Chicago Music Magazine Editor In Chief Shawn Kellner recently caught up with Gotye on the phone.
CMM: Shawn Kellner, Chicago Music Magazine, on the phone with me now is Gotye. How you doin’, man, how’s it going?
Gotye: Good! In New Orleans. First Time.
CMM: New Orleans, that’s a great place to be. You’re going pretty much through the South right now on tour, right?
Gotye: Yeah, it’s our first time here.
CMM: Very cool. How do you like New Orleans? It’s definitely a very artistic, musical place.
Gotye: Yeah, you can definitely feel that energy here, hung out in the Frenchman last night , I had a walk around the French Quarter and got to see a little bit. Had some good food. Yeah, and all the weatherboards and the shutters – it’s got a definite feel when you’re around here, instantly.
CMM: So this has been kind of an amazing couple of years for you, breaking into the U.S. and coming in with such a big song, “Somebody That I Used to Know.” How has playing in the U.S. been different than playing where you started, in Australia and even as far back as Belgium and those years?
Gotye: I guess the style of touring has been different because we've been on a bus a lot of the time, and we’ve been playing bigger venues. We've got decent size band rooms so we’ve got a bit more space to ourselves. I don’t know, everyone on the band and crew has been having a fantastic time. One thing that’s slightly different is that sometimes in previous years I didn’t always love the touring experience, but the few times I’ve toured America now, I’ve had a fantastic time. I think, touring America – I don’t know what it is, maybe a combination of weather and, you know, great crowds and good venues and, you know, getting your schedule right so that your routine works out day by day – I don’t know, we’re having a great time.
CMM: What music do you listen to when you’re on the road? What do you find on your iPod?
Gotye: Oh, at any given time I don’t know, what have I been listening to recently? Let’s see, the new Divine Fits record, I listen to all the stuff by a band called The Weepies, I’ve been buying a lot of vinyl – we’ve got vinyl and a turntable in our band room – and it’s been all sorts of things recently. Curtis Mayfield, Aphex Twin, Fiona Apple’s new record, new Prefects, new Yeasayer, Tim was playing some Four Tet the other day I hadn’t heard – yeah, it’s quite eclectic.
CMM: When you go into writing a record like the one you put out last year, in 2011, do you go for an overall message in your records, or do you write on more of a song-by-song basis?
Gotye: It’s definitely song-by-song, I don’t start an album with an overall conceptual approach, yet. But, you know, inevitably somewhere about halfway to three-quarters of the way through an album process you get a bunch of texts together, you start to realize how they potentially relate to each other and how they can tell a different story, and how they’re potentially sequenced. So then toward the end of the process I find I might write some songs to fill certain spaces between other tracks or kind of complete the feel, but I’ve only just come to working myself once I’ve finished a bunch of other songs.
CMM: Can you tell us a little bit about how going into “Somebody That I Used to Know” went down and how you met Kimbra, or how Kimbra was brought to the table, and how your relationship formed and where you guys are at today?
Gotye: Yeah, well, I’d wrote the female part for the song late 2010, and we spent about five months trying to find the right female vocalist for the song, and let me tell you, it a great thing to do some vocals with Kimbra in Melbourne at her apartment and to realize that she was really great for the track, because I’d tried with a few other people and been struggling to find the right thing.
CMM: Did you guys know each other before the opportunity presented itself?
Gotye: We’d met a few years before, yeah, in Melbourne. She’d just moved from New Zealand. We met at one of her shows, I went to see her play a little gig in a local bar and I was instantly blown away. So we’d known each other for a while, we hadn’t stayed in very close touch, though.
CMM: What went into writing that song, because you’ve connected with people of pretty much every age, of every race, of every religion, of every location with those words and with that music. Is that song about something very personal to you?
Gotye: Well, I’ve certainly experienced the kind of vacillating emotions or, you know, feeling of confusion, the poles of sort of sweet melancholy about an old relationship versus uncertainty and bitterness or angst about where you stand with somebody. It’s not about one particular relationship, it’s more based on a collection of memories of different points in different relationships and it’s also about the lines that are sort of fictionally there. It comes out of autobiography but it’s definitely embellished to turn it into a song.
CMM: How has your relationship with the fans changed after you put out that song, and how have they attached themselves to a lot of the other music that you’ve done in the past?
