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Gotye on Fame, Criticism and the Importance of a Good Video – Exclusive Interview

gotye
Michael Buckner, Getty Images

It’s an understatement to say things are going well for Gotye. The Belgium-born Australian’s song ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ has become a worldwide smash, thanks to a stylized, standout video that has garnered more than 320 million views on YouTube — not counting various remixes, tributes and parodies. He played Coachella. He’s attended the MTV Video Music Awards. He’s been nominated for awards around the world, and won an armful in Australia.

It’s like the greatest rookie year ever, except that Gotye (real name: Wouter De Backer, and yes, he’s fluent in Dutch) is no rookie. In fact, ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ comes from his third solo album, ‘Making Mirrors,’ and he’s also released four albums as part of the Melbourne indie band the Basics.

Still, few artists have the sort of international breakthrough that he has. Calling from a tour stop in Detroit, Gotye tells Diffuser.fm about reading his own press, what it’s like relating to ardent fans and the role his video played in making him a star.

How’s the tour going?

It’s been going really well. We’ve been having a good time, and the audiences have been fantastic.

How big a response are you getting to songs that aren’t ‘Somebody That I Used to Know?’

It seems like a bunch of songs in the set get a really strong response. We finished playing ‘Eyes Wide Open’ the other night, and after applause, this guy goes, “I love that song!” I suppose there are probably still some people who are coming for ‘Somebody That I Used to Know,’ or leaving after we play ‘Somebody That I Used to Know,’ but a lot of the audience knows more songs than just that one.

How have you been dealing with the crush of attention that has accompanied the song?

It’s been gradual enough that it hasn’t felt completely overwhelming. Definitely there’s been things that feel kind of challenging, but I’ve been doing it for a while, so I’m not a complete stranger to talking to the media or having people talking about what I do online. A lot of it is just amplified, I guess. You do get some pretty intensive fans, though. It takes some getting used to.

Do you follow what people are saying about you online?

It’s just kind of random. I might look at the odd review of a gig or an album, but I mostly ignore a bunch of stuff. I don’t go seeking it out. At times in the past, I’ve read more press, but the huge variety of responses can be confusing and kind of off-putting. You probably shouldn’t have that sort of thing affect your relationship with the material.

What’s the weirdest criticism you’ve encountered online?

It was about something I’d said 10 years ago. I found this essay that someone had just written about it, and I was like, “My goodness. Just take it easy.” I just find that stuff so peripheral, so ephemeral. Sometimes you say things because you’re tired or you’re mulling something to yourself.

‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ was out before you did the video, but how important was the video in building the popularity of the song?

I think it’s been instrumental. With a weaker video, the song wouldn’t have been shared as widely online, it wouldn’t have created its own energy. Sometimes you can have a great video, or great music, but it’s best when they enhance each other. With this song, it gave another dimension to hearing the music and the words.

Did you consider other vocalists besides Kimbra for the tune?

I’d tried vocals with a few other people, but they just didn’t stand out. It wasn’t sounding amazing. They all sounded good, but Kimbra was really the right choice. She’s so versatile.

How’s writing going for the next record?

It’s not going at all! I’ve been too busy touring.

Do you have an approach in mind yet?

The approach I’ve always taken in the past is starting with a blank canvas and seeing where that leads me. The most interesting things that I’ve come up with have been a result of starting without any particular direction. That can leave you floundering around a while, that’s probably why it takes me months and years to make a record.

When can we expect a Dutch-language LP?

[Laughs] I was thinking to write a song in Dutch and in Japanese on this record.

Wait, you speak Japanese, too?

Some, but not fluently.

Next: The Origins of Gotye's Stage Name

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