Johnny Marr, Tricky, Jamie xx… The Avalanches talk nearly every guest artist on new album ‘We Will Always Love You’
Robbie Chater tells NME about the magical collaborations on their third album, out today
Not only did The Avalanches (and newly minted NME Australia cover stars) turn their third album, ‘We Will Always Love You’, around in record time, they made it with an astonishing number of collaborators.
For the new record, out today (December 11), Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi decided to break free from the plunderphonics mould and work with guests in studios wherever they could. “The human voice is still the most important instrument to us,” Chater tells NME.
- READ MORE: The Avalanches: “Now we’re just a regular band instead of the band who made an amazing debut”
Before we get to the big guests, Chater reveals the key players behind the scenes:
“Andrew Szekeres (Midnight Juggernauts) was our main collaborator and played synths and keys. He’s a dear friend. Tony and I never thought we would find another soul we could work with so closely. We made this record mostly all together, the three of us.”
Another key contributor was Solange and Frank Ocean collaborator John Carroll Kirby, who “played beautiful, treated piano on ‘Take Care In Your Dreaming’ and ‘Always Black’,” Chater says. “I met him in LA, and he became a big part of the album.”
Other major collaborators were Kelly Moran and Cornelius – and though he’s not discussed below, Chater lets slip to NME that Tom Rowlands of the Chemical Brothers “did some synth work on ‘Oh The Sunn!’”
How did The Avalanches end up putting Johnny Marr, Sampa The Great, Mick Jones, Tricky and many more all on one album? Find out below.
Orono Noguchi (Superorganism) on ‘Ghost Story’
“Orono sent us an amazing phone recording from when she was about 14 – a really embarrassing message she left on her boyfriend’s answering machine asking him not to break up with her – and said we could use it if we wanted.”
Blood Orange on ‘We Will Always Love You’
“We love Dev [Hynes] and we sent it to him and he wrote back, ‘This is beautiful, I just love the sample.’ He recorded it over the top of the MP3 and it was really distorted so we couldn’t mix the track with it… but we loved it. He came back with lines like ‘Draped in monotony / What’s my life gotten me?’
“Then for about a year we couldn’t get in contact with him. We’d hear ‘Yeah, it’s coming,’ then it wouldn’t come. How we gonna do this? He wasn’t being nasty, he was just off doing his own thing, a film soundtrack. He’s on his own path. He sent it through rrrright at the end.”
Andrew VanWyngarden (MGMT) on ‘The Divine Chord’
“Andrew lives in New York and he happened to be in LA visiting Ben [Goldwasser, also of MGMT] because they were writing. In the studio those two have a beautiful energy like us. Andrew was just getting over a break-up; he was getting back onto the scene. That sense of loss is captured in the song.”
Johnny Marr (The Smiths) on ‘The Divine Chord’
“We saw Johnny Marr backstage at Fuji Rock Festival and we wanted to ask him to play on something, and we just talked about it for about 15 minutes, and we’re just like, ‘Nah, nah, I can’t do it, this is Johnny Marr, this is my whole teenage life!’ One of the best days of my life was when he emailed through and said, ‘The track is fucking amazing.’ And then I had his guitar parts in my computer. The 15-year-old me would not believe this! I sent Tony a picture of the files on my computer.”
Leon Bridges on ‘Interstellar Love’ and ‘Ghost Story Pt 2’
“He brought his close friend Austin, his writing partner, into the Sunset Sound studio. Prince had a basketball hoop put in outside when he worked there, we were saying ‘This is Prince’s hoop, man!’ Watching Leon at work was like watching someone get into a bath and acclimatise. He was relaxing into the song as it repeated and he just slowly, slowly started to sing and these lines after an hour.
“I told him the story about Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan and how her love-struck brain waves were sent out into space on the Voyager’s Golden Record. This song came out of that. With ‘Interstellar Love’, the hook was a little throwaway line. I said ‘What’s that? That should be the main bit.’ You build upon these ideas. He’s so humble, a good Southern boy.”
Sananda Maitreya (fka Terence Trent D’Arby) on ‘Reflecting Light’
“That’s one of the best voices in the world. Sananda wrote around the Vashti Bunyan sample. But it was really wordy when he sent it back, then Tony edited it down into this beautiful performance. Sananda was really good about it. We were a bit worried: ‘This guy’s a legend, how will he feel about this?’ But then he emailed recently and he wants to put ‘Reflecting Light’ on his record.”
Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction) on ‘Oh The Sunn!’
“Talk about fucking positive energy and life attracting life! He brought us into his LA home with his wife and kids sitting around the table, eating together and taking care of us. I’m looking at Tony: ‘Would you rather be doing this or spending another 15 years getting op shop records?’ [laughs]
“I was surprised how good his voice still is, it hit me when I was sitting there; he’s a soul singer, really. He went up to the toilet and we can hear him making up melodies for our songs. Is this really happening?”
- READ MORE: Order Now: The Avalanches on the cover of NME Australia’s November 2020 issue
Cola Boyy on ‘We Go On’
“We had two full-on weeks in an LA studio, we did a photoshoot, and it was our last day to record ‘We Go On’. And y’know, we were almost like, ‘Do we want to just get to the airport?’ We were tired.
