Cut Copy on album number five, being outsiders and not caring what anyone thinks

For over a decade now, CUT COPY have been certified pioneers of Australian music. Not only breaking the sophomore curse but completely obliterating it, their second album In Ghost Colours is one of the most important Australian albums ever made. Inspiring a whole wave of electronica meeting live instrumentation, the institution that is Cut Copy is to thank for a lot of the music we listen to day. Their dazzling discography is revered all across the world, and now they’re back for album no. 5.

Having just released lead single ‘Airborne’ – a glimmering funk bomb that soars to infinity and beyond – Cut Copy are making their homecoming as grand as possible with a tour and a sure-to-be insane set at SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS. We caught up with Dan Whitford (lead vocals, keyboard and guitar) about what this new chapter means, plus why he had to move to Copenhagen to open it.

How are you, mate? 

Good, good, how you doin’?

I’m well thank you, how’s your day been? 

Not too bad, not too bad, trying to dust off the last off my jetlag.

Where did you fly in from mate?

Copenhagen.

Ahhh, I heard you were hanging around a bit there. I know you relocated from Melbourne to immerse yourself in Copenhagen, I guess. What prompted that change?

I guess I sort of just felt like going somewhere different. Europe felt appealing because there’s so many awesome different places to hang out. We’ve been to Copenhagen a bunch of times and always really enjoyed it. Just seemed like an interesting city on a number of levels. The music, art, design, food, it’s got a lot of bases covered. Plus, I love riding a bike.

Perfect! Do you think the move helped bring out something new in you creatively or maybe refine a certain part of your creativity?

I guess it’s interesting because half of the songs on the new album were done before I made the move. So it’s a bit half and half as far as the new Cut Copy material. Any sort of change of environment filters into what you’re doing creatively. It can’t help but make its mark on what you’re doing musically, for sure.

Yeah, for sure! If you say that half the tracks on this forthcoming record were done before you made the move, is there a notable difference between the ones you recorded prior to the move and the ones you recorded while you were there?

Not radically different. It was more so the writing. There was a bit of a direction that existed from the tracks that I started writing, and then there was some momentum with that that followed through. But we ended up meeting and working on the album all together in the same place in Atlanta. So we collectively had to get together to find the sound of this album.

Did Ben Allen come into the picture in Atlanta? 

Yeah, exactly. He’s got a studio there. In the past with our previous albums, it was all about finding a cool space and bringing our own gear. It was very DIY. We had unlimited time to do that so there was less pressure, less timelines and it was less financially exhaustive. This time around, we wanted to change things a little bit and not go through the same set of steps as we have the last couple of albums. We were thinking of going into a studio this time and maybe work with someone outside the band as a sort of catalyst, and that was where that idea came from. We knew Ben Allen quite well having worked with him in a mixing role on Zonoscope, so we knew we got along with him really well but we hadn’t worked with him in this way. So we thought it’d be interesting to just see how it went.

Is there a definable, noticeable way that you think his involvement as a producer impacted the work? 

Yeah! It definitely sounds better recorded [laughs]. He’s a Grammy-winning producer and engineer so he knows how to make things sound better than you could imagine yourself. Now, having a bit of space after finishing the album and listening back to everything, the way our instruments sound almost feels like you’ve never heard them before, from my perspective anyway. Everything sounds so rich.

Well, yeah, that was my first thought when I first heard ‘Airborne’ – which by the way I’m absolutely obsessed with. It’s really lush sounding and sort of just soars and soars and soars. Just when you think it’s over, it’s taken to a completely new level that almost could be a different song but still maintaining that intrinsic Cut Copy feel. It has this psychedelic funk sound, is that an indicator to where this album is going? 

I’d say to some degree it is. While it’s a unique track, there’s an aspect of it that represents the rest of the record. It’s adventurous and makes a bold statement. It doesn’t really sound like anything we’ve done before. For that reason, we thought it was a good track to lead off with to surprise people with. There’s more of a focus on the live instrumentation. We felt like that was important, particularly in the current climate of both electronic music and live music. A lot of people are making music with a laptop and a microphone. We just thought it was important for that side of what we do to be featured more and to be more of a point to the songs this time round.

Obviously, I’m assuming that sort of focus on live instrumentation is going to come into the Australian leg of the tour you’re about to embark on. Is that something you really want to push? 

I think that’s what separates us from a lot of acts.

Especially because there’s so many electronic acts going around right now. 

Yeah, exactly! When we started, we were sort of outsiders because we were making electronic music. Now we’re outsiders because we’re making electronic music with live instruments.

Do you like that though?

At times, it’s almost felt to our detriment because we haven’t toed the line of what the popular go-to thing is as far as music fashion. But I think for us, it’s always more interesting to push the boundary of what people might expect from us. Whether it’s club music or guitar-based music, whatever it is. We probably do like the fact that our music is never one thing. It might sound like Cut Copy, but it’s not easily pigeonholed.

