Music: It’s not just for ears anymore!
Burlington band Walk Off the Earth wound up in a strange but exciting position last year, when one of their videos went viral. The clip, which featured all five members of the group performing Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” on just one guitar, attracted a ton of YouTube hits—to date, it boasts over 148 million views. Not only that, it arguably launched the original single in North America, where the Australian singer’s hit song had yet to make waves. Walk Off the Earth’s recently released third LP, R.E.V.O., primarily features original songs, but they still view covers as an integral part of what they do. “We share the same ideas about how to be a band,” says keyboard player Mike Taylor of his colleagues. “The first step is, throw the rule book out the window. That goes from the instruments we play to how we let our music be heard.” Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Blackwood sees the band’s video output as a natural way to engage with music fans in 2013. “People are visually stimulated nowadays,” she says. “I want to see a picture if you’re going to tell me a story. If you’re going to sing a song, I want to see you sing it to me. People’s attention spans get shorter and shorter, and they’re like, ‘We want more!’”
Covers and originals aren’t mutually exclusive.
“Somebody That I Used to Know” may be their most successful cover, but Walk Off the Earth had put up videos covering songs by The Gregory Brothers, Adele, and even Eminem well before they got around to Gotye. Taylor calls guitarist Gianni Luminati the “driving force” behind the clips: “He’s just that guy,” he says, shrugging. The band likes to put a different spin on the material they post on YouTube. See, for example, their a capella version of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” or their performance of “Little Boxes,” the theme song to the TV show Weeds, on a set made entirely of cardboard. “If you put up a song that somebody knows and loves, you have a better chance of them discovering your band than if you just continue to put up songs that nobody’s going to know anything about,” Blackwood says. “Plus, we like really awesome songs and sometimes those awesome songs are written by other people.” Taylor insists the hyped-up covers aren’t the only songs that appeal to fans. “When we play shows, they’re singing along with our originals just as much as any of the covers we mix into our set. The only people who really seem to talk about it have been the media. No offence.” None taken.
They just might be the solution to the music industry’s woes.
R.E.V.O. was already in the works when Walk Off the Earth filmed “Somebody That I Used to Know.” “Everything that happened around that time was just the perfect storm,” Taylor says. After the Gotye video exploded online—and after the band appeared on Ellen in January 2012, performing the song on one guitar and receiving five shiny new Fenders in return—Walk Off the Earth signed with Columbia Records. They insist that their move to a major label hasn’t changed much about the way they approach music-making. “We’ve all been in bands for so long and we’ve seen things that work and things that don’t work,” Blackwood says. “I was doing more traditional stuff, touring full-time with a band, and Gianni would always be like, ‘You don’t need to tour that much anymore. We’ll make videos and the whole world will see us and it’ll be great.’” Now that that model has proved successful, Walk Off the Earth is trying to negotiate their own kind of distribution model, a hybrid of old and new. “It hasn’t been, like, all of a sudden we’re signed to this label and now we have to tour and put out a record,” says Blackwood. “We can play a show live on the internet for as many people across the world as we want, or we can go on tour for three weeks and reach 60,000 people.”
Walk Off the Earth play the Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Ave.) on April 12.