Originally written for Clash in June 2017. Read the original article here.
We’ve said it before, but some things take time.
In the case of The Avalanches, that can be a very long time indeed. With a genre-defining debut album like ‘Since I Left You’ to their name, it’s difficult to recall many follow-up albums in recent memory that have been quite as highly anticipated as The Avalanches’ ‘Wildflower’. But for all the teases that emerged from the Australian duo’s camp over the course of the last decade, for a while it seemed like little more than wishful thinking that a second album would ever see the light of day.
Then it finally happened. After a 16 year wait and several false starts, 2016 finally rewarded us with the duo’s triumphant return and with it, the long-awaited follow up to ‘Since I Left You’. The hype was justified. The Avalanches were back.
Following ‘Wildflower’s warm reception, 2017 has seen the group back on the road. Spearheaded by co-founders Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, now backed by a brand new live band, their live show is a far cry from the early days of analogue keyboards, live samplers and multiple turntables.
As the Melbourne natives prepare to make their return to UK shores with live dates in Bristol, Manchester, London and Glastonbury later this month, Paul Weedon sat down with Robbie Chater to discuss the group’s affinity for splicing sounds and asked him to share a selection of his own personal favourite samples.
Congratulations again on ‘Wildflower’, Robbie. It’s been quite a year for you guys, hasn’t it?
Yeah. It was a big year to say the least, but thanks. It’s nice that it’s out there and it’s being well received.
How are you finding being back on the road and revisiting older material?
It’s been fantastic actually. I mean, part of it’s just because we were in the studio for so long making the follow-up, so just to be out travelling and doing all that again and being away from the studio is just fantastic. And, I mean, we’re so grateful that it’s because the second album has been so well received that we’re even able to travel.
Has playing live given you guys an opportunity to look back on tracks from the ‘Since I Left You’ era and re-evaluate them for a live audience?
Yeah, it’s been lovely, because a song like ‘Flight Tonight’ from ‘Since I Left You’ seems to be… I kind of would assume that not many kids would know it, but every time we start it at the show you hear a cheer go up, so people are still fond of those songs. It’s really cool. I guess we’d lean more towards songs that are more up-tempo, because the live show’s just a party, really.
Who are you bringing along for the tour?
It’s myself, Tony, our drummer Paris [Jeffree] – she’s just awesome. I’m on guitar, our lead vocalist Eliza [Wolfgramm] and Spank Rock will be there as well. We’ve stripped it back a bit and it’s not as subtle as the album. It’s just party time.
‘Since I Left You’ has taken on a life of its own over the last sixteen years. Was it kind of intimidating returning to it after all that time? Was anything there that you felt you’d change or re-work in hindsight?
I felt that afterwards, actually. Like, immediately afterwards. “I would have done this differently,” or, “I would have done that differently.” I kind of was happy with probably about 70% of it, or something. But then I didn’t listen to it for about five years. I mean, now when I revisit it, it sounds like a different person made it. It’s a much younger version of me, and I can probably enjoy it the same way that other people can and I wouldn’t change anything now. It’s cool.
The album was re-issued last year after being unavailable for a while. Were there any licensing issues there at all?
No, I think we just hadn’t wanted to do it before ‘Wildflower’, really. So it felt like the right time afterwards, but we are working on a big box set of it with a bunch of remixes and a bunch of other stuff, but I’m not sure when that’s coming out. It’s been in the pipeline for years.
In your choice of samples, you’ve included the Hans Zimmer sample from The Thin Red Line used by Panda Bear. Film scores are increasingly getting sampled more and more nowadays. Do you find that that’s something you’re inspired by – something that sits completely outside of pop?
Yeah, especially for dialogue. For ‘Wildflower’, for atmosphere and street sounds and words here and there, we went back through a lot of counter-culture movies, especially for dialogue, not so much for music.
There are some interesting vocal samples on ‘Wildflower’. The Kip Casper dialogue from Queens Of The Stone Age was one that stood out, for some reason.
[Laughs] Oh yeah. That’s cool. I think that just takes me back to being a teenager and just driving around in the back of a car, getting stoned and blasting Kyuss and then Queens of the Stone Age. It’s just that feeling. It’s just great rock ‘n’ roll. I guess some moments and samples like that are just personal touchstones in our lives.
What, for you, makes a great sample?
It’s a moment that’s hard to describe, but it’s just a moment on an album where things get a little bit wonky or woozy – almost like the space between two pieces of music on a psychedelic record, or when there’s a chord change that’s particularly sad. Tony and I have been working together for such a long time now that we just know it when we hear it. It’s really hard to describe, but there’s just a feeling that comes on occasionally where we think we can do something with that. But sometimes it’s something very small and then we’ll sort of build up from there.
