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Wouter "Wally" De Backer (born 21 May 1980), better known as Gotye (pronounced // GAW-tee-ay), is a Belgian-Australian multi-instrumental musician and singer-songwriter. The name "Gotye" is a pronunciation respelling of "Gauthier", the French cognate of Gotye's given Flemish name "Wouter" (English "Walter", hence the nickname "Wally").
Gotye has released three studio albums independently and one album featuring remixes of tracks from his first two albums. He is a member of the Melbourne indie-pop trio The Basics, who have independently released three studio albums and numerous other titles since 2002. His voice has been compared to those of Peter Gabriel and Sting. Gotye's 2011 single "Somebody That I Used to Know" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, making him the fifth Australian-based artist to do so and the second Belgian (after The Singing Nun in 1963). He has won five ARIA Awards and received a nomination for an MTV EMA for Best Asia and Pacific Act. On 10 February 2013, he won three Grammy Awards at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards Show: Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Somebody That I Used to Know" and Best Alternative Music Album for Making Mirrors. Gotye has said he sometimes feels "less of a musician, more of a tinkerer."
Gotye is bilingual, speaking both Dutch and English, and also speaks some Japanese, which he studied at University.
Born in Bruges, Belgium, in 1980, De Backer emigrated to Australia with his family when he was two years old. They first resided in Sydney, New South Wales before settling in Montmorency, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. His parents chose to use the English equivalent of his name, Walter, when enrolling him in school.
As a youth, De Backer displayed a passion for music, learning various instruments, most notably piano and drums. In his teens, De Backer formed the band Downstares with three of his high school friends, including Lucas Taranto (who still plays in his Gotye live shows). After high school, the members of Downstares went their separate ways, leaving De Backer with no musical outlet.
In 2001, his parents moved into a new home, leaving their old family house in Montmorency, so he could continue his studies at the University of Melbourne where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. Two friends moved in with him and the house became affectionately known as The Frat House, where friends would regularly drop by and hang out. The first seeds of Gotye were planted when De Backer was given a large collection of old records. An elderly neighbour, having heard Downstares rehearsing over the years, gave his then-recently deceased wife's LP record collection to De Backer.
In 2001, De Backer recorded his first tracks primarily using samples. He put together a four-track CD which included the song "Out Here in the Cold". He made approximately 50 copies of this first collection, handwriting the track list and colouring in the cover sleeve in pencil. He drew on his cultural history for inspiration when naming his new project; Wouter translates into French as Gaultier (or Gautier or Gauthier), a pet name used by his mother (who gave French classes) when he was a child. He chose his own spelling of this variation and named the project Gotye. He sent the CDs out to every radio station and recording industry contact he could find in the phonebook, then followed each up with phone calls to ensure they were delivered. Feedback on the first release was mainly positive with Melbourne street press and Australian youth radio station Triple J taking notice, giving him confidence to continue with further sample-based recordings.
Around this time, Gotye met fellow singer-songwriter Kris Schroeder at a party in Mt Eliza, and the two began performing together under the name The Basics. They formed an enduring songwriting and performing partnership and became regulars on the live music scene, giving De Backer an outlet for his passion for live performance. The Basics have continued to tour and record alongside Gotye, releasing four albums between 2004 and 2010.
De Backer went on to produce two more four-track Gotye collections which were met with positive reviews, with several tracks getting onto the rotation at Triple J. The CDs were made in the same style as the first, with De Backer hand crafting each one and tenaciously chasing up every opportunity to get an audience for his work. Interest in the Gotye project was growing, and De Backer was eventually offered a distribution deal for an album, which would essentially be a collection of the tracks from his three earlier releases. This album was released as Boardface in late 2003.
In 2004, De Backer's parents opted to sell The Frat House and De Backer moved into a shared house in the South East of Melbourne. He took up work at a local library, while continuing to perform with The Basics and record his own Gotye tracks. Over the next few years, De Backer moved several times, each time shifting his home recording studio to a new location with new acoustic qualities. The culmination of this was the second Gotye album, Like Drawing Blood—named in reference to the difficulties De Backer experienced in recording his music in ever-changing environments. The album marked the beginning of his working relationship with long term manager Danny Rogers – manager of Australian indie band The Temper Trap – whom he had first approached via email.
