May 07, 2012 5:47PM

Oyster #98: Cut Copy

"I like the idea of being a fan again."

Even though they were robbed at the Grammys (by Skrillex!), I still love Cut Copy as much as the time I first heard 'Saturdays' late one night in a taxi. Heads and hearts halfstuck in another time and place, they make music for the perpetual nostalgic and the hopeless romantic. We met up to talk about the sounds of the past, present and future — so it was only fitting that the car-turned-timemachine from Back to the Future turned up and nearly distracted us all into oblivion. 

Emily Royal: What’s your earliest memory of hearing music? 
Dan Whitford: My parents were endlessly listening to jazz records. So, for the first 20 years of my life I couldn’t listen to jazz; I couldn't disconnect it from my parents. In terms of pop music, it would’ve been Michael Jackson. 
Tim Hoey: I joined a Michael Jackson fan club. I would take a picture of him to my hairdresser — from around the Bad era, when he had the Jheri curl — and I’d ask for her to cut my hair like that, but she never did.
Whitford: You could probably almost do it these days. It was too straight back then, but now…
Hoey: Well, I couldn’t understand what the problem was. My parents listened to a lot of country music, so it just became background for me. My sister was really into INXS. I think Kick was the first album I ever bought, or maybe she bought it for me, but that was the first time I really started taking notice of music.
Mitchell Scott: I have an early memory of watching Jesus and Mary Chain playing Sidewalking. I also remember my brother and I listening to the Top 40 and making mixtapes. 
At this point a DeLorean drives past. 
Whitford: Holy shit — that’s a DeLorean! I have never seen a DeLorean in the flesh before.
Hoey: That’s insane! 
Whitford: What the fuck?! 

It’s got brand new plates! 
Whitford: I didn’t know someone in Melbourne had a DeLorean. 
Scott: That’s wild.
Whitford: I’ve got to get a photo.
Scott: [Focuses] Anyway, we were making tapes of the Top 40 countdown… 

And you’d edit out the ads?
Scott: Well, we’d just choose certain songs. Like, we’d always start recording each song, and then if we didn’t like it we’d stop and rewind. It was a bit of a process. 

It’s an art. 
Hoey: [Still staring at the DeLorean] We should have that car for the photoshoot.
Whitford: It’s OK, I got a shot of it.
Scott: The driver’s on the wrong side!
Whitford: It’d be American, I guess. I don’t know if they made them anywhere other than the States.
Hoey: I don’t think there’s a factory in Collingwood.
Whitford: Sorry, this is blowing my mind right now. Continue! 

Wait, what does the driver look like?
Whitford: You mean, is it Michael J. Fox? 

No, is it just someone? It’s just some dude, isn’t it.
Whitford: Usually people in crazy cars like that are just someone normal. It’s not, like, Usher. 

It’s never Usher. Speaking of major megasuperstars, who do you like? Is there anyone who you think is actually pretty good, even though their music is everywhere?
Whitford: It’s hard to pull someone out, at least for me. I think we’re going through a bit of a period — or have been for a while now — where good music and popular music are divorced from one another. In the seventies you’d have this bubblegum-pop stuff, but then you’d also have these big-name artists doing their own thing — like Bowie, who was hugely popular but also wrote a lot of his own songs, produced his own records, worked with interesting people and was experimental as well. Now record companies are less likely to put their faith in people to make interesting pop records. They’d much rather get someone to write the song, get a hot-shot producer, and then find someone with the right look to represent it, instead of saying, “Who’s that weird British guy who looks like an alien? Let’s take a chance on him.”
Hoey: Really mainstream stuff today has lost that subversive quality that it once had back when songs were kind of crossover.
Whitford: Like, Lady Gaga is sort of subversive, but the actual music doesn’t measure up. If the music was amazing I guess I’d be all over it. That’s the disappointing part — the subversiveness is there, but it’s lacking any real substance.
Scott: And you’re not going to find it from other mainstream pop acts like Chris Brown. 

What about rap and hip hop?
Hoey: I’m not into it as much as I was in the nineties. Hip hop took over punk in the eighties and went for gold — like, instead of staying underground it sort of went for a broader consciousness, especially with groups like Public Enemy and NWA and then in the nineties Wu-Tang Clan and Dr Dre; people like that, I was really into. But I’m sure there are still really interesting things out there — Gonjasufi is someone who we’ve really gotten into in the last few years; he took hip hop and made it psychedelic. But, as far as really mainstream hip hop and R&B … it just washes over me, I don’t get excited about any of it. 

