Wouter De Backer has heard it all. How do you pronounce his stage name, Gotye? Oh — like fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier? And who is his gorgeous duet partner in the mad trendy YouTube clip for the chic "Somebody That I Used to Know?" That's Kimbra — equally popular in the two's home base of Australia. Perhaps most grating is the constant comparisons, vocally, to tantric sex enthusiast and lute player Sting.
DISCONNECT Gotye is happy about the YouTube-propelled success of "Somebody That I Used To Know, but he also finds himself asking, "How did this happen?"
"It's flattering onthe one hand, but on the other hand it's not flattering when they just compare you to other vocalists," says De Backer (who simply goes by Wally) over the phone as he prepares for his first-ever US tour, which rolls into the House of Blues March 29. "Sometimes I sing a very high tenor, and while I guess there are other male vocalists that do that at times, maybe I don't sound like a high-singing emo singer as a lot of American rock vocalists tend to do these days."
But it's the striking, raw timbre of Gotye's voice that has helped "Somebody That I Used to Know" in its meteoric rise on charts around the world. That song is also the reason why his third album, last year's Making Mirrors, was the first to have any impact in the US. The song has been parodied endlessly, dissected to the point where people have determined that the xylophone opening is a take on "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep," and the track has been tweaked by DJs everywhere — check the sick dance remix by Boston's George Vala.
"It really is crazy, I gotta say, because it still doesn't quite . . . it's still kind of a disconnect for me, like when I was in LA recently: I'm tuned into KROQ in a taxi and they play Linkin Park, Green Day, Foo Fighters, and then my song. It just makes no sense musically. I mean, it's great, I've got a smile on my face when I hear it, but I ask myself, 'How did this happen?' "
One of the primary reasons is the accompanying YouTube video that launched last July and has had well over 100 million views. It's filmed like a paint-by-numbers come to life, the simple application of colors and lines over Gotye's naked body and a blank flesh-colored background comporting nicely with the simplicity of the song's lyrics, which present both perspectives on the demise of a relationship. Though Gotye claims it didn't come from one particular bond in his past.
"The first line in the song, 'Now and then I think of when we were together,' that is possibly the most instructive in terms of where the song comes from. It was written, I suppose, groping through the fog of memories, thinking back to multiple relationships and breakups and the result, from the age of 15 until present day, to my last breakup. If anything, I think the song isn't about a breakup itself, as much as it is sometimes how confusing and how varied your feelings can be after a breakup, especially when you have to kind of remember different parts of the relationship."