When the members of Walk Off The Earth finished filming the video of their cover of the Gotye hit, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” the immediate feeling was anything but the excitement and anticipation of having made a career-making video.
“It was nothing different,” singer/multi-instrumentalist Ryan Marshall said in an early January phone interview. “We’d done a few videos (before) that we thought were 10 times better than that. When we went home from that video, we were pissed because it took us 38 times and we were tired and we were angry. We didn’t think it would be any different than any other.”
But after having a night to relax, sleep and then watch what they had filmed, Marshall said the band started to feel better about the clip, which shows all five band members holding an acoustic guitar, each playing a different part on the guitar, while Marshall and bandmates Sarah Blackwood and Gianni Luminati traded off vocal parts.
“You watch it and then kind of change the lighting a bit in the post-edit and make it look kind of really cool,” Marshall said. “So when we put it up, we were like, ‘OK, this one has a chance. Maybe it will get 50,000 views or 100,000 views or something in the first day. It could be a good one.’”
That simple homemade video became far more than a “good one.” Almost immediately it went viral.
“Me and Sarah were over at Gianni’s house the next day and we saw 1.5 million views within like the first like 16 hours,” Marshall recalled. “Then we were jumping up and down going crazy.”
It didn’t take long for the music industry to notice the response to the “Somebody That I Used To Know” video, which has now racked up more than 150 million views.
Before long the group had a deal with major label Columbia Records. Suddenly the band from Burlington, Ontario in Canada, which had used its videos of various cover songs on its YouTube channel to build an underground following, had the platform it needed to make a much larger, global impact.
“We knew that if we were going to work with a major record label, they had to be able to bring a lot of experience in radio because obviously if you can break radio in the states, you’re set. That’s just the reality of it,” Marshall said. “And when we got an opportunity to work with Columbia — and we had offers from Epic, Atlantic, Universal — but when we saw the option with Columbia, right now they really are the powerhouse when it comes to relationships with U.S. radio, so we felt that would be a great opportunity to jump on.”
It’s now been about 18 months since the ink dried on the Columbia contract. And if Walk Off The Earth has yet to rocket to stardom, there are promising signs. “Red Hands,” the first single from the group’s major label debut, “R.E.V.O.,” went number one on adult alternative radio and top 15 on adult pop. In addition, Walk Off The Earth has notched another viral YouTube hit with its a cappella cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Now the band is starting a headlining tour that will run through early March, and Marshall promises that Walk Off The Earth will deliver the musical goods live.
“Our set never just consists of songs off of the ‘R.E.V.O.’ album,” he said. “Our live show, we try to take our YouTube world and bring it to the stage. It’s about entertaining the crowd and bringing a show to them that they’re going to walk away from and go ‘Wow, I don’t need to just watch them on YouTube. I want to go see them again live.’
“We’re just as connected with the fans onstage as we are through social media,” Marshall said. “We involve them in the show. We bring fans onstage and they dance with us and we get them to sing along on songs. It’s a real interactive show.”
That Walk Off The Earth feels at home onstage makes sense considering the group members are not at all new to writing and performing music.
In fact, the group’s beginnings date back to about 2005, when Marshall and a drummer had Luminati produce some of their songs.
“It worked out so well it was like, ‘Well, maybe you (Luminati) should just be in the band, too,’” Marshall said.
Walk Off The Earth released a pair of albums in Canada as a trio — 2007’s “Smooth Like Stone on a Beach” and 2010’s “My Rock” — and did some touring across the country.
Eventually the band grew into a five-piece. Luminati got to work with Blackwood through producing her second solo album, and she ended up joining Walk Off The Earth. Meanwhile, Marshall brought on a new drummer, Joel Cassady, and a keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist, Mike Taylor (known to many fans as “The Beard”), to complete the current lineup.
The arrival of the additional musicians roughly corresponded with Luminati’s idea to post videos of cover songs on YouTube, a move that quickly started to open eyes to the group and build a fan base.
Even before “Somebody That I Used To Know,” Walk Off The Earth was having success with videos. Its versions of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” and Adele’s “Someone Like You” both tallied views that were well into six figures. Then the Gotye cover blew open the doors, landing the group its deal with Columbia and the opportunity to record the “R.E.V.O.” album.
The sound the group crafted on “R.E.V.O.” moves easily between pop and folk. The acoustic base of the music is supplemented with assertive beats, layered vocals and smartly deployed touches of ukulele, banjo, xylophone and other unconventional instruments. The songs are hooky, warm and energetic and, at times, evoke the music of other currently popular acts. The big vocals of “Red Hand” and “Gang Of Rhythm” recall Fun, while the frisky folk of “Speeches” and “No Ulterior Motives” may remind some of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros or Mumford & Sons.
Nearly all of the songs on “R.E.V.O.” are originals, but Marshall said he doesn’t care if fans are drawn to Walk Off The Earth for its own songs or for the covers that the group plans to continue to post on YouTube.
“We love doing cover songs,” he said. “And we don’t do cover songs the same way that they’re done (originally) and that’s a part of it. It’s making it a Walk Off song. Just because we didn’t write it, we’re still feeling that song. We’re not 19 or 20 year olds just getting into the scene. So we have idols that are, like Bob Dylan is one of my biggest idols. We listen to the Rolling Stones and Zeppelin and the Beastie Boys. A lot of that music was cover songs. It had always been cool to do other peoples’ songs, and something happened in the ‘90s and early 2000s where people decided it wasn’t cool anymore to cover a song. It’s like what is wrong with you people? If someone writes a great song and you can do (a good version) do it. It’s still a great song. Just because you didn’t write it doesn’t mean it’s not a great song. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play it. That’s just how we roll.”