If you think your faves take a long time between records, be thankful they don’t take as long as The Avalanches. With that second album finally here, we find out if they feel up to doing it all over again.
“So, is this normal?” asks Tony Di Blasi, pointing towards the scorching hot summer’s day currently falling across West London. It’s one of those days where no matter what direction you turn to face, the heat continues to shine in, coating you in a glaze of sun-kissed emotion that brings out the stunning sights you’d only see come those sort of days. Those are the days that are sewn into the very fabric of The Avalanches, and their arrival into town is surely no coincidence.
It’s been almost a year to the day since the now-duo of Tony Di Blasi and Robbie Chater burst back into frame with ‘Wildflower’, an album that many thought would never come across an almost 16-year wait. It’s an album that came at the end of an extensive period where band members changed; personal health rose to the forefront and the simple fact of following up such a defining debut statement that is ‘Since I Left You’ with another bold and undeniable collection. Yet all of that feels like a distant memory, as Tony and Robbie sit and soak in the breezes of a glorious day in the city - and it’s a position they’re loving being in.
“It’s nice to be an active band again,” notes Robbie, “because for a long time we weren’t, aside from what we had going on in our heads. It’s been amazing like meeting so many people who love ‘Since I Left You’ and ‘Wildflower’ at the shows we’re doing, and connecting with people through the music because it’s like… In a lot of ways we don’t feel like The Avalanches music is us really, it’s sort of a celebration in the room. We’re there; people are there - it’s just so much fun.”
They’ve got every right to be basking in the love and adoration that’s been flying their way. The Avalanches are a band like no other, like a capsule from another planet bursting and shimmering with joyous vibes and hand-picked blooming moments - their legend only growing bigger in the years spent away from the spotlight, and now emerging into a brave new world. Morphing out of the Melbourne punk rock scene in Australia towards the tail end of the last millennium, The Avalanches were focused on creating something out of the rich tapestry music has laid out for generations and in the cocktail formed from their blending of samples, The Avalanches tap onto a sensation undeniably pure in music. It’s all about a feeling, a capturing of a time and a place - and in ‘Wildflower’, their grand return has been nothing short of dazzling. Over a year later, it remains a go-to play for those longing for an escape.
“I mean, I still haven’t really listened to it, to be honest,” confesses Tony. “It seems, even as time passes that people are really finding a lot in it, and there’s a lot there. There’s been a lot of love for it over the past year, and it’s been great getting it out”.
“The thing is when making a record,” elaborates Robbie, sitting back in his chair as he reflects back on a process that spanned over 16 years. “Is that you know when it’s right and when a record has found itself. When that happens, it really is undeniable. You can’t put it out and compromise before then, because ‘Wildflower’ simply wasn’t ‘Wildflower’ for years. We knew when that was.”
“And we’ve never thought about things like, ‘We need to have something done by here’,” comments Tony.
“We took our liberties a bit far didn’t we?” smiles Robbie.
For any other band or musician, having 16 years sit between your records might be damaging, but The Avalanches hold a special place in hearts around the globe. When they first crisscrossed their way into stereos back in 2000, that intoxicating blend of beats and cuts oozed with an aura unseen from any other act. ‘Since I Left You’, a debut album that has gone on to become one of those truly iconic records that helped template an entire generation, was a larger than life culmination of The Avalanches’ unfaltering commitment to creativity. Tracks like ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and the title track itself moved with an insatiable sense of groove, and set the trail for The Avalanches to head around the globe before they could even stop to think.
“There wasn’t really a masterplan behind it all,” recalls Robbie. “‘Since I Left You’ just happened and kinda caught us by surprise too, so we didn’t have a good plan for what to do next because we didn’t have a plan going into it. We were playing in a pub in Melbourne at one moment and then we’re at Big Day Out walking out on stage to people just everywhere. Those moments really stand out, those massive moments where all of a sudden we were the…”
“We were the band everyone wanted to see,” finishes Tony.
“Yeah,” agrees Robbie. “But ‘Since I Left You’ really grew over time, so I remember years later that my partner at the time said to me, ‘That album means a lot to a lot of people’. I think it might have been five years after it came out or something, and that was the first time that I really stopped and reflected after it all, and saw that it had taken on a life of its own. I think we’ve always been detached from that kind of stuff anyway, like not really aware of people’s love for it. The nicest thing about time passing is that I can now listen to that record as if somebody else made it, so I can appreciate it and see why other people would like it too. It’s quite separate now; it feels quite innocent.”
With a worldwide success that found the band travelling for over four years as ‘Since I Left You’ was released in different territories, few would have predicted the length of time it would take to see its follow-up. For a band who had been swept up in a gust of adoration, learning to live as an entity thousands were looking to while recovering from the intense schedule that came with it played the groundwork for what was to come.
