I had the good fortune of chatting to the guys over dinner back in March 2008, one week before their album In Ghost Colours would go #1. Sadly, I also had the bad fortune of the 1000-word story getting cut down to 400 due to space (hey, it happens) which sucked because I spent ages on it. This is the full version that never made the mag…
Somewhere in an alternative universe, Cut Copy’s new album In Ghost Colours was produced by Timbaland. The omnipresent uber-producer who’s recently worked with everyone from Justin Timberlake to Nelly Furtado to Madonna would have cut the album, possibly rapped on it and definitely cameo’ed in the music video.
At least that’s what Interscope, Cut Copy’s co-label in the States (they partner with Modular here) entertained for the follow-up to their acclaimed 2004 debut, Bright Like Neon Love. Given the Grammy Award-winning man-brand boasts he can charge up to half a mill for a song, the suggestion left these three Melbournians – frontman Dan Whitford, guitarist Tim Hoey and drummer Mitchell Scott – flattered if a little puzzled.
“They were like ‘We’re not sure if you’ve heard of him but Timbaland’s doing some good stuff at the moment,’” recalls Whitford with a smile.
Their response was a diplomatic thanks-but-no-thanks. ”We liked the idea of working on a track but as an album, we already had an idea about who we wanted to work with,” continues Hoey. “As fun and interesting as Timbaland would have been, I don’t think it would have worked.”
The band are discussing what could have been over dinner in a Lebanese restaurant in inner-city Sydney. Despite arriving home from a North American tour only days before, the guys are in high spirits. Their long-awaited, frequently-delayed record has been out for four days now and in four more, it’ll debut at number one – to the complete astonishment of the band.
“It’s not something we’ve ever talked about,” says Whitford about their chart prospects between banquet courses. “As lame as it sounds, we have an indie outlook on those things, if that still exists. We’ve never looked at the commercial reality of what we’re doing, even when you realise that’s probably what everyone at the label is doing.”
Top spot or not, In Ghost Colours is the sound of Cut Copy finally becoming a band. What began as Whitford’s electronic escapade in 2001 with the I Thought of Numbers EP has evolved into a creatively-charged collaboration between all three members.
With the success of Bright Like Neon Love (which Whitford wrote in his bedroom before enlisting the others to play live), they’ve grown in confidence and swagger, honed by a relentless global touring schedule that’s seen them support Franz Ferdinand in the US, Mylo in the UK and Daft Punk on their recent Australian tour.
It’s obvious too, as they swap travel tales and in-jokes across the table, that the band now share a camaraderie that can only come from the prolonged proximity of touring.
At 30, Whitford is their lanky leader and unassuming all-rounder: chief songwriter, in-house designer (his day job) and music nut. Hoey, a DJ by night and two years younger, is the designated talker of the group who handles most of the press. He recently moved to Sydney to live with his girlfriend whose photo you’ll find taped onto his guitar. And then there’s Scott, 29, a web developer by day, who’s nicknamed ‘Captain Snooze’ for his ability to sleep anywhere at anytime on tour.
Together, they’ve crafted one of the Australian albums of the year. A blissfully widescreen effort, In Ghost Colours marries the band’s unashamed passion for ‘80s synth-pop (cue New Order and Human League) with their other love, heady ‘70s pop acts like Fleetwood Mac and Electric Light Orchestra.
It’s immediate in the sublime psychedelia of tracks like “Feel the Love” and “Far Away” (just count the pop-tastic ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and ‘ah-woos’), which counter-balance cosmic bangers like “Hearts on Fire” (Triple J’s most-played track of 2007 despite its gratuitous sax offence) and throbbing first single “Lights and Music”.
Says Whitford: “It might sound really lame or whatever, but I love the things that make you feel good about music – the uplifting chords, the harmonies and vocals. This albums’s not really intended for playing in a club so much. It’s more for people to get lost in.”
Eschewing Interscope’s advice, the band flew to New York in January last year to work with Tim Goldsworthy, one half of the fabled DFA Records production team (James Murphy of LCD Sound System is the other).
”We’d heard so much about their studio that we had to check it out,” says Whitford about the DFA’s complex in West Village. “Basically, we just wanted to play with his toys.”
”The man has a severe eBay habit,” recounts Scott. “He’d always be buying music gear and these crazy synths. Other times he’d find stuff, like a bass someone had mis-described, so he’d buy it, title it correctly and then on-sell it.”
The band’s six-days-a-week routine quickly became seven as Goldsworthy insisted on recording traditionally, preferring painstaking live takes over overdubs and loops. Thankfully, the city’s blizzard-like conditions ruled out any other distractions, although they did bust out occasionally – DJing LCD Sound System’s after-party at the iconic Bowery Ballroom and er, visiting gay bars?
”One night, we started out at this bar and because of the weather outside, ended up staying until closing and getting totally tanked. The bartender gave us directions to another place but we got lost and ended up rolling round in the snow. Then we saw a light in the distance which was another bar. We went in and got chased out by angry lesbians.”
After being mixed in LA, the album remained sidelined for the rest of 2007 as the band frustratingly waited for their three labels (Modular here, Interscope there and Island in the UK) to sync a global release date. Strangely, despite doing press as early as last year, the album never leaked.
“We would literally get online every day to do a search, thinking it must have leaked by now,” recounts Hoey. “You could see people on forums and blogs asking ‘why hasn’t anyone got a copy of this? Is this 1988 or what?!’”
Now that’s the record finally out, their schedule shows no signs of slowing for the rest of 2008. “All our shows are starting to blur into one now,” says Hoey, simultaneously inspired and exhausted by the prospect.
By the time you read this, the band will have shot a new video for “Hearts on Fire” in Japan, headlined shows in the UK and Scandinavia and played the Coachella festival in California. Then they’ll support Jacksonville sensations Black Kids with fifteen dates across the US.
Who knows? They might just bump into Timbaland along the way.