The Avalanches To Illuminate Adelaide

At the turn of the millennium, The Avalanches’ debut album Since I Left You set the precedent for dance music and inspired a generation of music makers to come. Meticulously crafted by combining over 3,500 vinyl samples to develop a unique sound, it was named one of the best albums of 2000 by critics around the world and later placed in the Top 10 of Pitchfork’s Top 200 Albums of the 2000s, as well as in the Top 20 of Rolling Stone’s Greatest EDM Albums of All Time.

Twenty one years after its release, Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi have teamed up with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Buc to bring this seminal album to life. Featuring live orchestral arrangements of iconic tracks like Frontier Psychiatrist, Since I Left You and Electricity, it’s a celebration of life, love and music. Hi Fi Way spoke to Tony Di Blasi about returning to perform in Adelaide as part of the incredible Illuminate Adelaide festival.

You must be feeling reinvigorated with a new album, the twentieth anniversary celebrations of Since I Left You and then on to Adelaide for Illuminate Adelaide?
Yeah, really excited thrown in there being able to play some live shows over the last couple of months which we haven’t been able to do over the last year. It feels like everything is picking up and starting to happen again. We’re really excited for Illuminate. I popped on their website and there looks like there’s going to be so many great things that are going to be happening during the festival.

You still must be really chuffed about how Since I Left You continues to be one of those defining albums that keeps connecting with new music fans?
It is incredible, sometimes we should pinch ourselves as this is the album that keeps on going. When you say your thirteen year old is in to it and he wasn’t born when it came out. We hear so many stories like that of people, even people’s parents who got them in to Since I Left You. It feels like this thing that keeps going through generations and never is getting old, it is quite remarkable.

Even back at that the time did you think you had something special that you were working on?
I think there were moments where we thought this was sounding pretty cool. It was hard to tell because it was quite different back then, especially, the internet was around but not the force it is today. We felt very much far away from everything in Australia. The scene was very rock ‘n roll back then in the late 90s and the early 2000s in Melbourne. We thought it was great but hard to know what other people think about that when you are immersed in a pub rock culture in Melbourne that is the dominant force. We thought it would be something good but twenty years on and to be still be talking about it I don’t think you could ever foresee it would have a legacy like that.

With a legacy like that did you ever think there would always be this pressure or expectation you had to live up with every new album or did you just roll with wherever the creative energy would take you?
Initially we started off without the pressure of Since I Left You when we started making Wildflower but we went down a few wrong paths. Then the shadow of Since I Left You started to loom as the years went by because people were saying five, six years down the track that this is a classic record now. We did take on that pressure internally most definitely and it did get to us at points in the sixteen years of making Wildflower. It wasn’t until we stopped trying to better Since I Left You and comparing it with Wildflower we were able to let that stand on its own two feet as its own thing that we were able to finish it and let it be, not having any comparisons to Since I Left You. It did get to us at a lot of points during the making of Wildflower.

Your new album We Will Always Love You is outstanding and you must be happy with that one?
At the end of making Wildflower we let go of all that pressure, let go of all the comparisons and all that kind of stuff. I felt that is where we started off with We Will Always Love You, we were like it’s just music, who cares, stop worrying about whether they’ll think it is good as that one, it’s all just meaningless stuff. The attitude with We Will Always Love You was like Since I Left You, happy to be alive and happy to be back in the music industry after being away for so long and being a functioning band. There was so much positivity and joy around that we almost came full circle being alive again and feeling that creative spark without over thinking it all too much.

How did you go about finding those artists to collaborate with because that is an impressive list of people? Did you have a whiteboard listing all the names of artists you want involved?
No we didn’t but we had to be fans of everyone we had on the record. What we do is have the basis of the track, Robbie and I would just loop it for twenty minutes and just think about which voice would really suit it that we liked. We thought we would go for whoever we can get and see what happens, see if they have heard of us, see if they’ll say yes. We didn’t have a whiteboard, often it was slipping in to someone’s DM’s in Instagram and saying hey would you like to work on a track and seeing what they say. Mostly it was a personalised approach to reaching out to these artists and not really going through too much management. It was a dream, working with some of these artists was a dream. We got to go to Perry Farrell’s house and hung out with him for the day in his home studio with his whole family, he was so warm and welcoming. We are big fans of Jane’s Addiction and everything he has done afterwards, kind of a legend and he is this nice humble guy. You have to pinch yourself and go wow, I’m in Perry Farrell’s house recording some vocals and they are feeding us ice cream, it was pretty surreal.

