Gotye’s other woman
MATT SHEA goes in search of the artist that turned Gotye down.
Fun fact: it’s 14 months since Gotye released ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. That’s 14 months – or 60 weeks – of internet memes, calamitous YouTube covers, even more calamitous television covers, and internet arguments over Belgian and Australian (and Austrian) heritage. In other terms, it’s 420-odd days of wishing Wally De Backer would put some fucking pants on.
It also means we’re now 14 months into the mainstream pop career of Kimbra Johnson. Kimbra leveraged her spiralling, incendiary performance on ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ to propel her own album, Vows, straight to the top of the charts. Now De Backer and Kimbra stand astride our pop culture like a lead-minted, two-headed, colourfully patterned colossus. Obviously, it was meant to be.
Except it wasn’t. In a recent interview on FL, producer Franc Tetaz admitted there were two other singers in the mix before Kimbra was drafted into the studio at the last moment. And during a February interview, De Backer admitted that another singer had been ready to record. “There was a vocalist who was quite high profile in Australia who was all set to do it and then cancelled the night before we were going to do the vocal session,” De Backer explained to Canada’s Jam.Canoe.ca, before adding with a laugh, “In fact, we met at a festival months later and she was just like, ‘Maybe that was a mistake.’”
Names such as Sia Furler, Lisa Mitchell, Missy Higgins, Julia Stone and Sneaky Sound System’s Connie Mitchell (WTF?) have since been bandied about by local media. Both De Backer and Tetaz – two happy examples of nice guys finishing first – have refused to be drawn on the identity of the mystery vocalist. But at FL we just couldn’t help but speculate. So we’ve used Google Search, Google Calendar, Google Translate, Google Docs and Google Calculator to help us track down the poor souls who bungled their chance at world domination. Our “definitive” result may surprise you.
Disco biscuits. Like it or not, it’s terms such as these that still defined Hayley Mary in the winter of 2011, three months before the release of the Jezabels’ debut album, Prisoner. That is to say, The Jezabels, while a coming force on the Australian scene, hadn’t quite arrived, and Mary herself would’ve hardly been described as high-profile. Then again, she does fit in with the festivals story – the Jezabels shared three bills with Gotye throughout 2011: Groovin’ the Moo in May, Splendour in late July, and Homebake in early December – and she is possessed of an intimidating set of pipes, essential for telling Wally to hand over the fucking records. Still, for us it doesn’t quite line up.
Likelihood: Six Wallys
Better Choice Than Kimbra? Not quite
Patience Hodgson’s the kind of lady you want sharing your song. Spunky, energetic and possessed of a distinctive voice that can turn on a dime from broken to full blown fireworks, the Brisbanite is the envy of many an Australian performer. In terms of profile, Patience is right up there too, and The Grates appeared at Splendour in the Grass the night after Gotye. You’d think there’s a possibility here. Unfortunately, though, the equation doesn’t work on a number of levels: would you really want Patience starring in your artsy Natasha Pincus music video? She’d end up doing headspins and mugging at the camera. Besides, when Kimbra laid down her vocals in May, Hodgson and bandmate John Patterson were likely still pissing it up on Qantas Flight QF835 from New York. Sorry, but Patience is a non-starter.
Likelihood: Five Wallys
Better Choice Than Kimbra? Probably not
Now we’re going the other way. Sally Seltmann hardly has the projection of a Kimbra, Patience or Hayley Mary, but her timeline certainly lines up. “Bumped into her at a festival a few months later,” Gotye says. Well, Seeker Love Keeper played at both Splendour and Homebake, after which Seltmann, Holly Throsby and Sarah Blasko no doubt got shitted off with discussing knitting and vintage fashion, and went back to doing their own thing. Adding a touch of intrigue is the fact that Tetaz has worked with Seltmann before on her 2010 solo album Heart That’s Pounding. But hers is a craft too delicate for the kind of gusto De Backer was looking for on ‘Somebody’. Next.
Likelihood: Five Wallys
Better Choice Than Kimbra? Nuh-uh
Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V. Like Seltmann, the Seeker Lover Keeper tour bus had Holly Throsby in the right places at the right times throughout 2011. Ultimately, though, her shtick is far too refined for the ballsy delivery required for ‘Somebody’, and there’s no Tetaz tee-up either. Besides, Throsby has it written into every contract that she only ever be photographed from the left (seriously, image search that shit), making her appearance in such an ambitious music video a total impossibility. Later, Throsby.
Likelihood: Four Wallys
Better Choice Than Kimbra? No way
Rhonda Burchmore wasn’t at Splendour and wasn’t at Homebake. Nor was she at Pyramid, or Peats Ridge. She was, however, once in a stage show called Red Hot & Rhonda. Really, there’s no good reason why Rhonda Burchmore would’ve been tapped for ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’, unless they decided to make the song about basketball, or De Backer’s mother – in which case Burchmore isn’t even Belgian. It’s fun to think about, though.
Likelihood: Half a Wally
Better Choice Than Kimbra? Naturally
Hello! Now we’re talking. If there’s one lady you want featuring on your heartbroken hit single it’s Megan Washington, the artist who did a Kimbra the year before Kimbra did a Washington. Washington has the pipes, the expression, the talent and the indie cachet. She’s the perfect fit and would have been at the height of her post- I Believe You Liar popularity. What’s more, Washington was at Groovin’ the Moo in 2011, performing on the same bill as Gotye. Winner? Not quite. Sorry to shit on the parade, but Groovin’ the Moo was in May – a good couple of months before ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ hit the charts. And Washington didn’t perform at Splendour that year, or any other festivals that featured Gotye. The Bamboos did appear at Pyramid Rock over the New Year alongside De Backer, but on that particular occasion didn’t feature Washington. Who knows – maybe she was in the crowd – but there’s nothing to suggest it. Unfortunately Washington, as close as she is to the perfect collaboration, just doesn’t work.
Likelihood: Seven Wallys
Better Choice Than Kimbra? Possibly
Bingo. Don’t think Sarah Blasko was lined up for ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’? Allow us to convince you otherwise. Blasko has an unmistakable presence, the come-hither-before-I-break-you vocal potential, and undisputed star quality. Perhaps more tellingly, Blasko’s dates line up. As mentioned, Seeker Lover Keeper played at both Splendour in the Grass and Homebake. The trio talked to triple j’s Zan Rowe about seeing Kanye West on the first night of Splendour, meaning they were also in the crowd for Gotye and Kimbra’s performance of ‘Somebody’, during which De Backer actually had to ask for quiet such was the excitement in the air. Did the Sydneysider approach De Backer and admit she’d made a mistake? It adds up. The only flaw is that Blasko was based in London for a time at the start of 2011, but that often means very little in this day and age.
Likelihood: Nine Wallys
Better Choice Than Kimbra? A good chance
Gotye Australian tour dates:
Thursday, December 6 – Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Saturday, December 8 – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Wednesday, December 12 – Riverstage, Brisbane
Friday, December 14 – Entertainment Centre, Sydney