Cut Copy
Dance Dance Evolution
by Kevin J. Elliott

Cut Copy has never seemed to find the appropriate crowd with whom to share their future-forward pop. Their debut, 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love, buzzed with dancefloor blitzes, but equated the Australian group to an Ibiza house band, a Duran Duran–retread, or at worst, a dance-punk-lite remnant. In 2008, In Ghost Colours was a major breakthrough, retaining the plasticity of the debut, but insulating those retro-drenched grooves with psychedelic waves that seemed to mesh George Harrison B-sides with Fleetwood Mac luxuries. At that point, Cut Copy were venturing toward the elite league of electronicists like Daft Punk and Air—acts that tend to thrive on maximum appeal—but still maintained a cultish following of those who wished for them to remain a lysergic head band.

Zonoscope, Cut Copy’s highly anticipated third album, should appeal to both audiences (or at least where they intersect), even though Cut Copy probably didn’t actively attempt to win over either. The album is brimming with soft-rock melodies that owe a debt of influence to everything from the Bee Gees to Tango in the Night–era Buckingham (the Mac again), as well as New Order’s steely propulsion and Kosmiche Musik’s dark gravitational pull. What it lacks in the rocky landscapes of In Ghost Colours, it makes up for in ambition and innovation. Producing the record in-house this time around (opposed to working with LCD Soundsystem’s Tim Goldsworthy, who produced the last two albums), Cut Copy dug into Chicago house, Italo disco, and trance-laden ambience to create an epic, nearly conceptual record that is an accurate portrait of the band in the “now.” Or at least that’s what I gleaned from the following e-mail exchange with guitarist Tim Hoey. Whether or not Zonoscope will merely fill the current void of electronic psychedelia with its nostalgic mirrorball synths or conjure up the blissfully hypnotic vision Cut Copy is hoping to induce will require further exploration. For now, it feels right, a worthy follow-up and further proof that they know exactly what they’re doing.

I think of a lot of North American listeners aren’t exactly aware of how you started Cut Copy. Were you guys in other bands before this in Melbourne?

Tim Hoey: We all met nailed to a bar on the outskirts of rural Victoria, and we bonded over our mutual appreciation of Dr Dre’s The Chronic and Boston Celtics basketball. We were all at a crossroads in our lives: I was washing dishes in a Buddhist temple; Dan (Whitford) was teaching the blind to read; and Mitchell (Scott) was cleaning the pools of bored middle-class housewives in the eastern suburbs. It was at this moment that we thought, “What better time to start a band?” We figured what we lacked in musicianship we would make up for in endless enthusiasm.

Did you find in the beginning that others in Melbourne weren’t making this kind of music? Did you have any confrontation from audiences not quite prepared for a band that focused on dancefloor beats and primarily synth-based music?

TH: Rock was ruling the bars and airwaves at the time of the inception of Cut Copy. We had this idea of putting together a garage band version of the band, and we would play shows under the name the Different Cigarettes. The band was built on the foundation of house music, but we also liked the idea of incorporating noisy guitars. Each weekend, we would play a different venue. Like one weekend we’d set up our show on the dancefloors of nightclubs and the next week we’d play in more traditional rock dive bars. It was always interesting shifting the context of the music. We’d play to a totally different audience from week to week. I’m not really sure what people made of it in the beginning.

Have you found in the years following your creation that a lot of bands have adopted your style and sound in Australia?

TH: I’m not exactly sure if Australia has a particular sound or style. Certainly the kind music we make is more in the popular consciousness these days compared to when we first started. We always thought we’d have an audience overseas and we always had the intention of spreading our wings, for want of a better phrase. We’re just really grateful that we have an audience anywhere really.

What’s the story behind the title of the new album, Zonoscope? Is that a reference to trying to cover a lot more ground on this record?

TH: Zonoscope is the bird’s eye view of the world we created for this record. Zonoscope would be the lens you would use to view this world. It’s a title we invented, so whenever the word Zonoscope is used, it only holds meaning to this record and nothing else.

