When dance music hit the North American mainstream in 2010, a new public archetype was created: the superstar DJ. Commanding millions to stand on-stage with a laptop, the performer was paid only—as EDM darling Deadmau5 famously pointed out—to hit Play on a premixed set. While earlier DJs wowed the crowd with their talent on the turntables, the need breed relied on elaborate LED light shows to keep spectators entertained.
But for Dan Whitford, who fronts the long-running Aussie dance band Cut/Copy, there’s only so many times an audience can get excited about confetti cannons and lasers.
Known for its four-piece live show as much as for its Grammy-nominated and ARIA–winning records, Cut/Copy has built a fan base on high-octane performances. Touring internationally for the past 13 years, the group still dazzles with its on-stage chemistry, re-creating its indie-electronic sound on guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and synths. Recognizing that the band’s traditional lineup lets it stand apart in the current dance-music climate, Whitford wanted to capitalize on its concert vibe by building its latest album—Haiku From Zero—from live studio takes.
“There’s always been this excitement and inspiration from using live instrumentation,” Whitford tells the Straight, on the line from a San Francisco tour stop. “So many artists now make music just on a computer, or with much less of a shared aspect to their performance. The idea of the band has become really exciting again. In many ways, it seemed like working as a group was a fresh approach, because the tide has moved away from making electronic music in a live way like that.”
Despite boasting five successful albums, Cut/Copy had never recorded an LP from start to finish in a studio, opting instead for a DIY approach—bringing its own equipment to unusual spaces. The four-piece’s choice to take the conventional path for this record led, Whitford says, to a richer sound. Beginning the album by file-sharing and emailing ideas, the group gathered in Atlanta to lay down the tracks.
“We’d always tried to do things in weird ways before, and often that was what set us apart,” he recalls. “We were intrigued to see what it was like to work in a more traditional sort of way, and use a studio like it’s supposed to be used. At the time when you’re writing that way, it can be like pulling teeth—laying down 20 vocal takes to try and get something absolutely perfect, for example. But at the end of it, we look back on what we’ve made and we can say that it was worth the effort.”
Much of that success was due to the band’s choice to bring in Ben H. Allen, the Grammy-winning producer behind artists like CeeLo Green, Walk the Moon, and Kaiser Chiefs. Encouraging the group to distill its demos and take out all the nonessential parts, he pushed Whitford and his bandmates to build each song from a strong core. Establishing tight drum and vocal lines before adding further instrumentation, Allen steered the songs to a solid foundation before letting the band loose with textured, tribal percussion and vintage synth lines.
“Ben really responded to the demos we had, and he had some really interesting ideas,” Whitford says. “When you’ve been together for so long, having someone come in from outside and throw a few curve balls is quite refreshing. I have a tendency when I’m writing songs to sketch ideas on top of each other. I end up with this pretty crazy, layered result, which is interesting in its own way, but can sometimes confuse the track.
“Ben has an amazing expertise with capturing bands, particularly live bands,” he continues. “I think it’s the best, most confident-sounding version of Cut/Copy that we’ve ever managed to record. That was a big win for us.”
Cut/Copy plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Monday (April 16).
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays