ONTARIO (Rixstep) — Burlington is a nice city to visit this time of year. It's a nice city to visit any time of year. Right now the workshop music group Walk off the Earth are putting Burlington on the map, and Burlington's putting Canada on the map. Again.
You may have seen the clip from the Ellen DeGeneres show by the time you read this. The group were invited down last Thursday to film a segment of Ellen's show being transmitted Monday 23 January. Walk off the Earth have caused a YouTube and Internet sensation, raking in the views in two short weeks time.
Their clip of Gotye's original 'Somebody That I Used To Know' went viral from day one and currently has over 34,000,000 views. This in just over a fortnight. The original by Gotye was released six months earlier to the day and currently - somewhat with the help of the WOTE clip - is up to 48,000,000 views.
That's 8,000,000 views per month for Gotye and seven times as many for Walk off the Earth.
The clip also received honourable mention from the likes of Russell Crowe, Alyssa Milano, and Ashton Kutcher. Comments on the clip - which number in the tens of thousands - are almost universally positive and also uniform in that they express pretty much the same thing: people are literally blown away by what the group have done.
And that's only the tip of a very big iceberg that's better than ice cream. Walk off the Earth have been churning out their YouTube clips for years, each of them more amazing than the one before. They also have a number of offshoot workshop projects such as that of singer Sarah Blackwood, that of her other group Creepshow, and a new ensemble of her and WOTE frontman Gianni. There are dozens upon dozens of clips there to enjoy.
Gianni seems to have grown up in a music studio. The group also have the assistance of numerous 'stage hands', filmmaker Paul Buceta, and the Burlington studio B Town Sound. The group's YouTube clips are all 'one take' and often involve not only some rather clever loops made on the spot as the camera rolls but meticulous preparation and choreography.
The 'Somebody' clip, reportedly recorded in Gianni's kitchen, took 14 hours and 26 takes.
There's been some talk of whether the 'Somebody' clip was a genuine 'one take'. But everything about the clip is genuine. There are the five members of WOTE playing the same guitar. From left to right:
Percussionist Joel Cassady who taps out the beat on the guitar body.
Singer and instrumentalist Sarah who plucks two string chords and sings.
Singer and instrumentalist Gianni who plays the guitar lead and sings.
Singer and instrumentalist Marshall who thumps out the bass and sings.
Pianist Taylor (aka 'epic beard guy') who plays arpeggios at the headstock.
Marshall plays bass on string 6.
Sarah plays two string chords off strings 4 and 5.
Gianni plays riffs off the high three strings.
String 6 is tuned up from E to a D above the A of string 5.
So it works.
The only mystery is how they got their version to sync with the Gotye original both in tempo and in key. The following clip shows both versions on screen at the same time. It's a near impossible feat to match the tempo of another recording and hold to it throughout, so some form of magic is probable.
But none of that takes away from the brilliance of the cover. The production was planned in great detail, each of the five with their assigned roles. Sarah doesn't look up into the camera until well past the midpoint, and Taylor never looks in the camera at all. All viewers get are stoic stares.
Not to speak of the actual arrangement and the vocals. The original song is admittedly astonishingly simple with a mere three chords (probably one of the main reasons the project was feasible) but it's carried out by three of the best vocalists anywhere.
Walk off the Earth specialise in covers. Covers aren't normally considered an elevated art form, but Walk off the Earth make them into one with new takes that are invariably better (far better) than the originals. Witness if you will the cover of a Gaga song performed with Swedish musician Roomie - Roomie hardly traveled to Burlington and WOTE hardly made their way over the pond to Gothenburg. Yet it works and works brilliantly.
Multi-instrumentalists abound. Sarah plays guitar, ukulele; Marshall plays guitar and bass; Gianni plays drums, bass, guitars, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, microwave, coffee cup and coffee spoon. At least four of them play piano. At least two of them play kazoos in harmony. Gianni plays drums with his mandolin and cymbals with his feet.
WOTE also employ a troop of 'stage hands' when making their clips. It's not uncommon to see them tossing instruments through the air, catching new instruments at the same time. All of this is done with great precision. They even have a clip at YouTube which shows how this is done.
They're entertaining. You'll be entertained like you haven't been in years. At the end of the day it's not enough to hit the right notes - one has to be entertaining as well. Artists have to 'mach Schau' as the Beatles were told to do at the Star Club. The old adage that we no longer need to own our music, only listen to it, is yesterday - today we need to watch our music as well.
It might take you a week to get through the entire Walk off the Earth catalogue at YouTube. You also have to get through the Gianni and Sarah catalogue, the Sarah Blackwood catalogue, and the Creepshow catalogue too. That can take a while. And once you've been through it once, you're going to want to go through it again. And again. Walk off the Earth are more than a breath of fresh air, a subtle zephyr. They're more like a tornado. And they're more fun in music than you've experienced in years.
Walk off the Earth are simultaneously to music what The Pirate Bay are to lateral information sharing and WikiLeaks are to transparency. They say quite emphatically that musicians everywhere should take note: they have no Brian Epstein, no George Martin, no international contract with EMI. Nor are they looking for any. They're able to achieve great success completely on their own and want to keep it that way.