Words by Michael Cranston
Photos by Aaron Aujla
Auj (photographer) and I show up at Circa around 5:40 p.m. The interview is supposed to start at 4:40 p.m., but it’s been moved back an hour. Sure. We kill time in the adjacent bookstore, perusing “Heather’s Picks”, pondering the response of the band if we were to present them with a copy of Keys to Understanding Men (and whether or not that would be funny). As interview time approaches, I phone Cut Copy's Tour Manager, who sounds stressed and irritable. I make a request (that is fairly unprofessional), which Tour Manager immediately deems unprofessional. The brief small-talk between myself/Auj and Tour Manager is awkward and tense; he informs us we are no longer interviewing the full band, only singer Dan Whitford. He asks a few questions that I find difficult to answer (“how many question do you have for Dan?”), to which I respond evasively (“well, depends which questions I choose”). “Alright,” Tour Manager says begrudgingly, “I’ll go get Dan. Make sure you have all your stuff set up.” I feel like I’m meeting the Pope. We conduct the interview in a worn-down kitchen. There is one chair, which I graciously offer to Dan. I stand during the interview. It’s as if I’m interrogating him and it’s all very strange. Tour Manager stands a few feet away (out of camera shot), not unlike a poised bodyguard.
I wonder whether or not to tell Dan a quick story of my first Cut Copy show last May: getting into the extremely sold-out venue by pretending I was a staff writer for Pitchfork. I imagine Tour Manager demanding $20 in lost revenue. I don’t tell Dan anything.
Where does your music converge with business? Dan looks confused at my admittedly broad opening question. I try to qualify.) … As in – you make remixes and mix-tapes, and these things don’t have price tags. And in the day and age where CD sales are negligible, how are business aspirations and expanding your fan base prioritized?
"Our goals are artistic ones. We’re not totally naïve and ignore commercial goals and marketing, but what we’re doing is geared towards creating our art, if you’d call it that. So the fact that we do mix-tapes or remixes is really just a way of creating things we find interesting, and hopefully other people do too. That’s definitely not something … with a commercial objective in mind. If we do these things and gain more fans, that’s great, but it’s not the be-all-end-all."
He’s completely genuine when he says this. He’s obviously tired as shit -- considering he asks Tour Manager immediately post-interview about going to bed -- from all the travel yet is earnest and grateful at his band’s (extremely) deserved fame.
You listed [Panda Bear’s] Person Pitch as your favorite record of 2007, did you have a favorite of 2008?
"I’m not sure if I have a favorite of that year … there’s a bunch of records I listened to and enjoyed, but not sure if I could pick out one in particular … Person Pitch was a stand-out for me the year before. I’ve got into a phase of being obsessed of hunting down old music and that’s become more of a thing."
Is that going to affect the next record?
"Potentially. One of the things I like about listening to old music is how it affects you the same as pop songs you listen to today, but come at you from a totally different angle and aren’t affected by the fashion trends today. You hear things that take you off-guard or sound cool or out-of-context, and it’s that aspect that we try to bring to what we make – to try to make something unaffected by fashion."
This comment strikes me as incredibly ironic. Cut Copy, the embodiment of current fashion trends, want to avoid conforming to expectation or labeling. I don’t suggest he was being disingenuous. When he says, “Making [In Ghost Colors], we didn’t think about what a Cut Copy record should sound like, we just did what we liked,” he is being entirely honest. And there’s no doubt that Cut Copy, who are rumored to be extreme perfectionists, have no interest in yielding to anyone’s expectations but their own. Yet, the meeting of today’s fashion trends and today’s fashionable music is inevitable; they are irremovable from one another.
So how do you deal with your role within these fashion trends? How do you avoid being swooped up into what others are saying about you?
"You can’t help but be influenced by what people say about you … sometimes you might think what [people will say] if you release a drum-and-bass record. But at the same time, our goals are artistic ones – so if it feels like the right thing to make a drum-and-bass record, then that’s what we’re going to do. We try not to read our own press because that’s a distraction.” It’s worked, thus far. In Ghost Colors is a sonic masterpiece – an album where every second is accounted for, every lyric is calculated, where dance and electro meet lovelorn thought without devolving into meta-irony. It is beautifully energetic; one of the easiest albums to like that I’ve heard in years." (I’ve recommended this album to folk enthusiasts and house DJs, and the response is always overwhelmingly positive.)
Cut Copy’s live show is a surge of jubilation. Seeing them perform last spring was one of the most inclusive and enraptured shows I’ve witnessed. When Dan extended his arms pleading, “With hearts on fire I reach out to you tonight,” we met him halfway. When Tim Hoey pressed down firmly on his synth pad at the end of “Out There On the Ice”, we mimicked his motion as if we were on stage.
To put aside critical judgment for one quick second: it is one of the most fun live shows you’ll ever see. “We’ve tried to reinvent and restructure the way we do our live show, so we stay interested in playing,” Dan says when I ask how they maintain their live energy. “You get bored doing the same things.” I ask what his favorite song to play live is (fully expecting the answer to be “Hearts on Fire”): “The newer songs in our set are a favorite at the moment. I really like playing guitar songs, which is funny because I mostly play synthesizer and sing. Originally, when we first started, the majority of our songs were guitar-based. I used to really enjoy playing guitar, even though I can’t play it well. It looks cool.”
We talk a bit longer while Auj snaps pictures. Dan is fatigued and I begin to feel guilty that I keep him here asking him questions he’s answered a hundred times. We bid another adieu, retiring to our respective rooms to rest for the upcoming night.