Cut Copy

Psychedelic Sojourn

Jan 06, 2014 Photography by Chloe Aftel Issue #48 - November/December 2013 - HAIM
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Early last year Cut Copy frontman Dan Whitford was performing a DJ set in his longtime home of Melbourne, Australia, where he decided to abandon his customary mix of classic disco and modern electronic records for a collection of acid house and Chicago dance albums. Spinning tracks and remixes from genre heavyweights including The KLF, Paul Oakenfold, Kevin Saunderson, A Guy Called Gerald, and many others, by the end of the set Whitford's seemingly innocent and impetuous decision to change things up for a night had tapped into a wholly unexpected source of inspiration for the songwriter. "For me it was kind of like that moment of throwing out the old and in with the neweven though I was playing a lot of old records," says Whitford. "There was a moment of inspiration or clarity in that experience and I think from then on I thought, 'Yeah, this is kind of what I want to pursue with the next record.'"

With his new pathway set, Whitford quickly began pursuing the sounds and ideas that had first excited him in his formative years, channeling them through a Cut Copy filter. The end result is the band's newest LP, Free Your Mind. The follow-up to the Aussie dance rockers' 2011 studio effort Zonoscope, the new album is a cacophonic obstacle course of club-fitted beats and heady grooves that successfully reimagine what it would be like if the pop psychedelia of the Summer of Love were put in the context of a 21st century rave.

While he may have been too young and only vaguely aware of acid house when it was a formative musical movement throughout the U.K. in the late '80s and early '90s, Whitford speaks of the genre and its inevitable influence on the band's new record with an almost reverent nostalgia. "That period of electronic music was exciting because it was almost like they hadn't figured out the rules yet," says Whitford. "It was like the Wild West or something, where it was a bit lawless and crazy and people making up their own rules as they go along. I think that's the most exciting thing in music. It's fertile ground, and you end up with crazy, weird results and that's kind of what I love about that era of music."

Much like previous Cut Copy records, development for Free Your Mind started with Whitford working on his own before bringing in fellow members Tim Hoey, Ben Browning, and Mitchell Scott. This particular time around, however, Whitford held himself to a personally untried writing process, one that substantially broadened his output.

"Usually I would start out writing and sketching out some ideas, and once there were a few cool ones I'd take it to the band and we'd work on it together," says Whitford. "Instead of working on a few ideas, this time around I tried to generate as many crazy ideas as I possibly could. I sort of worked on a song a day, basically, forcing myself not to go back to the thing I'd done the previous day, but just keep moving on and coming up with new ideas. I ended up with this crazy bank of about 100 or more tracks over the course of a few months. And then we picked out the best ideas and in some cases joined different kind of half-ideas together."

Eventually bringing the full band into the fray, the sessions for Free Your Mind were flush with experimentation. The band was constantly pulling tracks apart and putting them back together in alternative ways, searching for the most sonically pleasing outcome, whether it was trying out new interstellar sound effects on a synthesizer, stitching various vocal cries and wordless howls into the very fabric of a beat, or utilizing countless other dial-turning manipulations. "I think part of it comes from writing music in what you would call an untraditional way," says Whitford. "We don't sit in a room and jam. It's very much something where we work with a four-track or digital recorder or computer and it allows you to add as many layers as you want, and often when we're recording none of us are actually playing instruments we know how to play. Half of it is, 'Well, I wonder how this thing works?' You'll do enough takes where one of them sounds good and you'll be like, 'Yeah, that's on the record now.' Inevitably we end up with a pretty dense sound, a really detailed result, the kind of music you can come back to on the 20th listen and hear something new."

While Whitford says the record's more obvious concept and sentiment of freeing one's mind emerged in the making of the album, the true vision of the record seems to stem from Cut Copy's ability to view an influence of the past through a prism of modernity. "I think, for me, writing music is so much about reassembling your influences and taking the world around you and reinterpreting that into your piece of art," says Whitford. "I think a lot of that comes down to the things you choose to put together and create your art with. It's almost like you're curating things from the world around you."



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