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"Let's go all the way": Cut Copy return triumphant on introspective sixth album, 'Freeze, Melt'

20 August 2020 | 5:12 pm | Emma Jones

With their sixth album, Cut Copy implore their listeners to turn inwards with them and deliver an impeccably produced and introspective new record.

With five albums and nearly two decades in the game under their belt, CUT COPY are Australian music royalty. The GRAMMY-nominated, ARIA-winning pioneers spearheaded an entire generation's musical taste with their live and organic electronic music. Over the years, their music has evolved with the band becoming much more ambitious and much less fearless with each and every record. From the generation-defining Bright Like Neon Love or In Ghost Colours to the GRAMMY-nominated Zonoscope, the psychedelic liberation of Free Your Mind and the sonically impressive Haiku From Zero, the band have taken fans on a journey through many different sounds while always remaining true to their very essence: to connect and make people feel good. Now, in 2020, the band are set to do that all again with their sixth studio album, but in an entirely different way.

Titled Freeze, Melt, this sixth album is the result of three years of upheaval and change for the band. Frontman Dan Whitford relocated to Copenhagen and began to write a record that almost felt like a new project altogether. Introspective, unhurried and reflective, it was electronic music but worlds apart from the dancefloor fillers we know and love. Instead, it was refined and pensive, with Whitford taking a look inwards. Impacted by the harsh European winters, the (at the time) voluntary isolation as a result of moving across the world and the trust now instilled in them by having been down this path a few times before, Freeze, Melt is a record that represents a band completely liberated by expectations not just from fans by from themselves. Then recording the album at the picturesque Park Orchards Studios together just outside of Melbourne, the band came together to lay it all out, breathing a certain warmth from their immersive, natural surroundings before them.

We've heard hints of this kind of music before from the Melbourne-native four piece. Here and there, more ambient sounds would emerge, and in 2016 they shared a beat tape of ambient tracks. On Freeze, Melt, we hear them fully explore this world, filling out every space with calculated, meticulous and precise instrumentation and production. While it wasn't written for the strange new world we find ourselves in now, it does hold some sort of eerie prophetic quality in exploring love in strange times. Looking at how we yearn for connection, how we respond different to solitude, and the at times-dark and unchartered waters of our psyches, Cut Copy's quest for introspection provides a peculiar perspective for the bizarre and vastly different time we're in.

Still, there are many warm and uplifting moments on the record as any Cut Copy album would have. When they released 'Love Is All We Share', the album's lead single, we said it was a "a slow and steady sonic sprawl, and a masterclass in just how brilliant Cut Copy are on the tools." The song so slowly picks up that you barely even notice, until its final moments in which you're suddenly at a dizzying height. Album-opener and second single, 'Cold Water' is warm and dreamy, with a steady groove underpinning it. 'Like Breaking Glass' is an expansive swirl of glossy arpeggios and crisp electronic beats, while 'Running In The Grass' elevates the record with its programmatic instrumental before the almost house-like beat of 'A Perfect Day' kicks in for some escapist bliss.

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Cut Copy have been nothing if not consistent in their surprising and unpredictable output over the years, which explains why they have so many loyal fans ready to follow them wherever they might head next. With Freeze, Melt, fans can now expect to follow them inwards too as the band release not only their most refined record yet, but perhaps their most personal too. In doing so, they implore listeners to look at the environment around them and how it affects them, which is a vital reminder many need right now. And while it might be a personal record for the band, it still maintains a universality in which listeners can allow themselves to truly get lost in, and further cements theirs as a truly enduring name in Australian music and beyond.

You've got a fair few of albums under your belt now. Do you ever get nervous releasing albums anymore?

