He has released three studio albums independently and one remix album featuring remixes of tracks from his first two albums. De Backer is also one-third of Melbourne indie-pop band The Basics, who have independently released three studio albums and numerous other titles since 2002.
He has won five ARIA Awards and received a nomination for an MTV EMA for Best Asia and Pacific Act.
Born in Belgium in 1980, De Backer moved to Australia with his family when he was 2 years old. His parents chose to use the English variation of his name, Walter, when enrolling him in school.
From early on, De Backer displayed a passion for music, learning various instruments, piano and drums most notably. 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 today. Downstares played shows mainly in the North-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and were noted for their song-writing maturity and assured live performances. De Backer was the creative force behind the group, and their music reflected his diverse musical tastes, with Depeche Mode and Kate Bush among his favourite artists. De Backer graduated from Parade College in 1998 and was accepted to study Arts/Law at Melbourne University, and a Diploma in Modern Languages (Japanese). He would later discontinue the Law degree and Japanese studies, and complete a Bachelor of Arts, studying mainly cultural studies.
After high school, the members of Downstares went their separate ways, leaving De Backer with no musical outlet. When De Backer's parents moved house in 2001, they left De Backer the family house in Montmorency so he could continue his studies. 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, whose wife had passed away, had heard Downstares rehearsing over the years and gave his late wife's LP collection to De Backer.
As explained by De Backer in a 2010 interview: "I was depressed about the band and desperate to make music, but I didn't see how a drummer could go solo. A friend came round, saw the records and suggested I try sampling them. To cheer myself up, I spent the evening sampling bits of The Police and Culture Club. It sounded horrible, but something sparked in me, so for the next few weeks I persevered. By the time I had finished one semi-decent song, I was hooked."
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'. De Backer made around fifty copies of this first collection, hand writing 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) and De Backer's mother used to call him Gaultier as a pet name. He chose his own spelling of this variation and named the project 'Gotye'. De Backer sent the CDs out to every radio station and recording industry contact he could find in the phone book, 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. This gave De Backer the confidence to continue on with further sample based recordings.
Around this time, De Backer met fellow singer-songwriter Kris Schroeder at a party in Mt. Eliza, and the two began performing together under the name The Basics. The duo 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 under the name Boardface in late 2003.
Like Drawing Blood (2006–2009)
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 would move house 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.
Like Drawing Blood was featured by Triple J in May 2006 and was voted Number 1 in the listeners 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 "Heart's a Mess", were ranked 94 and 8 respectively in Triple J's Hottest 100 for 2006. Like Drawing Blood has been certified Gold for sales of over 35,000 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 #36, surpassing the previous peak of #39. Also, Mixed Blood debuted on the ARIA albums chart at #44. Both of these entries came the first week after the ARIA Awards. In 2009, "Heart's a Mess" came in at #77 in Triple J's Hottest 100 of All Time, voted by the Australian public.
In 2011, Like Drawing Blood came in at #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.
Making Mirrors (2010–present)
After the success of Like Drawing Blood, De Backer was able to establish a permanent home, still in Melbourne's South East. In 2010, De Backer 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", in mid-October 2010, online and on 10" vinyl. The "Eyes Wide Open" single received generally positive reviews and reached number 25 in 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 album's title to be Making Mirrors. This title was inspired by an artwork, painted by De Backer's father in the 1980s, discovered by De Backer amongst old bills and newspapers in his parents' barn, which 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 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.
In late April 2011, Gotye was announced as one of the acts at the annual Groovin' the Moo Music Festival alongside other Australian artists like Birds of Tokyo, Washington, Art vs Science and Architecture in Helsinki.
Gotye was announced to be joining Coldplay, Kanye West, Jane's Addiction, Mogwai and more at the 2011 Splendour in the Grass music festival.
On 19 May, it was announced that the album would be released on 19 August 2011, with the album launch the following day at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Graphic Festival which will 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", which was released 6 July 2011, and debuted at #27 on the ARIA Top 50 Singles Chart. The single quickly moved up the ARIA singles chart despite comparatively low airplay to many other charting singles at the time. The track was further boosted by endorsements from well-known celebrities Ashton Kutcher and Lily Allen via Twitter, exposing Gotye's music to their millions of followers. The single has gone on to reach 6× Platinum (420,000 units sold) status, peaking at number one on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart, the New Zealand Singles Chart, the Belgian Singles Chart and the Dutch Megacharts.
On 15 July 2011, it was announced that Gotye's single "Somebody That I Used to Know" had come third in the 2011 Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition. As part of the prize, Gotye won a spot to perform at Song Summit 2012 at Darling Harbour, 26–28 May 2012.
On 21 July 2011, it was announced that Gotye would be performing at the 16th Homebake festival on 3 December 2011 at Sydney's Domain.
On its first week of release, Making Mirrors came in at number one on the ARIA Australian album chart, making Gotye the first Australian act to simultaneously hold both the number one single and album since Silverchair, who achieved the same feat in 2007.
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 the single "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 (Wally 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 took out three of the four remaining ARIA Award nominations. Single of the Year, Best Male Artist and Best Pop Release. Kimbra, who collaborated with Gotye on the track "Somebody That I Used To Know", also took the gong for Best Female Artist.
Gotye will be performing at a number of music festivals over the 2011/2012 New Years period, including Field Day in Sydney.