Austin Fusion got to share a little downtime with Wally De Backer a.k.a. Gotye after his ACL Fest performance. Austin was the last stop of his U.S. Tour before a two-week break when the tour continues in Europe.
AFM: Having just been through Dallas and Houston, and with the upcoming break, do you have anything special planned for your time in Austin?
GOTYE: Yeah, I’m getting to catch up with GIVERS. Some of the guys are going to be hanging out in Austin at ACL and for a few days afterward. Me and my girlfriend and some of the GIVERS are going to catch up and check out a bit of Austin. They’ve got some ideas for us.
(You can catch GIVERS at Fun Fun Fun Fest on the Orange Stage on Nov. 4 at 4:25 p.m.)
AFM: Austin’s is a city known for its creative community & support for artists here. Was there much of an artistic community growing up in Melbourne?
GOTYE: I didn’t really grow up with an artistic community. I mean, I grew up with very supportive parents who certainly had an interesting record collection and a lot of art & books around. I had friends who were interested in graphic design, film & music, but I wouldn’t say I grew up in an artistic community. Nor do I feel I grew up in a specific music scene in Melbourne. I sorta made my own way – online, digging through thrift shops and looking in books – things like that.
AFM: Do you have any interest in establishing some kind of artistic community in Melbourne?
GOTYE: It’s kind of tough in Australia because we’re quite isolated. Yeah, I’d love to contribute back to the art and music scene (up-and-coming musicians in Australia specifically). I’ve seen a lot of success with sales of the record this past year and touring. I’d love to try to put together some kind of funding that would allow those musicians (like I was 10 years ago) who are making music independently, or doing something interesting & unique to be able to fund their projects. I’d have to figure out how to do that, but that’s something I’d love to do.
Growing up in Australia, I certainly felt free to just experiment and make whatever music I was interested in making. Looking back, I can say it’s probably nice not feeling like I was growing up in a certain scene or feeling like there were a particular group of peers whose taste or aesthetics I was conscious of. I was just kind of following my own instincts. You have far more access than you once did. If you spend the time and you have a curious mind, you can get in touch with a lot of different things.”
AFM: How have your live performances changed over time?
GOTYE: When I did a one-man show I thought that some aspects were really good but it felt too reliant on pre-prepared material. I’ve done shows with larger band lineups where we were all triggering sounds with multiple hands and voice – even feet sometimes – triggering things with foot pedals. I feel that now I’ve struck a balance, which is working really well with the 5-piece band. We’re playing 95-99 percent of the sound you’re hearing on stage live, so some of the backing vocals are on tracks sometimes. Some percussion sounds or an atmospheric sound may be on tracks just because there isn’t a free hand to play it. As long as the significant hooks and the important parts of the musical conversation in the arrangements and vocal arrangements are played live – I think that’s really important.
I think that context changes a lot for the audience in our shows depending on whether we have our camera team and our screens on the side of the stage. We haven’t been able to do it as many times as I would’ve liked. If there’s a bunch of people in the audience at the smaller shows where we don’t have cameras and screens, some would probably have no idea how much of the sound is played live or where certain sounds are coming from.
AFM: Why is it important for Gotye to actually perform the pre-recorded sounds live on stage?
GOTYE: The context of a lot of the performance is so different than the record. You really are “physicalizing” things for people. That (visualizing) can be a big part of what makes the sound connect or carry for the audience. There is just a different feel when you play something live. It can actually be quite a good thing, when you have variation I think it connects in a different way. As humans, we have this uncanny ability to pick when something sounds exactly as we’ve heard it on the record. That potentially creates a kind of subconscious disconnect because you kind of know that there is already some playback involved. You see so much of that these days. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy some “playback” shows, like really heavy & intense music shows that are all playback. It’s really about an experience of sounds and lights. The experience can be absolutely fantastic. For certain types of music this [playback format] really falls flat, so I’m really conscious of making sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen in any parts of our set.
AFM: You’ve mentioned in the past that one instrument you really wanted to get for yourself was a Yamaha EX-42 organ. Did you ever get it?