I don't know whether nervous is the right word. I think you just hope that what you've made is going to translate and other people are going to get it or appreciate it or just enjoy it. Maybe not so much nervous because I think we've done enough albums and whatever to feel like we know what we're doing a little bit. Not that I have any kids, but I think of putting out albums a bit like having your child that you put out into the world and then it becomes its own thing and almost stops being yours and it becomes everyone's. In that respect, you never quite know how people are going to relate to it and what it's going to end up meaning for people. It's definitely exciting. Making an album, you spend so much time on it, you've heard the songs a million times and by the end of recording it, you probably hate it. I think you get that love back when you start seeing other people's reactions to the songs and your music coming out and people are getting really pumped about it. That gets me excited again and I reconnect with the enjoyment that I had when I was first making these things or writing the ideas, I think. So, that's really cool.

Yeah, that's so interesting. I guess, it's kind of like a child, right? When you're putting it out and then you don't want to see it anymore, just like parents probably don't want to see their kids for a while, and then they come back a bit more mature and finally you can get along as mates.

Yes, exactly. Oh, they grow up so fast!

It's a very interesting record, sonically. You've spoken about how when you created 'Cold Water', it was the marker in the ground to signify the new musical direction, as such. I wondered, how did you know to trust yourself enough to follow that direction at the time?

That's a good question. I think probably the confidence maybe comes from having done the five albums before this, where we feel like there's a bit of license there to try something new. We've probably have done so much music and established a reputation for what we do and where we sit in the overall scheme of things, and I think this was our opportunity to really dive off into a different direction, and perhaps without losing people. I think maybe if we have one fear it's like, "What if we put out this weird album and no one likes us anymore?" But, at least in my own personal listening, I like it when artists will put out something that's a bit of a 90 degree right angle turn, do something else, and it's like, "Wow, I didn't see that coming." But then that in some ways is more of a talking point and more interesting. Certainly, for us, as musicians, I think we're excited about trying new things. For us, it was exciting to delve into a different realm with the music or making a different sound. I think we're just trying to be confident that other people might find it interesting as well.

There's a bit of a connection between Freeze, Melt and January Tape, in that they're both more ambient. I wondered, is that ambient sound something that you've been wanting to explore since 2016? Or was it coming off the back of 'Haiku From Zero', throwing out the rule book again and just trying something else?

Probably a bit of both, really. We had the ambient and instrumental, electronic stuff bubbling away in the background of our music going right back to the beginning, but it just maybe hasn't been at the forefront. We have little interludes on our albums or textual elements that come in and out. This was an opportunity for that to really be centre stage and shine the spotlight on that stuff. When I came to thinking about sketching out new music for this album, I wanted to get away from... Maybe, in the past, our music was very referential. It connected a lot of music that we love from the past and present music. It's like this, plus this, plus this, filtering through us and creating songs that way. I wanted to almost just take that away, make it less about connecting with other music and more just futuristic, and making an album that could only really be made now, using instruments that are modern, using the sounds that are modern and for me, taking on board what a lot of music does where it is a bit more minimal and the sonics of it are a particular way. Obviously, we're not making a Frank Ocean album or anything, but it's mainly using some of the sonic palette of what kind of modern music is and applying that to how we make our songs.

You've spoken about how it is your "least dance" record that you've made, but it is still dance-y. There are definitely some songs that you can dance to! You wanted to connect with people in a more emotional way this time around. Was that something that came to you as you were creating the record or did you sit down and really feel that emotional connection that you wanted to make with your fans?

I think in the past, maybe there's a part of me that tried to temper a bit of the emotional aspect of our songs. Obviously, it has been running through, lyrically, in our music since day dot. But, I think sometimes I would go, "Oh, is that just a bit too emo? Is it too sad? Is it too bleak?" and then try and sand off the edges, in a way, so it's a bit more easy to digest. With this I was like, "Well, maybe that's the idea?" It's a little bit more emotional and maybe a little bit darker. Maybe it's better not to second guess it, but just double down on it. That's the feeling of this new music. Let's go all the way with it. Let's push ahead. The same with the sounds that we're using and the fact that there's minimal live instrumentation through a lot of this. A lot of this was based on that idea of, "Let's not second guess ourselves. If this direction feels like it's going in a certain way, let's go there. Let's take it there, let's go further."

