Tomorrow Cut Copy return with their sixth studio album Freeze, Melt, (via Cutters Records/The Orchard.). It’s a record that provides a well-needed chill out after a never-ending summer that most of us would like to forget.
While the Australian band is typically known for their big-time displays of dance rock, they continue to shift gears on the new record, offering a much more retro-themed electronic soundscapes that continue to move the goalposts on what a new a Cut Copy album can be.
We had the honor to chat with the band’s lead singer and frontman Dan Whitford a little while ago about how the band is coping with this crazy year, how the new record came to be, what has surprised him from when the band first begun, and so much more.
Find our full discussion below.
Will: Hey Dan, thank you for taking the time to answer these for us. Where are you currently located, and how is the situation/morale near you during this crazy time?
Dan: I’m in Melbourne right now. Life has entered lockdown for a second time so I’m getting used to a bunch more time hanging out with my cat and sitting in my studio trying to make up things to be working on. I’ve been doing my best to keep busy, or at least feel busy. I think people, in general, are feeling like this lockdown was an inevitable part of a recovery process, though it is disappointing to feel like things have gone backward and the end-point of this feels just a little further away.
W: It must feel odd to release a new album right now. Did you guys ever have conversations about possibly postponing or delaying the album initially?
D: Yeah definitely. Like most musicians touring and performing is a big part of what we do. It’s also pretty much our main source of income as a band, so usually, we rely on that to cover the time and money spent making a record. So without being able to tour, it puts us in a difficult financial position, and also creatively we feel like we’re missing out on the two-way ‘conversation’ you have with fans by performing and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
But the whole world is sort of in the same boat right now, so we ended up deciding that it would mean a lot to people to give them something new to savour during these difficult times.
W: “Cold Water” was sparked when you hunkered indoors for a bit after moving to Copenhagen. Was there something about the move that sparked new creative juices / any specific influences that really impacted you and this album?
D: I moved to Copenhagen without bringing my studio gear or any records. So it was really like starting again from the ground up. Both in terms of how I was writing and what I was listening to. I did a bunch of record shopping in Copenhagen but also visiting friends in other places, like flea markets in Paris or used record stores in Barcelona. I ended up listening to a lot more instrumental and ambient stuff, both new and old. I think it got me thinking about starting with synthesisers and being less preoccupied with staples from our previous music like jangly guitars or live drums.
W: Freeze, Melt captures a more atmospheric tone, and isn’t quite as “dancey.” I think you guys even started hinting at this on your last record, Haiku from Zero. What about this style that really speaks to you as an artist now?
D: Put simply, it’s just the kind of music that I listen to. I think when we first broke out as a band, we really sat in a gap between guitar-based music and dance music. But I think my own listening has definitely gone away from ‘indie’ music and more into immersive electronic music, soundscapes, etc. I don’t want to just recreate our successful music from the past, I want Cut Copy, as a project, to keep evolving, whether or not that’s the most sensible or commercially viable option. My favourite artists in history have always just kept evolving all through their careers.
W: Is it a conscious effort to go into a new record with the goal of taking the sound to a new place or is it something that just happens naturally during the journey?
D: I think it always happens to some degree with each album we’ve made. But this time we tried to be a bit more ambitious about it. Like, we don’t need to always add live drums to every track for it to sound like “us” as a band. And if there were things that in the past we always just did, then question whether those things were really necessary.
W: Do the songs start with different individual ideas all members eventually bring to one another or is it more of a collaboration that occurs in the studio when you’re all together – or a bit of both?
D: It’s a little bit of both. Our songs usually start with me sketching out ideas and then sending them to the other guys and we’ll work on completing them. But on this album we actually only went into the studio with 3 fully formed songs, then took a bunch of my weird sketched ideas and jammed on them to see what they turned into. Finally, we walked away with 8 finished songs, so there was a lot more open ended-ness to this recording process.
W: With the evolution of your sound, were there ever any fears about alienating fans that may want you to keep making the music that they may be “used to?” Or do you just trust that they want you to keep evolving?
D: To some degree, you think that might be a worry. But our fans have been pretty loyal over the years. I think a lot of them actually appreciate seeing different sides of what we do. I also think that after 5 or 6 albums we have a little license to try new things. Also, it’s coming from a genuine place because we’re making music we’re passionate about. If we’d made a trap album or something chasing some new trend then maybe that wouldn’t fly quite so well.
