Cut Copy Casts Its Own Shadow

Dan Whitford strives to leave the references behind on the Australian band's fifth record.

Cut Copy (Photo by Jimmy Fontaine)

For years, Cut Copy has been a riddle of references. A new album from the Australian electronic act has long served as a chance to distill what Dan Whitford and company had been spinning. Their 2004 debut, Bright Like Neon Love, was imbued with the 1980s sounds of My Bloody Valentine and Fleetwood Mac. Subsequent albums followed suit, from nods to Talking Heads and Grace Jones on 2011’s Grammy-nominated Zonoscope to the ’90s U.K. club scenes on 2013’s Free Your Mind.

“We’ve definitely worn our influences on our sleeve,” Whitford says. “Each album would have a short list of records that were sort of the cornerstone to what we were working on. Making this album, I think, we really didn’t talk about that at all.”

Haiku From Zero is Cut Copy’s first release in four years. While the album isn’t without its sonic touchstones — New Wave features prominently across its nine tracks — Whitford and bandmates Tim Hoey (guitar), Mitchell Scott (drums), and Ben Browning (bass) opted to try something fresh.

“We wanted to get away from having a sense of this album being ‘Cut Copy does some certain sound’ or being defined by the influences so much,” Whitford says. “We were actually more interested in making an album that reflected what we do in the studio together, like when we’re playing together and when we’re performing live.”

The result is an album that strives to reflect what it’s like to see Cut Copy live, an experience that often finds the band swapping instruments and carrying on like New Order’s rowdier, attention-starved younger siblings. Opener “Standing in the Middle of the Field” starts things off with a twinkle of solemnity, while “Airborne” is a single steeped in acid house bass where Whitford laments, “It’s hard to love / Living here.”

One element that bled into the songwriting was Whitford’s work on Oceans Apart, a compilation of underground Melbourne dance music. He credits the time he spent curating that album for leaving his brain “swimming with lots of dance music ideas” that ultimately became tracks like “Standing in the Middle of the Field.”

If Whitford culled some of the sounds from his backyard, the words represent a far larger swath of real estate.

As a whole, Haiku From Zero’s lyrics touch more on notions of anxiety and sadness than Cut Copy has previously explored. Backed with the expected bursts of joyful melodies that have become a signature, the juxtaposition is, for Whitford, a reflection of the moment we’re all living through.

“Maybe it’s because I’m getting old,” he says, “or maybe it’s just a sign of the times. It’s almost like things are changing faster than we can adjust to them, so I think it’s natural to ask these questions and be a little contemplative about what’s going on in this moment right now.”

While dwelling on the present clearly played a part in Haiku From Zero’s construction, so too did a tour from a decade ago — when the band wasn’t even the headliner.

In 2007, Daft Punk asked Cut Copy open shows on the Australian leg of its “Alive” tour, a span of dates that brought Whitford face-to-face with the group’s now iconic pyramid rig and taught him just what an electronic act can bring to a stage.

“For us, a large part of it was just that the production on it was phenomenal,” he recalls. “Obviously, there’s the pyramid they performed in, which was almost like a whole new dimension opening up. It’s what I imagine it was like to see some huge ’70s stadium band like Led Zeppelin in their prime. It really had this sense of theater to it that I’d never seen in a show before, and certainly never at a dance-music show.”

In the years since, electronic music has exploded, thanks in large part to Daft Punk — but also because of groups like Cut Copy, who saw new possibilities and boldly went where DJs with ball-caps pulled low over their faces had never gone before. Feeding off the energy of the crowd and upping elements of production have made the quartet a must-see when it hits the road, and the band takes the challenge seriously.

Just last month, Cut Copy had the plug pulled on its set mid-song at Austin City Limits. Naturally, they kept going.

“We knew something weird was going on with the sound,” Whitford says. “But we weren’t going to just stop. It was the climax of our set, and we wanted it to really peak. I think by that point, you’re kind of going on adrenaline anyway, and it was a huge field of people, so we just thought we should finish strong for everyone that was there.”

Cut Copy  with Palmbomen II and Cooper Saver, Sunday, Nov. 12, 8 p.m. at Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. $39.50; ticketmaster.com.

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