“And then we met Cola Boyy and as soon as we met him we were awake again [pumps fist], we were refreshed! He’s just such an amazing dude, so smart and he’s very political too. He’s very passionate about his local community, about life, he’s an activist. He’s very outspoken – so I loved having him on the same record as Mick Jones.”
Mick Jones (The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite) on ‘We Go On’
“When I heard Big Audio Dynamite on the radio as a kid, I had that feeling ‘How did they do that? What is that?’ It was sampling. They had two big songs on the radio in Australia, ‘The Globe’ and ‘Rush’.”
Tricky on ‘Until Daylight Comes’ and ‘Take Care In Your Dreaming’
“Those records Tricky was on, ‘Maxinquaye’ and Massive Attack’s ‘Blue Lines’, were sample-based, and we were kids in our 20s listening to that. He was in Berlin making his new record ‘Fall To Pieces’ – which is amazing – and he emailed us back saying, ‘I’m on fire, perfect timing, I love you guys.’ It got to the point where we said, ‘We can’t have Tricky on everything!’ It was hard to make, actually. I had to go back and listen to all of Tricky’s records. ‘How loud does he have his voice in his record?’ He was a tricky guy to mix.”
Jamie xx on ‘Wherever You Go’
“I didn’t realise how much he loved The Avalanches until we were backstage when The xx played in Melbourne once, and Romy [Madley Croft of the xx] embarrassed him when she told us he’d always make them listen to ‘Since I Left You’.
“He was a great dude to send stuff for the album as we were trying to make songs. He called that song the banger. He’d say ‘Just send me the banger.’ The whole song was slow, he sped it up. He was like ‘Damn this BPM, man! It’s not gonna stand.’”
CLYPSO on ‘Wherever You Go’
“CLYPSO is from Sydney – what a bubbly, kind, energetic, fucking beautiful person. We made a new friend.”
Denzel Curry on ‘Take Care In Your Dreaming’
“I told him about my life, and he summarised it: ‘OK, it’s a journey from darkness to light [claps hands].’ I played the song over and over and over and he started writing [pretends to write on a notepad with an intense scowl]. And literally within 15 minutes, whole thing, done. The melody, rhythm, everything. Then he just hopped on the mic. Two takes, bang. You get goosebumps. I didn’t expect him to be so forthcoming with that emotional vulnerability, he’s only 25.”
Sampa The Great on ‘Take Care In Your Dreaming’
“There was a communication breakdown, she was meant to record it and we missed her. ‘Sorry guys, Sampa is India now,’ we were told. We were shattered, ‘Nooo!’ Then Sampa found a studio in India to record in and, maaan, I feel she was listening to Denzel’s rap because she steals the show; she doesn’t come in cold. Sampa is a powerhouse.”
Kurt Vile on ‘Gold Sky’
“It almost didn’t make the record even though we loved it. It was probably the last one we finished. When Kurt sent it through, he wasn’t singing. I wasn’t sure. I’d been up all night mixing. Tony came over and I played it to him, and he thought it was fucking amazing. We took a video of Tony saying ‘Fuck! This is the best thing I’ve ever heard!’ and sent it to Kurt and he was like [dazed and amused tone] ‘Oh thaaanks, man’.”
Rivers Cuomo on ‘Running Red Lights’
“Rivers is so funny. He has a spreadsheet of his best phrases he’s kicking around. His assistant sent it to us and said, ‘You can choose one’. We thought we’d get greedy. He can only say no. We chose three and he said ‘Okay’. It was the first vocal we got back for the album – that guy can write a hit. We heard ‘Running running red lights’ and automatically the hook was there. I can tell he loves Brian Wilson as much as we do. We both love that melancholy. People miss that about Rivers.”
Pink Siifu on ‘Running Red Lights’ and ‘Always Black’
“He appears elsewhere in fragments but we wanted him on ‘Always Black’ because of his lysergic, daydreamy, otherworldly records. The skittering drums were a sketch beat – ‘We’ll write this properly later’ – but it ended up staying.”
Kelly Moran on ‘Music is the Light’
“I’m a huge fan of her work. I was listening to Kelly Moran so much in the studio while writing. She’s on the Blood Orange track but not a lot because his voice was so full. I was like ‘Fuck! We’ve gotta get Kelly on somewhere else.’ It was perfect with Cornelius because she does the treated piano work.”
Cornelius on ‘Music is The Light’
“Cornelius wasn’t meant to be in Los Angeles. It was my birthday and he came down. There were all these musicians standing around and I was telling them how Keigo [Oyamada, aka Cornelius] is one of my heroes. It was one of those happy accidents.
“He started with [imitates sparse guitar note] ‘blomp-blomp… blomp blomp’ and it sounded really weird. ‘What’s he doing!?’ He kept building more guitar parts. He’s a very shy guy but confident in the studio. He kept telling the engineer to run it again. After three hours it was like an Escher painting. It started to make sense. ‘Oh, ohhh OHHHH!!’ That was incredible. At the start we were not sure then by the end, all nine people were in awe.”