“We’d made two very sample-heavy records in a row,” Avalanches founding member Robbie Chater tells Apple Music. “We just felt very liberated to make a left turn and to go anywhere and do anything.” The Melbourne group’s third album is still rich with endless samples—the trademark that made them crate-digging heroes with their 2000 debut Since I Left You and 2016’s Wildflower—but this time their focus is more on live collaboration. Guest artists abound, including Jamie xx, Karen O, Rivers Cuomo, Perry Farrell, Denzel Curry, Sampa the Great, Leon Bridges, and Johnny Marr. Each was tasked with putting their slant on the big ideas characterizing the album: life, God, spirituality, the human voice, mortality.
The Avalanches also took inspiration from the Golden Record, a 1977 collection of music and terrestrial sounds compiled by astronomer-scientist Carl Sagan and writer-producer-director Ann Druyan (whose image is on the cover of this album) to be carried into space as part of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project. “It all came from a personal inward journey that expanded throughout the whole universe,” says keyboardist Tony Di Blasi on the chosen themes. “There’s a saying: ‘So within, so without.’ What is here is also out there. So it all expanded just from our own personal journeys.” For all its grand subject matter, however, We Will Always Love You is a warm, gentle listen, and The Avalanches’ most reflective work to date. “It’s a bit of a shining light in dark times,” says Di Blasi. “And that’s the mood we were trying to set, for it to be light.” Below, Di Blasi and Chater talk through 10 of the album’s 25 tracks.
We Will Always Love You (feat. Blood Orange) Robbie Chater: “That vocal sample by The Roches [‘Hammond Song’] is absolutely incredible. With Since I Left You, those samples were from junk-store records and were forgotten pieces of flotsam and jetsam that we would turn into something new. But The Roches’ song was already so beautiful. We were exploring different kinds of devotional music, gospel music and Christian music, and although that’s not what The Roches do, it has those massed voices of the sisters singing together. And we were reading about Ann Druyan’s story in compiling the Golden Record, and the way the sound of her heartbeat and brainwaves are the sound of a young woman in love and are captured on that record and are forever floating out there. And then you have these sisters singing ‘we will always love you’ and it’s like, you can build an album around that.”
The Divine Chord (feat. MGMT & Johnny Marr) RC: “I have a sneaking suspicion it’s about heartbreak from [MGMT vocalist] Andrew VanWyngarden’s point of view, although we’ve never spoken about it directly. I think I was just drawn to the very first line when he sings, ‘I still remember you.’ To me that said so much. Because sampling plays with time and remembering voices from the past, and when he sung that line I thought, ‘This is going to work.’ We were lucky enough Johnny Marr wanted to contribute. The Smiths are a huge part of my childhood and my youth. The day Johnny Marr’s guitar part came through with a note saying, ‘Guys, this is a brilliant track,’ it was just like, okay, I can die happy.”
Interstellar Love (feat. Leon Bridges) RC: “It came about through spending a lot of time in LA. Leon was there, I was there, and then we got to work at Sunset Sound studios in the same room Prince had recorded, so of course Leon and me were both freaking out about that. It was an incredible experience, and I’m just so grateful that people came to this record so open. They’re big themes, and I don’t think just anyone could have walked in and embraced that and tapped into something very personal and sincere in their own lives. It’s pretty incredible that people are prepared to be so intimate. The vocals definitely aren’t just dialed in and plonked on top of the track.”
Oh The Sunn! (feat. Perry Farrell) Tony Di Blasi: “That was one of those really surreal events where we’re in the taxi on the way to Perry Farrell’s house in Santa Monica and we get a text saying, ‘Do you guys like Indian food and is there anything you don’t eat?’ And we arrive and there’s Perry Farrell and just his look and his voice are so unique. It’s just one of those things where you’re like, ‘Wow, this is actually happening.’ Before we even started, we just sat there for an hour and got to know each other and ate this wonderful food and this amazing ice cream. And then we ended up going down to record the vocals, and he’s just so open and creative. He was making up lines as he was walking around the house and singing them out really loud and I was just sitting there and I looked at Robbie like, ‘That’s Perry Farrell up there making up these melodies to one of our songs, and we’re in his home.’ Moments like that hit you.”
