Q&A: Gotye on weird samples, dream collaborations, and performing a mega-hit

Gotye: Making MirrorsGotye: Making Mirrors (Universal Republic, 1/31/12)

In early 2012, Australian singer/songwriter Wally De Backer — a.k.a. Gotye — exploded across American media thanks to the pop wonderment of “Somebody That I Used to Know.” For the better part of the year, the song was impossible to miss, and for good reason. But the causeway of hooks, timbres, and samples on Making Mirrors proved that there’s more to Gotye than one hit — even if that hit always gets the crowd going.

Other than the metal fence on “Eyes Wide Open,” what’s the weirdest thing that you’ve sampled?

I sampled some antique slab spoons on a mobile that I found in an antique shop. I sampled a music box on [“Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You”] — sampled the sound of winding it up and letting it spin down with the different notes, and kind of made a manual vibrato on it by opening and closing the lid as it was playing into the microphone.

Do you have any dream collaborations that might surprise us?

The Muppets. [Laughs] That would be something of a dream.

I don’t know…I feel like the material needs to prompt collaboration. That’s what happened with me and Kimbra. I had the song [“Somebody That I Used to Know”], and she really liked it and thought she could interpret the part. So I let her do it because I completely agreed. I think that’s the best way — where you can play to your strengths or bring something out that you maybe haven’t done before, rather than going, “Wouldn’t that be cool? Let’s do that. Let’s make something.” As interesting as that could be — it can totally be a lot of fun — I think it can fall flat sometimes.

Do you ever get tired of performing the hit song night after night, or does it still bring a high level of energy?

Yeah, there’s always a great response. I’ve been enjoying singing with different people recently. Caroline from Chairlift — I sang it with her a bunch of times. And Missy Higgins has been singing it at every show. And I’ve done a stretch of shows where the audience was singing the part, and that was kind of fun too. But no, I still enjoy when it gets to that part of the set, and the kind of response the song gets and how it slowly unfolds as an arrangement. I still enjoy just playing it as a piece of music.

A lot of people have remixed “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Do you have a favorite?

I don’t need to hear any more remixes of that song. [Laughs] But I did hear [the Klar & PF remix] recently, and that was really good. It’s basically a huge, ’80s kind of yacht-rock arrangement. It’s like an unreleased Bruce Hornsby track. I was like, “Wow, this is actually really awesome.”

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