If you go
What: Walk off the Earth, in concert.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 25.
Where: McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside St., Portland.
Cost: Sold out.
Information: 503-225-0047 or crystalballroompdx.com.
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 Marshall (his first name is Ryan) 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 16 hours,” Marshall recalled. “Then we were jumping up and down, going crazy.”
This was the viral breakthrough the group had been chasing for several years.
Formed in 2005 by Marshall and Luminati, the group originally had a different drummer and released a pair of albums in Canada — 2007’s “Smooth Like Stone on a Beach” and 2010’s “My Rock” — while a trio.
Eventually, though, Blackwood joined Walk off the Earth (after Luminati had produced her second solo album) and a new drummer Joel Cassady, and keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Mike Taylor (known to many fans as “The Beard”) were added to complete the current lineup.
The reshuffling of the lineup roughly coincided with Luminati’s idea to start posting videos of cover songs on YouTube. He figured it was an easier way to build a fan base than by touring across Canada, and early videos proved his point. In particular, before doing “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the group had tallied views well into the six figures for its versions of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” and Adele’s “Someone Like You”
But the millions of views that the “Somebody That I Used to Know” video quickly amassed (it has now racked up more than 150 million views) really caught the attention of the record industry, and the band was signed by Columbia Records in 2012.
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 No. 1 on adult alternative radio and top 15 on the adult pop chart. In addition, Walk off the Earth has notched another viral You Tube hit with its a cappella cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Unlike most of the video hits, “R.E.V.O” is made up mostly of original tunes that show Walk off the Earth has legitimate songwriting talent.
The music moves easily between pop and folk — as the group supplements an acoustic base 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 acts that are popular right now. 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.
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 on stage and they dance with us and we get them to sing along on songs. It’s a real interactive show.”