Wouter “Wally” De Backer was born in Bruges (Belgium) in 1980, and two years later his family emigrated to Australia, ultimately settling in the Melbourne suburb of Montmorency. He took the name Gotye, a pronunciation respelling of the word Gauthier, and showed aptitude for drums and piano, he and three high school buddies formed a garage band known as Downstares, which included bassist Lucas Taranto (below), who still accompanies Gotye at live performances.De Backer’s parents relocated to a new home on the Mornington Peninsula south-east of Melbourne, but he remained in residence at his parent’s Montmorency property while completing his Arts degree at Melbourne University. His early musical influences were Sting, Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel and in 2011 he expressed his passion for sampled music and riff-pilfering with his self-produced debut 4-track CD which included the single Out Here In The Cold. De Backer would have been aware of the earlier efforts of fellow Melbourne techno geeks, Robbie Chater, Darren Seltman, and Tony Di Blasi, better known as the Avalanches, who had stunned fans with their landmark album Since I Left You in 2001, which was a brilliant example of the then arcane art of plunderphonics, and was an international hit.De Backer circulated copies of his CD to radio stations and while he received positive feedback, there was no commercial outcome, he formed a duo with singer/songwriter Kris Schroeder called The Basics and they landed a contract with Creative Vibes, the album Boardface was released in 2003, again there was a positive critical response but no chart action.Between 2003-05 De Backer worked on his new solo album, Like Drawing Blood, released in 2006, the title was inspired by the stress of having to relocate his home studio between various Melbourne rentals after his parents sold their Montmorency property. The album was critically praised and De Backer’s ability to competently replicate different musical styles across a range that included indie rock, art pop, and electronica, was complimented, the mixing, editing and production by Gotye and Francois Tetaz, also imbued the record with a curious ambience that would be reflected in their future collaborations.The album became De Backer’s first top 40 hit in June 2006, and with his new-found fame, after he broke out internationally, it would re-enter the ARIA charts in 2011 and peak at #13. The single Learnalilgivinanlovin drew heavily on Motown influences with Marvin Gaye and Smoky Robinson and the Miracles cadences evident, he also used a drum sample from the Ronette’s classic Phil Spector Wall of Sound hit Be My Baby, the record stalled at #93 locally but was a surprise #10 hit in Belgium, and Like Drawing Blood took out the 2007 ARIA Award for Best Male Artist, and was rated iTunes album of the year in the UK.In 2010 De Backer had relocated to his family’s farm near Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula (Vic), setting up a recording studio in the barn, where he would compose and produce his magnum opus, the album Making Mirrors and the blockbuster megahit lifted from it, Somebody That I Used to Know. The album title was inspired by an artwork his father Frank had stored in the barn, it came to epitomise the feelings of self-reflection and introspection that De Backer felt about his music; and once the artwork had been photoshopped it became the distinctive album cover for Making Mirrors. The first song lifted off the album was not Somebody… but Eyes Wide Open, a trippy, alternarock song with a strong environmental message. De Backer provided sample sounds, vocals, played piano, and the “Musical Fence” at Winton (near Longreach,Qld) which captured the ambient sounds of wind through wire to produce an unusual bassline, Lucas Taranto (bass), Gareth Skinner (whale cello) and Michael Hubbard (pedal steel guitar) also accompanied him on the recording.The promo clip was an intriguing stop motion fantasy, set in a barren post-environmental disaster landscape, aliens riding atop spider-legged boats, searching for water and signs of life on Earth, but there are none; the vocal harmonies are an anguished lamentation for a planet destroyed as the ominous bass line rumbles beneath the lyrics “ And this dust is all that is left of us…”. It was a minor hit here stalling at #55, and barely dented the charts in the US (#96) and UK (#78) but the Belgians took it into the their top 40 (#33), and it was definitely an under-appreciated recording, which ultimately got more attention after Somebody… crashed into the charts.
