CityBeat recently phoned Whitford, whose thick Australian accent belies his crystal-clear vocals, to discuss everything from the influence of mad German filmmaker Werner Herzog on the band to the importance of good album artwork.
CityBeat: There is this spacier, almost hypnotic aspect to the new songs. Was that something you were thinking about when putting together the new record?
Dan Whitford: That was absolutely one of the new things we’re exploring with some of the tracks on this record, and one of the things that bound the songs and the ideas together: That kind of feeling of exploring rhythm and repetition and extending some of the tracks a little bit more than we had in the past so that you get sort of that trancelike quality when you listen to it.
CB: How has the band’s approach changed now that you’ve been together as a full unit for a few years now?
DW: As time has gone on we’ve probably gone from a very naïve approach and making the most of a sort of limited musicianship to where we’ve actually gotten better at playing all of our instruments and our roles in the band have sort of become a lot more fearless.
I think that’s allowed us to experiment more on this latest record, trying things we haven’t tried before like weird percussion stuff. I guess this record has less of a Rock sound to it, perhaps more in line with the way the Talking Heads would play guitar — more sort of Funk or muted stuff. So I think things just evolved as we’ve played together over the years and that’s broadened what we can do when we make records and when we play live.
CB: I saw the YouTube clip you guys posted about the making of the record, which included footage of the recording of the backing vocals to “Need You Now.” In this age of social media and pervasive “behind the music” type stuff, do you ever worry that music today is missing a mysterious element?
DW: Definitely. Social media has created expectations in fans that they are going to be able to more or less know what you’re doing every hour of the day with Twitter and things like that. With that specific documentary it wasn’t done to give away our secrets or anything like that. We have friends who direct videos and films and that kind of thing, and I guess we kind of hang with them perhaps in the course of making a record anyway. As a big music fan, I love things about how records are made. I’m really interested in that, and from my way of thinking it adds another dimension to the experience of the record, seeing some of the work that’s gone into it.
CB: I was looking at the liner notes on the vinyl version of the album and I noticed you had a quote in there from Werner Herzog. You’ve also mentioned him numerous times in interviews. What is it about him that interests you and the band?
DW: Well, he’s an amazing filmmaker for starters. His film Fitzcarraldo (the story of a man so obsessed with bringing grand opera to the Amazons that he attempts to haul a ship over mountains) is a real favorite of mine. In working on this record it sort of felt like the further we went into it was almost like we were getting immersed into more than just writing songs and had a real sense of a place and an exotic kind of quality to all of the songs as well.
I guess my imagination sort of ran wild a little bit being a big fan of Fitzcarraldo. I probably watched it around the same time I was working on a lot of the tracks on the record. It’s almost like my visualizing of the album and taking the sounds and saying this is what it looks like as almost a soundtrack to that film in some ways — at least in the feeling of it. That was sort of the connection with Herzog. And also he’s just a pretty inspiring character as someone who kind of goes to the extremes of the world and the extremes of human experience to make films.
CUT COPY performs at the MidPoint Music Festival Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on the Dewey’s Pizza Main Stage at Grammer’s. Go here for all the MPMF details (performers, venues, new features, ticket options and latest news).