It's difficult to imagine a band like Cut Copy being anything BUT nonplussed about life. For the last decade and a half, they've released five albums and toured the world many times over. They ignore convention time and time again in their pursuit of some new way to inspire their fans to dance.
Recently at SXSW we had a chance to sit with Dan Whitford and Tim Hoey to discuss the band's latest developments. Their at-ease sensibilities are fairly off-putting until you realize that it's not some act but rather a humility that sits deeply at their core. This enables them to approach each and every situation with an intense coolness. With seemingly little care for what the universe expects of them, they are able to take fresh approaches to a world they're veterans in. Their latest album Haiku from Zero, continues the bands evolution, featuring live elements that represent their further attempts to get out of their own comfort zone.
The new video for "Black Rainbows" off their latest album "Haiku from Zero"
Magnetic Magazine: Walk me through how the band got started.
Dan: I was initially doing Cut Copy as a solo project around when I finished university. Mucking around with keyboards and drum machines. Tim was one of my friends, and, at the time, we'd always go out to see gigs together. We were both pretty interested in music and had slightly different tastes. He came from a guitar based background, I was into electronic music. So one day I had this idea to give Tim a little tape of what I’d been working on and see what he came back with.
MM: Tim, what did you think of that tape?
Tim: It was cool. I wasn't even like, "oh I'm helping his songs." It was more like, "here's a whole bunch of guitar over top of the stuff that Dan had written." He took it and messed around with it. Then I went to his house and recorded a bunch of samples. He sent me a track with stuff that I'd done on top and it just kind of snowballed from there.
MM: Were you creatively invested in what he was doing at the time?
Tim: Dan had released an EP that I was a big fan of, so it was kind of a funny experience to be asked to contribute my guitar. It was a lot more electronica based then.
Dan: There weren’t really even vocals on it.
Tim: Dan really only cared about making people dance. So at the time we still didn't think, "Oh, we're starting a band now." We were just working on this random thing.
Dan: It was a complete experiment, really. We were thinking, “this would be funny!”
MM: Dan, what did you think as you were looping Tim into your projects?
Dan: I thought he was doing something that I didn't do or couldn't do. At the time I didn't really play any instruments. I was a total hack on the keyboard and knew how to plug a few electronic bits together but that was about it. I hit a point where I was hearing things in my head but I had no idea how to make them a reality. So it was exciting having Tim come in to play and hear it fit interestingly with all the electronic sounds I was doing. It was like I was hearing this new thing entirely.
MM: Getting a real musician.
Dan: Getting the stamp of approval, even though I'd never really cared about playing in a band or anything before.
MM: Tim, when did you go from a fan to feeling like you were involved?
Tim: I think when Dan took the first record to Paris to mix. He brought it back and was like, "well, I finished an album." It was crazy to see a finished product of something we started as a joke from within our bedrooms. I had no idea how to write music or play music, really. Then a track got played on the radio and all of a sudden we had agents asking if we wanted to do shows. So, we played a show. Even then it didn't feel like we were doing something serious. Until we got booked overseas to play, at which point it was like, "Oh..."
Trying to explain that to my mom was a moment. I told her that I was going to Europe to play in this band. She was like, "wait, you don't play an instrument." "Well yeah. It's a bit funny, that..."
MM: Was she supportive at that time?
Tim: She was confused at first. I had moved to Melbourne to go to art school. Then all of a sudden I told her, "Oh I'm in this band now." She's like, "Wow. Alright. This is ridiculous.”
MM: When did she finally come around?
Tim: I think when I called her and told her they were going to play a song on a radio station she knew. She was like, "Wow. This is a thing."
MM: So did you guys learn quickly that you needed to add new skills to be an actual band?
Dan: Yeah but I think in some ways we almost have this punk attitude where we never thought we had to have super abilities in order to make music. We wanted to dive in first and figure it out later. Mitchell's a good example. He never played drums before he started playing with us and just sort of taught himself. We've each done that along the way and, in some respects, we’ve found this has made more interesting results. You don't have this set idea of the way things should be played, or the way it’s supposed to fit together. You just do it by ear and you make your own way of doing things.
MM: It kind of reminds me of The Beatles approach. That's a ridiculous comparison to compare anyone to The Beatles...
Dan: No, I think it's a good one.
Tim: Very accurate.
Dan: We've had the same amount of hits.
Tim: Same cultural impact.
MM: When you're creating an album is there a pressure to make it be a complete package before you put it out?
Tim: I don't know if the actual album needs to be, anymore.
Dan: I guess that maybe this was the case historically as well, but your presence is as important as the actual music you're making.
Tim: Which is to me sort of a shitty way to think about art. When really the art should speak for itself, instead it feels as what's important is some sort of weird marketing exercise.
Dan: It’s normal now that people hire social media people to take on the road with them.
Tim: It's like the fifth member of the band. Maybe that’s what we need.
MM: Do you guys have management that keeps you abreast of these things?
Tim: Yeah we drive our manager insane because he's like you have to engage! We’re like, "Eh."
Dan: We feel that we’ve simply gotta be genuine about it in order to spend time on it. You can't just pretend to be all about social media when you're just not that interested. If we're excited about something we post about it but we're not just gonna post some junk for the sake of it.
Tim: Here's Dan making toast. Dan makes toast.
Dan: Oh wow, he's a human!
MM: Do you think of your relationship with technology as being a means to an end? Or is it medium to explore?
Dan: Obviously our music wouldn't exist without technology in some shape or form. Societally we've definitely gone into some crazy hyper version of that in the last five years or so. I think it's really sort of accelerated, particular as far as the way music intersects with technology.
MM: Do you have drive to adapt to that?
Dan: Yeah, there are definitely parts that are exciting. We just went down to Switched On, a pretty awesome synth store here in Austin. We bought a bunch of stuff that can fit in the palm of your hand. We were breaking our backs carrying stuff around from gig to gig when we first played SXSW and it’s pretty awesome that we’re walking around with something equally as powerful that can fit in our pocket.
MM: Do you notice a difference between interacting with large tech versus smaller tech? Does it have the same artistic connection?
Tim: Yeah definitely. Anything you can put your hands on and manipulate in some way will be more engaging than something on a screen.
Dan: As a band we still really need the engagement of the machines. It’s important for it to have a presence.
MM: When you're using this tech to create, do you have a story in mind or does it bring something out of you?
Dan: I like having things that I don't know how to use; it offers an opportunity to learn something. I'm more liable to make a mistake that sounds cool and that often turns into the basis for an idea. So for me that's kind of the point of the new technology. I don't know if it's trying to fit that into a story, necessarily. I think it's more of a chance to experiment and discover something that I couldn't think of in the first place.