Walk Off The Earth blazing a trail through music industry

Francie Johnson

These days, I’ve heard the term “indie” being tossed around in the music industry as professionals and fans alike nonchalantly slap the label onto any band or artist without a major record deal. Hipsters worship these “indie” bands only to later scorn them if they ever dare become popular or “sell out” by signing a contract with one of the majors. Signing a record deal doesn’t always mean selling out, though, and Canadian band Walk Off The Earth is living proof of this.

Walk Off The Earth may have recently signed a deal with Columbia Records, but if there’s any band that deserves to be called independent, it’s this one. This five-member band made up of Gianni Luminati, Sarah Blackwood, Ryan Marshall, Mike Taylor and Joel Cassady formed in 2006 in the town of Burlington, Ontario, located just outside of Toronto. In those first five years, the group paved their own path in the music scene with virtually no help from industry professionals.

“When we started the band we looked for help and no one was interested, so instead of sitting around and waiting for someone to notice us, we just got up and did everything ourselves,” said Luminati, whose role in the band ranges everywhere from vocals, to guitar, to ukulele and even xylophone.

Nothing about this band is conventional, in any sense of the word. While most bands have one lead singer, Walk Off The Earth has three. The role is shared by Luminati, Blackwood and Marshall, whose voices combine seamlessly to create a completely unusual, yet undeniably intoxicating sound. Additionally, instead of specializing in just one or two instruments, all of the band members can play at least three, with a few even playing as many as 13.

Walk Off The Earth takes a musical approach unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard before in this industry. The band incorporates instruments ranging anywhere from common ones (guitar, piano, bass, drums) to slightly unusual ones (xylophone, kazoo) to ones that I had never heard of (Cigar Box Guitar, Cigar Box Ukulele, Glockenspiel).

Another one of the band’s trademark characteristics is their all-in-one-take video approach that has single-handedly transformed them into a YouTube sensation. Their main claim to fame video, a cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” in which all five members play on one guitar, has earned over 137 million views to date and even landed them a spot on Ellen DeGeneres.

A huge chuck of Walk Off The Earth’s fan base has come from these self-produced YouTube videos, and I’m completely in awe of the way this band has been able to harness all of the internet’s potential and use it to their own advantage.

“The internet is a portal to the whole entire world,” Blackwood said. “It’s such an amazing tool for any artist.”

In addition to the cover of “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Walk Off The Earth has several other covers on YouTube, including Adele’s, “Someone Like You,” B.O.B.’s, “Magic” and my personal favorite, Nirvana’s, “Polly.”

One thing I love about Walk Off The Earth is that even when they are performing covers, they still find a way to make the songs their own, but they do this without compromising the songs’ integrity. I’ve seen bands murder the songs they cover, but Walk Off The Earth’s covers are ingenious.

“It is not difficult for me to hear a song in a different way than how it was originally recorded,” Luminati said. “We just put our own life into a song that we love and it ends up sounding like it does. There’s no secret ingredient; just love for what we do.”

However, this band should not be simply written off as just another cover band. Walk Off The Earth has an impressive collection of original work, including two self-released, full-length albums. Their major label debut, a four song EP entitled R.E.V.O., just dropped Oct. 30.

R.E.V.O. is the band’s first collection of original work released under a major record label, but it is far from a sell-out. In fact, it’s completely fantastic. Try listening to the single “Red Hands” without getting it stuck in your head, because I promise, it’s just not possible.

Walk Off The Earth’s decision to sign on with Columbia Records hasn’t compromised the band’s integrity or creative process at all.

“Columbia left us a lot of breathing room as far as our relationship with them goes,” Blackwood said. “They are learning from us and we are learning from them.”

Whether they’re independent or with a label, and whether they’re performing covers or originals, one thing is for sure: Walk Off The Earth is blazing a trail through the music industry that’s impossible to ignore. But let’s face it, who would want to?