All four members of Cut Copy are sitting on two couches that frame a small table covered with empty coffee cups. “We know New York coffee pretty well,” explains Mitchell Scott with a wry smile. The Australian group is alternating between caffeine and press during a brief trip Stateside at the snappy pace that it is used to—the touring schedule for Cut Copy’s last poppy watercolored electro album In Ghost Colours threw the group from country to country for over two years.
After the Ghost machine slowed down, main brain Dan Whitford along with Scott, Tim Hoey and new addition Ben Browning shacked up inside a giant warehouse in their hometown of Melbourne to record Cut Copy’s third album, Zonoscope. The group’s intent was to create an immersive world with its sound, and the band of gents consequently layered the new LP with atmospheric elements such as tribal percussive jams and tropical basslines (one of which seems to take cues from a calypso version of Fleetwood Mac). At just over 15 minutes, Zonoscope’s last track “Sun God” embodies this sense of hedonistic abandonment, as Cut Copy urges listeners by way of its sprawling synths and a sturdy beat to tune in and drop out.
In the mini-documentary that you made during the recording of Zonoscope, Dan relays his theory that music naturally evolves in a linear fashion. In terms of this album, do you feel like that is the case in relation to In Ghost Colours?
Dan: I guess I’m talking about popular music as a whole, but yeah, in a way, but it’s kind of a tangent for us I suppose. And whether the next record is going to be a direct tangent from this one is hard to say. But I kind of felt that the first record was much—I guess because we hadn’t really played in bands before or played instruments that we’re playing now before—so it almost felt like the process of learning how to play or learning how to write music.
And then In Ghost Colours felt like a much bigger step, and then this one actually felt like we had gotten to a point that we wanted to get to. It’s not like we could keep doing this and then find how to make this particular style of music better—this is just artistically what we want to create. Rather than just coping with our inadequacies as musicians or something and trying to figure out how to make a record, we might have sort of gotten to a point where we can make the kinds of records that we want to make. So it’s a bit less like this sort of development from not being able to play to being able to play really well.
You also mentioned that you wanted listeners to be immersed in the music, instead of focusing on the lyrics or specific elements. Is there a connection between that and the instrumentation you use? Those percussive drums seem to emphasize atmospherics.
Dan: I think that psychedelic music in general sort of relies on various means of engaging with music beyond just lyrically or whatever, and obviously the assistance of certain substances in some cases leads to having different experiences with music. But I think having something really repetitive just seems to be the connecting factor with a lot that kind of music; like dance music that is a little bit psychedelic. The last song on the record, if you sit it out for the full 15 minutes, your mind may wander and take you to that place that we’ve been creating for people. It’s a completely different experience from listening to a pop song on the radio. The repetition throughout it—the tribal sounds and the repetitive stuff—is definitely an important part of creating something that allows for different experiences.
Did you throw away a lot of the previous tools that you had used to create music for Cut Copy—not so much physical tools, but conceptual ones?
Dan: I guess we started out being pretty intrigued by the idea of pop music—even the most commercial pop music—and finding more subversive elements and really interesting experimental ideas within that. Whereas on this record I’ve felt much less about that and more about, through the repetition and rhythm, creating a place a texture and a feel. Something different from what we had done before.
Ben: It’s like finding the weird environments in the pop song and prying them open and trying to make another song.
Mitchell: I think it’s in the way that we go about creating a song and making it very dense and very layered, and with a lot of elements to it—like a lot of percussion, layered vocals and repetition. Making a lot there to take in and appreciate, and something that reveals itself with multiple listens and is engaging in that way. It’s something that has elements of pop music as well so it’s something that is accessible. We got into pop music because of the melodies and accessibility, but also tying that with something that is much more multi-layered.
So what is a zonoscope anyway?
Tim: Sometimes we would talk about it like it was this instrument we made. Maybe if we were stuck on ideas for a song we would say, “Hey we need more zonoscope,” and then it would kind of start to take shape. So it is kind of like this instrument and then it is kind of like this manifestoral ideology, or a way of working. Then it’s also a bird’s eye view of this world that we were creating.