GOTYE: Yeah dude, I got it! It has this mythical quality for me because I’ve seen this organ on the front of records like “Yamaha Superstar” that I’ve seen in thrift shops over the years. Talking with friends, we would kind of riff about the EX-42 and how we’d probably never see one in our lifetime. It’s really got some cutting edge technology for its time. The vibrato you can get from wiggling the keys side to side or the after-touch sensitivity – things that Yamaha really experimented with in this organ that you don’t get in a typical synthesizer these days. It’s also kind of “pre-digital”, it’s entirely analog, so it certainly will have a grit & warmth to it. The same thing that I found a bit absurd, but ended up liking because of its strangeness was the Lowrey Cotillion organ that I wrote “State of the Art” about. Particular sound patches have so much character that they can end up defining a certain section of a song. I’m really looking forward to playing with it!
AFM: You have seen a lot of global fanfare since the release of Making Mirrors. What has stuck with you from the experience of playing for an ever-increasing global following?
GOTYE: I’m really enjoying the experience of touring, but when I meet someone that has been really engaged in my music or a show it can be challenging to match their energy. There is a potential for disconnect between how good I feel the experience of a show was and how a fan or someone in the audience felt it went. I’ve come to realize that sometimes for me, the tougher shows have gone over really well with the audience, but the shows where I was really feeling it – the audience’s experience hardly changes one bit.
AFM: Is there a song in particular that, at least initially, was a challenge to perform or play live?
GOTYE: Definitely. The song “Bronte” was a challenge at first to play live. I spent a long time searching for a very specific instrument to play the steel-drum-like sample I used in recording the song. Finally, after 3 months of searching, I found a custom-made metallophone instrument made by a professor in Melbourne – Dr. Neil McLaughlin – who’s been investigating the psycho-acoustic properties of chimes. He’s developed these chimes that – unlike vibraphones or glockenspiels – have harmonic overtones that are in the harmonic series. As beautiful as vibraphones sound, they technically have dissonant overtones: meaning certain intervals or combinations of notes will naturally clash when you play them. The custom metallophone was never quite on constant pitch and it was an absolute head fuck to tune this instrument and sync with the other sounds and instruments on stage! I spent months working with it. Finally on this tour, we found out how to do it. We dropped some of the conflicting samples and replaced them with other instruments and patches we made up to match the new live sound.
AFM: Can you describe the feeling you get when you achieve or record the “right sound”? Are your sounds or compositions an answer to a problem or are they orchestrated simply to see if inspiration strikes?
GOTYE: It depends on the moment. If it’s finding the sample or combination of sounds that could start a new tune off, it feels like discovery. I get this feeling of turning something up that I wasn’t specifically looking for but that’s promising or exciting at first glimpse. There are other moments when I find a sound that feels like it fulfills a certain role or completes a puzzle – that’s satisfying in a different way. It’s related to the feeling of being a music fan like when you hear an amazing record for the first time or when you walk into a venue and unexpectedly see a live band that you realize you’re really moved by. That’s the feeling I liken to the process of sampling or tinkering with sound. It feels like you’re kind of orchestrating in some way and are part of creating this thing, but you’re also discovering and just able to observe what’s happening.
You know, I’ve sometimes thought that if I’m choosing to spend my time collecting odd records, trying to find and combine sounds, responding with words and music that get me excited and using all of this technology… is the problem that I’m answering one of loneliness? Is it one of trying to connect to the world somehow, or to energy in the world, through these peculiar little discoveries? Is it the junkyard king in me that’s sitting on a scrap heap of sampled sounds – kind of lonely but somehow looking to connect by hoarding these weird artifacts of culture and creating meaning through them? There’s some aspect of that in it I think.
If Gotye’s the junkyard king, then he has certainly found a way to orchestrate the “scrap heap” into beautiful music and piles of success.
Gotye will resume his global tour in Europe at the end of October with additional dates in Dubai, Australia and Japan. Click here for the official dates and ticketing.