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Cut Copy’s Dan Whitford On Their Ecstatic New Album ‘Free Your Mind’

Featured

Cut Copy’s Dan Whitford On Their Ecstatic New Album ‘Free Your Mind’

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For years, Cut Copy have successfully merged indie rock and dance music into glittering electronic pop gems we can confidently put on at a house party. Beginning as a solo project 2001, Melbourne native Dan Whitford has since expanded the group into a four-piece ensemble that includes Ben Browning, Mitchell Scott, and Tim Hoey. Like other smart, successful bands before them, Cut Copy have made the decision to follow up their excellent last album Zonoscope with a new, even better album one Free Your Mind. 

Inspired by the group’s veneration for the two “summers of love” that took place in 1967 and 1988-89, Free Your Mind is an ecstatic foray into the kinship of music and people that defined those eras. While hazy psychedelia and squiggly acid house don’t exactly scream “Modern dance album,” Cut Copy have harnessed their infectious pop sensibilities to make these transcending sounds more accessible and timely than ever. As Whitford explains, the album’s not about defining a certain time in music, but reminding people to gather and celebrate that dance music is made for dancing.

When did the concept for Free Your Mind first come about?
The writing process of the record started as soon as we go off tour, which was the start of last year. Basically we started working without having a concept in mind. I wanted to see what kind of record came out naturally rather than having a particular mission statement with making the album. So I sort of sat down and had the idea of writing a song a day in basic demo form and not really going back to anything until I had a big list of starting points for tracks. I did that over a period of months and ended up with about a hundred different song ideas. Then from there, we had to sift through all these crazy different ideas, and I’d probably forgotten the majority of what the ideas were until we went back and listened to them, so there was a stream of consciousness with throwing out all these ideas. When we came back to it we started picking out the ones we thought we should work on collectively as a band. From there we started to see a bit of a theme or an idea that started coming out.

Had any of these song ideas begun percolating during your last tour or did you enter the studio with a blank slate?
I certainly bough a lot of records while were away, and that’s sort of become a ritual for us in whatever city we arrive in. We go and find the best coffee place and visit a bunch of record stores. That’s usually how we fill our days when touring. So I accumulated a bunch of records on our last tour that I would have been listening to and absorbing a bit leading up to the making of this record. So there’s probably at least subconsciously something ticking over there. Because of the nature of the music we make I’ve got a studio at home that has a whole plethora of synthesizers and gear which I use to write and record with, so as much as I can sketch something on the road, I can’t really press the start button on anything till we get back home.

You’ve cited that the two “summers of love” were an inspiration for the album. What drew you to those movements?
There’s a sense in those eras that music is transcendent, and more than just being entertainment it really changed the culture of youth and the culture of life. It was something that made the world better during those periods. Just from listening to some of those early rave records and UK acid house, there’s a real uplifting sense of positivity to them which I think is inspiring. It wasn’t a self-conscious time, it was like throwing off all the burdens of the Thatcher era and then looking forward to something that was a much brighter and more positive future; and something that was shared amongst the youth of that time. For me that’s something I find inspiring, and musically I engage with a lot of those old records since it’s the birth of a lot of dance music that I listen too. Even modern stuff stems back to that time.

Are you looking to evoke a nostalgia for these times or inspire a third summer of love?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a sense of nostalgia for it even though I wasn’t old enough to experience that era. But I’ve always had a fondness for it. I think it’s more of a feeling and it’s one I’m trying to get to through the music in some way. It’s not that we purely made this record focused on the past and wanted to wind things right back to a certain point in time. There’s obviously a feeling from that time that has a bit of currency again. You get the sense of things being more real at that time and you want to grasp that energy and transfer it into the now.

A lot of the songs on Free Your Mind are clearly geared towards a dance floor and I noticed that they have the most in common with the track “Sun God off Zonoscope; Do you ever think of your discography as a continuous story?
Each album is really it’s own thing but inevitably your on a creative journey as an artist. I would completely agree that “Sun God” is almost like the jumping off point from the last record into this one because its outro is a pure dance track and that feeling relates quite strongly to a lot of what’s on this new record. Without even being conscious of it I guess it’s sort of a link between the two records.

Lyrically this album speaks to a bigger audience opposed to the more personal and sentimental pop of Bright Like Neon Love or In Ghost Colours. Was this a reflection of how the project has grown form it’s bedroom roots to the worldwide audience your reaching now?
Yeah, it is on some level. I mean particularly on Bright Like Neon Love which was a sort of introverted and naive kind of record in a lot of ways, but that’s part of it’s charm. With this record there was some sort of want to bring people together, and that’s what I liked about early dance music and dance music generally.

How was it taking over the producer role on this album?
I was producing on Zonoscope as well, but this was an extension of that. Making the kind of music we make, there’s so many production decisions that happen even just sort of writing tracks. Say you’ve got to make a decision between twenty different instruments and you’re picking out which way you’re going to go. So it’s inevitable that you learn to work as a producer. On this record being able to self-produce allowed us a bit more freedom and a bit more time to come up with more ideas and try things that we wanted to. We worked in our own space rather than a traditional recording studio and that’s something that we found gives us more flexibility,

The theme of free thought and free love is distinct throughout the album. Does this mark the first time you’ve tried to achieve an overarching message on a record?
We sort of just tried to let this record appear rather than push it to be anything in particular. It was just when we realized where some of these songs were headed and that there was a common thread that we thought, let’s try and enhance that sensation for people. It’s sort of a euphoric record, so we figured let’s not leave people wondering; let’s push it as far as it will go.

When your first released the single “Free Your Mind,” you made it available to stream through an app connected with 6 billboards placed intercontinentally. How did you decide on those billboards locations? Was there a sentimental or musical connection?
We tried to get as weird a spread of places that we’d been around the world to so far. Places that represent our audience on some level, but at the same time we were also trying to put them in places that would be hard to get to. Just places that wouldn’t be too expected for people and places that sort of ‘free your mind’ by having some sort of meditative resonance, like in the desert.

Are there similarly any new things planned for the tour of this album?
We’ve been working on a different concept for our stage this time that we’re really excited about. It will be an exciting show visually, with a connection to the vibe of the record. But I don’t want to give it away just yet.

After playing stages like Coachella, and alongside legends like Daft Punk, what continues to drive you musically and what do you aspire to next?
There’s always something, and whether that’s an internal drive, like discovering or re-discovering acid house or some other type of music is always inspiring. But in terms of bigger things, we’d just like keep in touch with the new record, as well as find some new ones. We’ll keep playing and doing what we love doing. We’re in a position where our goals were very humble in the beginning, and just to play a small size venue in our hometown of Melbourne was exciting, and from there things just kept going and going to the point where we never would’ve thought that we would’ve done Coachella or played with Daft Punk or managed to tour most of the world and find fans in each of those places. We’re pinching ourselves a lot of time asking, Is this for real?

For nostalgia sake, I have to ask who from the acid rave heyday would you pick to do a remix for you?
We actually had Andrew Weatherall remix one of our tracks on the last record, and I think he’d be the one, but he’s already done a remix for us so….

Well you really are living the dream then.
That’s it! Just another example of it.