“I was listening to someone on the radio the other day and they were saying, ‘It’s been four years since your last album, what have you been doing that whole time?’ And it’s like, what are you talking about? That’s nothing.”
Their trademarks are the warm, creamy crackle of vinyl, nostalgic ‘90’s hip-hop beats and dreamy, swirling melodies.
Given the 16 year wait between Since I Left You and Wildflower, four years is an impressive turnaround for the Australian sampledelia two-piece, the Avalanches. Their forthcoming album, We Will Always Love You, comes out this Friday. If there was ever a time for a reflective yet uplifting album that questions our place and purpose in the universe, that time is definitely now.
“A lot of people have said that it feels like a good album for this year when everything’s been so dark,” said Tony Di Blasi, who I had the pleasure of chatting to via Zoom in true 2020 style.
The immense success of the Avalanches’ debut album from 2000, Since I Left You, is a ghost that haunted group members Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi for years. Since I Left You seamlessly weaved what was estimated to be over 3000 micro-samples together, sourced from the vinyls they spent endless hours scouring Melbourne op shops for, to create an intricate and distinctive soundscape. As the Avalanches faced personal battles, yet continued to slave away at their second album, their following and the expectations surrounding their next instalment only continued to grow.
“Every year that went by, the pressure just built so much. It felt insane for us and there were times where we were like, we’re never going to be able to make it… It was kind of a bit like Lord of the Rings. It was so long and so hard with so much darkness in it, but eventually we got there,” said Di Blasi.
The art of sampling is right at the core of what makes the Avalanches’ tracks so recognisable and enjoyable. There is a playfulness to their work, experimental in nature and always evolving, yet they’ve managed to continue to preserve their iconic sound. Their trademarks are the warm, creamy crackle of vinyl, nostalgic ‘90’s hip-hop beats and dreamy, swirling melodies. When asked about the process of choosing which samples to use within their songs, Di Blasi tells me: “I think everything always starts off with how it makes us feel.”
This also sheds light on why the Melbourne duo struggled during the creation of Wildflower, during which their approach to song making became more systematic than heartfelt and spontaneous.
“We’d just spend days finding samples and cataloguing them. We ended up with thousands of samples and it almost became like this cerebral process that was so against the grains of pure creativity and being inspired by something when you hear it straight away, using that inspiration to fill in the gaps and create the song.”
Their latest album, We Will Always Love You, was inspired by the feeling of finally releasing Wildflower in 2016 and consequently, releasing all of the expectations and pressure that accumulated throughout its production.
“It kind of expanded from this personal feeling of letting go of the weight of Since I Left You and the pressure of trying to come up with something as good and it coincided with letting go of the baggage of our mind.”
From this, the Avalanches got very deep. About as deep as one can possibly get. They delved into an array of philosophical topics, yet managed to keep their album surprisingly optimistic. We Will Always Love You is slower-paced than their previous records, but don’t let that deter you. The experience of listening to itis like floating over a swelling wave in the ocean – there is an overall sense of tranquillity and peacefulness, despite the album’s depth and heavier concepts lurking below the surface.
We Will Always Love You is emotional and soul stirring, scattered with bittersweet moments of reflection about the fragility of life, found in tracks such as the title track and ‘Take Care In Your Dreaming’. Yet these contemplative moments are balanced with instances of pure light and elation, such as ‘Interstellar Love’ and ‘Music Makes Me High’. We Will Always Love You is a mystical and enlightening excursion to somewhere beyond this realm. After which, you’ll return feeling refreshed and a little more in awe of the world around you.
“It started off as this personal journey of what is going on in our own minds and it expanded to where we are in the universe and what are we doing here and all that stuff, our own mortality… Thinking about when we sample someone who has passed away, like Karen Carpenter, her spirit is there, still with us. So we kind of got into what happens when we die and thinking about all this crazy stuff.”
The result of this is their most collaborative album yet. We Will Always Love You features an impressive line-up of living artists including MGMT, Johnny Marr, Denzel Curry, Mick Jones, Tricky, Perry Farrell, Blood Orange, Sampa the Great and Kurt Vile. This is a new approach for the Avalanches, who only featured the occasional living artist on their previous albums. This has caused their creative process to become quite solitary at times, particularly during Wildflower.
“Robbie and I weren’t together a lot. We’d just be working at home in our own little studios and emailing each other stuff so it was a very lonely process,” said Di Blasi.
The making of We Will Always Love You was a completely contrary experience, filled with multiple collaborators and a brighter, revitalised outlook.
“I don’t think Wildflower sounds dark or anything, but it’s definitely from that kind of atmosphere. There was still lots of joy but [We Will Always Love You] didn’t have any dark moments. We were happy the whole time. I feel like everyone we worked with were so giving and so warm and really bought into the ideas of what the album was about.”
What’s next for the Avalanches? Tony Di Blasi says a new album could be on the horizon and with a shorter turnaround than ever.
“I’d love it to be two years, because I have this thing with numbers because it took 16 years, then it took four. So, 2022… watch out.”
In the meantime, you can experience the cosmic and dreamy tones of We Will Always Love You, which is released on 11 December.