W: Songs like “Stop Horizon” feel like they could be pieces of a film score. (I mean that as a complement) Would you guys ever consider scoring a film/show if it felt right?
D: Yeah definitely. I really like what people like Trent Reznor have done moving into that world while still maintaining their musical projects. It’s something I’d always been curious about trying. Even looking at the ambient music I really love in my record collection, quite a lot of it comes from film scores, like Eno or Tangerine Dream. I guess if the right thing came along it would be great to try.
W: The Neve console you used at Svenska Studios was also used by Bowie to make Lodger, as well as Queen, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many more. That’s a lot of history – how did this help playing into the making of the record? Was it intimidating or motivating?
D: I’m a big believer in the mythology of album making. It’s like being in the presence of greatness when you’re in a studio where great artists have worked or using their desk or whatever it might be. In actual fact, the desk was a real pain the ass because various of the channels would cut out intermittently. I think the mixing engineer had a few sleepless nights trying to get it running properly. But that said, you can’t put a tangible value on inspiration, and in the end, it did sound fantastic. So it was definitely inspiring.
W: Your music often has a strong melancholic and emotional undertone combined with the colorful dance elements. What is it about the genre that allows you to tap into this so well?
D: I think for me as a non-trained musician, electronic music always seemed appealing because it was an entry point for me. I just needed a drum machine and a sampler and I could start making my own songs. Also without realising it, I’d grown up in the 80s with synthesizer music as the backing to a lot of my favourite films and shows. I guess maybe it always felt familiar. And I think the melancholy is just a bit more interesting subject matter than talking about how great everything is, or how life is one big party. I think dance tracks that do it well, just have a bit more depth to them.
W: Can you discuss the journey as a band over the past two decades. What would have surprised your younger selves?
D: I think the fact that we’re all still doing it would be a surprise to most of us. And certainly having number one albums or grammy nominations were not even on the far periphery of what we were thinking about when we started the band. When I think back now, a lot of the bands we really looked up to in the beginning were cult indie bands, with small devoted followings, but barely moved the needle as far as commercial success. So the fact that we’ve had that at periods of our career seems quite surprising.
W: To me, Cut Copy is a band that is meant to be experienced live with your friends and tons of complete strangers. How strange is it releasing an album without knowing if you can see people interacting with your material for the first time?
D: It’s honestly very strange. We’re not really big on living through social media, so I think we really miss being able to get in front of crowds and play for them, and also receive their direct feedback. And even more than that, performing is part of what defines you as a musician and as a person, so you start to wonder, “Who am I?” “What do I do if I’m a musician that doesn’t’ perform?” It’s really quite bizarre in that sense. I guess at this stage we’re just waiting it out, hoping that we get back to playing in the not too distant future, but really it’s anyone’s guess at the moment.
W: When you eventually do get to play again, how much impact if any does the new album or sound influence the way you play older material? Does it help push them to new places or see them in a different light?
D: It’s a little hard to tell really. We only managed to play two shows incorporating new material before things locked down. And seeing as our band lives across a couple of different continents we may need to wait quite a while longer for the next ones. But certainly, in the shows we did play, the new songs were a nice punctuation to our older material. I actually think they compliment each other quite well.
W: Have you been working on any new music during all this time?
D: A little, but without being able to perform to people and without our album coming out, it’s hard to move ahead on something new. Usually, you rely on people’s responses on music you’ve just made, to give you the confidence to launch into a new bunch of songs. Not to mention absorbing all the sights and sounds of touring, to filter into new music.
W: Finally, what media have you been consuming during quarantine? (Movies, Music, Books, TV, etc)
D: I actually started doing my annual re-reading of Bill Brewster’s “Last Night a DJ saved my life”, which chronicles the history of DJing and club culture. I’ve read it many times, but it’s a good book to duck in and out of. I think perhaps it’s filled the gap while I can’t go out to a club or watch live music, by imagining myself back to iconic clubs from the past.
I’ve also been reading “me and white supremacy”, the workbook by Layla F Saad. I guess in the wake of the BLM protests it’s felt like a difficult, but good topic to grapple with. It’s not the lightest reading, but definitely created some great insight into preconceived notions about race and white privilege. If nothing else hopefully I’ll come out lockdown a slight more well rounded human being!