“Like, I didn’t get back from everything till 2004 really,” remembers Robbie. “This is an album that came out in late-2000 in Australia, but the world was so different then when it came to releases. I was really burnt out and unwell for a few years afterwards so by the time we even got up and running again it was 2005 or something. So it was never a conscious decision to wait for that length of time. I dunno, we just weren’t really career-minded.”
“And there wasn’t really an urgent need to release another album,” interjects Tony.
In the years that followed, as the legend of ‘Since I Left You’ continued to be discovered by a whole new generation of listeners, the foundations of ‘Wildflower’ began to take shape. Moving into a more song-laden approach, the years in-between may have seen band members come and go, but at its core remained the key principles of everything that makes The Avalanches truly unique. Coating in lush harmonies and rich textures, ‘Wildflower’ is a record indebted to the warm glow of Motown, 70s psychedelia and classic hip-hop that brings decades together into a sound that’s infectious and tangible. Coming with the samples and sounds that fill The Avalanches every move, it’s a process that needed time, but began to play on the creators' minds.
“I can’t even remember the time when everything started to click together,” notes Tony, “like remembering that time - three year periods felt like they were really close together. But there were definitely times where we were working on it that we just thought that the album wasn’t going to come together, and that’s serious too. There was just this feeling at the back of your mind that started to grow saying, ‘This is never going to happen’. Then whenever there was a road bump, you’d always think, ‘Well, told you it was never going to happen’.”
Robbie remembers the period as just as much of a mental journey as the record was in physical form. “That negative side of you, which I’m sure everyone has, every now and again it would get loud. It was a really interesting mental journey actually to observe the mind and how it works.”
That collective euphoria that bristles through ‘Wildflower’ is instantly as captivating on each and every listen, a call to arms for joyous unison with the added buzz of collaborations with the likes of Danny Brown, Kevin Parker, MF DOOM and Biz Markie all dropping into a melting pot of summer bliss. Tales from the city transported out to the countryside and back again, it’s a truly moving journey that Robbie and Tony are witnessing play out with their return to the live stage. Through all the hardships and time spent crafting ‘Wildflower’, it’s on the faces of thousands where it all pays off for them.
“You know,” begins Tony. “Through those hard days making ‘Wildflower’, I’d end up sitting there imagining how good it was going to be to play these songs in New York or London for example, it was really the carrot and the end of the stick - quite literally because for a while that distance wasn’t getting any closer!”
“There definitely was a cabin fever that came with making ‘Wildflower’,” points out Robbie.
“Yeah, playing live has been amazing,” continues Tony. “The shows have just been…”
“Euphoric,” finishes Robbie. “It’s really struck me how much the audience makes it actually, and I didn’t realise that as a concert goer when I was younger - like the audience truly decides the night.”
It finds The Avalanches in 2017 as a band reborn, coming out of the other side not just with the one defining album in their catalogue, but a shimmering follow-up that places them squarely at the forefront once again. An all-encompassing journey, they’ve come out on the other side with a new lease of life and that energy can be felt rippling through the room in the smiles stretched across Robbie and Tony’s faces.
“There was definitely a weight on our shoulders for a long time, that just got heavier and heavier during the making of ‘Wildflower’” explains Tony. “Even when we had finished it and it had come out - that weight still took a while to come off. We always thought it would be this thing that would be quite instantaneous but it really took about six months for that experience to get off our shoulders. It’s only now that I feel that weight is gone, and I think that’s the big difference for us a year on.”
“Though it’s not really a weight of expectation,” defines Robbie, “but it’s more like your life is paused in a way. It’s more that kind of thing, and we’re freed up now. It’s one of those things you just have to see through."
“To give up during that time, it just wasn’t an option.”
There’s something indisputably essential about The Avalanches now. They’re a band continuing to embrace and digest music culture around them, all while maintaining that personalised seal that could get any dancefloor rocking in a matter of moments. Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi are looking forwards, with a new outlook on being a ‘band’ and a creative force, and this time they’re not waiting around.
“It’s funny,” starts Robbie. “We recently had some business meetings in New York, and people were casually tossing around the line, ‘Oh, and when you do your next record’ and for a second I just thought oh fuck - like it’s going to be the same experience we had this time around with ‘Wildflower’. Then I had to remember, that it’s a completely new chapter, much in the same way that ‘Wildflower’ was nothing like ‘Since I Left You’ and this will be its own thing again, but my initial response was ‘I can’t do that again’. There feels like there’s a full stop to that part of our lives now, and in lots of ways, we’ll be moving forward.
“Like, I sold my record collection recently that was a big part in the making of both ‘Wildflower’ and ‘Since I Left You’. I just want to be light and free, and there’s something about making room in your life so something new can come in. The new music is sounding nothing like anything we’ve ever done and y’know, we’ve done the album journey now, let's do the surprise ten songs in one year album… something completely different.”
Always different but guaranteed, The Avalanches are only just getting started. Best get that sun-cream out then, the sunshine isn’t going anywhere.
Taken from the August issue of Dork - order a copy below. The Avalanches’ album ‘Wildflower’ is out now.