JUST WHERE the heck did Gotye come from, anyway? The alter ego of Belgian-Australian producer Wouter "Wally" De Backer seems to have exploded onto American airwaves in a matter of weeks; his first Portland show was scheduled for the sizeable Star Theater, then was moved to the gargantuan Crystal Ballroom, and quickly sold out. (Ticketholders, take note: Gotye plays Monday, April 9 and not the previously announced date of April 11.) And "Somebody That I Used to Know"—that song from Gotye's Making Mirrors that sounds uncannily like Sting, but, you know, without all that tantric ickiness—has been on constant rotation at 94.7; according to Program Director Mark Hamilton, it clocked the most positive listener response of any song the station has played since Coldplay's "Yellow."
The fact is that Gotye—according to his website, it's pronounced "gore-ti-yeah," making him the most mispronounced pop star since Sade—has been huge everywhere but America for close to a decade. His 2006 album Like Drawing Blood was a massive hit in Australia; Making Mirrors was a smash across the globe prior to its US release in January. It was the result of a prolonged period of De Backer tinkering in the studio with samples and effects, making pristine, classic-sounding pop out of found sounds with his uncanny knack for melody. "For me it has more of an arc than the other records," De Backer says. "The early material examines different levels of frustration and not being able to break through some kind of barrier, and then there's a pivot point with the really 'up' tracks on the album that quite literally holds more celebratory and—what would I say—redemptive material."
De Backer's approach to songwriting and recording is largely one of trial and error. "It's a fluid thing: arranging, producing, and writing," he says. "They all happen very fluidly. A production idea could be something like an absolute snippet of sound, and by putting, say, a delay effect on that, a whole new musical idea can trigger a line of lyric—and that lyric, tic-tac-toe-style, leads to a vague idea of the eventual arrangements. It just goes along like that; you hit different brick walls along the way. But I guess I tinker at it until it makes sense."