Tired of being lumped in with other Oz electro acts, Cut Copy indulged in some aural experimentation on new album Zonoscope. It paid off.
What’s next for a band who’ve blazed a trail for a host of soundalike acts with their groundbreaking debut album, then neatly sidestepped the sophomore slump with a follow-up LP hailed to
the heavens by critics and fans alike, as Cut Copy have done?
No one much talks about the tricky third album, but it’s often this point in a band’s career when they are most in danger of going stale. For the synth-pop outfit the answer to this conundrum was to pursue a policy of isolationism.
The band, now made up of Dan Whitford (vocals), Tim Hoey (guitar, sampler) Ben Browning (bass) and Mitchell Scott (drums) holed themselves up in an industrial warehouse in Melbourne, with only themselves, some basic equipment and an arsenal of unusual percussion instruments (bongos, rototoms and cowbells) for company.
“It was freezing,” reminisces Whitford. “It was the middle of winter for some of the recording and we had one little bar heater to heat this huge open space.
“It obviously didn’t work so we’d be all be huddled around it and we’d send one unlucky person up the other end of the space to record a part and they’d run straight back to the heater. It was a pretty strange feat of endurance.”
Welcome To The Jungle…
But while they were freezing, Cut Copy were dreaming of somewhere warm and tropical, the kind of place soundtracked by exotic instrumentation. Pleasingly, this vision was realised in their third album, Zonoscope, an aural utopia of organic psychedelia and tribal rhythms. Are they sure they weren’t actually recording in a jungle somewhere?
Whitford laughs. “It was more like dreaming of this other place. For us it was more like escapism and imagining another place. And in a way that was far more tantalising than actually going somewhere exotic. Very often the vision you have in your mind is better than what you experience in real life.”
Mixing It Up
In making Zonoscope, the band were keen to put some distance between themselves and Australia’s thriving electro scene made up of contemporaries like The Presets and the Midnight Juggernauts.
“This time around we felt like we’d done that and when we came to write this record we weren’t around those bands anymore so we were just doing our own thing.”
Despite the change in direction, Zonsoscope is unmistakably a Cut Copy album, boasting the kind of warm, shimmering synths which made their previous album In Ghost Colours such a critical hit around the world when it was released in 2008.
But what really sets it apart from In Ghost Colours is the percussion which, in places, is absolutely bonkers. Sun God, for example, sounds like Gloria Estefan has been let loose in a drum shop.
“We were working on the track overnight with an extended synth and percussion jam and then listened to it the next day – it was this crazy sprawling jam that went for several minutes.
“We thought ‘this needs to be on the record’. It was an experiment but one we thought people needed to hear,” Whitford says. The band also eschewed a producer preferring to “working by ourselves” but did enlist the help of Ben Allen, whose previous work elevated albums from the likes of Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley, to mix Zonoscope.
One element of Zonoscope which has fast become a talking point is the cover art depicting of New York City engulfed in a waterfall. The image was created by the late Japanese artist Tsunehisa Kimura – the same artist behind the apocalyptic cover art for Midnight Oil’s iconic Red Sails In The Sunset album.
“It’s something I didn’t realise ‘til after we used the image,” says Whitford.
He is quite chuffed by the unintentional connection but much less interested in the spectre of environmental vandalism evoked by such pictures.
“For me it’s more surreal and dreamlike; it’s about the contrast of the manmade with more natural beauty.”
It’s an idea that’s more than reflected in Cut Copy’s new sound.
» Zonoscope out February 7 through Modular. Cut Copy, Forum, Sun, Mar 6
(0844 844 0444). £16.50