves so dearly.
Words by PARRY TRITSINIOTIS