When Canadian musician Ryan Marshall enrolled in college a few years ago, he wasn’t sure about a major. He eventually graduated with an economics degree, because he thought business acumen probably would be involved in what he ended up doing. Good decision. Realizing his neo-vaudevillian acoustic outfit Walk off the Earth would have a difficult time getting radio airplay, he chose a shrewder route to get his music to the masses: YouTube, where he began posting video covers of songs such as Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” To date, the quirky clip has racked up nearly 157 million views, and it also led to a contract with Columbia Records, which released the band’s recent album, “R.E.V.O.,” and exuberant humalong singles like “Gang of Rhythm.”
How did the brilliant YouTube idea occur to you? We started Walk off the Earth in 2006, me and [multi-instrumentalist] Gianni Luminati. We did a bunch of tours, and we were just getting sick of being in the band van. So around 2008, we thought, “Maybe we should try this YouTube thing.” No one was using it yet — it was really early. So we put up one video, and it got like 10,000 views. We’d never played to that many people in our lives. Then we met Sarah [Blackwood, guitar and vocals] and started doing videos with her. And by the time that [Gotye] video broke, YouTube was starting to get pretty comfortable.
Why start with cover songs? That’s what you do. If you’re a touring band, somewhere in your set there’s a catchy cover, where everyone can go “Oh! That was really cool! Maybe now I’ll listen to their original music!” Now that’s the type of music that works, in my opinion. There are many, many bands that I’ve only looked into because I’ve heard them do a cover of something else.
But there’s a risk with that. You don’t want to be seen as a novelty act, right? Yeah, you’re right. But it doesn’t affect us if people only look at us as a cover band. Some people have only seen us do covers when they come to our shows — they’ve never heard any of our originals. But we don’t play a cover song the way that the original band did it — we play it our way, so it still has that Walk off the Earth feel to it.
And you have a “R.E.V.O.” philosophy — Realize Every Victory Outright? It just means don’t let anything stop you. That’s it. Keep pushing as hard as you can to get something done — don’t wait for somebody else to help you. Do it yourself, and you’ll get it done!
IF YOU GO
Walk off the Earth
Where: Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $21 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 673-5716, www.axs.com