The Avalanches, the Australian electronic music duo of Tony Di Blasi and Robbie Chater, took the world by storm in 1997 with the release of their debut album, Since I Left You. Consisting of some 3000 samples and with hit singles such as “Frontier Psychiatrist”, it has become a classic album. They recently released a couple of new albums, Wildflower and We Will Always Love You. Ahead of their appearance at Heaps Good Festival, we chatted to Robbie about his musical inspirations.
I noticed on your Instagram page that you’d seen Cornelius play, and his style of music is not what I’d consider mainstream. How would you describe what music means?
Wow, that’s a big topic. I mean for John Cage it was silence. I’ve been recording a lot of nature, bird and insect sounds lately, and they sound very musical to me. People seems to be able to make records from noise and crackle and static and so on. It’s kind of anything and everything.
On your latest album We Will Always Love You, you collaborated with a lot of different artists. In my mind you created more of a pop record than you’d done before. How did the collaborations come about?
Initially, I think it was a desire to do something different to what we’d done before. For a long time, it was just Tony and I making the previous records, just us and dusty old records as sample sources. We really needed to change things up and we felt that we couldn’t do the same thing again. It’s a very intensive process. To get that new burst of energy, we wanted to be excited by something. Being able to travel and work with different people was freedom. We met such wonderful people and learnt a lot as well. Practically, that’s how the thinking came about.
Sometimes it was a case of people that we wanted to work with, or we had personal connections. Some were just fortuitous. Cornelius was in Los Angeles the day we recorded with him. It was my birthday, and we were in the studio with someone else. He just came in and we recorded with him. So, it’s random at times as well.
I was thinking about the concept of fame. With fame come opportunity and it seems like with this record you’ve really embraced that opportunity to work with other people.
Definitely. We worked with Johnny Marr who I’d grown up with The Smiths. There was Mick Jones who was with the Clash, but I loved Big Audio Dynamite records. It was an incredible experience. Then there are the voices like Terrence Trent Derby. It’s not lost to me how lucky we are.
Last time we spoke was after Zan Rowe had an “in conversation” with you after you played with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. That must have been an incredible experience.
It was. It was kind of nerve wracking too because that was the first and only time that we’d done it. It was such a treat, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the power of an orchestra either. We play at music festivals and on dance music stages and you think that’s sort of loud and powerful. An orchestra is a different kind of power, I think.
I also saw you perform at Falls Festival back in 2017, when you had a full gamut of people dancing on stage in outrageous costumes. This was totally different to what I was expecting at the time.
I think I missed that show. I hope it was good…
So, leading into the upcoming Heaps Good Festival, what do you have planned for that?
It’s our live, electronic show, and part of the planning is what we should include. How much new stuff to include and if we should include some songs that haven’t been released yet. We’re really excited to do it, because it’s been a little while now. We did a lot of touring after We Will Always Love You. There was of course a pause over the pandemic, but once we got going, we toured a lot. It’s been a break now, so we’re excited.
Which do you prefer? Playing live or recording?
They both have their own place. Recording is a long process, with a lot of hard work, with those tiny moments when things click. When something new is being born, that feels special. That’s an incredible experience, but that’s just two percent of the process. Whereas live is like a fantastic hour. Often, you’re in a new city, meeting new people, it’s a real treat. The whole thing is a wonderful experience.
Do you get much of a chance to check out other bands at festivals?
Often you don’t, especially if it’s part of a tour or in Europe, for example, you might be out and onto the next city the next day. Part of the reason I’m excited for Heaps Good is that we’ll be there for the whole day. I haven’t seen Basement Jaxx play for so long, so I’m so excited. I’m also excited to see Flume. I’ve seen part of his show once, so I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing.
Yes, he really does command the room. Foals and SBTRKT are another couple of great performers.
I’m really looking forward to seeing them too.
What are some of the strangest places that your music has reached?
All over, really. Music travels anywhere now, and sometimes the label will give you Spotify stats broken down by country, and it might be somewhere like Russia. It’s quite mind-blowing. The personal stories, no matter where they’re from, like you’ll meet people who fell in love to our song, or the song was played at their wedding. That kind of thing is always special. Or you can see a group of friends in the crowd, and you can tell when a certain song comes on that it’s their song that they’ve been waiting for. That stuff is mind-blowing.
When a musician gets that sort of feedback from the crowd, that must be an incredible feeling.
How much the audience contributes, is 100% of the energy of the show. We just feel like we’re just providing the soundtrack.
What music do you listen to for relaxation or whatever? I imagine it’s quite eclectic.
It is and it’s always changing. Often, I’m just trying to catch up on stuff. If I’m DJing it’s important to me to be playing new music all the time. That’s almost a full-time job in itself. I have favorite records that mean a lot to me, but more and more I’m going through phases of discovery. It’s incredible how there’s always new music to be found even if it’s old.
On your album, “Song for Barbara Payton” is one that really captures the era.
The way that the sampling plays into that. They’re our memories or something, I don’t know. When you’re sampling, everyone knows that it’s an old recording.
What opportunities do you think that you’ve had being apart of the Avalanches that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?
Travel is a big one for me. I don’t think I’d even would have been able to travel around Australia as much as we have. That’s the thing that stands out to me, being able to see so much of the world. I’m so grateful for the freedom to be able to travel. Also, the wonderful people I’ve been able to meet. Being able to form friendships, through music, with other musicians and artists around the world. It’s such a gift.
Heaps Good is back, heaps bigger, and living up to its name with a line-up that’s set to bring the party to Melbourne and Adelaide over the 2023/2024 New Year period.
HEAPS GOOD 2023/2024
Sunday 31 December 2023 – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, VIC
Saturday 06 January 2024 – Adelaide Showground, SA