With the success of In Ghost Colours, was there any stress in the creation of this record trying to live up to the quality of that record?

TH: I think the only pressure we place on ourselves is creative pressure. Each record has to stand on its own and have its own identity. It’s not really about being better than the work that’s come previously. It’s really about challenging yourself to make something new or evolving your sound and songwriting.

How did you want to evolve from one album to the next?

TH: For this one, it was very much a re-imagining of the Cut Copy sonic palette, stripping away what we’d done on In Ghost Colours and Bright Like Neon Love. We used a lot of different synthesizers and guitar sounds, and there seemed to be a strong focus on percussion for this record, both synthetic and organic percussion. We wanted this record to be more groove-based, like locking into rhythms and creating a hypnotic sounding record. But with every release, we always try and create an entire record that’s meant to be listened to from start to finish. There is always an arc to each record, and no one song is more important than another.

How did the decision come about to have Dan produce the album instead of Tim Goldsworthy?

TH: The previous two records were co-produced, and we learnt a lot from working with both Philippe (Zdar) and Tim so that we had confidence in our abilities to make this one on our own. Dan was always a talented producer in his own right. Cut Copy began as his solo bedroom producer project before we all came on board for Bright Like Neon Love.

I think the making-of documentary is a good introduction to those who might not know you or how you operate, and it’s a nice companion to Zonoscope. How did you decide to do this film and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

TH: I think as artists you’re always fascinated with the process. We’re big fans of those classic album “making of” documentaries and books. So we thought it would be a special bonus for fans to get a look behind the scenes of how we made this record. Plus, it would be great for us to refer to in years to come when our memories are failing us. What we like about making this doc was that the filmmakers (Krozm) were good friends of ours, so it felt very natural having them around in the studio, which is generally an introverted process. Having a camera rolling could be quite detrimental to the process—generally it feels really unnatural—but with Krozm, I thought they did an amazing job of capturing us for who we are: geeks, basically.

I’ve never had the opportunity to see you play live, so I’m curious to know the difference between Zonoscope and how it will play out in the live setting. Do shows tend to focus more on band dynamics and interplay like a traditional rock show or on creating a club environment?

TH: We’ve created a different show for this tour, something that reflects the world we created on Zonoscope. It’s probably taken more cues from theatre as opposed to rock or dance shows. It will be great for people who have seen us a few times before because it will be something new for them. It will also be new for us, which is exciting and a little nerve-racking at the same time. We play our first show on Friday so who knows, it could be a complete disaster! But we like the idea of the unknown. The challenge is what makes it fun.

I’m hearing a lot more influence from Italo disco and American street funk, particularly on a song like “Pharaohs and Pyramids.” Did artists like Moroder and Roger Troutman have an influence in making this record?

TH: That particular track, “Pharaohs and Pyramids,” is about house music, Chicago house, in particular, which was a big influence on our record. But we tried to turn it into a bit of a pop song too, so it could exist outside of the clubs as well. We like the idea of our music adapting to any environment: in clubs, at home, walking around the street. We feel that’s important.

What was the band listening to when you were writing and recording Zonoscope?

TH: Heaps of different things, but one of the main influences was actually Werner Herzog’s film, Fitzcarraldo. In particular, it was the scene where they pull a giant steamboat over the hill in the Amazon. We actually brought that film into the studio and projected that scene onto a wall and composed music to that scene. Those sessions actually appear on the record as interludes that join the tracks together.

“Sun God” sounds really ambitious. How did it come about that you ended Zonoscope with this massive 15-minute trip? Do you feel like this song is a complete summation of all of Cut Copy’s strengths?

TH: The idea behind “Sun God” is all about release. It’s supposed to be a completely immersive experience where time becomes irrelevant. The song could last for 15 minute or 15 hours, although I think we’ll play the 15 minute version live! We had this idea that the record began like a transcendental meditation (“Need You Now”) and it climaxes with a hedonistic, euphoric bliss-out (“Sun God”).