Gotye: It’s really varied. There are a lot of new people coming to my music, some of whom discover a lot of different stuff in the variety of music I’ve made, on this record and on previous albums, who find a very deep connection with a range of other songs and who often tell me that they like “Somebody That I Used to Know” or maybe who think it’s OK but it’s nowhere near their favorite song, or as much as it might have got them intrigued that they found a wealth of other stuff on my records and in my live shows. There’s certainly – definitely – a large number of people who are only really into that song or not interested in checking out other stuff, or hope that more of the rest of my stuff is like that song and then they’re disappointed that it’s not. I guess you get all sorts, which is just inevitable when you have a mainstream crossover, you immediately become a part of pop culture and you’ll get myriad responses. Obviously the ones who are the most resonant with me are the people who take time to let me know the connection they’ve made with other tracks – especially the tracks that are my favorites, songs like “State of the Art” or “Bronte” that are closer to my heart, there are a bunch of people out there through Twitter or e-mail who let me know that they very closely connect with those songs. I feel more of a connection with those expressions than, you know, random tweets about “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
CMM:Totally. To change the dynamic a bit, you’ve gotten the opportunity to come through Chicago quite a few times, right?
Gotye: I’ve been there – yeah, a couple of times, now.
CMM: Have you had a little bit of time to explore the city and experience it a little bit?
Gotye: Well, I’ve really made an effort in every city we’ve been to to try and get out for two or three hours, but you might only get just a taste of the record store or the café, restaurant, see some buildings, maybe make some new friends, which is great because it’s easy to end up getting in the bus or in the band room. There’s really only been one or two days where I’ve done that, when I’ve been too tired to get out. But even then, when you make that effort, you have sound check or promo or show time and other commitments, so you only really get a glimpse. The glimpse I have had of Chicago has been beautiful, the city on the side of Lake Michigan – I’m still kind of flabbergasted at that massive body of freshwater, I only really registered that maybe the second time I got there. And, you know, Chicago’s huge high-rise skyline, and the great food there, you can find some interesting bars and cafés, but that’s been it so far. I hope that I can come back and explore the city, I’d like to see some of the music and see some other record stores and get more of a feel in the future.
CMM: What’s your favorite thing about playing music? This is what you dreamed of when you were young in Australia, this is literally what you dreamed of, right – touring the world and playing music?
Gotye: I’ve been having a fantastic time doing it, but I wasn’t that kind of kid growing up, dreaming about being a pop star or touring the world. I’ve come at it from wanting to make records and being fascinated by the kind of transportative quality of records that I’ve loved, the possibilities of what you can play and what a song can do, changing a life, in a way. The really positive experiences of touring and getting to meet people and seeing the world – that’s all been like this surprising bonus, in a way. I mean, I’ve done plenty of touring over the years, but the fact that it’s going so well now and I’m getting to travel to so many interesting places and enjoying the experience of doing it so much – it’s amazing but it’s not something that I specifically worked toward or dreamed about but it’s sort of like this amazing side product of having made music in the studio.
CMM:Do you have any advice for young artists that just aspire to make music that’s honest and be able to tour, be able to have a successful career?
Gotye: Stay focused on what you do. Persistence is very, very key. And try to learn about all aspects of what you produce, record, and release – the music and how you promote it. I think the more you know about those aspects, the better. Try to do as much as you can yourself. The more control you have, the better, definitely. And work with good people, is really key.
CMM: Have you started writing some new music towards another record?
Gotye: No, quite simply.
CMM: Does going to all these different places and seeing all the different things you’re seeing – is that going to contribute to when you do start the writing process again, what we might see from you in the future?
Gotye: I’m not really sure, I mean there’s a bunch of people I’ve met, producers whose work I really admire – I’d love to travel around the world and work with some of those guys. There’s an amazing place in Calgary, Canada called The National Music Center that’s an incredible repository of acoustic and electronic instruments, I’d love to spend some time in residence there and sample and record some things. I don’t know, I guess I’m excited about the idea of starting with a blank slate and possibly trying to do something that’s more electronic. I’ve been really fascinated by electronic music and instruments and it’s something that’s never really played itself out in the sound of my records.
CMM: We really appreciate you taking time out to talk with us today and we look forward to catching up with you on the road, I know that you're going to be at Austin City Limits and we’re going to be there as well, we’re going to come to see your show and enjoy your music, along with a lot of other people. We wish you safety and prosperity on the road, and we look forward to catching up with you soon.
Gotye: Cool, man. Thanks for taking the time.