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Interview: The Avalanches Talk Artistic Freedom, Long Waits And Sample Culture

Interview: The Avalanches Talk Artistic Freedom, Long Waits And Sample Culture

Fluffy / Thursday 1st March, 2018 1:30PM

Australian sample maestros The Avalanches have been captivating the minds of listeners with their surreal, psychedelic take on hip hop since their 2000 debut Since I Left You. The mystique surrounding the duo of Toni De Blasi and Robbie Chater multiplied exponentially over the sixteen-year wait for their sophomore offering Wildflower and this weekend New Zealand audiences will finally be able to witness the stirring spectacle of their tantalising tunes live at Auckland City Limits 2018. In anticipation of the huge day, we sent our resident sample-hoarder Fluffy to chat with founding member Toni Di Blasi about the current state of electronic composition, turntable wizardry, and the sonic earthquake which kicked off The Avalanches...

There was a few years in between 
Since I Left You and Wildflower. What do you suppose caused that, were you working on other things in between?

We did have a couple of things. We did a couple of songs for King Kong and a couple of shows and stuff. But it was mainly working on the record. I guess it just took many different directions until we stumbled upon what would become Wildflower. As time went on, the pressure kind of built which made us a bit more interested. We decided “oh shit, this better be good.” That made us a little more sensitive about what we were doing. By the end we had to come to that point, a point of letting go. It almost seemed a bit like a reverse Stockholm [syndrome] situation where we’d been doing it for so long, like sixteen years. We’re strange, it’s kind of hard to make sense, I’m sure to a lot of people but we definitely got there in the end. We beat Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy, I think we outdid them as far as years.

Have you got a working title for the 2032 release then?

We do at the moment but we’re thinking we might try and have it out next year…

Wow, that’d be quite a turnaround!

We’re well into writing at the moment, it’s coming along really nicely. After last time there was a bit of pressure and a bit of a weight and that’s all been lifted now and there’s just a freedom associated with making music instead of this high pressure situation. It all just feels really nice to make music again, like when you started doing it in the first place. 

I find that when you take that big breath out it’s good for the creative mind.

Oh absolutely. I think with the record taking so long it grew this massive aura around it for being a great record and as time went on it developed even more and more. It pissed me off a bit but it’s fine. I think the music will reflect that, being a bit more upbeat and happy.

How do you feel about sampling culture these days? Do you think its still the subversive act of burrowing into obscurity that it once was, or do you feel it’s more of a smash-and-grab and pay the licensing fees type situation?

I think now its definitely just smash and grab, take what ever you want. I think there might have been a culture of trying to find obscure samples that you can make your own and that’s something people wouldn’t have heard of before. I mean even with Kanye doing Daft Punk's ‘Harder, Faster, Better…' it used to be really hard, I just don't think they got hold of people. The culture now has changed so much that its like a new revenue stream for all these old artists so everyone’s open to it now, everyone’ll all clear everything. Yeah its just a different world out there now then when we started playing.

I have a friend who is far more learned in the realms of turntablism then myself and he was convinced that your classic tune ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ was created live from a movie record soundtrack, with all the samples being expertly executed in quick succession from wax. Is that true?

No, no way! It was actually built like all the records are, with every single phrase scratched in, but not a live thing. I think even when we had [turntablist] Dexter [Fabay] in the band and we tried to perform that live we had to bring in some stuff off tape so he could just do every second one. It would be pretty much, physically impossible to do that, even for the greatest, its impossible. It’s a great story and it’s great that you thought that could have happened but no, it didn’t.

Well thanks for clearing that up, that’s won me some beer money out of the bet.


I understand there was a documentary going around about you guys back in the day that you guys weren’t so stoked on being out there in the world. Why was that?

Yeah, it was on the ABC a little while ago. I’m not 100% sure. I guess in this era with the internet, everything you do as a young band is documented… I actually haven’t watched it haha. I don’t know why we wouldn’t wanna watch it other then the fact were just young... Im pretty sure at the time I actually didn’t want to be in it, so I had some foresight. I think that I predicted the age of the internet and these things coming out. 

You and your bandmate Robbie Chater first started making tunes together in a noise group called Alarm 115 back in 1994...

Yeah, I think I was playing bass and singing at that point, which, if you heard me sing… We actually started that band with Darren Seltmann, who was one of the original members of The Avalanches too. So we did that for a couple of years, mainly just in our lounge room in North Carlton with shitty amps and shitty op shop guitars. That was heaps of fun actually.

Solid! I managed to track down one of your old tunes and it sounded a bit like Pavement. Were they ever an influence for you?

Oh massive, massive influence. We just used to love them so much. Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Even though I eventually ventured on to hip hop and electronic dance music, we always loved guitar bands – My Bloody Valentine and Pavement… the sound was such a glorious mess. It just sounded so crazy... [It was] a bit of a riot but it did have some absolute magic about it.

Your nickname back in those days was Tony Pepperoni. Were you a bit of a pizza fiend?

Hahahaha! I actually had a stint of DJing in the mid 2000s which I don’t remember too much of [lowers voice] I was completely cut… [both crack up] and for some reason a friend came up with that name for me and I was like “oh well, that’s my DJ name now.” That brings back good, er, wobbly memories. 

You can catch The Avalanches at Auckland City Limits 2018 this Saturday 3rd March.


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