Obviously, if you come across a great vocal hook and a theme has developed for an album and that fits in and is saying something cool or relevant to what you’re doing, that’s always great, but I think I prefer to start with the feeling and the atmosphere in the bed of a track and build up from there.
You’re obviously perfectionists, but at what stage is a track finished? Could you keep tinkering and tinkering?
Yeah, of course you could, but there comes a point where you’re layering it too much or you’re making it worse. Actually, for a lot of the final year of doing ‘Wildflower’, we were taking stuff off.
We’d made a lot of other stuff over the years, so a lot of it we’d just stuck away and then the album really started to shine and the beauty of the original samples shone through, so, yeah, that can be a big danger. And it’s great to be working with someone when we can each be honest and brutal with each other and say, “Mate, it’s done.” And also, we were so worn out by the end of ‘Wildflower’ that it was a relief to hear someone say, “It’s done.”
You’ve mentioned previously that there’s a lot of unused material left over from ‘Wildflower’. Have you got a release in mind for that material?
Well, we’re not sure what to do with it because we’ve been having heaps of fun writing new stuff and it’s flowing so quickly and easily that it’s made us a little unsure of what to do with the leftover ‘Wildflower’ stuff, because it doesn’t feel like it would fit with any of the new stuff we’re writing. So we’re in two minds at the moment. We’re gonna do a bit more touring and figure out what we’re going to do.
Have recorded much since you guys got back from America?
Yeah, we’ve got a couple of great new songs already and we’ve just upgraded to a couple of powerful laptops so we can work while we’re travelling as well, so pretty much all I need now is a laptop and I’m sorted. We’ve just been recording a bunch of vinyl in actually, so while I’m on the plane I can chop it up and while away the hours.
So you could be working on a masterpiece while you’re on your way over to the UK in a couple of weeks then.
[Laughs]. Exactly. You never know what will pop up in a spare hour or two.
As part of the Clash feature, I invited Robbie to name his Top 10 samples…
Kaytranada – ‘Lite Spots’ // Sample: Gal Costa – ‘Pontos de Luz’
“Tony and I both love the new Kaytranada album [‘99.9%’] and there’s that track on his record called ‘LITE SPOTS’. It samples a Gal Costa song from a record called ‘India’. And that’s a record that I’ve been familiar with and we’ve played it out, but it’s one of those ones that you hear how someone’s split the sample and you just think, ‘Man, I wish I’d thought of that,’ you know?
It’s really cool and it’s kind of irreverent and funky, the way that he’s done it. It’s got this mad energy to it. It always seems to make people move and feel upbeat. I love that… It kind of reminds me of the feeling I got from that first Basement Jaxx record, ‘Remedy’ – that sort of punkiness, that sense of fun. It’s really good.”
Panda Bear – ‘Comfy In Nautica’ Sample: Hans Zimmer – ‘Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi’
“Another one I really loved and an album that I really loved in the years between ‘Since I Left You’ and ‘Wildflower’ was ‘Person Pitch’ by Panda Bear. I think he uses that crazy Boss SP 303 Dr. Sample – the same one that Madlib uses and all the other Animal Collective guys use. It’s something I’m really unfamiliar with so I’m also really fascinated by that sound. And it’s also got this really crunchy sort of lo-fi thing going on.
But, yeah, ‘Comfy In Nautica’ has just got this loop – it’s like a fraction of a choral group and a handclap and it’s just looped. And he’s written this very droney, very Beach Boys-esque vocals and melody over the top and it just takes you away and makes you feel like you’re in church, or something. It’s a sample from The Thin Red Line soundtrack that Hans Zimmer wrote – this big Hollywood soundtrack. I love that.”
Jay Electronica – ‘Exhibit C’ // Sample: Billy Stewart – ‘Cross My Heart’
“’Exhibit C’ is a Just Blaze beat. The sample is Billy Stewart’s ‘Cross My Heart’ and it’s one of Just Blaze’s most rocking beats. I mean, he’s made so many great beats, but it’s so heavy. It just feels so good. You get so pumped. It’s that really classic… He’s at the top of his game on this one, I think.”
De La Soul – ‘Transmitting Live From Mars’ // Sample: The Turtles – ‘You Showed Me’
“I could pick a million tracks by De La Soul, but I think I’ll go with something from ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ – ‘Transmitting Live From Mars’, which samples that famous Turtles sample, which I think they may have got sued for. But that was one of the early examples of sampling that I heard and just remember being fascinated by it.
I think the song title really matched this sort of otherworldly organ sample by The Turtles and it was just like, ‘Wow. You can do that? Wow. I want to do that. That’s unreal.’ I just got it, straight away.