Gotye has revealed that Somebody That I Used to Know, was not lyrically the result of a single break-up, “It wasn’t about one specific relationship, but it was definitely drawn from various experiences I’ve had in relationships breaking up… and in the more reflective parts of the song, in the aftermath and the memory of those different relationships, and what they were and how they broke up, and what was going on in everyone’s minds. Yeah, so it’s an amalgam of different feelings but not completely made up as such.” The hypnotic, xylophone-driven heartbreak duet, was a song that De Backer found hard to finish, he admitted “I hit a brick wall after the first chorus, and it took me a few weeks to decide I should write the second verse from a female perspective. But I stuck with it, and I was really proud once it was finished, it seems to appeal to people who, unfortunately, have very confused, broken relationship experiences”.The vast majority of Making Mirrors was programmed and recorded by de Backer in Ableton Live and Pro Tools at his own studio in The Barn on his parent’s property, some additional recordings took place at other locations, engineered by Francois Tétaz, who also has an additional production credit on five of the album’s 12 songs (left to right above Andy Stewart,Francois Tetaz, Gotye) . Finishing Somebody… proved immensely frustrating, a problem compounded by the complex sampling of various sounds, and the elaborate scheduling problems in getting Kimbra (below Kimbra and Gotye at the Grammys) to sing her part, the net result though meant, however, that Tétaz and De Backer had some wonderful material to work with in the final mix.Kimbra (Kimbra Lee Johnson), is a singer/guitarist from Hamilton (NZ), whose early influences included Nina Simone, Bjork, Jeff Buckley and Minnie Riperton, she released her debut album Vows in 2011 when she was 21, and it charted #3 in NZ and #5 in Aust. Her song Cameo Lover won the 2011 Vanda and Young Songwriting Competition, and in doing so, relegated Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know to third place! The industry had been consumed with curiosity about who the female vocalists were who had been asked to record Somebody… with Goye before Kimbra, and it seems that originally De Backer’s girlfriend Tash Parker (below with Gotye) did a demo, but the very nature of their relationship made it difficult to capture the right balance of angst and hurt required. Sarah Blasko (below) was then offered the duet but she was unable to complete the song, and Francois Tetaz, who had worked as producer on Kimbra’s first album, recommended her to De Backer.Her vocals were just right, and she brought a sassy defiance to the duet whose lyrics are quite ruthless and delivered with an intriguing mix of passion, anger, remorse, and bitterness, by the two protagonists.
The song is reminiscent of sophisticated adult-contemporary rock of the mid-80’s, and recalls the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush duet Don’t Give Up where the prideful male narrator and his cautiously optimistic partner are struggling towards reconciliation and healing, while in Somebody… Gotye and Kimbra are acrimoniously falling apart. He has been dumped by his girlfriend, who he wasn’t too keen on anyway, but he is hurting because of how harshly she cut him off “But you didn’t have to cut me off/ Made out like it never happened and that we were nothing/ And I don’t need your love/ But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough/ Now you didn’t have to stoop so low/ Have your friends collect your records, and then change your number.” She responds forcefully and calls him a cad, and in the process, reveals his pain as just another facet of his vanity “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over/ But had me believing it was always something that I’d done/ But I don’t wanna live that way/Reading into every word you say…”Musically the song opens almost whisperly quiet, the picked nylon guitar and tip-toeing xylophone lead into the lyrics which are low and understated, the acoustic guitar riffs that drive the first verse were sampled from the beginning of an instrumental bossa nova piece called Seville written by the late Brazilian 6-string master guitarist Luiz Bonfa (above). The dramatic entrance of the first chorus comes one-and-a-half minutes into the song, the double chorus only appears twice in the song, and the overall arrangement is neither dramatic nor bombards the listener with catchy hooks, grating repetitive riffs, or intrusive rapping. It’s theme is universal; an anguished, knowing, and engaging break-up song for the ages, which is at the same time deceptively introspective and delightfully restrained with an almost nursery rhyme-like melody.After the Bonfa sample De Backer constructed the entire arrangement as a gigantic sample collage, partly using extensively manipulated one-note samples from vintage vinyl records and other sources, and partly sampling himself, playing notes on various instruments including piano and drums. Lucas Taranto provided overdubbed bass lines, and engineer Tetaz and De Backer employed a heady mix of riff-sampling and aural massaging techniques to achieve the final mix – these included the “wobbly guitar” hooks, “Tango Drums”, the “Pizz track” of pizzicato strings and autoharp that precede Kimbra’s entrance to the song, the doubled LatinGroove loop and bongos, mellotron flutes, synthesiser, auto-tuned vocals, sound compression, along with such idiosyncratic lo-fi features as vinyl crackle on the Bonfa sample and several vocal imperfections.
