The Avalanches

Worth Every Second

Mar 03, 2017 Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
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Though the Guinness Book of World Records doesn't award a designation for "Most Time Spent Continuously Working on One Album," The Avalanches would have to be strong contenders if such a category were created. Sixteen yearsthat's how much time passed between the release of 2000's genre-defining Since I Left You and 2016's Wildflower. There were false starts and head fakes-a 2008 announcement of an imminent release, rumors of a finished album in 2011but the band was never actually close to their sophomore release at any point in that timeline. By the time they finished, the Australian knob-twiddlers had outlived their label (Modular) and most of the original lineup had defected to other projects, leaving only founding members Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi. It was only when the band had a hard deadlinea flight to New York City for a mastering session with award-winning mastering engineer Joe LaPorta that Chater couldn't missthat they finished. Even then, they were revising until the last possible minute.

"I'm not joking. At 6:00 in the morning, we were like, 'Well, that has to be it,'" Di Blasi says. "And that was when the record was over. So in all these years, we were still tweaking until he had to get on a plane to go master. We were so tired by that time in the morning. We looked at each other like, 'We just finished. We should be really excited.' But we were like, 'Ugh...okay. See ya.' No big victory. No big high-five. It was just destined to go down that way, I guess. We could have tweaked for years. We could still be doing it now."

Ask Di Blasi why it took so long, and he admits that at some point he and Chater became their own worst enemies, their anxiety increasing as they puzzled over endless edits. The problem wasn't that they didn't know what they wanted and spent years searching for it. The problem was they knew exactly what they wanted and were unwilling to settle for anything less. Their vision was cinematic in scope. They wanted to create the sonic equivalent of a day spent in a noisy and crowded urban landscape, followed by a road-trip to the country before sunset. The sounda dizzying mix of hip-hop and psychedeliawould be unprecedented and painstakingly meticulous. But did the album really need close to 16 years of obsessive attention to get there?

"I think it did," Di Blasi says with a laugh. "It definitely needed a lot of time in just the layering and complexity of it. If you looked at these ProTools sessions, there are hundreds and hundreds of tracks. There are little things that you don't even know are doing something. You can't tell, but if you took it out it would sound different. So in the 16 years, there was a lot of technical stuff that needed to be done. There was a lot of searching and sampling that had to be done. There was a soul-searching that needed to be done, personally. And there were a lot of fears to get over at the end. I know it sounds crazy to put that much time into a record, but that was just the way it had to be."

The one benefit of working 16 years on an album is that Chater and Di Blasi nearly have a second album of unreleased material that didn't make the final cut, not because of any deficiency beyond not fitting in the overall flow of the final release. Those tracks (some featuring Jens Lekman, Empire of the Sun's Luke Steele, and Connan Mockasin), DiBlasi says, could be issued as a 10-song EP or, if they're feeling particularly generous, as free downloads. Either way, The Avalanches are eager to get back to the studio to work on album number three.

"It will be different from this one," Di Blasi promises. "I don't know if there's a category for psychedelic R&B, but we're just starting to tinker. Maybe a month ago, we were like, 'Why don't we just put out a third record with all of the old stuff?' But then we were having a chat about what we think we can do, and we were like, 'Let's do something new. I don't want to go back to the old stuff.' We're really psyched to pump something out real quickly," he says before a dramatic pause. "I don't want it to be another 16 years."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online.]

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