Yeah that makes total sense. In my opinion, Cut Copy are somewhat pioneers for Australian indie-centred music because you guys have been around for over a decade. The second record, In Ghost Colours, that’s coming up to its 10-year anniversary, yeah?

Yeah!

And that album is still such a powerhouse of a fucking record. It’s still culturally relevant and people still talk about it. Do you feel pressure to keep that power going?

I think any degree of success brings pressure with it. When we were making that album, we weren’t thinking about any sort of pressure. We were just taking risks and trying things and being open to the possibility of people either loving or not loving our music. We just wanted to put out our unedited ideas into the public. You’ve got to be fearless and try things you’ve never tried before. We’ve never tried to replicate the moments in our music that have been successful. We’re always moving forward, working towards something that might be unexpected or interesting, whether people buy into it or not.

I think that’s definitely evident in The January Tape (an ambient instrumental tape that the band released last year). It was super left-of-centre, not what anyone was expecting. From a listener’s perspective, I really respect that fearlessness. You don’t want to get stale or mundane, and I think it’s been reinvigorated with ‘Airborne.’ That song doesn’t feel like it’s restricted by anything happening culturally right now. Speaking of, your last LP was released four years ago. In that four years, so much has changed culturally and politically. Have you noticed a distinct change in those four years as a band within the music?

If anything, I feel like we’re at a point with what we’re doing that we no longer feel like we have to be conscious of what’s going on around us. I’m still interested in old music and new music and definitely feel like it’s important to know what’s going on out there. We’ve gotten to a point of our careers where our music is less part of a particular scene and more just kind of our own thing, more so than it ever has been.

I’ve noticed that. When you listen to a Cut Copy song, no matter when it was made, it sounds like Cut Copy. It’s difficult for me to find another reference. 

Exactly. There’s a confidence that comes with the fact that we’re four albums in and on the cusp of a fifth. We can sort of explore whatever we want now. Maybe that’s part of the spirit – we don’t need to answer to anyone. We can just try what we want to try and that’s what it’s about here on in for us.

Adding on to that, I feel like Cut Copy as an entity, if you will, have earned that right. You’ve paid our dues; You’ve been around a lot longer than bands, especially these days, last to be completely frank. If it doesn’t work, oh well. If it works, great! If it surprises people, that’s cool too!

Even the time we’re in now, with music streaming and accessibility with all these different platforms. When we were coming up, you could only find obscure tracks if you could dig it up in a record bin whereas now you can pretty much find anything that has ever existed on YouTube. I think people’s music tastes are a lot more open – they want to be surprised.

Well, I think generally there’s just a lot more music around.

Exactly, exactly. I think the boundaries are a little more limitless than when we first started so that in itself is really exciting, because you can really test people.

Yeah, of course. That’s something I hadn’t thought of with you guys, actually. As a band, you’ve witnessed the birth of social media, the birth of streaming services, the “death” of the CD, the rebirth of vinyl – you’ve experienced so many different milestones that maybe people weren’t expecting. Do you think that volatile state of the music industry inspires you to keep exciting because the industry in itself is exciting?

It keeps you guessing. I don’t know whether it’s an inspiration. We’ve been around over 10 years and if we relate that to the 60s or 70s, I’m not sure that things changed quite so dramatically in that period of time. Certainly as far as formats and channels go. For us, it’s been turned on its head.

You blink and there’s something new.

Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s just really interesting and I can see that there are probably positives and negatives to be taken from it. But like I said before, the overall positive is that listeners are more adventurous. They’ll be listening to the weirdest most obscure stuff, then listen to the latest Bieber record. That can’t be a bad thing.

On a final note, you’re back in Australia for Splendour In The Grass. How does that homecoming feel?

It’s so exciting. We used to come up from Melbourne to Sydney, and played Splendour a bunch of times back in the day. It felt like something we were doing all the time. Now it’s been quite a while since we last played shows in Australia, let alone playing Splendour In The Grass. It’s even grown since the last time we played. It’s become one of the biggest international festivals. So it’s super exciting for us!

Cut Copy play The Metro Theatre tonight in Sydney, and tomorrow night in Melbourne at The Croxton before they play Splendour In The Grass this weekend.

CUT COPY TOUR DATES
TIX ON SALE WEDNESDAY JUNE 7

Wednesday, July 19 – Metro Theatre, Sydney – tix available HERE
Thursday, July 20 – The Croxton, Melbourne – tix available HERE

Friday, July 21 – Splendour In The Grass Festival, Byron Bay (SOLD OUT)

Words by JACKSON LANGFORD

READ MORE INTERVIEWS HERE

SEE ALSO

HOMETOWN GUIDE: CUT COPY ON MELBOURNE

CUT COPY ‘MEET ME IN A HOUSE OF LOVE’ (TJANI REMIX)

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One time Lana Del Rey pinched Jackson on the bum and therefore he's qualified to write about music.