Cut Copy’s fourth album, Free Your Mind, is a psychedelic dance record, a radical celebration of youth counter-culture and the forms of cultural practice which develop in and around the club. I spoke to Dan Whitford and Mitchell Scott about their upcoming album, recording in Dave Fridmann’s upstate New York studio, and being ‘bros’ with Alexander Skarsgard.
Lot’s Wife: I saw your D.J set with World’s End Press at Pony on Friday – it was great! How does it feel to play in smaller, local venues back in Melbourne?
Dan: I guess we spend so much time now overseas, touring, that coming home can be a bit strange sometimes, it feels sort of like coming back down to earth.
Mitchell: It can be quite funny. It’s just the way it works. It’s pretty cool to be able to catch a tram to the venue, or to do a show that doesn’t rely on any sort of grand effects, or big staging and lighting designs – you have to win over a smaller crowd right from the start.
Dan: And the music that we like are more underground and niche, so they’re the kind of shows that probably we would have grown up going to, enjoying electronic dance music live, so I guess it’s cool that we get to do smaller shows that are a bit more targeted, rather than playing in big arenas every time. The experience is different.
LW: I feel that Melbourne’s music scene in the last few years has been particularly dynamic and interesting – how do you think it has changed since when you were starting out as a band?
Dan: I think it’s changed each time we do a record, or each time we come back from touring. In that sense we have quite a unique perspective on how Melbourne’s music scene is constantly evolving. In terms of the music that we make, when we started there wasn’t really anyone pushing the boundaries of electronic music – now there’s quite a lot of people doing interesting dance music, both on a larger, more commercial scale and a smaller one. The underground scene when we first started was really just ‘indie’, so I feel that the possibilities are a lot more open now.
LW: I find what is interesting about Cut Copy’s sound is that you guys have this dance, clubhouse, electro-pop vibe, but you infuse your music – explicitly so on this latest album, although it’s certainly present in In Ghost Colours and Zonoscope – with a somewhat spiritual sensibility.
Dan: I guess the spiritual aspect is subjective; everyone has their own thing which resonates with them. Making this new record, for me, one of the things I found interesting was the power of dance music – and the sub-cultures surrounding it – to bring and unify people who otherwise wouldn’t have that much in common together, on a dance floor, or in that environment with the music when you’re there in that moment. As a band, we’re trying to get back to the basics of what dance music is about, what it’s been about since the 60s, 70s; the acid house days.
LW: In your press release, you spoke about counter-culture revolutions and youth movements as a theme of the album. What is the idea behind Free Your Mind?
Dan: I’m not sure when we first became aware that there was this thematic link between the tracks as we were writing the new record. Part of our approach to working on this record is trying to channel a time when music existed more in the real world; the notion of music as a medium to push youth culture out there to actually do things, and make the world better, even becoming a catalyst for social change. That’s not necessarily what we expect that to happen with this record, I don’t think you can pre-engineer that kind of thing – it’s more just a celebration of that idea, that ethos. I feel the way people receive and explore music nowadays has become disengaged; it’s too easy and readily available.
LW: Where did the idea for placing huge billboards displaying the phrase “Free Your Mind” – in remote areas of the Californian desert, Chile, Western Australia, Mexico City, Wales and Detroit – come from? It’s a very inspired concept.
Mitchell: I guess that’s another extension of having things exist in the real world, in contrast to having things available on cue and on demand in a virtual space. We had this idea of people making this mini odyssey, trekking out into the desert or where ever to listen to our new track – it was putting this challenge out there for people to go out into the wilderness and actively experience our music. Of course it was an advertising experiment as well. Tim had always wanted to put a billboard in the desert when he was an art student, and as a band we wanted to do something which could cover the corners of the globe. Partly, it came from a place of thinking that if we could put a billboard in Sydney or Melbourne – that’s what our record label had the budget for – if we could take that away, and do the opposite instead, and put our billboards in the most remote, the worst ‘advertising’ locations. Rather than having a billboard telling you to do something, or buy something, our billboards essentially tell you nothing – it doesn’t even tell you what it is about. In essence, we use the internet to drive people to the billboard, and flip or subvert that relationship around.
Dan: It’s also a reflection of where we are at in this moment in time. I think, as a band, we had become a bit bored of the way new tracks were being premiered – things just came and went in the space of 24 hours. Our attention span has become so short. As individuals, we are also susceptible to that, and what’s always stuck for me are things which have an interesting idea behind it. So this allowed us to have some fun with new concepts, and hopefully capture our audience’s attention as well.
LW: I know for your last album, Zonoscope, you shut away in an industrial warehouse for a few months. What was the process behind creating this new record? How was recording and working with Dave Fridmann in New York?
Dan: Like last time, we set up our own space – it wasn’t a big, abandoned warehouse like the last one, it was more suited to-
Mitchell: This one had heating.
Dan: It had heating, it had carpet –
Mitchell: It was still all our own gear, so in that sense it was a similar concept –a space where we could just record by ourselves.
Dan: We spent a couple of months doing that, and then once we got things to a certain point we went across to the U.S to work with Dave Fridmann in his studio in upstate New York. It was this sort of self sufficient artist commune; a house in the middle of the forest which had a studio on the ground floor and living space upstairs. I guess the idea is that any band that goes there, stays there and lives there. It was something we had never done before, and it was a cool way to finish the record.
Mitchell: It was actually really funny, imagining bands like ‘The Flaming Lips’ or ‘MGMT’ actually living in the same tiny shared living space. The whole idea is that it’s supposed to be like a communal, collective camping experience, so bands who were uncomfortable sharing rooms together, or wanted to be divas, – well, they’re not the bands Dave wanted to be working with.
Dan: It’s quite hilarious though, because they were essentially kids bedrooms. It was great for us – cooking meals together, going grocery shopping together. It was like a sharehouse.
LW: So I saw the film clip for ‘Free Your Mind’ – I thought it was absolute genius, simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. What was it like working with Alexander Skarsgard?
Dan: Yeah, I think there are a lot of people in the same boat, including us. We met him when we were touring the last record. He came to one of our shows in Rio, and the promoter was like – ‘you have to meet this guy’, so this massive Swedish man comes in and tells us how much he loves our music. It was strange, having this guy who was obviously much more famous than us, coming in and telling us how much of a fan he was. But we hung out with him after the show, and we just became bros after that, and became really good friends. So when we came to be doing another clip, we contacted him to see if he would be interested, and he was psyched. It was really just another chance for us to hang out.
LW: You guys are touring at the end of the month – the U.S, and around Europe, promoting your new album. How does this album differ to your previous ones?
Dan: For this album, part of my inspiration was getting back to Melbourne, and re-immersing and reconnecting with my life. I guess I fell back in love with the idea of underground music, the scenes and sub-cultures, and we tried to connect that with our love of old school acid house, early rave culture, and dance music.