We Go On (feat. Cola Boyy & Mick Jones) TDB: “It’s a bit of an oddball one. And the cast of characters in it is Karen Carpenter, Cola Boyy, and Mick Jones’ voices all together. It’s wild, but it’s also so beautiful, the way it’s sung. It’s hitting that spot between the happiness and the sadness, which is a beautiful feeling.” RC: “Even though it’s one of the least Avalanchesy-sounding ones, I just love it. It works on different levels. Karen’s voice is so beautiful and her story’s so sad and there’s all that history and meaning, and then there’s Mick Jones and Cola Boyy, who’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, and a great friend, a true anarchist, but it’s great the way it ties in around Karen’s voice. ‘We go on hurting each other’ says so much, especially the way the world is today. That line makes me quite sad.”
Take Care in Your Dreaming (Denzel Curry, Tricky & Sampa the Great) RC: “It’s kind of a melancholy song. Sometimes it sounds upbeat to me and sometimes it doesn’t. It was an incredible moment in the studio from Denzel Curry. We spoke quite deeply about my personal journey and what the song meant to me and unfulfilled dreams and a journey from darkness to light. And to see someone around strangers be open and vulnerable and really tell a story from the heart was really moving to watch him do that.” TDB: “And he just wrote that on the spot too. There are these moments where you go, ‘Wow, this guy from nothing has created that.’ And it wasn’t until quite later, when we really listened to the lyrics, that we realized how much he’d opened himself up in that song and talked about all these really personal, horrible things that had happened to him.”
Gold Sky (feat. Kurt Vile) RC: “Kurt is one in a million. I remember listening to some of his records back in dark times and they sort of got me through. I had a few paragraphs written down in an email about what this record is about, and some people would say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe we should work together in the future.’ But he was just one of those people who said, ‘I’ve got it,’ and then gave his own slant on it. It’s got this rambling preacher spoken-word vibe. I didn’t expect to get that back from him.” TDB: “I remember going over to Robbie’s place and he said, ‘I’ve got this vocal from Kurt Vile, let me know what you think of it,’ and he played it and I just remember going, ‘This is one of the best things I’ve ever heard.’ It sounded perfect from the get-go. I was so blown away and just said, ‘Play it again.’”
Dial D for Devotion (feat. Karen O) RC: “That was lovely. That was done remotely. They’re some of [late Silver Jews frontman] David Berman’s words. She was kind enough to go out on a limb with words that weren’t her own. It was lovely getting the recording back because it’s almost like I could hear someone doing the dishes in the background and then I could hear a dog barking outside. And not anyone could have done that.”
Running Red Lights (feat. Rivers Cuomo & Pink Siifu) TDB: “We got a spreadsheet, I think Rivers’ assistant had sent it, with three different lyrical ideas. And we were like, ‘We’d love to hear the melodies that go along with them,’ so he ended up singing all three melodies and was like, ‘Let us know which ones you want.’ And we said, ‘Can we have them all?’ We got to meet Rivers when he was in Australia; Weezer were playing with Foo Fighters. We were googling all these amazing bars to take him to, cool places Melbourne has to offer, and we had a list of things we were going to do with him. It ended up raining, so we just took some umbrellas out of the hotel he was staying in and all he wanted to do was walk around in the rain. And then we went to a Starbucks and drank coffee for an hour and walked back and that was it. And that ended up being heaps cooler than anything we could have planned.”
Wherever You Go (feat. Jamie xx, Neneh Cherry & CLYPSO) RC: “Our friend Jamie xx worked on that track with us, which was such a wonderful experience. We have a common love of working with samples, so it was a dream come true. I would send him lots and lots of demos for fun, and he used to call that track the banger; he was always like, ‘I love the banger. Send me the banger, I want to work on the banger.’ And he must have heard something in it, because it was quite slow before he got his hands on it. You can hear it speeding up as he’s trying to put some more energy into it. And of course working with CLYPSO from Sydney, it feels like we’ve made a great new friend.” TDB: “And of course there’s Neneh Cherry, who we met maybe six months before she recorded with us. It was backstage after her show, and there’s always lots of people there. We know what it’s like: Everyone’s trying to talk to you, and you can be like, ‘I just want to relax, I just played a show.’ But to everyone she was so welcoming and kind. They’re the type of people we want to work with.”