Worldwide sensation Walk Off The Earth had just rolled into Seattle during its West Coast tour which includes Lake Tahoe on Saturday, March 1 when Ryan Marshall called Tahoe Onstage. The Burlington, Ontario quintet struck gold, not with a major record label or a particular hit song, but by becoming a YouTube sensation. The band, Marshall estimates, has made more than 100 videos, none more popular than a cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” on which all five members play the same guitar. It had well over 35 million views in less than two weeks. While the Canadians were thrilled about their team beating the United States hockey team and going on to win the gold medal, members have politely avoided bringing up the subject while touring in this country. However, Marshall said he was excited to come to Tahoe for the first time and learn about its own gold medalists and to appear in the venerable South Shore Room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Here are highlights from the interview:
Tahoe Onstage: Walk Off The Earth became popular without the help of a major record deal. Was that your strategy?
Ryan Marshall: I wouldn’t say we didn’t try that way. Like many independent bands, if you don’t get that break you typically don’t get the look from the major labels so we had to find a way to get our own music out there. It’s so hard to penetrate if you don’t have the help of a major label or even the smaller label. It’s almost impossible to get into radio like that.
Tahoe Onstage: Your timing with YouTube was good.
Ryan Marshall: We were lucky enough to jump and start with YouTube when it was just starting. We were on YouTube in 2008. We just stuck with it because we are a little bit selfish when it comes to sleeping in our own beds and not driving in a crappy band van in Canada, which takes like two weeks to drive across just to do five or six shows. So we tried the YouTube thing and I think the first video we put up we had maybe 10,000 views in a month and me and Gianni were looking at each other going, “Holy crap, we’ve never played for 10,000 people in our lives and we just had 10,000 people for one video.” So we stuck with it and obviously that ended up working for us. … It’s a great avenue for independent bands to get their name out there.
Tahoe Onstage: People like discovering bands and they take pride in being the first to know about them. When you became real popular, were some of your fans put out?
Ryan Marshall: I think that happens with every band. People like having that underground feel. I think the difference with us is maybe those people that knew about us before the (first) cover or people that knew about us before that YouTube explosion, I feel like they’re still there. They are probably looking for something else that is underground that no one knows about yet. But I think they’re still there and enjoy what we do.
Tahoe Onstage: How many videos have you made? Can you even count them all?
Ryan Marshall: I think on our channel we have about 70 and we each have our own personal channel so it’s got to be in the hundreds.
Tahoe Onstage: With all of those songs, people in the audience must be shouting out requests. Does that work, or do you stick with a set list?
Ryan Marshall: With our live show, we try and bring our YouTube channel live to the stage. We try to make it the most entertaining show possible and make sure the fans are involved. We interact with them and we go in with a set list of what we feel is going to represent with what they want to hear. There are a lot of fans who enjoy our original music and a lot of fans who enjoy our covers. So we try and get a good salt-and-pepper mix. Obviously, if we hear a couple of people screaming something we can fit in the set then we’ll throw it in.
Tahoe Onstage: Do you always play “Somebody I used to know?”
Ryan Marshall: Yeah. We enjoy playing that so it’s not anything we’d want to get away from. It’s really cool to play live. It’s a challenge every night. We’ve always said that video was one of the hardest ones we’ve done because it’s really hard for five people to get the best take all at one time. I think when we play it live our fans appreciate that because it doesn’t sound perfect. You only get one shot to do it when it’s live and it still sounds good, but someone’s going to screw up somewhere.
Tahoe Onstage: Do you sometimes start to laugh during the song?
Ryan Marshall: Yeah, we will. Typically, it’s at the end of the set so everyone’s been jumping around, everybody’s sweaty. Sarah’s stuck under Gianni ‘s armpit and I’ve got Joel leaning against me. It’s a sticky situation.
Tahoe Onstage: Have you previously played Tahoe?
Ryan Marshall: No. As soon as we got the offer, we were really excited. Being Canadians, we hear a lot about it. It’s a vacation spot for a lot of people in LA and it’s a gorgeous area. We have an area kind of like that north of Toronto called Muskoka and a lot of U.S. people will go there in our summer .
Tahoe Onstage: Walk Off The Earth is an atypical band for this venue. What are your audiences like?
Ryan Marshall: We have such a wide range of audience. When we do a show, we’ll see parents with their 4-year-old children. We’ll see the 16- to 25-year-old girls go crazy. We’ll see 50- to 65-year-old men and women and everyone’s having a good time. I think that allows us to go into areas where typically an indie band or rock band might not just all into.
Tahoe Onstage: In the spring you start a lengthy European tour. Can you tell us about that?
Ryan Marshall: Europe’s exciting. This will be our third European tour. The one we did last year was a little bit longer but more Germany based, 15 shows just in Germany and on this one we go a fair bit into the U.K. We’re lucky to get into Scotland and Ireland this time around, and get into Switzerland and a few places we haven’t been yet.
Tahoe Onstage: You have been so many places, I suppose you know you really can’t “walk off the earth.”
Ryan Marshall: You’re right. We’ve been lucky enough to be spread out all across the world in the past few years and seen amazing places. It’s insane that we’ve been to Singapore, Tokyo and all these beautiful countries all through Europe. But a lot of the greatest scenery we’ve scene is over on the West Coast. You can’t beat it. It’s just a beautiful area. The weather’s usually amazing. We really like being down here.
Tahoe Onstage: I suspect your band has helped make ukulele’s more popular. We have a music store here called Elephants Music, but its biggest seller is ukuleles, which you all play. The Ukulele has become really popular, hasn’t it?
Ryan Marshall: Yes. Big time. I don’t know if it was us but I guarantee it had a lot to do with YouTube. We started doing a lot of things with Ukuleles a few years ago and some other YouTube artists started getting into ukulele. It’s just something you can easily pick up. It only has four strings and you can get a sound going pretty quick, and it sounds cool. We love playing it and we’ve noticed every guitar shop we go into, they’ve always had more and more ukuleles on the wall. I’m one of those people that every time I get to a new city I go into the local guitar shops and see if I can find a gem that’s sitting on the wall and can come home with me.
Walk Off The Earth
When: 7:30 Saturday, March 1
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room
Tickets: $38.50, general admission, must be 21 PURCHASE