Smile Politely

Cut Copy give it all they’ve got

Ever since their highly touted album In Ghost Colours put them on the map back in 2008, the Australian electro dance-rock band, Cut Copy, has developed quite the following by churning out one synth-laden pop single after another. Their latest album Zonoscope (a made up word pronounced Zuh-naw-scope) is steeped in a similar style that defined their last album: catchy and straightforward pop melodies backed by strong beats and whimsical synth pads. The band has been on tour promoting Zonoscope around the world since its release in February and is scheduled to make an appearance at this year’s Pygmalion Music Festival this Friday alongside Midnight Magic and Washed Out. I had a chance to catch up with bassist Ben Browning over the phone this past week where we talked about their latest North American tour, their new single, and the importance of musicianship for their live shows.

Smile Politely: So you are touring to promote your latest album Zonoscope, which, by the way, has one of my favorite album covers of the year. Can you start by talking a bit about this album and what its positive reception has meant to you as a band?

Ben Browning: The reception has been really positive. It’s something we’ve been done with for a long time now; we finished recording the album over twelve months ago and we were with it for a long time. We really tried to expend our sound and progress from the previous record. We wanted to make something that was a challenge and we were hopeful that fans would want to come along on that ride with us and it’s great to say that they have.

SP: How did that progression come about for you guys after In Ghost Colours?

BB: We spent a lot of time as a band sort of jamming and experimenting before we got into recording the record, which is something we haven’t done in the past so much. I think taking the reigns of production and having a really clear view of things we wanted to try. And there was this idea that we wanted to create this pretty uniform record and a world that kind of encapsulated the whole thing rather than bits and pieces of pop songs that are cobbled together. We really wanted to have a cohesive record. So it was self-producing, trying not to repeat ourselves so much in terms of the sound, using different synthesizers for the album that we hadn’t used in the past, and different percussion ideas. I think songwriting probably evolved a bit as well. But, we certainly didn’t want to do “Hearts on Fire” two and rehash the popularity of those songs.

SP: You guys have been touring on and off all over the world since January, a massive tour like this, especially considering the fact you have a reputation for putting on some high energy live shows, has to take a lot out of you. How have you kept your momentum going since the album’s release at the beginning of the year?

BB: Well, I think you fall into a rhythm with it when you are in the middle of a tour. We just started one so it is a bit more of a challenge just to step up and be in the rhythm of getting up and having all that energy for each show. But often we see people who are really excited to see us play and their response to our music and our performance kind of inspires the energy. It’s also a good way to engage with the music physically, you know, sort of be energetic and move around physically. It’s just what we do.

SP: Any favorite shows or moments from the road so far this year?

BB: There have been a lot of great shows this year. Recently we played in Prospect Park in Brooklyn and there was a really big crowd and the response we had that day was amazing. But we have also done some great festivals around the US. We played a really fun festival in Houston a few months ago and we have been lucky enough to play some big shows in Spain and South America. Also, it’s been amazing going to some places we have never been before. We got to play in Tel Aviv, Israel. That was one of those things you probably wouldn’t expect to do when you first start playing music, getting to play like that in the Middle East. So, the fact that we have been able to go to so many places has been really exciting.

SP: Word has it you guys are planning to unveil some never-before-performed songs on this latest North American tour. Are these new songs or some revamped old favorites that never made it out to the public?

BB: Yeah, there are a couple of tracks off of Zonoscope that we just started playing live. I guess we started playing them about a month ago. So now we are able to play the whole album live, minus one song. We put a lot of effort into each track and it’s great to be able to play most of the whole record live if we wanted to.

SP: Over the last few years we have seen an influx of dance music, but more and more artists seem to be ditching traditional instruments in favor of laptops and beat-making software. What are your thoughts on this shift and how important is musicianship for Cut Copy?

BB: The main importance for us is really the experience of the show for the crowd and making sure the show is as exciting as listening to the record. So we do use sequences to play things we wouldn’t be able to live because we would need 15 or 20 people on stage just to play every part that we do on a record, but obviously we really come to perform as much as we can as well. Engaging the songs and playing the songs makes it fun for us and it makes it visually exciting for the crowd. We’re not necessarily hot shot musicians; we just don’t think of ourselves that way. First and foremost I guess we are kind of like producers almost. I know when Dan started out the project he didn’t actually know how to play anything. He learned a couple chords on a guitar and he brought together a few things from there. So, it’s not our intention to get up for two hours shredding lead guitar or anything, but it’s definitely about learning the key parts to the songs. And having that slightly risky element of integrating these live parts keeps it interesting for us and keeps us on our toes.

SP: So you released a new video yesterday for “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution” featuring apes using your dismembered limbs to full-on rock out. What was the inspiration behind this video?

BB: The video was written and directed by a French production team who came to us with this idea. They actually sent us a sketch video of them doing the effects of playing with people’s limbs and holding people’s heads and we thought it just looked amazing. The great quality work to it, we felt really confident that these guys could pull it off. So they came to us having the whole thing really well mapped out and we trusted that they were gonna pull it off and we are really happy with the way it turned out.

SP: If I’m not mistaken, “Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution” was supposed to be the first single off of Zonoscope. What made you guys switch things up to the slightly poppier “Take Me Over”?

BB: I’m not exactly sure when the decision was made for it not to be, but I think at some point we did think that song was going to be the first single. Well, we always wanted to release “Where I’m Going” as the first free sort of download/single/release or whatever. But I think there are a lot of tunes on the record that could be singles and it’s hard to come to consensus. It’s a tough thing to decide on sometimes. (laughs) But in the end I think the record company made that decision.

SP: Have you started writing anything on the road or do you find your creative process best left to the studio?

We kind of keep the two processes separate. Basically, we like to get ourselves feeling isolated and introverted to make records and be in one place. When we are touring it is not conducive to writing as much, and there is too much to see and do to be thinking about that other work. But we are often thinking about inspiration and ideas. So we are buying a lot of records and building up a library of ideas and thoughts that we might be able to draw on when we start the next thing.

The Details
Cut Copy, Washed Out, Midnight Magic
Canopy Club
Friday, Sept. 23 @ 6:30 p.m. (Cut Copy @ 8:45)
$20; free with festival wristband

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