"You Can't Fake Inspiration": Cut Copy's Dan Whitford on the Band's Journey

Dan Whitford (second from left) reflects on Cut Copy's journey in anticipation of their Westword Music Showcase performance.
Dan Whitford (second from left) reflects on Cut Copy's journey in anticipation of their Westword Music Showcase performance. Michael Muller

From a hotel in Boise, Dan Whitford, the mastermind behind Australia's electro-pop outfit Cut Copy, recounts one of the band's earliest experiences in Denver. The musicians were playing the Larimer Lounge and were attempting to get to the stage from their dressing room on the other side of the venue. Whitford chuckles as he remembers pushing through the unknowing crowd, trying to get on stage and start the set, as his band's intro music played.

A lot has changed since that early show for Cut Copy, which will headline the Mike's Hard Lemonade Stage at the Westword Music Showcase this Saturday, June 24.

Cut Copy began as the brainchild of Whitford in 2001, when he was working as a graphic-design artist in Melbourne and deejaying on the side when possible. He recalls that he was "musically obsessed" and thought, "Maybe I can throw my hat into the ring for this music thing." That notion prompted him to buy some keyboards and a sampler. Whitford then began what he describes as a "humble recording project," creating "weird synth jams" and eventually deciding to include some friends in his music-making.

This resulted in the 2001 debut EP I Thought of Numbers, in which Whitford chops up funky samples with clear precision to make dance-heavy electronic tracks. By 2003, Tim Hoey and Mitchell Scott had been added to the group, on guitar and drums, respectively. Whitford describes this setup as "half garage band, half studio project [...] and this is still the blueprint we use today."

Growing up in Melbourne, Whitford was influenced by the flourishing indie and electronic scenes, citing house acts like Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers and, on the other side of the spectrum, indie-rock bands like Built to Spill and New Order. Fusing these styles has helped Whitford make music that is diverse and hard to pin down. Cut Copy songs carry the danceability and synth melodies of great electronica, as well as catchy hooks and pop sensibilities that make you want to sing along, giving them immense crossover appeal.

Whitford says his songwriting process is spontaneous; ideas potentially strike anytime he's at his keyboard. With that kind of free work flow, songs are created and developed naturally. As Whitford puts it: "You can't force inspiration." Once he has a rough idea for a song, the rest of the band gets involved and fleshes it out piece by piece in the studio.

As the band grew, mainstream success seemed to inch closer and closer, especially after the release of debut LP Bright Like Neon Love in 2004. The release garnered the musicians opportunities to tour internationally with acclaimed acts like Franz Ferdinand and the Presets. These supporting tour slots further demonstrate the band's ability to thrive in the electronic and pop/rock worlds simultaneously. In 2007, Cut Copy fulfilled a lifelong dream by opening for Daft Punk on the Nevereverland Tour. For Whitford, supporting this group that had influenced his band was a dream come true.

The following year, Cut Copy released its second album, In Ghost Colors, which featured some of its most popular singles to date, such as "Lights & Music" and "Hearts on Fire". The 1980s-inspired followup, Zonoscope, released in 2011, saw the band continuing to find mainstream success; it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronica Album in 2012.

The band has finished its next album, to be released later this year, and even found time during the recording process to create January Tape, an ambient, instrumental project that allowed the musicians to take a break from their strenuous recording process while still making music and exploring other genres.

"It reminded us that we could do something quickly that was cool and different,"  Whitford says.

January Tape was initially only released on cassette, of which only 400 were made; it's now available on digital platforms, as well.

Next on the horizon for Cut Copy is its performance at the Westword Music Showcase. For Whitford, what makes live performances special is when people let loose and "lose their inhibitions."

Westword Music Showcase, Saturday, June 24, Golden Triangle, noon. Buy tickets and find more info online.

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