Cut Copy: Interview
“Like a bubble on the moon… It shouldn’t exist, but it did.”
After living in Australia during college, all things Aussie carry a certain nostalgia for me. Call me a sucker, but the days I spent in Brisbane were some of the best of my life. It also seems many of the tropes of '80s music (synths, aching vocals, swelling choruses) are making a comeback. What is it about Cyndi Lauper and Journey that pull on the heartstrings for us 30-somethings?
As I went into the interview with Cut Copy (Dan Whitford, Tim Hoey, Mitchell Scott), I had two things on my side: my love of Australia and the New Order albums in my collection. Like most Aussies, the guys from Cut Copy were genuine, witty, and a lot of fun to be with. They also put on one hell of a live show that got the entire club jumping and sweating. But before they hit the stage, I sat down with the band to discuss revivals, Wolfmother, and The Wire.
So you guys on tour with the Black Kids. How did that tour come about?
Tim Hoey: I don't think there was any crazy back story to it. Somebody over here put it to us that we do this tour, and we actually hadn't met the Black Kids, but we heard their stuff and already liked what we heard. So we just did it. The weird thing was worrying what it would be like going into it, because we didn't know them already, and we were sharing a bus with them. I mean, we are sharing a bus! We just thought we could be getting ourselves in for the worst experience if we don't like them or don't get along with them. But actually it's been awesome.
How have the show's been going in terms of order of events?
Mitchell Scott: It's been Black Kids, and then we've been closing. That's how we've done the lineup.
You guys have a new album out, In Ghost Colours. I know it's different from your previous album because you worked with Tim Goldsworthy from DFA on this one. What was that process like?
TH: It was great. We spent around six weeks in New York at the DFA studio working with Tim. The fact that we got to spend so much time in the studio, whereas we didn't get to that on the first record. We pretty much had a day in the studio working together. Working with Tim in New York at their studio was pretty awesome for us. Having access to that gear and Tim's knowledge of recording and his knowledge of music in general. I think he captured us more as a band, perhaps reflecting what the live show is about. He certainly pushed us into a realm of experimentation that we hadn't done that much of before, at least collectively together. We certainly learned a lot from that experience.
What specifics did you take away from that experience?
Dan Whitford: The way they make their records is very traditional in a lot of ways which you may not expect going in there. Although, it made sense as soon as we got there, just thinking about their sound is like live drums, sort of disco-sounding. All of their influences are generally sort of old stuff rather than modern music. The way they record things is very old school --- like you do a whole take of a song; if you didn't get it right, you do it again. It wasn't like something where you just record a loop and stretch it out over the whole song. You actually play all the way through. It's the organic kind of changes that happen when you're playing adds a lot to it, like humans are obviously playing it. It's not a sequenced thing with a drum machine. It's much more organic than that. Their approach was a bit more laborious but ultimately that is more rewarding, because that's like the way classic records were always made. You have modern tricks where you can cut corners these days, but they just do everything really old school. It's an interesting way for us to work.
What elements from your live show do you feel were missing on your first album that made it onto the new record?
DW: Everything about the live show, because we hadn't really played live when the first record was written. We might have played one or two shows before the record was mixed. We just kind of rehearsed. We never really played in front of crowds. It probably took us another six months after the record was finished to develop our live show. It ended up being different from what people imagined, because the record was fairly gentle and dreamy and our live show was much more energetic and chaotic at times. That didn't get reflected on the first record, but on this one, you get a lot of a feel for the energy of our live review just because we've played together for how many years and the way Tim recorded the album.
A lot of the songs are very positive. Were you guys in a good place when you were recording them?
DW: I think so. That joyous aspect of music, without being too cliché, is an uplifting feeling that I like. It's like The Beach Boys or Daft Punk or whatever in between that's like the music we like. The songs that are on this record perhaps reflect that a little bit.
Who would you say your influences are?
TH: It constantly changes. We were all into such different kinds of music when we all met. We're always introducing each other to different kinds of music. From shoegaze to French house to Chicago house to Kraut rock. From '70s middle-of-the-road stuff like ELO and Steve Miller Band and stuff like that. That's the theme of Cut Copy. It's always such a broad range of musical styles that we're all interested in. We always take bits and pieces from all of them and carry it over to our sound. I don't know if there is necessarily one or two artists that we can pick out. There just seems to be so much.
DW: When I listen to the record, I just hear a hundred different artists or albums that have had influence on the record. To me, it sounds like it's all over the place, but then people say there is definitely a Cut Copy sound to it. So these things influence us, but it comes back to some unifying pop music aesthetic that underlies it all.
I was thinking New Order would be one
TH and DW: Yeah!
"Things need to go out of fashion for the coolest people to decide they want to adopt that clothing again."
Let's the talk about the power of the internet. Have you noticed a big difference in sales and/or turnout since you were named Best New Music?
DW: It's hard to say. We've definitely had a really good tour. It's been a long time since we toured States. It's really hard to pick out what individual things account for that. But getting that Pitchfork review was amazing for us. It's something people mention. Pitchfork is a place where I discovered new music before. It's got a lot of clout and people respect it. Particularly in America, but also in Australia and all over.
MS: It's unclear whether or not Pitchfork reaches more mainstream music culture, because it's much more on the tastemaker end of it, for the kind of people who read blogs and that sort of thing. We certainly noticed after getting really positive reviews from them it seemed to be something that people were blogging about all the time and posting and stuff. I think it's definitely helped. In general, music from Australia, particularly music that's not just straight rock music, has struggled to reach overseas audiences in the past, and I think the way blogs work and internet and MySpace has made it a lot easier. So you're seeing a lot more Australian bands just more recently than in the past being able to get their music heard overseas, whereas it was impossible only five years ago.
