Singer Gotye's YouTube hit no overnight sensation

Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:55am EST

* Gotye's song has nearly 85 million YouTube hits

* Online exposure sees his name go global

* Belgian-Australian wonders if fame will affect music

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - In an age when celebrities are born overnight via YouTube and reality TV, to call Belgian-Australian electro-pop musician Gotye an internet sensation may be to do him a disservice.

Long before his catchy "Somebody That I Used To Know" and accompanying "paint by numbers" video notched 84,487,757 (and counting) hits on YouTube, he was a musical experimenter enjoying limited success in Australia.

He released his first two albums independently -- "Boardface" in 2003 and "Like Drawing Blood" in 2006 -- and also plays in a band called The Basics.

Now Gotye is a name to watch who has signed a deal with the world's largest record label Universal and is heading to the United States for a four-week tour culminating in two dates at the Coachella music festival in April.

While the 31-year-old is embracing his new-found global fame, part of him hankers for the way things were.

"I put out my first two records totally independently in Australia, and the second record, with alternative radio airplay and great word-of-mouth, it eventually went platinum," he told Reuters by telephone from Hamburg, where he was on the latest stop of his European tour.

"There was not even a poster on a wall, people just heard it. Part of me really likes that purity."

Gotye, whose real name is Wouter De Backer, is also curious to see if his rising reputation and international chart success will influence his musical style.

"I will be interested to see, when I am writing new material, whether it will have a bearing -- am I going to be writing for 10 million people or just myself, which is how I've always done it?

"I may be drawn to make more underground music in response to how big this song and album has become," he added. Somebody That I Used To Know comes from the album "Making Mirrors" which was released in Australia last August.

OBSCURE INSTRUMENTS

Gotye was born in Belgium in 1980 and moved to Australia with his family when he was two. According to online biographies, he formed a band at high school and released a 50-copy-only four-track CD in 2001.

Boardface, his debut album, followed in 2003, and three years later came "Like Drawing Blood", a record which featured in radio listeners' polls and was nominated for, and won, several awards in Australia.

Making Mirrors topped the Australian album chart, but it was the viral success of break-up song Somebody That I Used To Know, aided by Twitter endorsements from celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, that launched Gotye on the global stage.

Likened to artists Peter Gabriel and Hall & Oates, music critics have welcomed Gotye's willingness to experiment with different sounds and styles, setting him apart from the "manufactured" feel of many male solo artists.

His fascination for sounds both real and synthesized -- he features recordings of frogs and fence strings on a windy night in his songs -- is summed up by Making Mirrors track "State of the Art".

Warped vocals deliver lines like "It's a genuine home entertainment revelation" and "The Magic Swing Piano really is astounding" to describe his Lowrey Cotillion electric organ, to which the track is a humorous ode.

One side effect of Gotye's popularity is the number of cover versions of his songs surfacing on the internet.

One, by Canadian indie band Walk Off the Earth, made headlines with a version of Somebody That I Used to Know in which five band members perform the song on the same guitar at the same time. It passed 60 million YouTube hits on Thursday.

"This is one of the nice things the internet gives you," Gotye said, adding that some covers were better than others. "Culture is free and people can respond in the way they want, and I don't think you can try and control that too much."

Looking ahead, Gotye said he had no firm plans for new material, but when it did come it was unlikely to live up to the hype surrounding Somebody That I Used To Know.

"A lot of people ask me, do you feel pressure? My genuine response is that I'm pretty sure my next single is not going to hit number one in 10 countries.

"Of course it's great if it did, but my sense is that this song has something special that sets it aside." (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)