Cut Copy on Making Music for Saturday Nights, and Translating Their Studio Work to the Stage
By WILL REISMAN
Michael Muller Cut Copy performs at the Fox Oakland on Saturday, Sept. 2.
With its 2,800-seat capacity and cavernous interior -- featuring dual glaring, big-belled Buddhas -- the Fox Theater in Oakland has swallowed up many a lesser band, reducing rockers who can't adequately project to mere specks on stage. For Australian dance-rock outfit Cut Copy, however, the large confines of the Fox should prove no obstacle: If ever a band was handcrafted to play big rooms, it's this group. Boasting a catalog that contains irresistibly catchy anthems like "Need You Now," and "Hearts on Fire," Cut Copy summons an ideal mix of rock bombast and electronic energy that will be on display this Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Fox. Ahead of the show, we spoke over the phone with Cut Copy founder Dan Whitford from Nashville, Tenn., where the group was prepping for a two-month international tour in support of its fourth album Free Your Mind.
What are you usually feeling before the onset of one of these extensive tours? Is it excitement? Anxiety? A little bit of both?
I guess I'm feeling really excited. We haven't really done anything close to this in a couple of years now. We've been making this new record, spending so much time in that mindset, so I think we're pretty psyched to finally just get in front of some people again. Sometimes, making a record, you almost forget that you're going to have crowds and be directly interacting with people. So, I think everyone is pretty psyched.
I read a great quote from [Cut Copy guitarist] Tim Hoey about your third album, Zonoscope not being a "Sunday night kind of record." I think that sentiment pretty much applies to the entire Cut Copy catalog. Is it ever difficult to recreate that Friday or Saturday feeling when you're up on stage?
You know, it can be. I guess we're not always -- you know, just like anyone -- we're not going to want to go out every single night of the week. But because of the line of work we're in, and the kind of music we make, we're inevitably the Saturday night for many people. But, I don't know, there is sort of a weird, infectious energy you get when you're in front of people. If this is the first time they've seen you in a couple of years, you kind of just get energized and it's really exciting. It almost makes it an addictive experience. Even though you may be tired sometimes, it always brings you back, and you love it.
The Cut Copy live experience is very interactive. I know you release singles before an album is out to promote it, but is that also a way to familiarize fans with the music so they can embrace that call-and-response atmosphere of a Cut Copy show?
I guess we hadn't consciously thought that we need to give this to people earlier than the release date so that they know the words to the songs, but we're music fans as well, and when there is a record coming out that we're excited about, we kind of want to know about it -- any little thing. We like to tease out some of the new tracks just for sort of interest's sake and for enjoyment. Now that you mention it, it's probably not such a bad idea that people know the words on that level as well.
The popularity of Cut Copy has grown with the release of each album, to the point that you guys are now regularly playing at larger venues like the Fox Theater. It seems like you guys have a perfect sound for those places -- does the band enjoy playing before bigger crowds?
Yeah. I mean, it's tough to say-- I think when we were playing smaller clubs, people probably thought, oh, our music suits that. And I guess now we try to adapt to whatever situation it might be. But, obviously with playing bigger venues there is a lot more potential to create an engaging show, both for the performance, but also for bringing the lighting and the larger stage elements that enhance the experience. I think that's something we've been very conscious of, and have tried to develop on both the last record and this new one that we're about to start touring for.
In past interviews, you've talked about the myriad of influences that inspired Zonoscope -- everything from Chicago House to the Happy Mondays. Did the band attempt to capture that same broad range of sounds for "Free Your Mind," or were the influences tapered back at all?
I think every record has a different set of reference points, and this one I think, probably has a bit of those Chicago House and Happy Mondays' sounds. Both influences still run through this record, but there is also this sort of '60s psychedelic vibe that has factored into what we're doing, and also some of those old kinds of rave records from the UK, like early acid house stuff. With each record you add in a few extra new things.
It's impossible to read a review of Cut Copy without seeing adjectives like "buoyant" or "bouncy." Obviously, those feelings are pretty endemic to electronic music, but Cut Copy seem to particularly embrace those upbeat tempos. Is that anthemic sound one that just comes naturally to the group during the songwriting process?
I guess so. For starters, we don't necessarily think too much of our reviewers, or even necessarily an audience, when we're writing. We're following our own interests in a lot of this kind of music and sort of following that from a little idea into a finished track. Also, we just trust our own instincts and aesthetics, and a lot of this stuff just kind of comes out naturally and not necessarily out of some predetermined sound. We just make the music that we want to make, and music that we hope that people will get the same feeling and enjoyment from.
The gap between Zonoscope and "Free Your Mind" was two years, which was shorter than your intervals between records in the past. Is that a reflection on a new songwriting approach with the band?
I think that we're probably getting better at making records, but we've also sort of gone from people who were working other jobs and doing music as a hobby to making music full-time. We're now treating this as a job, and it's a pretty fun job. We're working through things and finding better ways to sort of write and record and that kind of thing. We probably have just more experience with it now.
The songs of Cut Copy are so layered and intricate. When you write something like "Need You Now," are you thinking that the audience will really eat it up? Or is it more like, 'Shit, how are we going to play this live'?"
That's always been a question mark, and we kind of joke about that a lot. When we're in the studio and we're adding things, we kind of just look at each other, like almost laughing like, "This is going to be fun to try and figure out how to play live." I think we try to not let that impede us creatively. There are so many possibilities to making records in a studio. It's almost like a holy experience -- creating a record in the studio that people will want to listen to at home. You want to make the best possible record you can. You don't want to think, "Well, what if we can't play this live?" Playing live is almost a fun challenge. How to figure out a way to reinterpret some of these things -- there are so many layers and so many sounds, so we basically just try and figure out the essence of the song, and make sure were playing all the core ingredients of what's in them. Inevitably, the recorded version is gonna have more on it, and more people on it -- we would need 20 different players if we wanted to play every last bit live. It's definitely a challenge, but it's fun to reinterpret a song -- you get to start again and almost rewrite the songs live.