Album of the Week: The Avalanches, 'We Will Always Love You'

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The Avalanches, 'We Will Always Love You'
The Avalanches, 'We Will Always Love You' (Courtesy of Artist)
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Interview: Robbie Chater of The Avalanches
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After waiting 16 years to follow up their 2000 debut, the Australian duo surprised fans with new material produced while separated during the pandemic. Known for their sonic collages and use of hundreds of samples, The Avalanches leaned into writing their own instrumentation for the new album along with a packed line-up of guest vocalists from Karen O to Mick Jones, Leon Bridges to Sampha the Great, and many more.

With their ears attuned to building songs for celestial beings We Will Always Love You is beautifully constructed with sounds from the past century to help you dance into the future. Mac Wilson connected with them around the album release. Check out the interview below.

Interview Transcription

Edited for length and clarity.

MAC WILSON: Hey, there I am Mac Wilson from The Current, I am joined by Robbie from The Avalanches. Hello, Robbie. Good morning.

ROBBIE CHATER: Good morning, Mac. Thank you for having me.

So we're gonna chat about the the brand new album, We Will Always Love You. First off, congratulations on the new record. But I want to give a congrats to you on the 20th anniversary of Since I Left You, which was a couple of weeks back. And I'm curious that as an artist, how do you commemorate an anniversary like that--do you commemorate it? The way that you know us as a listener might do it. Like, I'm gonna go listen to that Avalanches album on my turntable today. Do you celebrate in a similar way? Or do you have a different way of marking occasions like that?

You know, I guess there was, like a year ago or something, there was conversations about like, should we do an anniversary concert or something like that. But the way this year's unfolded, obviously, it's been a pretty crazy year. And it's just ended up by chance that we're putting a new record up pretty much right on the 20th anniversary of our first record. So for me, it was more time of reflection, actually. And it kind of really hit me, gee, it's 20 years later, and I'm still making music. And I was overwhelmed with gratitude, actually, at that thought and that people are still interested in what we do. And I'm very grateful for the way that people embraced that first album, because it's given us a career really.

You mentioned that you had thought about maybe doing some live shows tied in with the anniversary of it. And I know that the COVID situation is much different in Australia. But where is it at in Australia right now with live music? Is it at a complete standstill? Like it is here in the US? Or would you be able to conceivably do a smaller event?

I mean, Australia, obviously is geographically quite spread out. So there's been some areas like Sydney I think for the last month or so, they've been able to do some smaller venues like had half capacity and stuff like that. I think in Melbourne, where I am, they're talking about in March, some outdoor shows at sort of half capacity. But look, it doesn't look great, to be honest. And that's tough. Because musicians, you know, in Australia and all over the world, my musician, friends, no matter where they are struggling, you know, it's like it feels like it'd be one of the last industries to return. And, we've all just got our fingers crossed, and we're waiting to see when we can play again.

One of the questions that we've been asking musicians as we check in with them during these virtual sessions that we do is sort of on a personal level, Robbie, how are you? How are you holding up lately? Over the last several months, as you mentioned, it's been a very difficult time for for musicians and everybody in general, but how are you? How are you doing at the moment?

I'm doing really well. I'm doing really well. I mean, I'm I think I'm very lucky. I have wonderful friends in my life obviously my partner in The Avalanches Tony is a very dear friend of mine. So we have each other and just a lovely support network of people around us so, I'm doing really well. Even though Melbourne had--I think it was like over 200 days of really harsh lockdown and curfews. You could only get out of your apartment for an hour a day. Somehow we got through and for me I think gratitude has been a big part of it. Just still no matter even if I was struggling on any given day just trying to remember how lucky I am to be here. And you know, the people I have in my life.

We are chatting with Robbie from The Avalanches the new album is We Will Always Love You. One of the big motifs it seems with the album is the the golden record that went out with the Voyager space craft. And Robbie, I'm curious if you are as I was like, as a kid. Notably, I was really fascinated with the idea of the Voyager spacecraft, I would find like all the documentaries that I could to watch about it, did you grow up similarly, like with an interest in like the really science aspect of you know, the cosmos?