One of my friends bought a Wolfmother CD today, for example.
DW: They are good friends of ours.
MS: They almost transcended that.
DW: Exactly. Their approach was much like the old approach bands from Australia had to take. You have to be big, and you have to have a proper record deal, and then like any other big band you're automatically played on the radio. But for younger indie rock bands, they would be big in Australia but not big enough to get a record released overseas, and so without a record you can't really tour. So, I just don't think there was an avenue for younger bands to make it without doing crazy, slogging-it-out touring. I think now a lot of the reason people caught on to music from Australia has a lot to do with technology.
My concern with the proliferation of music so fast is that you're big one day and the next fans move onto something else. Do you guys ever think about that possibility in your strategy as a band?
DW: We've been going for awhile. It's not like we just popped up out of nowhere. Our last record came out four years ago. In that space of time we've been touring and that sort of thing. We've built a fairly genuine following, but hopefully not too fickle. But, it's certainly something you worry about. I think perhaps more in the UK than over here you see people who are fans for a couple weeks and then just totally disappear off everyone's radar after that. It certainly seems like people are much more hungry for information and the newest thing. I guess there's people who will jump from one bandwagon to another. I don't know. I guess the other side of it is people wouldn't know that much about it if it weren't for these technologies, so we can't really complain if that is what got us interest in the first place. But I think one thing we're aware of is we don't [stick to] one particular scene or one type of music.
When I was speaking to Reggie [Youngblood -- Black Kids] earlier, I posed this question: it seems like your music is sunny pop. It sounds very much like music from the '80s, but not in a bad way. There is that maxim about the shirt you've had for a long time coming back into style again. After the '80s passed and grunge came in, there was a big backlash against this type of music. But now it seems fashionable again. Do you have ideas what is happening in the climate of the world in terms of what is making it that way again?
DW: It's not that we identify with an '80s sort of revival. The '80s revival in Australia, from our perspective, was a little while ago. Now it's a '90s sort of revival, the ironic new rave stuff. The outcome I've been waiting for is these revivals getting so close to the time we're in that we'll start calling it new music without having to reference another time period.
So, not like a revival. It's what ‘now' sounds like. It's new ideas, but a recycling of a sound.
DW: Things need to go out of fashion for the coolest people to decide they want to adopt that clothing again. I think it's the same with music or anything. Inevitably, it recycles. Like I said, I hope the revival thing kind of stops. But maybe it will be something that will be ongoing.
MS: I guess it's the idea of modernity. Something from the '80s becomes modern, and it starts creating something new rather than referencing something from the past.
I think In Ghost Colours sounds new while gleaning elements from the past.
TH: That's usually the thing when people hear synthesizers. They immediately think of the '80s.
DW: It's funny because I think we've identified the synth sound on the record from the '70s or other eras, because synths have been around for 60 years or longer. I think a lot of people out there's first experience with synths was commercial music and automatically identify synthesizers with the '80s. For us, synthesizers are just another instrument. It's not something we identify with a time period. But, I can see why people make the comparison.
What do you guys think of the term ‘bloghouse?'
DW: We're mystified by it. I don't think it really means anything, to be honest. It's a really contrived term.
"We've built a fairly genuine following, but hopefully not too fickle."
Just a few more questions. How has touring in America been different than touring back home?
TH: Playing every night. In Australia, you can usually play weekends. Playing here every night has been a test on our bodies.
MS: We've been a bus for the first time. We don't do that in Australia. You just fly everywhere.
You can't drive across too easily.
TH: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. You get to see a bit more of the city doing that. We'll drive overnight and arrive in the morning, so it gives us a lot of the day to go and see bits of America. Today, we had a great day. We got taken around by one of the guys who worked on The Wire. We've become obsessed with that show.
I haven't seen it yet.
TH: Oh really?
I have the first two seasons, but haven't seen them.
TH: Oh wow! I thought everyone in Baltimore must have seen it. So we got taken on a tour today, and usually we wouldn't be able to do stuff like that. It's been great this time. Just seeing the audience and how much that's grown since the last time we were here. This is our first, proper headlining tour across America -- to have it pretty much sold-out has been really awesome.
Are you guys bigger overseas than at home?
TH: It's all relative to size.
MS: We play much bigger shows in Australia than we would here by a big margin. But there's a lot more people in the States. In relative terms, we're a lot bigger in Australia.
DW: We'll play just five cities in Australia. We could do that in a week.
MS: When we've done a national tour, we've done it in two weekends.
Have you guys done Europe yet?
MS: Yeah, we did bits and pieces.
DW: We played in Scandinavia before we came across for Coachella.
How was that?
DW: Coachella was awesome. In a way, that is one of those shows where you go back in your mind a little bit because it's such a renowned festival. People know about it in Australia, so we were excited to play it. We didn't know what to expect. But the show was fantastic, in a packed tent with people spilling out. Also, just hanging out at the actual venue was amazing. It was sort of an unreal setup in the desert in an enclosed grassy area with palms trees like some weird colony on another planet. It didn't compute really.
MS: Like a bubble on the moon or something. It shouldn't exist, but it did.
So what's the best thing to come out of this for you guys?
DW: I think just having not played a tour all the way across the States for a couple of years and having never played a headline tour where a vast majority of the shows are sold-out is really awesome. It's reassuring for us and the American crowds have been so welcoming, really similar to our crowds at home, which we didn't necessarily expect. It makes us feel we should be coming back here more regularly.
MS: We've really enjoyed it, and knowing that it's gone well, we'll definitely come back and hopefully see some of the same people again. It just feels good to have a really good tour, and we're going to come back in September and do it again.