Inside the Cult of Cut Copy
Cut Copy is a world-renowned indie electronic group from Australia. They released their first album, Bright Like Neon Love, in 2004, and they found breakthrough success in 2006 with the release of their second album, In Ghost Colours. Founded by Dan Whitford, former producer and DJ, the band has since evolved into a Grammy-nominated four-piece. Zonoscope is Cut Copy’s third album, released in 2011, and the album in which Cut Copy was nominated for a Best Dance/Electronica Release Grammy. They’re known for their unique pop sensibility in songwriting paired with ’70s and ’80s disco sounds. They also have a knack for creating bizarre music videos with ideas ranging from puppeteer monkey cavemen for “Blink And You’ll Miss A Revolution” to brainwashed cult groups obsessed with the band’s own music, which is the latest idea in the video for the title track and first single from the new album. I had the chance to chat with Cut Copy’s bassist Ben Browning about their upcoming world tour, in which Salt Lake City will be their second stop, how they landed True Blood star Alexander Skarsgård to lead in their new music video, and how it was working with Dave Fridmann, who has co-produced albums by Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips and produced Cut Copy’s new album, Free Your Mind, out November 5. You can stream it right here at cutcopy.net.
Knowing that we were one of the first stops on the tour, I asked Browning if that was a good thing, wondering whether or not the beginning, middle or end of a tour receives the most energy and dialed performance. Browning says, “Every time we get on stage it’s a new experience and a new way of expressing our songs. It’s early in the tour and we should be full of energy.” Their world tour, on which Larry Gus is the opening act, is intentionally in conjunction with the release of Free Your Mind. “We like to put out a record for people to enjoy the songs before they hear them in a live setting,” said Browning.
Larry Gus is a Greek electronic artist signed to James Murphy’s recording label, DFA Records, and he just released his new album, Years Not Living, on August 20. I’ve listened to the album all the way through, and it’s a vibrant blend of world sounds, particularly eastern, pulsing beats and obscure vocal samples that tend to do with love. It’s something like a mix of Gold Panda and Monster Rally, which makes it danceable and intriguing. “He DJed a gig of mine a few years back and I don’t know if I met him that night, but we all really love his new record. He’s interesting and he just seems like a good fit for the tour.” Browning says. “It’s good to get people when they’re not too big, but hopefully he’ll just get bigger and bigger.”
This is Cut Copy’s fourth show in Salt Lake City and it’s been five years since they were last here. Our show will be a unique experience considering the new album, and also that it’s the night before Halloween. I asked Browning how he felt about the audience in Salt Lake City being in costume at the show, imagining (hoping, really) that most in attendance will dress up, and knowing that I certainly will. Browning says, “It will be pretty weird, really, since we don’t celebrate Halloween, but I think it will be fun.” Browning then went on to relay the band’s first experience with the holiday. “We were in Colombia once for Halloween. It was the night before we played our show and the streets were just filled with people in full-on costume, and that was probably one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had. I’m thinking this [show] will be pretty close to that if the whole audience is in Halloween costumes. Should be wild,” says Browning. I assured him that we plan to have a good time. There are just too many elements to not have the best time really. We’ll have costumes, my favorite venue (The Depot) and one of the best popular dance groups currently on the scene.
Cut Copy have remained consistent from album to album making slight, not dramatic, changes with each release. When Zonoscope arrived, it seemed to introduce more of a tropical vibe with its drums, synths and harmonies. That trend seems to have continued with the title track, “Free Your Mind,” but their sound seems bigger than ever with synths and samples filling every space of the song. There’s already been several remixes of the single including one by famed, minimal psych group Spiritualized. “(A remix) is a good way of getting the material out there before the record’s out,” says Browning. “Getting a Spiritualized version of one of our tracks is just an honor for us. It’s one of the great things for us to have happen and we’re huge fans.”
The video for the song is even more interesting. “We’re really interested in cults, hippie culture and rave culture of the ’80s and early ’90s,” says Browning. “The idea of a cult that listens to Cut Copy music had been an idea for a video of ours for a while. We passed the idea on to Christopher Hill, who’s done live visuals for our last two albums. He’s a really close friend of ours and he took the idea and really ran with it,” said Browning. Skarsgård entirely makes the video come to life. He’s tall and muscular with long blonde hair and he plays the cult leader in the video. It’s a fantastic piece. “We already knew Alexander, but we didn’t really think he could do it or that we could afford him—he’s a movie star. It just happened that we met him and we just asked him if he’d be interested in something like that and he was really, really excited to do it. We were so happy and it worked out great,” says Browning. The video is just another example of how Cut Copy consistently keep their music interesting.
Cut Copy’s music is pop and it’s dance, but it always sounds original and it’s the band’s various influences that keep it from going too much in one direction. “Disco kind of kick started dance music from the beginning, and what we’re doing isn’t necessarily disco but we’re sort of rehashing those ideas to steer them in a different direction. The idea of guitars, drum machines, dance music and indie vocals is not new to anyone now, but people have really run with it since we began doing it and as a band we’ve always been interested in fusing different types of music. We all come from slightly different places. I know Tim [Hoey] is really interested in a lot of experimental and ambient music. I’m really interested in a lot of rock and pop and Dan’s really interested in a lot of underground house music. To me, this record sounds like a Cut Copy record, and I guess that means by now we have our own identity and our own sound,” says Browning. “If I were to fantasize, I’d say we’d work with Brian Eno or David Byrne but that’s probably not going to happen. I’d always dreamed of working with Dave Fridmann though [who produced the new album]. I was really stoked to work with him. His whole way of working was just refreshing. He has such a great, open mind and he brought a lot to our new material. He has a distinct sort of sound that he brings and we were curious to see how it’d work with our sound, so it was really exciting,” says Browning.
Free Your Mind has already been referred to as “irrepressible” by Spin Magazine. Whether or not it will pull another Grammy nomination isn’t a concern to Cut Copy. “We don’t make music to win awards,” said Browning. If you haven’t already bought your ticket to the show on October 30 at The Depot, then do so. It will be a huge reunion for our city and Cut Copy. There’s never a good excuse to miss a show by a great band, but when it’s combined with Halloween Eve and a brand new album, you know you better be there.
Here’s the cultish video for "Free Your Mind":