Walk Off the Earth talks overnight success

Photo courtesy Erin Blackwood
Photo courtesy Erin Blackwood

Last January, Walk Off the Earth’s five members dressed in black and performed a brilliant cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” They uploaded a video of their performance to YouTube, and it went viral.

With the video now at more than 137 million views, Walk Off the Earth has remained in the spotlight. The band’s world tour will bring them to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.

The Miami Hurricane recently got the chance to talk with band member Ryan Marshall about original songs and covers, life away from home and what it really means to attain overnight success.

The Miami Hurricane: How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a musician, and when did you start doing everything you could to make it happen?

Ryan Marshall: I guess the first time I actually started playing in like a band was in grade school. Grade six I played the baritone…but I mean, my grandpa was a barbershop quartet guy. So music has just always kinda been there. As far as when I decided I wanted to do it full time? I don’t even know. [Laughs] The thing is, people who just love playing music always kind of dream that one day they’ll do it full-time. Most of us realize that that’s not reality, and you have to get jobs that allow you to do music on the side. So I always did that and had jobs that allowed me to do music as much as I could. And then, fortunately, our YouTube video came out and that allowed me to do music full-time.

TMH: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about the video that went viral – you guys became famous overnight. How does that feel?

RM: It’s cool. It gives you a pretty good view on the music industry. One of my favorite bands is the Kings of Leon, but I was never actually a huge Kings of Leon follower. When their album came out and their first two singles hit the radio I was like, “Wow, you guys are brand new. Where the hell did you come from?” And then I looked back and they had like five albums behind them … There are so many bands like that that people think come out of the woodwork like overnight successes, but really they’ve been around forever, putting five to 10 years of hard work into it, and it just turns out you get lucky and you get a break. In the music industry that’s kind of how it goes – you just have to get that break. We had two albums out already under Walk Off the Earth. We’d been playing a lot of shows, we’d done Warped Tour … but we didn’t have a big following until the video.

TMH: All of the hard work paid off and people are finally going back and listening to your old music, appreciating that as well.

RM: And that’s our most rewarding thing, you know, that that happens. It’s cool because people watched that video, but then they also kept looking at the rest of the catalogue and watched all of the other videos. It’s really rewarding that all the stuff that we’d done before, people will enjoy.

TMH: Can you tell me a bit about your new material? I know you guys have a new EP out.

RM: We do, yeah. We’d been working on an album when that video came out, and then that whole thing happened, and now we have a four-song EP coming out on Oct. 30. The full album will be coming out in the middle of February. People who have already seen our live show have already heard a couple of our songs, and we’re getting a lot of great responses from them. One song got released in Germany a month ago, and we’re getting a great response from that. It’s cool to go from having a lot of people like you because of a cover song you did, to having a lot of them actually enjoy your original music more. It’s cool.

TMH: What do you prefer to perform, the original songs or the covers?

RM: I don’t think I have a favorite. I mean, it is very rewarding to know that you wrote a song and people are singing it along with you – just the fact that you know that … there’s an intimate feeling there because it’s something that you put yourself into. But as far as playing them, we always talked about cover songs and originals. I was just watching the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel biography a couple nights ago, and one of their biggest songs was written by the Everly Brothers [“Hey Schoolgirl”]. There are so many bands like that. Like Led Zeppelin, Sublime … there are so many covers that they did. Sublime was one of my favorite bands growing up, and I think with “40 Oz. to Freedom,” 60 percent of that album was cover songs – but everyone thinks they’re Sublime songs because they’re so old you just don’t know.

TMH: People start to associate the songs with the newer band instead.

RM: Yeah! It’s cool either way. We like doing a lot of covers and we like doing our original stuff too.

TMH: Were you guys all friends before you became a band, or did you gather new people along the way?

RM: Well, I played in like a ska-reggae band in university, and then it just kind of ended. And then I met Gianni [Luminati] when we both lived in Burlington; we met through music friends and just started getting a couple of things down. He was a producer and a musician. He’s one of the most amazing producers I’ve ever met. So I had some solo stuff that I brought to him and was like, “Are you interested in recording some of this?” And he was like, “Cool, I have a bass, let’s get a drummer.” And we just got it worked out.

TMH: How many instruments do you play? I’ve seen you with quite a few but I haven’t been able to count them.

RM: [laughs] It’s cool because when you learn how to play brass at a young age, you can just pick them all up. So I mean, anything that’s a brass instrument I can usually play, and then all the guitars and basses – they’re all pretty much the same. But a lot of us in the band are pretty good at stuff and aren’t really great at anything. I’m not a great guitar player, but I can play … I’m not a “great” bass player, but I can play … I’m really not a great trumpet player but I can play [laughs]. I can play like a three-leg song, I can do that, so yeah.

TMH: Well, I feel like if you have a feel for music you eventually pick up everything and make it work. You guys are doing a great job of that. But being on the road now, what do you miss most about home?

RM: Well, I have a 3 year-old, so I miss him a lot. That sucks. But if it weren’t for missing my 3 year-old, the road is one of the most incredible places to be because you’re doing what you love to do literally every minute and it’s just awesome.

TMH: Do you plan on bringing up your son with a lot of music and teaching him to play instruments?

RM: Yeah, he’s already in it. He knows all of our YouTube videos and acts them out and creates his own little versions. [laughs]

TMH: Maybe you guys should feature him in one sometime.

RM: I think we will, I think we will. [Laughs]