Aussie electro-pop mainstays Cut Copy surprised fans in September when their first new music since 2013 was an ambient cassette entitled January Tape. Claire Lobenfeld talks to frontman Dan Whitford about the album’s new age roots and what the band have in store next.
Melbourne’s Cut Copy has been around the block. The four-piece were live staples of the blog house scene in Australia over a decade ago before becoming masters of the festival stage, garnering attention for major releases like 2008’s In Ghost Colours (featuring FACT favorite ‘Hearts on Fire’) and its follow-up full-length Zonoscope in 2010. But even as one of the bigger indie electro-pop acts, Cut Copy has always maintained an staunch interest in electronic music that manifests in mixtapes they release concurrently with their albums and in members Dan Whitford and Tim Hoey’s B2B DJ sets.
In September, the group took it to a new level, putting out a 44-minute ambient instrumental release called January Tape. It is their first new music since 2013’s Free Your Mind and a left turn from what listeners usually expect from the group.
Following a limited run of January Tape on cassette, the four-piece has now made the album available digitally on October 28. To mark its release, Whitford spoke to FACT about the inspiration behind using the cassette format – it has nothing to do with its current revival – and what to expect from Cut Copy’s next full-length.
It’s been over three years since the band put out a full project. What inspired you guys to do something instrumental?
I think a lot of people with casual interest in our music or just a bit of knowledge of what we’re about might think it’s a bit odd that we’d work on an ambient tape idea, but I think we’ve always sorta had a pretty solid interest in ambient music and experimental music. Certainly those influences appear in our albums – an idea might get incorporated into a track as a detail than really be front and center. We explored those ideas that in the past had been incidental and turned them into the point of the whole project – the more esoteric ideas, taking them and really expanding on them and exploring them. We wanted to try and make something different from what we would usually make.
Why a tape instead of vinyl or any other kind of physical format?
We wanted a way to release it that it was niche. I don’t know if you have this in the States, but we have something called “hard waste collection”, which is [when] people put all their stuff out in front of their house and its taken away. I discovered someone’s collection of new age cassettes that they were throwing out. They all had these amazing covers, so I grabbed all them, even to just look at, let alone listen to. A little bit later, I was like, “Maybe we should put this music out on cassette.” It’s still a pretty cool format and in some ways it’s more interesting because it’s an unusual way to release things these days. I thought it was an interesting, unusual release for us.
What were some of the New Age cassettes you found?
There was some old Windham Hill stuff and some really odd almost hippy-looking kind of covers. A really bizarre range of tapes. I would love to go back to this guy’s house and tell him it was the inspiration for this project. The idea of a physical format is still really cool to me, even though it’s a bit outdated. Obviously tapes are really outdated. Most people have thrown away their walkmans or whatever tape players they once had. It’s really only a limited range of people who can play this format. But I think that’s what makes it interesting… It’s almost one of those weird things that a lot of people almost like the idea of a tape but may not have a tape player. There is probably a percentage of people who have gone and bought it and don’t have a way of playing it. It would be kind of funny to release a completely blank cassette and half the people wouldn’t even know if they’d gotten music or not.
You could do a follow up.
Well, the next Cut Copy album is coming out on MiniDisc only.
Ha! Jokes aside, will we be hearing that soon?
We’ve definitely been working on it. Usually I do most of the writing myself. I’ll start ideas and when there’s enough material, we’ll get together. The past couple of albums we’ve found a space and we’ve bunkered down for awhile, workshopping ideas and I guess, this time around, because everyone’s been in different places, we haven’t had the opportunity to do that. I’ve been working on most of the stuff for the album and sending stuff around, but basically we need to meet up to do recording. I wouldn’t say we haven’t started, I’d say we’re about three quarters of the way into it. It’s a matter of doing the final big recording session and see what comes out at the other end of that.
You guys have been able to fit into different pockets of electronic music in the past decade. What have been your influences for writing the next record record?
Each time is a new project, we make a really conscious effort to find a new angle or something that we haven’t tried before and turn that into a mantra for working on the new project. It’s always something where we try and find a new direction or idea for things, but often the ideas and the direction will change when we work together. This one has its own flavor, so far, but we’ll see what happens after we’ve done our recording.
Why such a long break in between the last album and this tape?
As soon as we finished touring the last album, I was working on putting out a compilation of underground dance music stuff called Oceans Apart. We’d just sorta worked on a few different projects along the way. The guys, including myself, have moved country in that time. Our drummer Mitchell has had a couple of children in that time, so life sometimes sorta pulls you away from a cycle of making a new album and touring.
Would you consider doing an all ambient live show?
It’s funny you should say that because we’ve joked about it. We put out this tape and we have DJ shows coming up – that would be really flipping the script to come out and play ambient music. I don’t think we’re gonna do that, but certainly at some stage it would be interesting to perform the music from The January Tape live. Over the years we’ve worked on a lot of different music that hasn’t seen the light of day, so I think maybe actually taking some of these ideas and turning it into a really different show would be really interesting for us on the live side.