Interview: Cut Copy

Sharon O'Connell

By Sharon O'Connell

on 11.12.13 in Interviews

Free Your Mind

Cut Copy

Australia’s Cut Copy first emerged in 2004, their name — a dry reference to routine computer functionality — belying the hedonism that’s always been a crucial part of their sound. Their debut album marked them out as big fans of New Order, but they made that indie/dance union sound fresh and vital, replacing untouchable cool with warmth, sincerity and unselfconscious fun. Their next two albums were similarly stuffed with shimmering, disco-pop hooks, but for Free Your Mind, Cut Copy opened the door to the unexpected by hiring Dave Fridmann, a rock producer with a reputation for throwing psychedelic curveballs. They tracked back even further in dance-music history — in particular, to late-’80s Manchester — to reanimate a revolutionary clubbing experience geography and timing had denied them. Returning to the source, they’ve proved, can also be progression.

Sharon O’Connell spoke with Cut Copy vocalist, keyboard player and guitarist Dan Whitford about the rewards of collaborating, going clubbing again and his eternal love for The KLF.

Zonoscope was markedly different from In Ghost Colours. Did you feel the need to shift ground again with album No. 4?

Each record we’ve made has been made with a different set of rules and influences and processes. If you’re a visual artist, you’re not going to want to churn out the same thing over and over because it gets stale and the same goes for music — you want your music to evolve. The way that we make ours is very much like assembling references and with each record, it’s a different era or genre or whatever. This time was no different.

A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, the KLF and the Orb have clearly made their mark, alongside Happy Mondays, New Order and early Primal Scream. What is it about this music that still appeals?

You’ve picked out a lot of artists that I’m really fond of, and with this record I revived my interest in early rave culture and UK acid house. For me, there’s a freshness to that music and it’s come back into currency a little bit. I came off tour from the last record and had been away from Melbourne for about 12 months, so I started going out as a punter again, for personal interest and enjoyment. Dance music had shaped itself into these little underground scenes, with some club nights playing a lot of deep house and weird, old stuff. That rekindled my interest in it, and I felt a real reconnection to dance music in its essence.

Why the affection for Happy Mondays and the KLF in particular?

There’s something appealing to me in Happy Mondays’ image and identity as a band. I guess it’s a bit like Oasis, really — the fact that they’re all kind of idiots! They made great pop songs with a rhythm that made it sound like they were going to fall apart at any moment, and there’s a nice slackness to their energy. It’s intriguing — and maybe to an Australian, a slightly unfamiliar concept — the idea of football hooligans making interesting music and connecting with acid-house culture. That’s a foreign thing for us, although I guess we look at it a little bit more romantically than people who’ve grown up with it. But I’ve always found Happy Mondays intriguing and a little bit hilarious. The KLF’s The White Room is one of my dearest, closest records. I guess that’s a trademark of psychedelic records — having spoken-word elements that add an extra dimension and extend the possibility of what an album can do.

Were you at all hesitant about tapping into the past?

I wasn’t trying to find some kind of a retro angle for the new record. To me, the early UK dance scene — and, of course, the Chicago and Detroit scenes — were all about finding something new. At the time, these things were very futuristic and exciting. What they were doing was a totally new concept. What’s amazing to me when I listen to those records is the mistakes. A lot of them are musically “wrong,” because they were created by people who were making up the rules as they went along. Being naïve and experimenting with stuff — to me, that’s really cool.

Does the album title refer to hedonism, as in Funkadelic’s “…and your ass will follow,” or more to a voyage of inner discovery, along the lines of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”?

Both, really. The Beatles were pretty hedonistic as well! But I hope it’s open-ended. We wanted to have a few different facets to the record, both musically and emotionally and in terms of levels of energy, so the idea of having a title statement that you can interpret in different ways was an appealing one.

David Fridmann is best known for his work with Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips. What made you choose him as producer?

We thought he was someone who’d done fairly out-there records that were also commercially well received, but he’s never really done a dance record before, so we were excited because we didn’t know what he was going to do. In fact, when we’d finished the mixing, he said, tongue-in-cheek, “This is probably the best dance record I’ve ever done.” That’s really the essence of collaboration — you’ve got someone who does things really differently, who comes in and collides with your aesthetic, and you end up making something that couldn’t have happened otherwise.

Was a similar thought behind asking Jason Pierce to remix the title track?

Obviously with that song there’s the potential for it to turn into a gospelly, psychedelic, fuzzy thing, and getting him to work on it was everything we hoped for. When we approached him, we weren’t really sure what we were going to get back, because I think he’s only ever done one remix before. To have him sing on it as well was kind of amazing.

2014 will mark a decade since Cut Copy’s debut album, Bright Like Neon Love. How do you keep pressing forward in a genre that moves so fast?

Making music for us is more about our own journey, rather than trying to fit in with what’s going on around us. We want to feel a sense of inspiration and adventure in the way we did with our first record. Along the way, we encounter things that are exciting and we listen to new stuff as much as we dig into the past. We’re not trying to stay ahead of any curve; it’s just about us wanting to stay inspired for our own sake. So far, we haven’t run out of things to listen to or things to think about!