Was Rivers Cuomo awesome to work with as well?
He was great and he was one of the first ones we reached out to with Running Red Lights and he was so great to work with. He sent us back as soon as he heard the song three little lyric options. We asked to hear the melodies because he sent us back some notes. We could pick the best lyric but we wanted to know what the melodies are so he ended up singing all three of those over the song. He then said which one do you want? We said can we have all three! We ended up working all three of his lyrical and melodic ideas in to the song. They came out to Melbourne when they were supporting the Foo Fighters doing a big stadium tour, we got to meet him which was really good. I spent a day trying to think of all the coolest places in Melbourne to take him, wow him, it was a rainy day in Melbourne and all he wanted us to do was meet in at the hotel, grab some umbrellas and go walking around the city. It was almost very poetic walking around rainy Melbourne stopping in Starbucks for an hour, kept chatting and dropped him off back at the hotel and that was it. No cool clubs, bars or anything, it was very wholesome and one of those you won’t forget. He was a real character.

In terms of the creative process do you have ideas that continually run rampant through your mind?
It is pretty good working with samples. All the songs we do start with samples and it is one of those things when you are in a shop and you hear this good song. I start thinking that would be a great sample and always wondering on to Shazam all the time wherever you are. In that your ear is always open to listening to wherever you are to that being a great start to a song. I’m always looking for samples…

Did it take a long time to work out creatively the direction you wanted to go on We Will Always Love You?
We wanted to have a bit of a theme worked out early on. The first time we thought about making the third record it was like, what do we do to make this not go sixteen years? One thing Robbie was keen on was creating some sort of theme to work around. With Wildflower we didn’t really have that until the end which probably let everything blow out a bit because we could lose focus to easily. We wanted to have a bit of a focus there so that we could have something to work around. We brought in a collaborator Andy Szekeres from Midnight Juggernauts who is supremely talented and he helped us immensely with a lot of the writing and everything. Just being able to work with these fantastic people likely Tricky and MGMT, it really came along a lot quicker than Wildflower did and that was our main goal.

Do those take much arranging to play live?
Yeah, we have deconstructed them a little bit because in the past, for the last twenty years when we played live we pretty much had the samples and then play a long to them with keyboards, bass, guitar and synths. We would have rappers, last time we had Eliza Wolfgramm singing the melodic lines. This time we would bring it back to the art of sampling and we would rearrange the songs a little bit so it was a bit more clubbier, dancier but still retaining the initial essence of what the song is about. It is the first time we had done a show like this and they all have gone really well. It’s the first time we have ever played for an hour and half to. It has been heaps of fun and we have played five shows so far. We can’t wait to do heaps more.

Working with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra does that add another of complexity with arranging the songs?
Oh, yes! That is like a whole different world and we are totally not used to that world. We are so excited to jump in to it and we have already started working with the conductor Nicholas Buc. He is sending us back what he is writing for the orchestra over the top of the samples of songs and everything. It is starting to sound so exciting, it is going to be huge being there. Orchestras have such a massive sound. Just by them getting a nice balance between the samples and the Orchestra is going to sound absolutely fantastic. We are so excited, it is like a dream! We have always talked about working with an orchestra and we are so lucky that we didn’t instigate it. The people from Illuminate said this is what we would like you to do and we were like you don’t need to twist our arms!

Is something you might do a live recording of?
Maybe! That is something that could be really cool. After we do this we’ll have all the notations for the orchestra so in our minds we could do one in New York and London. Once everything is written for the classical musician they should be able to get the score and play it quite easily. It would be nice to do this again in other cities around the world. We feel this could be a special and a really amazing experience that we would like to do again. We can’t wait for Adelaide and see how it all sounds.

You must be excited with what you are involved in on the Illuminate Adelaide program with Music & Art After Dark (MAAD), Luminary Artists In Residence on top of Since I Left You, Live with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and reconnect with Adelaidians?
It is, we feel really honoured as this is something for legendary bands to do. We don’t feel that way about ourselves, we are two dudes who are really normal. We are really chuffed, we have lots of gratitude when things like this happen and we don’t take things for granted. It really means a lot, we have put in a lot of work to make this amazing. The exhibition is going to be great, the DJ set and the party is going to be awesome. They are setting up a podium in the middle so the crowd will be all around. It won’t be a stage with the crowd in front of us, everyone will be connected on that night, we’re excited about every component of it. Just going on the website there is so much great stuff they are putting together for this festival that it could be something legendary like Mona in Tasmania. I feel this is the start of something great that they have created and I’m excited to be there.

Interview By Rob Lyon

For tickets and show info head to Illuminate Adelaide

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