In 2013, Cut Copy were looking inward. The globby, technicolor Free Your Mind famously took cues from the twin summers of love (San Francisco’s blissy protests in 1967, and Manchester’s MDMA-driven moral crises in 1988 and ’89.) The Melbourne quartet have always operated with a gumdrop of nostalgia—the slick, retrofitted disco on In Ghost Colours, the Bret Hart wraparound shades adorning an icy mannequin on debut LP Bright Like Neon Love—but Free Your Mind was the first time those inclinations felt overtly politicized. “There’s a sense in those eras that music is transcendent, and more than just being entertainment it really changed the culture of youth and the culture of life. It was something that made the world better during those periods,” said vocalist and primary songwriter Dan Whitford to BulletMedia, during the Free Your Mind press cycle. “It wasn’t a self-conscious time, it was like throwing off all the burdens of the Thatcher era and then looking forward to something that was a much brighter and more positive future; and something that was shared amongst the youth of that time.”
The record itself was still elated and hedonistic—Whitford has always had a miraculous ear for melody—but you rarely turned to Cut Copy for commentary. There is no Thatcherist subtext buried in the sax solo of “Hearts on Fire.” So it was easy to digest Free Your Mind as the first time the band found themselves captivated by the context of an era, more so than the sublimity of their drum-machine presets.
In 2017, after a typically lengthy four-year break, Cut Copy are looking forward. Haiku From Zero ditches the ruddy optimism of The Haçienda for a stark, delirious look at how technology has scattered and befuddled the ways we used to trust information. The album art is a delirious collage of unscrupulous clipart—an alien eclipse, a misty rainbow, a deadly head-on car crash—all embossed on a white, construction-paper background. Whitford, as usual, brings the bangers. But lyrically, he’s concerned with addressing our current confusing moment, to see if he can find beauty in the overload. Over Skype, we asked him what it was like to shift from ’68 to ’17, and why Cut Copy always find themselves taking a ton of time in between albums.
VMP: It’s been four years since Free Your Mind, which is kind of a routine album cycle for you guys. What is it about your process that requires a lengthier gap between albums?
Dan Whitford: I don’t know if we like the lengthy gaps, really. We’re slower than other people making new records. A lot of work goes into it, we’re very particular about what we do. Our marketing team churns out a lot of amazing material, but sometimes that feels like that comes at the expense of being really consistent and putting out something good. This time around we did a few things between albums that took the focus away, so maybe we would’ve gotten here a little bit quicker if we didn’t do a few of those things. But we always get there eventually.
You’ve mentioned that our current era of technology and lightning-fast information sharing influenced your writing on Haiku From Zero, which stands in stark contrast of the influences you were citing on Free Your Mind. Why do you think that inspired you this time around?
It’s just the world we live in. Cut Copy has been around a long time. We’ve seen a lot of iterations of technology in our own industry. Like the formats of how things come out have changed multiple times. The fast-paced development of things is omnipresent these days. I don’t think people have defined the age that we live in now. People haven’t quite wrapped their head around what’s going on right now, and as an older musician, I look at it as a perspective, as someone who’s seen a lot of changes. So I’m just musing on that. It’s anxiety inducing at times, but it also has this weird new dimension of aesthetic beauty to it as well. It’s not all good, it’s not all bad, it’s just new.
It’s interesting that you say you think our era has an aesthetic beauty to it. Do you think about it that way? Does it have an artistry to it?
Yeah, it’s sort of a random thing really. The things that you’re surrounded by are increasingly more random, and more absurd, when you stand back and think about it. All these weird GIF images, all this online shopping, the bizarre stuff that pops up on Google. It’s just this vast, endless desert of junk. It’s weird and interesting how this thing is evolving and starting to become a place.
You’re obviously inspired by that feeling because you wrote a record about it, but are you OK with it? Are you at peace with the way the world works right now?
I’m trying to be, I guess. For me I’m far more comfortable in the physical world. For me, even now, I’ve written music with computers, so it’s not like it’s a new thing, but I struggle to identify with something that just exists in the cloud. I grapple with that. But I also think there are a lot of things that are cool about the digital world. Everything you ever want to hear exists on Google somewhere. I have my moments of really enjoying it, and I have moments wishing I could throw it in the dumpster.
Haiku From Zero is an interesting name for an album. It’s hard to know exactly what that means. Where did that name come from?
I was jotting down pages and pages of different words and names—over the last couple of years whenever I saw a word or a sentence that was interesting I would write it down. And of all of those things, Haiku From Zero stood out a little bit. I like it because it’s not literal—Free Your Mind couldn’t have been more literal—but this one is a little more open to interpretation. I like when people invest a little bit of their own creativity into the lyrics and titles of things. For me, at least, it represents a lot of that technological overload, finding beauty in this random chaos.
There’s been a lot of talk about how technology and misinformation is dividing people more and more, especially in regards to the political climate. Were you thinking about that as you were putting together this record?
It’s strange, I had actually written the majority of it before the election. But we were in the studio recording on election day, and watched the countback, so [the record] is strangely connected even though it’s not specifically about it. It’s funny, even some of the lyrics, in hindsight, have this eerie currency. Ben Allen, who worked on the record, was even asking, “Is that talking about Trump?” Honestly, a lot of it wasn’t, but in a broader sense you can find a bit of meaning there.