“We were on a bit of a cosmic trip”: The Avalanches go interstellar with their new record

“We were on a bit of a cosmic trip”: The Avalanches go interstellar with their new record

Photo by Grant Spanier
Words by Kate Streader

When Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi encountered the tale of Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan and the Golden Record, they were already midway through making their third album, We Will Always Love You.

As the story goes, in 1977 NASA and a committee helmed by Sagan and Druyan set about collecting ‘Murmurs of Earth’, a compilation of different languages, animal calls, music and other earthly sounds, creating a sonic snapshot of our planet to be blasted into the cosmos on the Voyager space craft.

“It’s like a mixtape of planet earth,” explains Chater. “They were asked to think, ‘Well what sounds of planet earth would you put on this record in case it was ever found by intelligent life?’

“Say we’d become extinct and planet earth was no more, they would at least know what we were like.”

“Have a record, pardon the pun,” interjects Di Blasi with a grin.

During the course of the project, Sagan and Druyan fell in love and the day before she was to have her brainwaves and heartbeat scanned for the record, Sagan proposed.

“She’d realised that the sound of the heartbeat and brainwaves of a woman madly in love were going to be captured forever on this record and floating out there for all eternity. When I read that story, I was like, ‘That is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard’,” says Chater.

And so, the pair’s cosmic love story permeated We Will Always Love You and while Chater and Di Blasi’s plan to interview Druyan and use her voice as interludes throughout the record didn’t come to fruition, she did grant the duo permission to use her photo for the album’s cover.

In many ways, We Will Always Love You is The Avalanches’ own Golden Record, tracking their sonic DNA through an epic list of collaborators who have influenced their sound in some shape or form over the years while exploring love, human connection and our place in the universe.

From Mick Jones, who served as Chater’s introduction to sample-based music with Big Audio Dynamite, to the likes of Kurt Vile, Perry Farrell, Johnny Marr, Karen O and Blood Orange, each of the artists featured across the record’s 25 tracks are slices of The Avalanches’ history.

Approaching their musical heroes was a daunting task, Chater admits, and not everyone on their wish list grasped the concept of the record.

“We were on a bit of a cosmic trip, I guess. Some people were just like, ‘Look, maybe in the future we should work together but I don’t know what you’re talking about’,” he laughs.

“The people we ended up working with were really kind of the ones that said, ‘I know what you mean, I know what you mean’ and then retold that story from their own experience,” he adds.

Their most traditionally melodic record yet, compared to its sample-heavy predecessors Since I Left You and Wildflower, We Will Always Love You was like leaping into the unknown.

“To be completely honest, I don’t know if we had it in us to make another one like [our previous records] straight away,” says Chater.

“But also, say hypothetically we made a third album exactly the same as the first two, even if it was great, would people start to be like, ‘I know what I’m going to get from them’ and we’d start to become predictable?”

‘Predictable’ is far from the word you’d reach for when describing The Avalanches, especially after hearing Chater reveal he sold his entire record collection on the back of releasing Wildflower. 

While the estimated 3,000-plus samples which shaped Since I Left You were plucked from $2 records a young Chater and Di Blasi had harvested from “junk stores”, come Wildflower the pair had created a library containing thousands of samples stored on hard drives and archives of vinyl.

“It almost became this over-analysed, over-processed way to do things,” says Di Blasi. “The creative spark of just getting one record and being like, ‘Ah, okay’ and just making a song with that was lost during those years.”

“Now it’s just back to being in the moment and just letting inspiration strike when it will,” says Chater. “It’s been a great process of getting back to being  in flow mode, turning off the intellectual side of our brains and just operating from the heart.”

With Since I Left You celebrating its 20th-anniversary last week, it feels like a full-circle moment to be releasing a record which revisits the wide-eyed excitement of simply playing with records and chasing spontaneous ideas to see where they lead.

The pressure they felt following up their extraordinary debut has dissipated and, two decades on, they can finally focus on creating music that brings them joy again.

“There was a definite expectation after Since I Left You. As the years grew on, I guess the aura of Since I Left You grew as well. We were like, ‘Oh man, we’ve really gotta back this up’. So the pressure did build as it went along, it grew in stature,” says Di Blasi.

“In part because we took so long,” adds Chater. “I wonder if we followed it up two years later if it would have been this legendary thing or not.”

” Maybe we were right in just waiting,” wonders Di Blasi.

“A good career move,” Chater chimes in. “We were playing the long, long game.”

We Will Always Love You is out today via Modular Recordings. Get a copy here

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