Cut Copy Cuts Loose

Armed with a new album, Australian electro-pop group Cut Copy want to 'Free Your Mind'

Remember that time when you were fooling around with Garageband at home in between watching episodes of Game of Thrones, taking those silly Buzzfeed questionnaires (I got Gandalf in "Which Lord of the Rings Character Are You?"!) and binge eating Bagel Bites ... then randomly signing a record deal and started touring the world? No? Me, neither. It happened in real life, though, for the Australian electro-pop group Cut Copy, who will be at the House of Blues on Monday.

OK, maybe it didn't happen exactly like that but the band's beginnings aren’t really all that far off.

Cut Copy was originally started in 2001 by Dan Whitford strictly as a home-recording solo project (which, fittingly, got its name from a music program drop-down menu). Eventually, he enlisted the talents of other musicians after Australian label Modular Recordings took an interest and liked what it heard. After securing a record deal, the group played its first gig in 2002 -- to 5,000 people at the Australian music festival Splendour in the Grass. Not a shabby debut, eh?
The music, which began as very sample-heavy, instrumental pieces, has evolved into what Cut Copy’s music is now: an eclectic mix of electronica, pop, trance and straight-up indie rock with nods to ‘90s hip-hop, ‘80s New Wave and ‘70s disco for good measure.
The songs have gotten progressively catchier and rock-oriented, appealing more to fans of M83, the Rapture and Arcade Fire instead of purely EDM aficionados. Cut Copy’s 2013 album, Free Your Mind, features some of their densest material to date, from the acoustic jangle of "Dark Corners and Mountain Tops" to the hard dance step of "Meet Me in a House of Love" and the stomping, sing-song peppiness of "Walking in the Sky."
The instantly memorable vocal melodies, in particular, sound hand-picked from an obscure John Hughes film soundtrack, and that’s not a bad thing at all. For those of us who grew up when 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club were hitting movie theatres, the new album sounds like an updated walk down a musical memory lane (buy it here).
Before Cut Copy’s performance at Mexico City’s Vive Latino music festival, Whitford took a few minutes to chat with us about unlocking that nostalgia.
Dustin Lothspeich: Most bands don’t start off playing for 5,000 people. Do you feel like Cut Copy's trajectory has been pretty exceptional to this point?
Dan Whitford: I guess so. It’s a matter of perspective in some ways. We played some big shows in our early days, and I guess we’ve been lucky, really. When we first started, there weren’t very many bands coming out of Australia, especially electronic acts. Not many had made much of an impact outside of Australia. We had to kind of do it ourselves and make our own path; there was no blueprint; there was no prototype. We’ve been lucky, but we’ve also had to do a lot of work.
DL: It all began as a home recording project. Did you ever imagine it would become what it is today?
DW: There wasn’t much of a plan, to be honest. I never studied music properly. I came into it as sort of a music fan -- collecting records and all that -- and trying to make my own version of the music I was hearing. It made sense with electronic music and synthesizers, because it was less of a hurdle to be able to play, vs. more classical instruments. That was an entry point. I didn’t have an idea of what it’d be -- I was just having fun making music at home. It became its own identity after that. It was kind of naive in a way, and there were no expectations.
DL: So are you still primarily responsible for a large part of the songwriting or are your bandmates involved with the writing process, too?
DW: Yeah, I still am the guy who does most of the songwriting in the beginning, but we work on every song collaboratively. [The songs] don’t often take on a Cut Copy sound until we approach them as a group. On this new record, we’ve all had input on the songwriting.
DL: Do you ever miss working alone?
DW: Maybe, in some respects; I do like having total freedom to do whatever I want. It’s a rather selfish mindset, though – but it was quite a long time ago when this was a solo thing. Working in my bedroom to have three people hear it, vs. hundreds of thousands of people hearing our music -- I’d much rather choose the scenario now for sure [laughs]. I’ve never felt creatively held back by working together. It’s been one of the good things.
DL: The new album reminds me of some of the really catchy New Wave stuff I listened to in the ‘80s and films from that era when I was growing up. Was it a goal to tap into that?
DW: We’ve always been a band to celebrate our influences. We’re constantly talking about reference points when we’re working on a track. There’s a shared consciousness among people who grew up in the ‘80s. You can’t help but recognize these sorts of sounds. It’s almost like that was the beginning of electronic music having a big pop crossover or being more mainstream. A lot of the connection to our music is subconsciously unlocking that nostalgia.
DL: The really great electronic acts in music right now seem to be taking a more organic approach to performing. Instead of simply standing behind computers, groups like Disclosure, Daft Punk and you guys perform the music live. Do you think that’s a better way to do it?
DW: It doesn’t matter to me, to be honest. Our music has sort of evolved to the point where we’re able to perform and play the music we’re making. We tried to play a lot of it in the past -- and probably not particularly well [laughs]. But we feel more confident with the instruments we can play and the things we can try. Sometimes we’ll be in the studio and Mitchell [Scott, drummer] will bring in a weird instrument, and we’ll spend an hour trying to figure out how to play it. Personally, I don’t have a bias toward music that’s live or preprogrammed. When I first saw Daft Punk, on their pyramid tour -- which we had the honor of joining for a few shows -- it was one of the most amazing electronic music performances I’d ever seen. I don’t know how much of it was them "performing," but it was still incredible. DJs can blow people’s minds just with track selections. There’s still validity to a musical performance even when it’s not performed in a classic sense -- whatever works, really. It’s cool, as long as they put their heart and soul into it. And that’s what we’ve always attempted to do: We treat every show as if our life depended on it.
The Casbah & 91x present Cut Copy at the House of Blues on March 31. Doors are at 7 p.m., tickets are $25 and available here. The event is all ages.    

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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