Bryget Chrisfield explores a favourite record which spelled the lift-off to cultural stardom for an important act. This month: Gotye’s Making Mirrors (2011).
Remember when you couldn’t walk more than five metres, anywhere in the world, without hearing Gotye’s worldwide smash Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra)? You know, that one with the xylophone melody that’s reminiscent of Baa Baa Black Sheep?
The best-selling ever single by an Australian artist (according to ARIA’s accreditations), the track topped the 2011 Hottest 100, was awarded six ARIA Awards that same year, plus two Grammys (in 2013). Presenting the Record Of The Year Grammy that year, Prince opened the envelope and acknowledged, “I love this song,” before announcing Somebody That I Used To Know as the winner.
When Gotye accepted his Best Male Artist ARIA back in 2007, he took to the podium in socked feet, later explaining he hadn’t had a chance to put his shoes back on after drumming during his performance – geeky cuteness overload.
Somebody That I Used To Know was the #1 single on iTunes in 46 countries and topped the singles chart in 28 countries. In 2012, it was the most-streamed song on Spotify (just ahead of Carly Rae Jepsen’s smash hit Call Me Maybe). That same year, Gotye’s song was also the biggest-selling single in both the US and the UK.
A two-note steel guitar loop sampled from Luiz Bonfá’s Seville was the springboard for Somebody That I Used To Know, with Gotye generously giving the Brazilian musician a co-writing credit (it’s been reported that the late Bonfá’s estate receives 45% of this song’s royalties).
Somebody That I Used To Know also put Kimbra – who wasn’t Gotye’s initial choice to feature – on the map. During one interview, De Backer revealed: “There was a vocalist who was quite high profile in Australia who was all set to do it and then cancelled the night before we were going to do the vocal session. In fact, we met at a festival months later and she was just like, ‘Maybe that was a mistake’.”
We’re ever so glad Kimbra got the gig though, ‘cause only someone with a jazz background could deliver her first line in this song, “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over,” with such class and quiet dignity. Kimbra’s voice melts in just beyond the two-and-a-half-minute mark, post-first chorus when we’re obviously Team Gotye (can you even fathom that chorus chord progression? DAYUM!). But Kimbra quickly gains our sympathy and we hear her out, even though Wally has already outlined her harshness (“Have your friends collect your records and then change your number”).
Kimbra totally owns the award-winning, Natasha Pincus-directed clip as well, which leaked online and resulted in Somebody That I Used To Know being rush-released six days ahead of schedule. It features Gotye and Kimbra decked out in full bodypaint, their forms blurring into the matching painted backdrop. De Backer recalls the journey home from this shoot: “I quite clearly remember driving home at 9am, after shooting all day, in a bathrobe, with bodypaint all over my face, and going through McDonald’s drive-thru. I ordered a coffee to make sure I didn’t crash on the way home. And the girl working there, she didn’t even bat an eyelid. I guess it’s a regular thing down in Hastings McDonald’s.”
The film clip has over a billion YouTube views, but De Backer refuses to host ads on his YouTube page, stating during an interview, “Ads are calling for our attention anywhere we turn in the world. If you can do something you care about, and other people maybe care about, and keep it out of that world that feels like it’s all about ‘hey buy this stuff’, then that’s a good thing.”
One thing’s for sure: Making Mirrors – which is certified triple-Platinum in Australia and houses Somebody That I Used To Know – is Gotye’s most palatable, idiosyncratic experimental offering to date. De Backer mainly utilised a MacBook Pro and reel-to-reel tape machine to record his third album, in a barn on his parents’ Mornington Peninsula property.
Gotye wanted to move away from the sample-based approach he’d used on his previous two records Boardface and my personal favourite Like Drawing Blood (which contains Hearts A Mess, resplendent with De Backer’s devastatingly crestfallen-yet-soaring “ConneeeeEEEEEEECT” vocal pinnacle that we could easily listen to for an eternity on loop). Instead, Gotye favoured multi-sampling acoustic instruments. Becoming particularly interested in autoharp, he recorded one note at a time, storing each note in a sampler on his laptop and then playing these individual notes back through a MIDI keyboard. But soon the lure of sampling old vinyl returned when he sourced a horn break from a one-off recording of a Taiwanese traditional song (off Frances Yip’s Discovery record), which inspired State Of The Art.
While he was recording Making Mirrors, De Backer’s parents bought him a vintage Lowrey Cotillion Model D-575 organ, which they purchased for 100 bucks at a second hand store; his fascination with this instrument informed State Of The Art’s lyrical theme and video concept. De Backer sang the entire song in monotone and then electronically shifted each note, warping the vocal melody to sound like phrases beamed in from another dimension.
Making Mirrors was launched at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Graphic Festival, with Gotye accompanied by a ten-piece orchestra for a performance that was also brought to life visually by animators. The album collected five ARIA Awards in 2012, before Gotye took out the 2013 Best Alternative Music Album Grammy. (Random fact from Gotye’s Grammys.com artist page: “Gotye has been the subject of multiple clues on the television game show Jeopardy!.”)
De Backer has described the Helpmann Award-winning Gotye Presents A Tribute To Jean-Jacques Perrey (Sydney Festival, 2018) as a “two-year labour of love.” During his fascinating J Files episode, De Backer revealed he had also paid tribute to the late French artist he affectionately refers to as his “spiritual grandfather” by writing a song, which will appear on the next Gotye album.
Even though we’re all well aware that you can’t rush perfection, when will our ears be blessed with fresh Gotye input!? (No pressure, Wally.)