That comes back to that trust that you have in yourselves and the confidence that really only time can give, in a way. A lot of people might not be able to back themselves in that way and be able to back what they're doing one or two albums in, but maybe because of the experience and because of the things you've learned along the way, you're able to be like, "Nah, we're doing it. We're going all the way!"

Well, that's true. If it really flops and no one likes it, then we'll just make another album.

Exactly, right! You've got your own record label now too, so it's just like, "Well, we don't really answer to anyone else, so yep."

That's right!

A lot of the story about this album is about your environment. It was written in the cold winter and after extensive touring, and it was written in multiple locations. Has your environment impacted your creative output this much in the past? Or was it just the stark difference this time around that made it so significant?

It's hard to say because I've always basically lived in Melbourne since growing up. I've never really had an opportunity to ask, "Is the environment a big factor on the music that I'm making?" I've always just been in Melbourne essentially when I've been writing our songs. That's why it stands out as a big difference for me, because this is the first time that I've permanently relocated somewhere else. Being in Copenhagen for three years, getting your grips with a new place: not knowing anyone initially, the climate's different, the look of the places is different, it's got all this history. There's all these aspects to it that are just completely different. I think just one of the things I do love with recording, in the past, we've always tried to work in different places. I think when you're away from home, you're a bit more tuned into everything around you. I think the same was the case when I relocated to Copenhagen. I really felt like I was really seeing things with a lot of clarity. Everything around me and really absorbing everything. Influences from what I might be hearing and seeing, but also just stuff as simple as, "Gosh, it's snowing outside!"

Such a simple thing, but it can be so profound, right?

Yeah, exactly. That's the mood that you're feeling. That's the starting point, that it's snowing, it's dark. As simplistic as that is, if becomes your starting point for writing a song, then of course it's going to go in a different direction.

You finished recording the record at Park Orchard Studio, which is absolutely stunning. What a beautiful place. Going from the cold of Denmark winter through to full Australian bush, nature preserve almost, that would surely have an impact on the record as well.

Yeah. It made it inspiring, I think. Just bottom line. I think, basically, we were looking at what's the best place for us to work on some recording together, because we always reach a stage when we're making music where we kind of just do need to get the band together and record. That's important, I think, to really sign off on the music as a "Cut Copy-song" or a "Cut Copy-album". We decided to do it in Melbourne. We've just obviously worked in Melbourne so many times, I think we just wanted to find somewhere that it didn't feel like we were repeating ourselves, because the music felt like we were doing something different. Through a friend of family, we found out about this guy that had set up this studio in the bush on the bottom level of his parents' house and he'd just been collecting gear for years and created this amazing studio. So we went there and checked it out. I was like, "Yes, this is absolutely perfect." It was quite unusual. Usually, working in a studio, you're in some kind of dungeon-like, basement thing with no windows. This was the complete opposite. We were just looking out and there's cockatoos flying past and beautiful gum trees. Obviously, it's a bit at odds with the depths of Copenhagen and winter, but certainly it's equally beautiful looking out at this nature and feeling inspired.

It's something that I've noticed over the last few years, especially, is the connection between electronic music and the natural world. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs just released an EP recently that was sampled by bird songs from around the world. I think it's especially prevalent in Australian electronic music as well. Have you ever considered what it is about natural surroundings that lends itself so well to electronic music? Is there any kind of deep thing in regards to the natural and unnatural worlds coming together, or is it just a matter of having almost organic samples out in the ether and it being really inspiring?

I don't know. I think you could equally say moving to Berlin and being in an industrial, gritty city would be inspiring for making electronic music as well, because I think a lot of people do that also. But, I guess, it's just a different mood. Maybe it's a stage-of-life thing as well for me. I'd rather be out in the middle of the bush soaking in some beautiful nature than being at some Berlin kind of warehouse party at 5:00 AM. I think electronic music is great for creating an atmosphere and that is partly what we've done with this album, creating a real atmospheric mood for people to just escape in. One of those sorts of moods and environments that I think electronic music can really paint a picture of is the natural environment.

