Music News

Cut Copy's retro sound is no meager replication

Often compared to synth-pop bands of the '80s like New Order and Depeche Mode, Melbourne, Australia's Cut Copy writes music that is equally inspired by unexpected sources. When they started out earlier this decade, none of the group's members had ever played the instruments they currently employ to create their lush signature sound. In true DIY fashion, they taught themselves how to play guitar, bass and drums, and further developed any nascent synth style that existed among them beforehand. Touring with like-minded acts such as Daft Punk in the last few years, Cut Copy has also garnered a well-deserved reputation as a vibrant live act. We had a chance to speak with Dan Whitford on the first day of the band's latest North American tour.

Westword: The artwork for Bright Like Neon Love reminds me of some of those great new-wave and post-punk records of the early '80s, whereas the artwork for In Ghost Colours looks a lot more modern, even haunted. Does this reflect a shift in your aesthetic outlook, and perhaps a shift in direct musical inspirations as well?

Dan Whitford: I do all the artwork for the Cut Copy records myself, so it's a pretty direct reflection of what we're into. For me, the real advantage of being able to do your own artwork is that you get to directly reference the things that you're referencing in the music when you're writing the record. For that first record, it was very much about us learning to play together and be in a band. We barely played any shows before we recorded, so it was very much this fun experience of learning things, almost like a school thing. The artwork itself references a lot of that '70s and '80s airbrushed synth aesthetic, and that was kind of what that was about; the booklet was sort of a scrapbook.

With In Ghost Colours, there was a lot more texture and layers, partly because we were more confident when we made it, and because we had a lot more time to make that record. I think the artwork and record are a lot more — I guess "mature" is not the right word, but better conceived, perhaps, than the first one, or a bit more complex.

You can see in the artwork and hear in the music that I'm a fan of pop culture and pop art. Pop music, as well, is a big inspiration, even though it's a bit of a dirty word in some ways, because pop music has come to represent that sort of manufactured pop — whereas when I think of pop music, I'm thinking more of maybe Fleetwood Mac or Steve Miller Band or things that can be interesting in their own right. Even though they're music that's absorbed by the masses, they're also experimental in a lot of ways. Pop music doesn't get the kudos it deserves sometimes. There are actually some really interesting ideas and sounds there, and that's what we're inspired by, both musically and artistically.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.