The music video for Somebody That I Used to Know was produced, directed and edited by Australian artist Natasha Pincus and filmed by Australian cinematographer Warwick Field. It shows Gotye and Kimbra naked throughout the clip, and as they sing, his skin is gradually painted into the backdrop via stop motion animation. In the director’s cut, this went as far as to feature concealed nudity, though this version was never posted; the video’s background is based on a 1980s artwork created by Gotye’s father, Frank de Backer, who also designed the cover art for the album. Emma Hack, an Australian artist and skin illustrator (below with Gotye) was hired by Pincus to work on the body paintings for Gotye and Kimbra. Melbourne scenic artist Howard Clark painted the backdrop, and according to Hack, it took more than 23 hours to paint both Gotye and Kimbra to fit with Howard’s background.The promo video quickly became an internet sensation after Ashton Kutcher and Katy Perry shared it with their millions of followers, picking up 200,00 views in its first two weeks, by 2019 it has more than 1.3 billion YouTube views, while the song has more than 13 million downloads and more recently has been streamed more than a billion times across Spotify, Apple music, and other sites.
Somebody… became the biggest Australian record ever written and recorded in this country, it sold in excess of 770,000 copies locally, and over 13 million copies globally, so knocking Joe Dolce’s Shaddup Your Face (6 million copies) off as the biggest-selling song written and recorded in Australia. It topped the charts here for 8 weeks in 2011, and so equaled the record by Savage Garden’s Truly Madly Deeply (1997), and was only second to Daddy Cool’s classic hit Eagle Rock which occupied the #1 position for 10 weeks, however Tones And I with Dance Monkey in 2019 would break all the records when she held down the local top spot for an incredible 23 weeks!It was #1 in no less than 23 different countries, and top ten in more than 30 countries, it topped the UK charts in 2011 for 5 non-consecutive weeks and sold 1.8 million copies there, it topped the charts in the USA in 2012 and held down the #1 position for 8 consecutive weeks, selling 7.8 million copies there and became the 10th longest-charting song in the Billboard Hot 100 history at 59 weeks. De Backer also became only the second Belgian-born performer to have a #1 hit in th US, after The Singing Nun’s (Jean-Paul Marie Deckers below) success way back in 1963 with Dominique.In 2011 Somebody… won no less than seven ARIA Awards including Best Song, Best Male Artist, Best Female Artist, Best Producer, Best Engineer, and Best Video, it also took out the prestigious Grammy Awards for Recording of the Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, and Best Alternative Album in 2012. Following his stunning success De Backer toured the world and performed, often with Kimbra, but he did not quickly follow up Making Mirrors or the monster hit Somebody…. Rather he went back to drumming and recording with his old band the Basics – Gotye, Kris Schroeder, and Tim Heath above, and immersed himself in researching and chasing a mysterious synthesiser-type electronic instrument, called the Ondiolone, invented in 1941 by Georges Jenny, and popularised by French Ondiolone vituoso Jean-Jacques Perrey, whom De Backer befriended. (Gotye and Perrey blow)Following the announcement by ARIA in January 2020, that Somebody That I Used To Know was the #1 Australian single for the past decade, De Backer, who now resides in New York City, was asked about a follow up album and he replied, “For anyone whose wondering – yes, the follow up album will be released in the next decade. Probably”