As you may know, last month Cut Copy released their fourth album Free Your Mind via Modular, and proved that with over a decade under their belts, the Australian outfit still has numerous hands-in-the-air hymns to offer. The band has certainly come a long way since their debut album, Bright Like Neon Love (2004). What was once only a pretty standard computer command is now also a name that immediately evokes hedonistic disco beats and pristine dance floor-ready jams.
These skilled Aussies have succeeded once again in building up a fresh, starry-eyed, synth-pop universe, and after all these years one has to wonder, how they hell do they do it? So, in the hope of finding an answer to this question, I talked to Cut Copy’s frontman, Dan Whitford, and asked him about the making of the album, how they’ve changed throughout the years, what he loves most about Free Your Mind and where the band stands today.
I hear you guys are in Stockholm right now on tour. How’s it going so far? Are people responding well to the new songs?
Yes, we’ve been touring for a couple of weeks now, then we’ll go to Australia for a little bit before going on with the tour next year. So far it’s been great! It always takes people a little bit of time to get familiar with the new songs, but even if they don’t know them that well yet, they just really get into it anyway, which is super cool.
Sounds exciting! It’s been a long time since Bright Like Neon Love, what would you say has been the biggest change in Cut Copy over the last decade?
I guess for us it’s just, when we did our first record we pretty much had never even played a live show before. I think we might’ve done one live show before we finished making our first album. And now we travel to most parts of the world, and have played, I can’t even count how many shows, you know, thousands of shows over the years. So definitely that has become a big change. And fans as well. When making our first record few people knew us, but now it feels like we’ve got such a strong following both online and at all our shows whenever we play. It’s really cool.
Yeah, actually you’ve said before that at first you weren’t sure what you were doing on stage and that in a way you didn’t really feel like musicians. Do you feel that has changed?
We’ve definitely become more comfortable with performing live. I think we still feel as though we’re not really, you know, classically groomed musicians. We sort of taught ourselves everything that we do, whether it’s in terms of performing or in terms of the way we play our instruments. We’re very much kind of self-taught, just because we love music and we wanted to make it as well. It wasn’t the other way around, like just played guitar really well and thought, “Oh, maybe we’ll make some music now and record it.” It was very much as music lovers that we got into being a band, so I still think we come at things from that angle. But yeah, obviously we’ve played so many shows that we’re probably a little more comfortable with the way that we play and kind of just enjoy ourselves when we’re performing now.
What about the creative process, do you feel it has changed over time? And do you see a big difference between the previous albums and Free Your Mind?
We definitely have changed, or tried to change the way we make music and the kind of things that we’re aiming for with each record. We learned a lot of things when making Zonoscope that we thought worked well, and decided to do that again. For instance, we worked in a warehouse space, and so instead of paying for a studio, we decided to set up all our own equipment to make our own recording studio, temporarily, in an unconventional space. We did that again with this record, but the process was very different. Instead of just working on a song until it was finished, and then starting a new song and working on it until it was finished, and so on, I decided to work on the writing process almost like brainstorming. I would work on a song idea for a day and then the next day I would finish it and then start working on a different idea, just to build up a really big catalogue of different song ideas that we could then take into the studio with us and work on, or combine to create material for the record. That was quite a different process to go through. And when we were in the studio, we tried to use that same philosophy of just working really positively and not thinking about the end result too much. If we had an idea, we would try it and then we could always come back later and decide if things were working or not. We tried to do as much as we could and then save any questioning or second guessing for later. I guess with this record it was a very positive process, and I think that’s definitely reflected on the end result.
I’ve read that Free Your Mind was inspired by the Summers of Love. How exactly did those events influenced you and the album?
I don’t know whether there’s a direct influence of the Summers of Love, but certainly there’s an element from both of those eras that are present on the record, whether it’s the birth of rave culture and acid house in the U.K., or whether it’s sixties psychedelic pop music. Both of those things are really strong influences on the record. I think through those periods there was so much interesting music happening, but also just so many interesting things happening culturally with the way different parts of the world changed as a result of, I guess a bit of a youth revolution. That’s kind of inspiring, particularly in today’s culture where perhaps people are a little bit less motivated to go out and do things that are out of the ordinary. People sit at their computers and are sort of fed what they should like and what they should do. So I think there’s something definitely inspiring about those periods, just because art and music helped change the world for the better.
This time you released a number of tracks before the album was out. Why did you choose to do that? Do you want these tracks to be singled out, or do you think the record is best appreciated as a whole?
Oh yeah, I mean to be honest with you, we don’t really think about singles when we’re making an album. We’re just trying to make the best possible record, and I guess singles are something that gets sorted out later by the record company or by other people. We have input on it, but really we would rather make a really exciting record than have a big single, although our manager might think otherwise (laughs). But for us that’s exciting because we love listening to records, and we love the full length of a record, you know, getting to listen to forty minutes or sixty minutes of music consecutively, the way that the artist intended it. It’s like watching a feature film as opposed to watching a TV advertisement—you get this opportunity to tell a really detailed story. So yeah, we definitely think about that more as a whole.
Ok, so what’s the reasoning behind releasing all those songs before the record?
It’s not something that we necessarily think about so much. I guess these days as soon as a full album is revealed it feels like you kind of lose people’s attention a little bit, because a lot of what people are interested in when they know that a record is coming out is that they don’t know what it’s going to sound like and they’re curious. You have their attention for a while, and in that period you get an opportunity to do some interesting things and to get people engaged with what you’re doing. So we tried to make the most out of that time before the album came out. We did a few interesting things this time, for instance, the first track that came out, Let Me Show You, instead of just putting it up online, we decided to do an “on the spot” kind of record pressing in a limited quantity, like a hundred records, at Pitchfork Music Festival. That was basically the only way that you could hear that new song. You couldn’t go online and hear it because all we did was press the vinyl, so you had to be there or tell a friend to go and get one of those records. It was sort of creating a reward for the people that did go out there and get them. That was one thing, and I think being able to do things in the real world is also more exciting at the moment. The Internet is great because you have access to so many different things, and everything is so available. But it also takes a bit of the magic away from discovering music, because you don’t have to go and find out from friends, or search record stores, it’s just sort of there. So creating an experience where they would go to discover music and then are rewarded when they actually put in some effort to find it, I think it’s kind of cool and much more memorable. We find that more exciting.
What do you love most about “Free Your Mind”—both the phrase and the album?
Part of what we liked about the idea of “free your mind” is just that it’s such an ambiguous statement, but at the same time it’s got a pretty universally positive kind of connotation to it. So we liked that it’s a statement that could really resonate with different people in such different ways; it seemed kind of perfect. It also summed up a feeling that runs throughout the record. And I think my favorite aspect of the record is just that it’s very pop in parts, but it also has probably some of the weirdest moments that we’ve had on Cut Copy records over our whole career. So I’m really glad that it covers such a range of things. It’s a very inclusive kind of experience, but also something that’s quite unusual. I always feel it’s a success with our records if they can cover both of those things.
When you tell people to “free your mind,” is it just music-wise or does it have a deeper meaning? What exactly do you envision them doing?
I think it’s up to the people that are listening to decide that. I guess part of what we liked about the idea, or the phrase, “Free your mind,” is that it could mean any number of things, so we’d rather let the listeners decide for themselves how they wanna do it.