I did. I definitely did. That was me as a kid. And then something happened when I was like, say 13...14 and I became actually like, actually interested in becoming a musician. And I started you know, taking drugs and I kind of forgot about all that sciency stuff that had interest me when I was younger, but it's funny how things come full circle.

This time around with the new album--about what percentage of the people that you collaborated with--how many made it onto the final product of the album? Like I'm thinking back to Wildflower, I was disappointed at the time that Jens Lekman didn't make it onto the album. So what did the percentage look like this time around?

Um, most people that we worked with made it. We made it a much shorter period of time. Yeah, there was like less exploration, I guess, we would have a very solid idea. And we would go through and execute it. There's one in particular, which was with Alexis from Hot Chip that didn't quite get finished in time that I'm really kind of bummed about, but I just got an email from him this morning. Hopefully we'll finish that song out quite soon. So that that's one noticeable one that stands out to me that we need to finish.

Robbie, when you were enlisting all of your friends to help out with the new Avalanches album, were you largely able to complete it before things, as you said, went into the pretty stringent lockdown? Or did you have to resort to you know, like we're doing right now--virtual communication?

It was mostly done, and it was due to come out in May. And then COVID was hitting there was--Australia was going to very, very hard lockdowns, and the album got pushed back to December, obviously. So it's just coming out now. Probably the last month or so it was very, very difficult to finish it and mastering an album remotely was very difficult. Mixing it was very difficult. And the last few collaborations were done remotely. And it wasn't easy to wrap it up. But we got there in the end.

So Robbie, as you're going through and you're putting together various samples on an album, do you think of these samples as maybe a film director would? Like maybe a film director has in the back of my mind, like, "Okay, I've got to use this particular song for a scene in a film someday," are there or were there any instances of this where you had something that--it's always been in the back of your head, and you were finally able to use it on the album?

Not so much with this album, because we just--I mean, that's how we worked previously. We had huge catalogue of samples that maybe we should always use one day. But with this album, we really wanted a fresh sound and a new start. So we we very deliberately didn't bring any old material from the past. And we just everything we did was written quite quickly. And with samples we found just with this project in mind, but I did feel like I was making movie a lot of the time because there's a lot of collaborators involved. There was constant communication back and forth. And I think I spent 50% of his time on this record making music and 50% of the time on email. You know, it was like corresponding with people working on lyrics, organizing different takes different studios, all that kind of thing. It was a different creative experience for me--profoundly different--but I really enjoyed it.

One song that we've enjoyed playing on The Current over the last couple of months is Running Red Lights. That was one of the first tastes of the the new material that we got. And there's a lot of interesting elements to the tune, whether it's the guest vocals or the fact that it utilizes the lyrics of the late David Berman--one of the Purple Mountains tune, can you dive in a little bit to the relationship that you had with David, and the way that you were able to pay tribute to him on this particular song?

I should say I never met David but we we corresponded a lot during the period of making the Wildflower record and the track we made for that which was called "Sunday Night Inside Out," which is like one of my favorite things we've ever done. And David's book, Actual Air was very, very important to me as well as his music. So that was a really incredible experience for me and David helped me a lot personally. And then for this album, he got to hear Running Red Lights, he knew that we were going to use some of his lyrics and he shared some with me before the Purple Mountains record was released. And some of them really felt particularly important for the song we're working on. So I'm really glad he got to hear it before he passed.

We are chatting with Robbie from The Avalanches want to give a congratulations again on the release of your third studio release. We Will Always Love You--looking forward to taking the interstellar journey with you. Robbie, thank you for taking the time out of your day. Best wishes. Say hello to Tony as well and I will look forward to diving into the album. Thank you very much for joining us.

Thanks so much Mac lovely to chat.

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