When singers Gotye and Kimbra released the massive hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” in 2011, musicians around the world uploaded covers to YouTube – acoustic, metal, instrumental and everything in between.
But, through them all, one video in particular stood out.
“Somebody That I Used to Know - Walk Off the Earth” features five musicians, all wearing black, playing a single guitar at the same time as they trade vocal duties.
Walk Off the Earth had been together since 2006 and amassed a solid fanbase in their native Canada, but after more than 10 million views in just four days (the video now has more than 186 million views), the band became known around the world practically overnight.
Soon after uploading their cover, the band performed on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” was featured in the 2012 YouTube Rewind video and signed to Columbia Records.
To make a long story short, covers of songs by artists like Taylor Swift, Khalid, Maroon 5, Lil Nas X and Bruno Mars followed, each video more creative than the last, as did two albums of original material, “R.E.V,O.” and “Sing It All Away,” and several EPs.
There also were countless tours and a few Juno nominations, including a win for group of the year in 2016.
In late 2018, Walk Off the Earth was set to end the year on a high note with a performance at Niagara Falls on New Year’s Eve.
But on Dec. 30, the band took to social media to share the news that multi-instrumentalist Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor had passed away from natural causes.
The New Year’s Eve appearance was canceled, and, after a tribute performance in early January, the band contemplated whether to continue.
“The guy straight up is simply not a replaceable character,” drummer Joel Cassady said. “He was a one-of-a-kind guy that was larger than life in every sense. … Talking with his family and a lot of our fans and with each other and our families, we ended up deciding we do feel it’s best that we give the fans and, of course, ourselves a chance to come to terms with this and celebrate the great man and great musician he was.”
The band returned to the road earlier this year, releasing “Mike’s Song” in June.
Walk Off the Earth – Sarah Blackwood, Cassady, Ryan Marshall and Gianni Nicassio – bring their eclectic sound and triumphant spirit to the Festival at Sandpoint on Friday.
Each night, the band pays tribute to Taylor via a video of him playing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a favorite tune of his.
The band leaves the stage for a moment to let the audience have some time with Taylor before returning and ending the song together with Taylor on screen.
“It’s this pretty heavy moment every night that hasn’t gotten easier, but there is this catharsis there,” Cassady said. “As much as we’ve been so close to this process, there’s so many fans around the world, young and old, that he touched so deeply that really need and deserve that moment with him. It’s the least we can do, and we love it.”
Thinking creatively has served the band well since long before its Gotye cover went viral.
According to Cassady, the band’s online presence was as much a focus as its live shows when he joined the band in 2011 after a brief stint at music school during which he realized he wasn’t a fan of having to create inside a box to receive a grade.
In its early days, Cassady said, the band was essentially a bar band that would tour for a couple of weeks and perform for, maybe, a couple thousand people total.
Once they were back home, they could upload a video and reach around 100,000 people.
But as the band’s reputation for thinking creatively grew, via videos that involved playing a guitharpulele (a guitar/harp/ukulele hybrid) at the same time or performing while crammed into a bathroom or singing while hanging onto a bar for as long as they could, so, too, did the number of views on each video and the size of the crowds during live shows.
“You need both,” Cassady said. “Of course live these days is more important than ever for a multitude of reasons, but the numbers are just wild. Sometimes we open up our YouTube stats, our Facebooks stats and really let the weight of seeing all the territories around the world and all the many people of all the different demographics that are watching our stuff (sink in), and it really is nuts.”
Hoping to use this growing influence for good, and continue work Taylor was passionate about, Walk Off the Earth recently teamed up MusiCounts, an organization that works to put musical instruments into the hands of children from underprivileged and underfunded communities, for the video for “Mike’s Song.”
In the video, the band presents instruments to a handful of young musicians. At the end of the video, the band wrote, “You can help give kids the gift of music at musicounts.ca/beardguy.”
“There have been a ton of donations that have rolled in through that,” Cassady said. “Even though we didn’t get that huge budget from the get-go, more money than we ever expected has flowed into that charity.”
Cassady, who as a child played piano, then guitar, before his sixth-grade music teacher Mrs. Flannigan let him play drums in band, knows firsthand how important music education is and is thrilled the band has an opportunity to give young musicians that experience.
After the band’s Sandpoint show, Walk Off the Earth will get back to work on its upcoming album of original tunes.
Right now, Cassady said, the band is whittling down a pile of demos just as eclectic as the songs they choose to cover.
Other than that, the band is trying to take things one day at a time and really live in the moment, especially in the wake of Taylor’s death.
There are more covers and originals to come, more live shows, which Cassady called an “all-sensory attack rooted in music” that attracts everyone from toddlers to grandparents, and more opportunities to think outside the box.
“There’s always a ton of stuff going on,” Cassady said. “It’s more a matter of us trying to stay on top of it all and serve everything properly and make sure we’re not letting anyone down or letting ourselves down and just marching forward.”
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