Like Drawing Blood was featured by Triple J in May 2006 and was voted No. 1 in the listener poll of the Best Album of 2006. The album was also nominated for a J Award that year. Two tracks from that album, "Learnalilgivinanlovin" and "Hearts a Mess", were ranked No. 94 and No. 8 respectively in Triple J's Hottest 100 for 2006. Like Drawing Blood has been certified Platinum in Australia for sales of over 70,000 copies. His first single, "Learnalilgivinanlovin", was released in August 2006.
In September 2006, Gotye was nominated for an ARIA Award for best independent release for the album Like Drawing Blood. Also in 2006 Gotye won 'Most Outstanding New Independent Artist' at the inaugural Australian Independent Record (AIR) Chart Awards and Like Drawing Blood was amongst nine shortlisted finalists in the 2006 Australian Music Prize.
In 2007, De Backer won the ARIA for best male artist. As a result of the publicity of the nomination, Like Drawing Blood re-entered the ARIA albums chart at No. 36, surpassing the previous peak of No. 39. Also, Mixed Blood debuted on the ARIA albums chart at No. 44. Both of these entries came the first week after the ARIA Awards. In 2008, Like Drawing Blood won iTunes album of the year in the UK.
In 2009, "Hearts a Mess" came in at No. 77 in Triple J's Hottest 100 of All Time, voted by the Australian public. Gotye's first European success came in 2008, when "Learnalilgivinanlovin" and "Hearts a Mess" charted in Belgium, followed in 2009 by the single "Coming back". "Learnalilgivinanlovin" also received air play on Dutch radio stations. In 2011, Like Drawing Blood came in at No. 11 in Triple J's Hottest 100 Australian Albums of All Time. Amidst the lead-up to Gotye's third album, Like Drawing Blood re-entered the ARIA charts in mid-2011, peaking at its highest ever position of 13.
Like Drawing Blood was officially released in the U.S. in 2012.
After the success of Like Drawing Blood, De Backer was able to establish a permanent home, still in Melbourne's south east. In 2010, he set up a recording studio in a barn at his parents' farm and set about recording tracks for his third album. He released a new single, "Eyes Wide Open", online and on 10" vinyl in mid-October 2010. The "Eyes Wide Open" single received generally positive reviews and reached Number 25 on the Triple J Hottest 100 of 2010. "Eyes Wide Open" was also shortlisted for the 2011 APRA Music Awards in the Song of the Year category.
In late March 2011, De Backer revealed the next album's title to be Making Mirrors. The title was inspired by an artwork his father painted in the 1980s, discovered by De Backer among old bills and newspapers in his parents' barn; it was later edited in Photoshop to become the album artwork. "The mirror reflects on artwork and it is all very related to self-reflection and introspection on the album." De Backer also revealed that the album would see a release in June or July 2011, with a single to precede the release. De Backer also stated that the album would be similar to its predecessor in terms of diversity.
On 19 May 2011, it was announced that the album would be released on 19 August, with its launch the following day at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Graphic Festival which would feature animators and a 10-piece orchestra as part of Gotye's performance. De Backer also released a follow-up single to "Eyes Wide Open" titled "Somebody That I Used to Know" featuring New Zealand musician Kimbra, which was released on 6 July 2011 and debuted at Number 27 on the ARIA Top 50 Singles Chart. The single quickly moved up the ARIA singles chart despite a lack of airplay on commercial radio stations. The song was further boosted by endorsements from Ashton Kutcher and Lily Allen via Twitter, exposing Gotye's music to their millions of followers. The single has gone on to reach 10× Platinum (700,000 units sold) status in Australia and 5x Platinum (5,000,000 units sold) status in the US. It has peaked at Number 1 in 18 countries including the Australian ARIA Singles Chart, the Belgian Singles Chart, the Dutch Megacharts, the German Media Control Chart, the Official UK Top 40 and the US Billboard Hot 100. "Somebody That I Used To Know" has been the Number 1 single on iTunes in 46 countries.
On 5 July 2011, Gotye released a film clip for the song "Somebody That I Used to Know" on YouTube and Vimeo. Directed by Natasha Pincus, the video has now been viewed over 437 million times (as of October 2013). On 6 October 2011 the video was awarded the Melbourne Design Award. The video is the Number 15 most viewed video of all-time on YouTube and the Number 4 most liked video of all-time.
On 15 July 2011, it was announced that "Somebody That I Used to Know" had come in third in the 2011 Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition. On 8 August 2011, Gotye released a film clip for the song "Bronte" on YouTube and Vimeo. The visuals were animated and directed by Ari Gibson at Mechanical Apple. Also on this date, Gotye released a video title "Making Making Mirrors", which is a short documentary about the recording process of "Making Mirrors". The video was directed by James Bryans and Wally De Backer. On 13 August 2011, Gotye released a film clip for the song "State of the Art" on YouTube and Vimeo. The visuals were animated and directed by Greg Sharp & Ivan Dixon at Rubber House.
In its first week of release, Making Mirrors was already at Number 1 on the Australian ARIA albums chart, making Gotye the first Australian act to simultaneously hold both the Number 1 single and album since Silverchair in 2007. The album became an international success, charting in the Top 10 in 17 countries and reaching Number 1 in six. It charted on the U.S. Billboard 200 (Number 7) and in Canada. The album is 3x Platinum status in Australia, Platinum in France, Poland and Belgium, and Gold in the US, New Zealand, Germany, UK, Ireland, Canada and Netherlands.
On 11 October 2011, it was announced that Gotye had been nominated for seven ARIA Awards. Due to the release date restrictions of the eligibility period, Making Mirrors could not be nominated, and the seven nominations all related to "Somebody That I Used to Know". Gotye was nominated for Highest Selling Single, Single of the Year, Best Pop Release, Best Male Artist and three awards in the ARIA Artisan category: Best Video (Natasha Pincus), Engineer of the Year (Francois Tetaz) and Producer of the Year (Wouter De Backer). On the same day the nominations were revealed, the winners of the Artisan categories were announced, with Gotye and the album personnel winning all three. On 27 November 2011, Gotye won three ARIA Awards: Best Male Artist, Best Pop Release and Single of the Year for "Somebody That I Used to Know". Kimbra, who collaborated with Gotye on the song, also won the ARIA award for Best Female Artist.
On 18 October 2011, Gotye released a film clip for the song "Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You" on YouTube and Vimeo. The visuals were animated and directed by Benjamin Drake and Eddie White. On 20 November 2011, Gotye released a film clip for the song "Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You" on YouTube and Vimeo. The visuals were animated and directed by Greg Sharp and Ivan Dixon at Rubber House.
On 1 February 2012, Gotye made his American television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, performing "Eyes Wide Open", "Somebody That I Used to Know" with Kimbra and "State of The Art". On 12 February 2012, "Somebody That I Used to Know" reached Number 1 on the UK singles chart. The next week it fell from the top spot but on 26 February it reached the top spot for a second time, where it remained for a total of five weeks. On 24 February 2012, Gotye released a film clip for the song "Easy Way Out" on YouTube and Vimeo. The visuals were animated and directed by Darcy Prendergast and Oh Yeah Wow.
Gotye performed "Somebody That I Used to Know" on Saturday Night Live on 14 April 2012 along with "Eyes Wide Open". These collective performances helped the single to reach Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending 28 April 2012, giving Gotye his first U.S. Number 1 single; the first Australian artist to reach Number 1 in the U.S. since Savage Garden in 2000. In April 2012, "Somebody That I Used to Know" broke a 47-year-old record in the Netherlands by becoming the most successful song in the history of the Dutch charts. Gotye was interviewed on 7 April 2012 broadcast of National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
The magazine American Songwriter named Gotye their Writer of The Week for the week of 6 February 2012. On 31 May 2012, Gotye announced that he would release a digital compilation of the 10 official remixes of "Somebody That I Used To Know" on 8 June.
Gotye announced a world tour in May 2012 where he'll take in many new parts of the world. The tour begins August 2012 in Korea before winding through Japan, North America, Europe, the Middle East and finishing in Australia in December 2012.
On 15 February 2013, Fractured Heart, an interactive sound and light sculpture designed and built by illuminart in collaboration with Gotye, was launched at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) headquarters in Canberra, Australia. Gotye also curated and presented a special screening of works by some of his favourite animators, including those who have worked with him on the music videos for "Hearts a Mess", "Easy Way Out" and "State of the Art".
The Australian newspaper identified Gotye in its "top 50 most influential Australians in the arts" list; the selection was largely based upon the success of the "Somebody That I Used to Know" song and the publication described the composition as "one of the most successful songs in Australian music history".
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Image from Discogs