That whole record was extremely influential to a lot of people. That and ‘Paul’s Boutique’ almost came out around the same time and they really both were just masterpieces of sampling. It’s incredible.”
My Bloody Valentine – ‘Loveless’ // Sample: Kevin Shields’ own guitar feedback
“I thought I’d choose something a little bit different here. Kevin Shields did a lot of his own guitar feedback with an S900 or an S1000 sampler and used the pitch bend on a midi keyboard to create a lot of that wooziness. And we kind of figured that out for ourselves actually because we had an S900 sampler really early on and would always bend flute samples around and just knew, somehow, that that’s what they were doing.
And it wasn’t until years later that I read that and it was great to go, ‘Yeah, I figured that out.’ But, yeah, that’s incredible – the way he sampled his own guitar and used a pitch bend to bend it around in a sampler. I mean, no one else has ever created a sound like that, so I really wanted to include that one in the list.”
Theo Parrish – ‘Black Music’ // Sample: Weldon Irvine – ‘I Love You’
“I could pick any number of Theo Parrish tracks, but I love the sampling. I think early house music sampling often gets overlooked, but his track ‘Black Music’ samples ‘I Love You’ by Weldon Irvine and it’s just such a cool track – just such a classic, cool sample. And he just lets it build and build and build. It might be Moodymann doing vocals over the top, or something, but that’s just a really cool track. A great, classic sample.”
Jamie xx – ‘Loud Places’ // Sample: Idris Muhammad – ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’
“Tony has loved this song for years and he always played it while he was DJing, or listening to it when he was high, actually, and he would always say, ‘We’ve gotta make a song out of this.’ And I could never figure out how to do it. And it was so cool hearing this Jamie xx track. He just played the hook of the original record and then built his own track around it. He did it with so much class and skill and it kind of really left the feeling of the original intact.
When I approached it, I was always trying to flip it or chop it up and he just sort of played the record. It’s so great. It’s rare that I love a song so much and then I hear it sampled and I love the new version, so that’s a great piece of sampling.”
J Dilla – ‘Workinonit’ // Sample: ’10CC – The Worst Band In The World’
“Another one I’ll go for is ‘Workinonit’ by J Dilla off his ‘Donuts’ album. It’s got a really funny sample of a 10cc song called ‘The Worst Band In the World’. Just the way he’s flipped that 7 inch and made it talk, it’s really cool. And when you hear the original, it’s so clever, the way he’s done it. He’s edited their guitars so they sort of swoop in. It’s almost like post-punk, even though it’s 10cc. He’s really made it feel energetic…
I could have chosen anything off that ‘Donuts’ album. He really changed the way I thought about sampling. I’d always worked with a lot of small fragments, building a song up that way and ‘Donuts’, in a lot of ways, are just 7 inch edits, but they’re so incredible. And the way he chopped a track and somehow created a feeling on that ‘Donuts’ album that’s out of this world and completely unique and new, even though he’s used big chunks of existing tracks. It just transcends sampling, almost.
It’s a really incredible record. It’s really moving. And it’s funny – I’ll talk to younger producers and they’re just as in love with him as I am. Kids are discovering his records all the time. Incredible.”
The Avalanches – ‘Since I Left You’ // Sample: The Main Attraction – ‘Everyday’
“So that song, in particular, the vocal came near the end. I was working on a really old Mac that had no audio, actually. So all the samples were saved in the sampler and that was just triggering the midi, so to make that vocal sample sing and say what it does, I had to chop it up word by word, sometimes syllable by syllable, change the pitch on certain syllables and get it to sort of fit and to sit. So it was the first time I realised, ‘Oh, man. This is going to really work. I’m writing a pop song now,’ which is what I’d wanted to do with samples.
And I guess, from there being a few years of experimentation on that track, it finally clicked and pitching it up she almost sounded like a young Michael Jackson, or something. For me, it was like the first time I had been successful at doing what had been in my head and getting it out there.”
The Avalanches – ‘The Noisy Eater’ // Sample: Kew High School, Melbourne – ‘Come Together’
“On the new record, I really love the high school band of kids singing The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, which we used on ‘The Noisy Eater’. It’s just such a silly song and such a fun sample and also it was difficult to clear.
Getting permission from Paul and Yoko was just kind of completely unexpected and completely mind-blowing actually. It’s one of those things where everybody was like, ‘Well, this is never going to work,’ and we were like, ‘Can we please just at least try?’
So I really love that and I always get a kick when we’re playing it live and hearing that sample come in. It’s really cool. And I love Yoko and her music as well, so we were chuffed.”