Australia's favourite singing drummer, Gotye is back after a lengthy wait with an infectious single, a new live band and some very exciting news about his forthcoming album.
Not only does he play drums like Stewart Copeland, sing like Al Green and sample like The Avalanches, one cannot also deny that Wally De Backer is a dedicated, hard-working craftsman. With associated indie-rock trio The Basics on a hiatus following three-plus years of intensive recording and touring, now's the time for a full-scale Gotye return. Just like he sings in one of his best-known, Karnivool-covered numbers, this is the only way – and there's no need for the fans to keep uttering the proverbial ‘where's Wally?’ anymore.
Familiar through Triple J over the last couple months, Eyes Wide Open – an upbeat, richly-layered pop number and the first Gotye recording since 2006's surprise success Like Drawing Blood – began life as a series of haunting sounds extracted from a one-of-a-kind musical fence in Winton, Queensland. That’s right – a musical fence. Fittingly, just before Christmas 2010 an excellent (if brief) making-of documentary showing Wally hammering out the song's bassline on the construction's metal wires appeared on iTunes Ping. Speaking from his Mornington Peninsula digs, the ever-likeable tunesmith recounts his first visit to the site in the manner of a genuine music enthusiast willing to share their sonic craft with the listener.
“You should head out there if you're going in that direction – it's quite cool,” he suggests. “I was on a tour of Queensland with my other band The Basics in 2008 – we were doing gigs for the kids in primary and high schools in outback Queensland and we stopped in Winton for three days. I just happened to overhear someone mentioning the Winton Musical Fence at the reception in the hotel, so I enquired about what it was and the lady said ‘Oh, it's a fence and you can play music on it.’
“I went out there during the day and checked it out, which was pretty exciting,” he continues, “and made a decision to come back late at night when it would be quiet and there would be this arresting aura in the dark... It proved to be pretty cool; I spent two or three hours that night with a little sample recorder that I took with me, sampled a lot of sounds from it and some other junk-metal percussion instruments installed around the fence, brought them home and came up with the bassline for Eyes Wide Open.”
Considering how different that track sounds from Gotye's earlier output, what are other songs on the new album going to sound like, I query – and get a mile-a-minute response.
“One word? Schizophrenic!” Wally laughs. “Like my previous records (he also released debut Boardface back in ’03), it will be quite a journey through all sorts of different genres and sounds... Some of this process has proved to be quite challenging in terms of getting the songs and the mixes finished. A few songs have more of a ‘live’ feel and some songs on the record are entirely sample-based. In some songs, I think to include more live instrumentation, record them more traditionally and play more things myself and get friends to play things – Eyes Wide Open is an example of that.
“The others would be entirely sample-based – chopped up in Ableton Live and ProTools from grabs of old records, CDs, videos, DVDs and whatnot. Other things include virtual instruments that I'd put in myself – interesting instruments like thumb pianos, opera harps and mallets, which I sampled note-by-note, loaded into programs like Ableton Live as virtual versions of those instruments and tried to use the palette of sounds from the instruments I created myself.”
An abundance of work material may be common for the perfection-seeking Wally, but he's quick to note that certain decisions were difficult to make during the recording process.
“You always have that conundrum of ‘how far do you go’ until you think it's right and you try and strike a balance in capturing a moment,” he admits. “The pedal steel guitar part [in Eyes Wide Open], we spent a long time to make it feel right to my ears... There's a certain amount of work and you find it really hard and challenging and start to wonder whether it's actually worth it or whether it is a good song.
“I guess as a Gotye song – more than any Gotye stuff before – it was all about trying to find a different arrangement and textures and whether those textures felt right. It's probably not as hook-based as the other stuff I've done, but my main task with this song was to find these textural parts, mix them up and down and structure them as hooks – even if they're not really 'hooks'.”
The next few weeks will mark sold out Melbourne and Sydney shows as well as hotly-anticipated nationwide appearances at Laneway Festival for Wally.
“It's been a while since I've done any Gotye music live, so it's very exciting,” he enthuses. “I've got a small band – I decided to start with a trio. It's myself, my friend Lucas Taranto, who's played in the Gotye Mini Orchestra before – on bass, samples and electric guitar – and my friend Tim Shiel, who makes music as Faux Pas. He's a MIDI guru; in the Gotye band, Tim Shiel plays MIDI!” he chuckles. “He's also doing some guitar, lots of sampling and some real percussion as well. We're sort of making it happen musically – I'd love at some stage to be able to afford the time and money to play my music with a large band of up to 20 musicians, but we're covering a lot between the three of us.”
So when can we finally expect the new Gotye album?
“Well, I'm really close – I think I'm one song away, and this last song I think is really strong and I hope it won't take too long to record and finish,” he replies. “I'm looking for a 'second storey' in the song and I hope I find the right person who'll help finish it.”
Ladies and gentlemen, he's back.
GOTYE plays The National Theatre on Friday January 14 and Laneway Festival at the Footscray Community Art Centre on Saturday February 5 (both sold out). Eyes Wide Open is out now – and the new GOTYE album will hopefully be out later this year.