What about someone like Lana del Rey?
Scott: I’ve just heard the hype.
Hoey: It’s like the dubstep thing, for me. I don’t really know what it is, but I hear a lot about it.
Whitford: There’s a bit of a phenomenon right now with pre-packaging indie stars the same way you’d do with a pop star. She’s obviously someone who is talked about in those terms. I’ve heard it talked about in relation to Foster the People, but I think they are probably a genuine band that’s benefited from having a major label push and having everything working for them; people are suspicious of their quick rise, though. But, specifically about Lana del Rey, I don’t know — mainly because it’s just not really the sort of music I listen to.
Scott: You don’t want to feel like you’re being lied to. I think people can appreciate things that are manufactured, but people start to feel weird when they come across something that is manufactured but presented as though it’s completely genuine. 

It’s like they think we won’t know better. 
Scott: Exactly.
Hoey: You’re always going to be skeptical of something that’s being pushed down your throat. 

What about new music?
Hoey: For me, Connan Mockasin’s Forever Dolphin Love was definitely a record that sounded like something from the future to me. That record has really blown me away — to the point where I actually had to track him down and write to him and tell him how much I thought it was really beautiful and amazing and something new. I like the idea of being a fan again … Now I make a really conscious decision to try and find new and interesting music, and he’s probably been the best example, for me, of someone doing something really new. 

Is there a sound that defines this era? Like, today?
Whitford: Dubstep?
Hoey: [Laughs]
Whitford: I don’t think so. There are a few things that are kind of definitive, but we’re in a weird time; trends have become so fragmented because of the internet. There are a million little sub-genres happening all at once. Animal Collective has been something we’ve followed for a while. Since their last record it seems like there’s a whole bunch of post–Animal Collective bands around doing stuff that sounds reminiscent of their sound and style. You can tell the influence that they’ve had.
Hoey: And it comes back to great songwriting as well — not necessarily sounding like one thing or another. The craftsmanship is something that we really appreciate. 
Whitford: The challenge for a lot of modern musicians is to find an angle that sets them apart more than fitting in to the latest trend. People are hungry to hear something different to everything else. Like, if punk was big, people would want to hear something that has punk references in it but also sounds different. I guess that’s the weird thing: we’re in an era where music sounds really referential.
Scott: And people are so aware of what their contemporaries are doing, because it’s so much easier to be across everything that’s going on currently. So, people used to be aware of what was happening in music, but more so in their town or country, which would lead to more of a Melbourne sound, or a Seattle sound, or a Dunedin sound. Now the same sort of thing exists, but there’s no real barrier on it. It’s not just a matter of going to the pub and seeing a band play, it’s about being able to access it through a million other means. Those tight geographical scenes don’t form the way they used to.

Theoretically, then, what’s going to happen?
Whitford: To me, the fact that everything’s so fragmented means that it’s breaking down the way that major record labels run the music
industry. Someone was saying that around a third of the Grammy winners this year were independent artists. So, it seems like the hold that major labels had over the music industry — and we’re distributed through major labels, so we’re part of this as well — is loosening. I see the end point, hopefully, as being a shift back to the importance of making good records and good music, rather than pre-packaging and making music on a production line; actually turning it into something where artists make music. If you like the music then you listen to it, if you don’t then you’ll listen to something else. To me, that’s the way the industry should work.
Hoey: And at the time it’s tough to be aware of what’s really making an impact. A lot of it comes from hindsight — a lot of great records don’t become big until ten, fifteen years later. There’s an idea of being desperate for something new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar — “We recolonise past and future,” which is actually a JG Ballard quote. At the time you don’t think about it too much; it’s always in retrospect that you go, “Oh wow, that was a really important scene in music.”
Whitford: People are always trying to figure it out. I guess if you knew it at the time you’d be going out and making those records yourself.

Ben Browning was in Washington, DC at the time of the interview.

Cut Copy wear blazers by Emporio Armani.

Photography: Jeannine Tan

Emily Royal