It seemed like he was an overnight sensation with his hit song “Somebody That I Used To Know” but Gotye has been on the Australian music scene for a while now, experimenting with different instruments, collaborations, and visual art. His song holds the #3 spot on our Top 100 and has spent multiple weeks on the Billboard charts at #1. We sat down with Gotye to ask him some questions about his songwriting, his inspirations, and his fans.
MetroLyrics: As a singer-songwriter how do you go about writing your lyrics? Is it something that comes relatively easy to you?
Gotye: I find I tend to have to wait for things to jump out at me, I’m not a scribbler with lots of ideas. It tends to be actually playing with sounds and samples and instruments that prompts the moment when a lyric and a melody come together and I see the possibility of a song unfolding. Otherwise I don’t tend to dream up lyrics on their own.
ML: So your songwriting comes from a musical place as opposed to words?
G: Yeah, it’s like I need the canvas full enough with the sense of a song or an arrangement, or a mood, to then prompt a concept and a lyric.
ML: So you’ve been making albums since 2003 and you’re just now breaking into North America, which I think is a testament to the power of a single song. When did you write “Somebody That I Used To Know“?
G: I wrote it in late 2010, and it took about 5 or 6 months until mid-2011 when the recording was actually finished.
ML: The song deals with a breakup, is that taken from a personal experience?
G: Not recently, I mean I’ve had a few breakups over the years of course, but it’s more the memory of different relationships and different points in those relationships that prompted certain images and certain lines that came out in the song. And then those memories were kind of stretched out and embellished and there were elements of fiction added, so it’s really a collection of things.
ML: What’s it been like to see and hear from people who have connected on such a deep level with that song?
G: It varies, you know. You get so many different emails, and people mixing, remixing, parodying, covering the song. People seeing me in the street and recognizing me, losing their s**t all politely and coming up to say hi. Responses at shows have been quite ecstatic at times. It’s amazing to see people going absolutely crazy singing along with every song and every word. It’s kind of exciting, and kind of freaky as well.
ML: Is it vulnerable having such a personal song be so popular with so many people?
G: I don’t feel too vulnerable. As a song to perform it does require a lot of focus and a lot of energy that can be hard to call on night after night. I think to sing it like I really believe it, I need to kind of go through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to really sing it properly, which can be really tiring night after night. I wouldn’t say I feel exposed though, no.
ML: How did you end up connecting with Kimbra for the song?
G: I met her a few years ago, and long story short, I sent her the track and she really liked it. We came up with some vocals together and pretty much when she started singing it I could tell that she was “THE ONE”!
ML: Did you have any dreams that it would become as big as it has?
G: No (laughs). I mean, maybe if I’d had an inkling that it would have, maybe it might have sabotaged it? In all seriousness though, it has opened up some amazing opportunities for my album and my music and opportunities to play live and also to work with many interesting people. It’s remarkable and I certainly didn’t anticipate anything like that when I was writing or recording the song.
ML: Your album “Making Mirrors” is now getting a North American release. I read that it was recorded in a barn. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
G: The barn is a structure on my parents’ block of land south-east of Melbourne in Australia, and I set up all the different stuff I’ve recorded over the years there. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting and playing with different instruments that I’ve bought over the years. Otherwise lots of records we record on the fly whether it’s been on a tour bus or just going to friends’ places to record them playing instruments. That’s the nice thing about recording a record on a laptop.
ML: Does inspiration strike you immediately and you need to get it out of you right away, or?
G: Usually. I mean, sometimes I go fishing and I’ll play music, and I think of the samples and come up with little ideas and usually the really good things strike me right away. That was the case with “Somebody That I Used To Know”, the guitar breaks from the Brazilian guitar that I used. It just had some weird pull for me and I just sort of went with it. I had a hypnotic attraction to it that prompted the first few lines of lyrics. When I hear something like that that has some almost unexplainable pull, then I feel like other people might feel that as well. I like to stay with that feeling. If I can stay true to that one part that inspired me in the first place, I find that that’s what people tend to resonate with the most.
ML: Can you tell me a bit about the album title Making Mirrors and what it symbolizes?
G: All my records have been named after I’ve chosen the artwork so I tend to have an album together and not know what it’ll look like or what the title will be. I found a piece of my dad’s artwork, photoshopped it a bit, and then chose that as the album cover. The idea of mirrors was already set in my head because I thought the fractal quality of the artwork had something mirror-like about it. The idea of “Making Mirrors” sort of related to me writing these songs and the cliche that “songwriting is cheaper than therapy.” I felt like these songs were a little bit like holding a mirror up to myself and my experiences. A lot of the lyrics in the songs are the different voices in my head sort of having it out internally and me kind of character voicing them in the song.
ML: How long did it take you to write the album?
G: It was kind of standard for me, I was trying to finish it in a year but it took me about two and a half years.
ML: As you mentioned, you’re very passionate about visual art as well. How does that translate into your music?
G: Well, there’s lots of visual art in my life, sure. I’ve made a film clip or animation for almost every song on this record. I don’t know, I find animation challenging and I love different forms of it so I love to be able to commission work. I love to make interesting things to go with my music.
ML: What’s next for you? You’ve got some touring to do I imagine?
G: Yeah mostly touring, finishing up Coachella and all the shows in the US have been going really great with some really massive shows in San Francisco and LA. I don’t know, I think I’ll need to take stock a little bit and see if I want to start writing and exploring the collaboration offers that have come up, or, I don’t know, keep booking shows.
ML: Are there any plans to release your other albums in North America?
G: I hope that Like Drawing Blood can come out physically over here in North America. Boardface I think I’ll just keep it on my website for people to buy directly from there.
ML: I’ve got to say, “Eyes Wide Open” is a terrific song. Is that next up as a potential single?
G: I think it is, yeah.
ML: Good choice.
Lastly, a few quick ones:
Favorite lyric of all time?
G: It would probably be something by Joni Mitchell, I might have been actually listening to it this morning I think. Something off Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell.
ML: Dream collaboration?
G: I like to let the spark of music inspire me to work so it doesn’t really matter if it’s an idol of mine or a big celebrity or anything. Doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t dream of working with a certain person, I dream of connecting with something or somebody that inspires me at the time.