By: Brooke Hunter
How do you score a record deal as a Canadian independent artist? Create a video that goes viral. After all, it worked for Burlington, Ontario’s Walk Off the Earth (WOTE).
The indie group originally began in 2006 as a duo of Gianni Luminati and (Ryan) Marshall. Sarah Blackwood, known as the front woman of The Creepshow, had been working with Luminati on other projects and slowly became part of the group, along with Joel Cassady and Mike Taylor.
WOTE had been on YouTube making videos since 2009. Their covers of popular songs and one-take, low budget, videos, had garnered them a strong following of loyal fans and subscribers. They had even released an independent album, My Rock. It was only a matter of time before something hit big.
After dozens of covers of popular songs, including those by Lady Gaga, LMFAO and Eminem, Luminati was looking for something that would set the band apart. His idea to have multiple people using one guitar only needed a song. When he heard Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” (feat. Kimbra), he knew it was the song that had to be used. 13 hours and 26 takes later the video cover of the song, “5 Peeps, 1 Guitar”, was posted to their channel.
Within 10 days the video had more than 10 million views. WOTE was suddenly everywhere. They were doing interviews with media across North America, and their popularity exploded even further after their appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the video of their appearance garnering more than half a million views in a week. Their cover of “Somebody I Used to Know” debuted at #14 on Billboard and sold more than 60,000 singles in under a month.
Less than a month after posting their video they had more than 50 million views and had been signed by Columbia Records and were in studio working on a new album.
Since then they have remained true to their YouTube beginnings. Continuing to post cover videos and original songs and interacting with fans, while working on their album. They’ve also been touring, playing 69 different shows in North America and Europe in 2012. They were also featured on YouTube’s Rewind 2012 reenacting their “5 Peeps, 1 Guitar” with Psy’s “Gangnam Style”. The band has also created another viral video hit with their cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble”, a cappella style with Toronto beatboxer KRNFX. On the heels of their second viral success, Sarah and Gianni also announced via YouTube that they were expecting a baby together.
Their four song EP, R.E.V.O. was released at the end of October. Its tracks, including “Summer Vibe”, a mellow, perfect-for-the-beach tune that makes you think of slushy drinks and sun tanning, are unique, upbeat and fun. The EP as a whole feels like the love-child of other Canadian indie faves, City and Colour and Metric, with the mix of honest, clean vocals and harmony with a dynamic and catchy beat.
The second song off the EP to have a video, Red Hands, was released in November and has recently found its way into the regular rotations at Canadian radio stations. The song is a mix of strong percussion and xylophone underneath powerful vocals, that manage to tell a story about responsibility and guilt, while still being catchy enough to have it stuck in your head on repeat.
If the quality of the song itself wasn’t enough, the can’t-look-away video for it would have made it a hit on its own. Shot in a continuous take and then rearranged, it is visual puzzle, making you feel like the band is jumping back and forth in time while performing.
The third song, “Gangs of Rhythm”, feels like a summer anthem. Catchy vocals, percussion and Blackwood’s expert strumming on the ukulele, make it a song that feels perfect for a BBQ or pool party. The video is a departure from standard WOTE fare. Telling the story of a chain gang who escape, it lacks the connection of their other videos by feeling a too slick and produced to mesh with the group’s indie roots.
“Speeches” is arguably the strongest song lyrically, a love song set to aggressive acoustic guitar and a horn. Like all songs on the EP, its chorus will stick with you and have you tapping your feet along with the song.
While a great sample of what the group is capable of, R.E.V.O. EP is just the appetizer for the full-length album of the same name that was released earlier this week.
WOTE is currently touring in Europe, but will return home to Canada for a show in Toronto on April 12 at the Danforth Music Hall.
Watch Walk Off the Earth’s new video, “Red Hands”: