In the Australian music scene Cut Copy has gone from pioneers to elder statesman with just three EPs and two LPs, spanning a miniscule seven years. The vessel for this stellar feat has been their innovative brand of rock and dance or as it’s often labelled electro-crossover. When Cut Copy broke on JJJ back in 2001 with their debut single Rendezvous they stuck out like a sore thumb. At the time no one else in this country was taking the sensibilities of dance and its technology and applying it to more traditional song structures – not dancey enough for the rave heads and too faggy for the rock-dogs, Cut Copy had a hard road ahead of them turning a scene that was still salivating over Limp Bizkit. Yet through sheer musicality and directions in groove Cut Copy became a festival staple and had crowds from the Big Day Out to Meredith shimmying like they were extras off the set of Xanadu – sans the roller-skates.
That was the pioneering stage. When their second album In Ghost Colours debuted at no. 1 on the ARIA charts, they were close to elevation to elder statesmen status. But when a Sydney duo, who got a leg up from Cut Copy via support slots, became the biggest band in Australia off the back of a song that goes “Mwha, mwha, mwha,” the legend status for Cut Copy was sealed. In the space of a year Cut Copy had become widely recognised as the innovative forefathers to Australia’s disgustingly healthy electro-crossover scene – Presets, Midnight Juggernauts, Muscles, Ladyhawke… the list goes on.
“It is a little bit strange considering where we started out. I guess for us we haven’t totally become accustomed to it [electro cross-over’s popularity] because we haven’t really been hanging out in Australia basking in our own glory. When things started to change within the popular music scene here in Australia we were in between records whereas the Presets and The [Midnight] Juggernauts guys were playing a lot of shows, so they probably would have noticed the shift a bit more than us.
“We came back from doing our recording last year of ‘Ghost Colours and noticed that the scene had gone from somewhat of niche thing to being something much more mainstream. And then seeing The Presets dominate this year’s ARIAs it was crazy, ‘cos, you know, when I was a kid it was John Farnham and Jimmy Barnes crossing the stage and making the speeches at the ARIAs.”
In Ghost Colours has proven to be a beautiful and lingering sunrise for Cut Copy. The texture and complexity of all its tracks and also the fact it came right at the beginning of the crisp synth disco revival makes it a force to be reckoned with. Crisp synth disco, indeed, that was proudly pushed forward on In Ghost Colours by songs like the excellent Lights & Music, poses the next big thing in dance. Just look at everyone wetting themselves over New York’s rising stars Hercules and Love Affair, and Tiger City. People forget that In Ghost Colours and especially its pre-emptive single Hearts On Fire were getting spun in every club from Sona in Montreal to Ministry of Sound in London well before the aforementioned ‘revival’ was imminent.
“You know the mainstream acknowledgment is nice, but to me it’s really just a nice coincidence. Our main intention with In Ghost Colours – and has always been for that matter – was to go on a journey, a musical journey.
“For us, we see our music as art. As something that has a creative goal rather than a commercial goal. We are constantly challenging ourselves to create something new and interesting for us and our fans.”
Another part of In Ghost Colours mastery is the production that came courtesy of New York legend producer and DFA Record head Tim Goldsworthy. Dan admits that ostensibly it seemed the intimidation factor felt by the Cut Copy would overshadow the progress.
“Working at DFA where they are really artist focused and that they have a great track record in genres we love really suited us. But initially we were a little bit intimidated going to New York and working there amongst people we respected so much. It was a little bit overwhelming but by the end we really felt at home.”
Cut Copy recording with Goldsworthy came about through Cut Copy befriending the other, DFA Record head James Murphy, who is more renowned as the front-man of LCD Soundsystem. Dan talks about first meeting Murphy and it sounds like something out of movie script:
“We actually met James first a year and half before recoding the album with Tim. It was in Miami; we were doing a big party in Miami for the Winter Music Conference there and we stayed in this hotel with everyone else that was playing there. It was funny because this one afternoon we thought we’d have a swim in the pool and, to our surprise, in the pool was Soulwax and James Murphy and a couple of other big-time artists. That’s where we met all those guys, it was a nice way to break the ice rather than being introduced in that slightly contrived way where record company’s organise dinners.”
It is refreshing when next Dan goes against the usual grain of understated musician and admits that for In Ghost Colours the band had a bold plan to write a genre defining hybrid.
“I guess for us we’re trying to create music that doesn’t neatly fit into any genre. Whether that be the dominant dance trend or even the sort of genre’s we like, whether that be disco or guitar pop. Our challenge is to create something that is a hybrid that incorporates all those things so it isn’t definitively one or the other. For example, incorporating the musicality of My Bloody Valentine with the dance energy of Daft Punk. I guess you could say we use the elements of all the genre’s that we like without replicating one or the other.”
As mentioned in the introduction it is fantastic that the masses have embraced electro and electro-crossover but like everything in this life – including, as much as I hate to say it, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Lord of The Fries and 3am Souvlakis – everything in moderation. I’m talking about the unmusical fuzz that is dominating electro and we all know who we have to blame for it, that pesky French duo, Justice. Dan sheds some light on what he thinks of the fuzz that featured on some of their early work – see Rendezvous – but thankfully by the time they got to recording In Ghost Colours Dan and other members Tim Hooey and Michael Scott had realised the fuzzy and compressed horse had well and truly bolted.
“Our record reflects what we’re interested in for the period time we’re producing the record. All that Justice and Boysnoize stuff – I mean those two acts are pretty amazing at it – I guess for me it’s all the imitators and people that jumped on the bandwagon that have kind of diluted the original idea. It seems like that kind of style has become the most commercial in the dance music scene so quickly that it almost makes you sick when every time you hear one of those tracks.”
Another thing mentioned in the introduction is the fact that although all the international kudos and industry respect Cut Copy only have two full length albums. Despite the old ‘quality not quantity’ mantra, the other reason behind Cut Copy only having two albums are their careers outside the music industry and, in Dan’s case, his own graphic design company.
“Well I mean it requires a fair bit of understanding on both sides of my businesses. I’ve had my own graphic design company called Alter for maybe eight years, so it’s something I’ve worked on for so long and something that I studied at uni so it’s not something I would want to give up just to tour. I’m sort of equally passionate about the design side as I am for the music and hopefully you can get a feel for that from the album artwork.”
And as one would assume, being Cut Copy helps business by giving it a profile but as Dan explains being in Cut Copy can also be a hindrance.
“I don’t know whether the recognition happens as much as you might think it would but definitely the profile we have at Alter has benefited from my work with Cut Copy. It’s hard to quantify but it definitely puts a face on the business. A few times it’s happened when people realise I’m in Cut Copy and they’ll interrupt the flow of the meeting and start chewing my ear off about Cut Copy.”
This summer will be only the second Australian tour Cut Copy has done since the release of In Ghost Colours. This is not due to lack of want, just sheer demand for Cut Copy in other countries. The first tour featured perfect symbiosis between the light and music (heh heh) (Dan, you’re fired… oh, alright. You’re pretty, you can stay – pun-hating Ed), with the Cut Copy live experience being spoken of in hushed voices, especially after last years Meredith. Obviously, being a graphic designer visuals are very important to Dan and although not wanting to ruin the surprise he gives some clues as to what can be expected from their impending tour that includes a bunch of huge festivals like Phillip Island’s Pyramid Rock, and, of course, the travelling insanity of Big Day Out.
“We’ve always been interested in the visual side of the band whether it be through the artwork for our records or the live shows. One of my old housemates is part of the video clip production team so we just sit down with Chris and tell him what we want to do and he the uses his expertise to help us realise that.
“I think last year when Daft Punk came out that really changed people’s perceptions of what you can do with a stage show. It doesn’t just have to be a couple of DJs or a band standing there on stage with their name on the kick drum. So yeah, we try and create something that is as interesting as possible for people.
“This summer’s tour we’ve got a few things visual planned. I think people might find the look of what we’re doing this summer as an evolution from the first ‘Ghost Colours tour and even from show to show. This summer the visuals will evolve from show to show because when you are doing the festival tour invariably people will see you more than once.”
In Ghost Colours is out now on Modular. Cut Copy will be doing the rounds this summer, first off at Nevereverland at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl this Sunday, December 14, then they play at the sold out Pyramid Rock Festival, staged at Phillip Island on December 30 and 31. Then, of course, they’ll be joining the huge freakin’ line-up of the Big Day Out – alongside Neil Young, Arctic Monkeys, Prodigy, TV On The Radio, Living End, My Morning Jacket, the Ting Tings, Bullet For My Valentine, Hot Chip, Lupe Fiasco, Dropkick Murphys, Cog…. Phew… and heaps more.