The guys in the Australian synthpop group CUT COPY may make it look fairly effortless as they perform on stage but in their eyes, it takes a lot of effort to put on a memorable show. Just before a gig at the Sound Academy in Toronto, bassist Ben Browning discussed the band’s current tour, his forthcoming solo debut and getting stopped at the Russian border.
You’re a newer addition to the band; how long have you been together with the three other guys in Cut Copy?
It’s been three years now really. I originally joined to play with them at live performances when they finished In Ghost Colours and I’ve pretty much done everything with the band since then, from working on Zonoscope to now touring with them as well.
How did they approach you about joining?
It was cool; they were looking around and tried a bunch of people. I was playing in another band at the time that was coming towards the end of its run. They were asking around but they didn’t approach me because they didn’t want to break up this band. Then someone out of my band actually volunteered for the spot, which cleared the way for them to ask me – who I think they wanted to ask all along.
Having started a brand new tour, how do you decide the order in which you want to play your songs?
It’s something we put a fair bit of consideration into. Before this tour we added about five or six songs off Zonoscope and we also came up with a visual component for the live show – with some video sequences. So we actually had to join some songs together and there are groups of songs that we can’t separate night-to-night. Then there are a few that we can change in and out. A lot of the set is fairly structured.
As the tour goes on do you experiment with the order you play songs, or are you looking for a single combination that people react positively to?
We do try to find a momentum for the set that works night-to-night. But, obviously it’s fun for us to swap in different songs when we can. We’ll do a particular sort of set for a couple months and then when we get the chance we’ll rework it for the next leg in the next region.
Prior to Zonoscope being released, were you doing any performances of those new songs in front of crowds who hadn’t heard them yet?
Last summer we did a tour of European festivals and also Lollapalooza and Jelly Pool Party in Brooklyn. Those were right after we finished recording. It hadn’t yet been mixed but we had laid everything down. So we actually did three new songs; we did “Where I’m Going”, “Alisa”, and “Blink And You’ll Miss a Revolution”.
“I think with dance music, it’s really up to the artist to do whatever they want to do with it. Whatever energy they need to bring to a show is really his or her own choice.”
How concrete do you want a song to be before it’s performed live?
Completely finished. The studio process is about production and about doing whatever we need to do to make a song how we want it to sound. Playing it live is a secondary concern. So, we have to adapt whatever we’ve done recording-wise to the live environment, by whatever means necessary. We don’t write songs for the stage so much as for the record.
There are 11 songs on the new album; do you remember which one was written first and which one was written last?
Oh Jesus, umm … not really. I think “Take Me Over” was one of the first ones we were working on. A bunch of the ones from the start of the process didn’t necessarily make it to the record, but there were also fragments of ideas that became songs. “Need You Now” and “Where I’m Going” were two songs that came about towards the end.
Do you think the process of having been in the studio and writing for so long had any effect on how those two later songs came out?
I think so. I think with “Where I’m Going” that was from being in the studio and doing a lot of experimenting. Dan Whitford (Singer) wanted to try an idea that he had at home while we were doing the record. It was really a reaction to what we had been doing and is quite removed from the rest of the record in that way. “Need You Now” was based on a drum loop that we’d recorded for a different song, and Dan took those drum recordings and re-wrote a new song out of that. Obviously, in the process of working on the record you get inspired – there were also some tracks we were unable to finish.
Is there a chance they will see the light of day in the future?
It’s hard to say. Ideally they will, but the idea that we would start the next record with those songs seems a bit unlikely to me. By the time we get to doing the next record we’ll probably be looking to create something new that’s a progression from the last. But, I think down the line there will be a chance for some of these other recordings to come out in some way.
How much work have you gotten done on your own solo project since the start of this year?
I’ve got an EP that I’ve recorded and mixed that’s due to come out this year sometime, but scheduling it has become a little bit difficult because there’s so much Cut Copy touring going on. It’s something I’m really keen to put out. I’ve been living with it for a while so it’ll be good to get it out in the world. I think I’m going to get a few remixes done as well. At the moment it is self-titled. I’ve been trying to give it a name for about two years, but I might just have to use my birth name.
You were in New York City the other night. How was it?
It was great. We played there on the weekend, then went to Boston and Montreal on Monday and Tuesday before coming back. It was sort of weird coming back to the same venue. It was almost like a weird dream or something – coming back to the same place two days later. But it was also really cool. We were blown away by the fact that we were able to sell out three shows in New York in a fairly big venue.
Has it been a pain hopping back and forth across the border?
It’s not too bad. We had a painful border experience going into Russia about three weeks ago that took about nine hours – something like that disrupts your night’s sleep a bit. So, these border crossings, by comparison, aren’t too bad.
How was Miami and the Ultra Music Festival?
We had a good show. We played at night and everyone seemed to be pretty into it. It was a pretty slamming, kind of grotesque scene.
Did things get pretty sweaty?
Did you say “sweaty” or “slutty”?
Oh yeah. Well, both. It’s personally not my kind of scene exactly. I think people appreciated that we were one of the only kind of ‘live’ acts on the stage that we played on.
Did you get to see many performances while you were there?
I watched Empire Of The Sun, who played after us. I hadn’t seen them before. They’re an Australian band and their show is really theatrical and it’s got multimedia and costumes. It’s a big production and it was interesting to see that for sure.
What do you think of artists like Deadmau5 who are making popular, really exciting music, but who perform without singing; only using technology as opposed to more traditional instruments?
I think with dance music, it’s really up to the artist to do whatever they want to do with it. Whatever energy they need to bring to a show, or not bring to a show, is really his or her own choice. With dance music and DJs, the idea traditionally has been that you play records. Cut Copy started out as a DJ project for Dan about 10 years ago but it’s evolved into this crossover band/dance music thing where we perform a bunch of stuff as well. I don’t think there’s any set rules about how it should be done. I personally like musicianship and I like to see people playing live as much as they can, but there are plenty of different ways to put on a show these days.
For the past few years you’ve played some massive outdoor shows in broad daylight – but you also play a lot of shows in darkened clubs where you can make use of elements such video screens and lights – are you putting on a radically different show depending on the venue?
For us, we think the show should work without any kind of lights or visual stuff anyway. So, hopefully whatever we do, if it’s in broad daylight with no lights, the energy we perform with and the musicianship will carry the show. Getting to do extra stuff with lights and screens hopefully just adds to what we already do; adds a different element; or adds an artistic bent to the show.
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