Fans of Gotye’s hit song run for cover
How big a hit is “Somebody That I Used to Know?”
Before going No. 1 on USA Today’s airplay charts, the haunting breakup song by Gotye — a.k.a. multi-instrumentalist Wally De Backer — topped charts in 11 other countries. “The song will eclipse any other music I have made or maybe ever will make,” De Backer says. “I’m OK with that.”
But it’s generated not one but two viral videos with a combined viewership greater than 200 million.
The official video, released in July, features stop-motion techniques that cover Gotye’s De Backer and New Zealand singer Kimbra in earth-toned body paint.
For their cover version, the five members of Walk Off the Earth crowd together to play a single acoustic guitar: Three pluck the strings and one plays percussion on the body, while another supports the guitar by its headstock and occasionally strums the strings between the nut and the tuning pegs.
“It’s definitely eclipsing the intensity of response to my original [video],” De Backer says.
Gotye’s recording has sold 476,000 downloads in the USA, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But Walk Off the Earth’s version has sold a respectable 87,000 here and been even more successful in Canada.
“It’s like a return to a ’60s spirit, where sometimes an artist would beat the original artist with their cover and have the defining version of the song,” De Backer says.
Walk Off the Earth also posts and sells original songs, but most of the Ontario band’s YouTube views have come from creative covers. On Adele’s “Someone Like You,” for instance, band members switch instruments as they perform.
It took 14 hours and 26 takes to get “Somebody That I Used to Know” right, says the group’s Sarah Blackwood.
“There’s five people involved, so if one of them screws it up, you have to do it all over again,” says Blackwood. “It’s a three-chord punk-rock song, really.”
The band knew within a day that it had a YouTube hit. “I started watching the ‘likes’ go up and up,” Blackwood says.
Russell Crowe and Ryan Seacrest began tweeting about the arrangement, and Ellen DeGeneres invited the band to play the song on her show. In February, the group signed a contract with Columbia Records.
Gotye’s third album, “Making Mirrors,” serves as his U.S. debut. Listeners who venture further into the music than “Somebody That I Used to Know” will be amply rewarded. While “I Feel Better” recalls vintage Motown, much of “Making Mirrors” takes a more experimental, though still accessible, tack.
“There are moments that use very conventional pop structures, that very consciously play out like studies or homages to genres from decades ago,” says De Backer. “But I think hiding amongst that are some more peculiar twists.”
Gannett News Service