Mitchell Scott and Ben Browning of Australian synth-pop mavericks Cut Copy talk to George Morahan about the influence of Werner Herzog and the freedom of self-production
To style a cohesive sound that is both indebted to the pop music’s golden past and dance’s glittering future would seem a contradictory and tricky task. Yet on their past two albums – 2008’s In Ghost Colours and current release Zonoscope – it seems Cut Copy have discovered this fine balance.
But when O-two catches up with bassist Ben Browning and drummer Mitchell Scott, both seem hesitant at calling Zonoscope a groundbreaking evolution for the band. Browning is sceptical of the term at least: “There are so many factors that make a band evolve, but we wanted to reinvent our sound without intentionally becoming a new band.”
Scott cites a change in influences as a reason for the differences between In Ghost Colours and Zonoscope. “The music we were listening to and were inspired by was different this time around. We want different influences to come through in the music.”
Whilst Colours was a pleasant hybrid of psychedelia, dance and indie, certain tracks on Zonoscope clearly display a broader palette of influences. Whether listening to the Kraftwerk-like motorik of ‘Need You Know’ or the floating Beach Boys-style harmonies on ‘This Is All We’ve Got’, it’s clear that Cut Copy have progressed beyond the Modular sound they developed on their debut: Bright Like Neon Love.
Modular of course being the Australian label that spawned a wave of Australian indie-dance during the 00s, with Cut Copy leading the way, but Browning believes that while they are indebted to their label, the band has now advanced far from where they were in 2004.
“The Australian electro-pop sound that developed over the past five years or so, we’re definitely part of that and the fact that a label can get an identity and a trademark sound is pretty cool,” he says. “I think Cut Copy belongs to that label, but we’re thinking about our evolution as a band more than the label’s.”
However, the allusions to 80s synth-pop that anchored their debut are still prevalent; slap bass and bouncing synths are littered across Zonoscope. Scott fails to recognise the blatant similarities. “That’s one thing that people bring up; our strong 80s influence,” he explains. “It’s not a sound we’re consciously going for. Our influences come from a number of different decades.” Browning’s tastes go even further back and when asked if he thought that the song title ‘Strange Nostalgia for the Future’ was especially indicative of the band’s sound, he could only agree.
“We’re very sentimental about music and its place in society, specifically the album as being important rather than some soundtrack to someone’s Facebook account. The idea of the album as an art form was at its height in the 60s and 70s, and there are so many albums from that period that we hold in high regard.”
When coming to write their third record, the band had some high-minded ideas they wanted to implement, perfectly distilled by its fantastical title. According to Scott, Cut Copy “wanted Zonoscope to be a word that didn’t exist. We were trying to create something that was new and we wanted the album to be a world of its own.”
Browning expands on that point rather eloquently. “Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo was a big influence on this record. So, when we were making the album, we wanted to imagine we were making a film soundtrack or creating a world you could actually view into. So a Zonoscope would be this made-up lens or view finder to this world we created.”
Whereas, In Ghost Colours was produced by Death From Above kingpin Tim Goldsworthy, lead singer and creative force Dan Whitford (in collaboration with the rest of the band) was in charge this time around. It allowed the band to apply some more of those ideas, but the change was not a radical one.
“All the Cut Copy albums have really been produced in a large part by Dan,” he says. “He does a lot of work on the arrangements and the writing, so it was a pretty natural progression to take the reins on this one.”
The decision to self-produce was born of the band’s experience in the studio and Browning believes it proved beneficial. “I think the guys gained a lot of confidence from recording the first two albums and we felt we could take control of this one.”
Zonoscope is a record to be proud and while Browning and Scott are happy with the final product, they are also wary of the band’s lyrics being misinterpreted by critics and audiences alike. “The lyrics and imagery on our record aren’t just about booty shaking; there are allusions to deeper, heartfelt things. Lyrics are always weird because there’s so much interpretational value in them. One man’s deep and meaningful may sound like tripe to someone else.”
Either way, Zonoscope is in the public’s hands now, Browning and Scott are looking forward to the next year of touring and care relatively little for the perceptions of critics. “It’s funny how a lot of people pick up on a lot of influences they hear, but are just way off base,” says Scott, with Browning snorting: “According to some, it’s not as instantly accessible as the last record, but I don’t agree with that at all.” For now, the critics and audiences appear to be onside; not that Cut Copy care.
Zonoscope is out now.