The Avalanches don’t do small. When the DJ collective from Melbourne, Australia released their legendary debut, 2000’s Since I Left You, it crammed an estimated 900 samples into an hour-long odyssey that took the listener from a psychiatrist’s office to midnight cruise ship to the jungle — making stops at the dance floor along the way.
The wait for the follow up was even more expansive. Wildflower was released a staggering 16 years after its predecessor due to members dropping out, battles with alcohol, and the group collecting so many samples they became paralyzed by the sheer number of choices. When the dust settled, there were only two original members remaining — Tony Di Blasi and Robbie Chater — and they were both in need of a reset.
After a short stint in rehab for Chater, he sold the majority of his 7,000 LPs and met Di Blasi in the studio to start work on what would their third album, We Will Always Love You.
A sprawling 72-minute voyage through the cosmos, We Will Always Love You finds the group once again at their kaleidoscopic best. The duo combines a bratty vocal from MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden with guitar work from the Smiths’ Johnny Marr to create arguably the best disco song of the year. The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite’s Mick Jones comes together with rapper Cola Boyy over a Karen Carpenter sample. Blood Orange lends a Tricky-indebted vocal on the album’s first half and Tricky appears on latter half on a song that sounds like Blood Orange. It’s a gloriously fun clusterfuck of an album and one of the year’s best.
Below, Di Blasi talks about choosing guests for the record, sampling the Big Bang, and the characteristic that makes the group’s music so special.
The Reader: We Will Always Love You seems to split the difference between Since I Left You and Wildflower in that you have all these guest-driven pop gems like the latter but there seems to be more focus on found sounds and electronic textures that I find similar in tone to the former. Stylistically, how did you guys approach this record?
Tony Di Blasi: We definitely tried to focus this record away from being as sample heavy as the last two. There are a lot more played baselines and keyboards than on the two previous albums. We wanted this record to sit in the modern world in terms of the sound scope of it. We wanted to fill out the sound spectrum more from the lows to the highs.
Also, sample heavy records are incredibly time consuming to make. We worked closely with our good friend and collaborator Andy Szekeres, who helped us write and played keys to try make sure we didn’t get lost down a 16-year rabbit hole again. Working with amazing guest vocalists instead of finding lead vocal samples helps speed up the process as well. In saying that, there are still lots of samples on this record!
TR: Despite genre-hopping as much as you guys do, I think most of your fans would agree that there’s a characteristic or feeling that links everything. How would you define the Avalanches’ sound?
TDB: Everything Rob and I talk about when describing a song revolves around feelings. How does it feel? We love that place where happiness meets sadness. That glorious in-between feeling that can be so beautiful and painful at the same time. We’re always searching for that. It’s our El Dorado!
TR: You’ve said that the album was influenced by the cosmos. Were there any particular celestial sounds that you tried to incorporate?
TDB: We did sample lots of space-style synth sounds that are placed all over the record. We also sampled lots of static that we’d layer over things – like a high hat or just over a chorus so you can barely hear it, but you can feel it’s there. We read that the sound of static from a television is the receiver picking up the sound of the Big Bang as it’s still happening. We geeked out at stuff like that!
TR: How do you guys select collaborators for a song? Were there any instances on this record where you weren’t able to get anyone and had to pivot?
TDB: We don’t write with specific people in mind. The songs always start with a sample and we go from there. Once we have the sketch of a song, we then will play the song and think about whose voice will suit it. Sometimes we’ll sample an artist just to hear what the tone of the voice sounds like in the track. So the song always dictates what artist we choose to work with.
TR: Robbie sold off a good chunk of his record collection before making this record. How did that change your approach to sampling and recording in general?
TDB: During the making of Wildflower we kind of got bogged down in an over-processed way of making music. We had so many samples that we would catalogue into different folders and it became almost like an administrative way of making music. We’d have to cross reference numbers with the samples we’d catalogued. It was so time-consuming and just took away from the pure creativity of making music.
This record we wanted to de-clutter and just get back to finding a sample and then writing around it that day instead of putting it away in a folder somewhere for future use. Just get back to the joy of finding a great sample, then being inspired to make a song with it straight away!
TR: Since I Left You recently turned 20 and I was wondering what memories does it stir up?
TDB: Yes, our baby is all grown up! I love listening to that record now. It feels like a little bundle of joy. It brings back memories of being young and naive and carefree. It’s like that feeling of the last year of school before you have to go out into the world and be a grown-up.
TR: The Avalanches have a couple of gigs scheduled for this summer and I was wondering what the live show is going to look like and how it will differ from the Wildflower sets?
TDB: This time we’re thinking it’ll be just a two man show with Robbie and myself where we take it back to the art of sampling and how the music is made. We want to deconstruct the songs and build them back up, revealing the layers that make the song. Of course, our main objective is to always try and bring the party. After such a hard year for humanity as a whole, it’ll be so exciting just to go out there and try and make the fans — and ourselves — have the best time ever!