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Interview: Cut Copy's Dan Whitford

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Melbourne, Australia-based electro-pop sensation Cut Copy may be one of the busiest bands in the world. After launching their third full-length album, Zonoscope, back in February, the band has been touring the world at a blistering pace, covering Australia, Europe, South America, and the U.S., playing sometimes two and three shows a day. What’s more, founder and lead singer Dan Whitford said he’s already gearing to get right back into the studio when the band gets back down under.

Formed in 2001 by Whitford as a solo project, Cut Copy grew to four members in 2003, when Whitford brought aboard Bennett Foddy, Tim Hoey, Mitchell Scott (current bassist Ben Browning took over for Foddy a year later). Through the mid-'00s, the band toured with acts like Franz Ferdinand and Daft Punk, but Cut Copy didn’t really break through until the release of their second album, 2008’s In Ghost Colours. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) charts and made an appearance on the U.S. Billboard Charts, enabling Cut Copy to make their first international headline tour, and putting the band on the international media map, with tracks from the album appearing on commercials and television series all over the world.

It seems perfectly fitting that their music should end up crossing over into the far reaches of TV and commercials: Cut Copy are nothing if not pop. Bright and up-tempo, their music recalls the good old days of '80s electro-pop and even some of the best of experimental '70s pop, when disco seemed to have an influence on just about everything. Whitford is unabashed about his affinity for mainstream bands like Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller Band and Electric Light Orchestra, citing those as some of his primary influences and the starting points for his creative process. But Cut Copy advances the ball by adding spacey, techno synth effects, complex arrangements and playfully inscrutable lyrics that make it feel like there’s much more going on in their songs than in straight-up '80s synth-pop.

Last week, we caught up with Dan Whitford — just a few moments before a gig in Portland, Maine — to talk about the new album, the tour, and his creative process.

NUVO: How did the process of recording Zonoscope differ from the process on In Ghost Colours?

Whitford: It was different in a lot of ways. With In Ghost Colours, we started recording in Melbourne, and then recorded most of it in New York, and then did a little bit of final recording in L.A. So we were kind of spread across the globe a bit. But for Zonoscope we set up our own recording studio — a warehouse in Melbourne — and recorded the whole album ourselves from start to finish. From our perspective that’s a much more rewarding way of working; keeping things a little more D.I.Y, giving ourselves a little more flexibility.

NUVO: On Zonoscope there’s a track called “Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss a Revolution,” and one called “Pharaohs and Pyramids.” Is it a coincidence that the album came out during the revolutions in the Middle East earlier this year?

Whitford: That’s been pointed out a few times, actually. Namely by the record company [Modular Records]. I think people can kind of make their own connections if they want. Obviously we’re quite aware of world events, but that’s certainly not something we’re given to put across in our music. At least not at this point.


"Blink And You'll Miss A Revolution"
from Cut Copy on Vimeo.

NUVO: The cover of Zonoscope — which is an image by the late Japanese artist Tsunehisa Kimura — depicts Manhattan being swallowed up by a giant waterfall. Is there some kind of apocalyptic significance there?

Cover art by Tsunehisa Kimura for Zonoscope.
  • Cover art by Tsunehisa Kimura for 'Zonoscope.'

Whitford: More than an apocalyptic thing, it’s meant to be sort of dream-like. Zonoscope has a real sense of distance and space, a sense of place. It has the feeling of being somewhere far away and exotic, natural, with a sort of dirty, man-made aspect thrown in there as well. And that particular picture really combines all of that. Also it’s just an awesome image.

NUVO: Has your work as a graphic designer had any influence on your music?

Whitford: Not directly, but it certainly kind of informs your aesthetic, overall. Music and art are intertwined in many ways. And also, working in a design studio you’re always surrounded by creative people and ideas; people are always showing you new things, and talking about things that are happening culturally.

NUVO: Could you explain a little bit about your creative process?

Whitford: Well, I’ve kind of got my own home studio, with a bunch of synths and basic recording equipment. Usually, I’ll sort of sketch out some basic track ideas and bring it to the other guys and get their take on the better ideas. Often we’ll sort of work on stuff all together. Sometimes we’ll split things up a little, but it depends on the track, whether or not it needs total re-interpretation or not.

NUVO: Playing so many shows, how do you keep things fresh?

Whitford: We always try and bring something else to the songs that we play live. We tend to try and extend certain songs, mix certain tracks together and vary-up the order. I don’t think there’s much fun in going to see a band and feeling like you haven’t gotten something you couldn’t have gotten from playing the record at home.

NUVO: Where have you found the best audiences?

Whitford: It sort of varies, but we’ve had awesome crowds in the States, ever since the first time we were over here [in 2005]. Since day one it just seemed like there were more people here who knew about our music, like there was a connection.

NUVO: What are your plans for after the tour?

Whitford: We’ve still got bits and pieces of touring to do back home in Australia, but I’ve been trying to get my brain back in creative mode, and I’d like to drop back into the studio as soon as we get home and start working on the next record.

Cut Copy will appear at The Vogue with opening acts Washed Out and Midnight Magic on Monday, Sept. 19. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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