Escapist music is more vital than ever at the moment, and something that lots of people would be turning to. Lyrically, a lot of these songs explore love in strange times, but it's also very introspective. You would have not known at the time the world that you'd be releasing this album in, but I wondered, have any of the songs taken on any new meaningful for you at all over this time, looking back on it now?

Pretty much all the songs have somehow just taken on new meaning from the situation that we've been going through this year. Like you said, a lot of the songs probably would have come initially out of being a bit socially isolated moving to Copenhagen, being in a new place, not really knowing anyone and just being in that sort of head space. Then just through just weird luck, I wouldn't say good luck, but just through chance we've ended up in this time where everyone's isolated, quite literally, this year. It's weird. Some of the songs that I've made, thinking about that, have really found resonance with people at the moment. Even the sentiment of some of the songs, like 'Love Is All We Share' was written with certain things in mind, but in the context of COVID hitting and people not being able to have that physical closeness, the only thing that you can share in this crazy time is your thoughts of the other people, that you care about them and that means as much as the physical contact. A bunch of the songs have been the same way, but I feel like the meaning has really been amplified by the situation we're currently in.

Dance music, in general, is so emotional to listen to, and it's very experience-based. A lot of us would be listening to albums and wanting to be physically connected with someone or physically present with someone. Is it bizarre releasing music like this when it's a bit uncertain as to when you can be physical with your fans again?

Completely. It's really challenging. Obviously, from a financial perspective it's really difficult because that's how we survive, by being able to tour and play shows. Unfortunately, that's not happening at the moment. It's the same with a lot of people in different walks of life with their jobs being taken away or just being unable to earn an income. That's really tough. In more of an ideological kind of way just that sense of, "What am I making music for? What is the purpose of it?" If you're making dance music and can people can't get together and dance to it, if there's no club for it to get played in, it's like, "Why am I doing this? What is the meaning of this art that I'm trying to create?" So it definitely brings up a lot of questions about how we move forward as artists through this time. The landscape has just changed so completely that the context that we brought the music to coexist in is not that anymore. It might be something completely different. I think getting this music out is weird and surreal, but I feel like it means a lot of people to be able to give them something to listen to and just connect with them through this time. That's why we decided we'd just continue getting all this music out, because it's like people will probably need it right now.

Yeah, nothing like a full-blown existential crisis to kick off an album!

Yeah. That's usually the thing that inspires me!

Looking at the bigger picture now, I think Cut Copy fans have to be some of the most open minded when it comes to new sounds. You guys have taken us on a pretty wild ride so far. Every album is so different and this one, of course, is different again. What does it mean for you as a creative knowing there's a core fan base who have been down for you this whole time, and does it liberate you to take these risks?

Yeah, I think it's liberating. Particularly, making this new album, that felt a little liberating because there's a lot of things that we didn't do on this album that we've done on pretty much all our previous albums. Really trying not to be burdened by our history, our baggage from making music for such a long period of time. It's amazing having these people that have enjoyed our music through all these different eras. Also, finding out about people that have actually discovered our music through different albums along the way and what really resonated with people. A lot of people got onboard around when 'In Ghost Colours' came out. But, certainly, across all the albums you find people that have discovered us in different ways at different points in time. I feel like that in itself justifies maybe being a bit more adventurous and not getting stuck in a lane, really trying to do different things each time. For us, as musicians, it's exciting, but I think also for listeners, I think it's better to be surprised rather than going, "Oh, yeah. That sounds like Cut Copy". [They can] actually, just be challenged a bit. That's the best music— when you're not sure about it at the beginning, but then you grow to really like it, I think that is the ultimate with music.

Cut Copy's sixth album, Freeze, Melt, is out August 21 via Cutters Records. Pre-save/pre-order here.

Interview by Emma Jones

Image by Tamar Levine (@tamarlevine)