Australian keyboardist-producer Robbie Chater was surprised and honored by the top-flight guest artists who happily agreed to record cameos when they heard his legendary electronic duo The Avalanches was making its third record, the 25-track “We Will Always Love You.”
With Tricky, Karen O, Perry Farrell, Blood Orange, Leon Bridges, Jamie XX, Neneh Cherry and Rivers Cuomo among those who signed up, Chater flew from his native Melbourne to Los Angeles in 2019 to work with many of them in person.
The group’s landmark 2000 debut “Since I Left You” acquired an almost mythological status over two decades, thanks to its unusual construction via roughly 3,500 obscure vinyl samples pieced together in isolation.
“Part of the joy of making this record was just being in the studio with other real, live human beings, and not working with artists that we were sampling,” says Chater, 45. “I feel like I’m working with spirits and ghosts a lot of times when I’m sampling old music. But traveling the world and working with real, live musicians was a real kick, a change in lifestyle was just so invigorating.”
Given The Avalanches’ curious history, “We Will Always Love You,” released in December 2020, took many of its fans by surprise.
After winning four Grammy-equivalent ARIA Music Awards in 2001 for “Since” (and its scratchy but catchy hit single “Frontier Psychiatrist”), the band, originally a quartet, didn’t issue its sophomore disc “Wildflowers” — as the pared-down duo of Chater and bassist-keyboardist Tony Di Blasi — until 2016. Nobody was expecting a third effort so relatively soon.
To Chater — who also did bottle-battling stints in rehab during the interim — it made sense.
Once “Since I Left You” caught on in his homeland, it took another year to be licensed and reissued in Britain and then the U.S. So the band kept traveling the globe promoting through 2003 and into 2004.
“The longer we didn’t follow it up, the bigger it loomed in our minds, and the more people seemed to reflect on what a special record it was,” he says. “And I often wonder, would it have grown to such status if we’d followed it up 18 months later with another record? I guess we’ll never know.”
But time melted away, as founding vocalist Darren Seltmann left in 2006 to start a family, and a creative-block molehill morphed into a mountainous impasse. Seeking solace in vodka slowed Chater down further. He could not function under its influence.
Australia is saddled with a huge drinking culture, Chater explains, sometimes associated with violence. He started as a teen as a coping mechanism for extreme shyness and anxiety, and got sober for the first time at age 20.
“I was only able to make that first Avalanches record because I’d almost died from drinking already, and I was so young and happy to be alive that that album just came pouring out of me when I was 22, 23,” he says.
Twelve years of sobriety gave way to a few relapses, but he’s fine now, and back in touch with the original muses that inspired him to make music, like Mick Jones’ first post-Clash Big Audio Dynamite album that intrigued him as a kid. He’d never heard a group so cleverly employing samples before, and he was determined to master the technique himself.
Chater is still adjusting to the shock of having Jones appear on a bouncy new album cut called “We Go On.”
“Our manager contacted his manager, and Mick had heard of us, and I don’t know how,” he says. “But it just makes perfect sense that he ended up on one of our songs, because he’s part of our musical DNA already. And then our friend in Los Angeles, Cola Boyy, who is a young anarchist rebel himself, just seemed like the perfect match to be on that song.”
Other pairings felt equally logical, like New York art-rock duo MGMT and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr chiming in on the 1960s-breezy “The Divine Chord.”
That one was done long-distance, adds Chater, who awoke one morning to find Marr’s guitar parts — a dream request he never expected fulfilled — attached to a late-night overseas email. “I nearly f——— died. I couldn’t believe it,” he says.
Farrell hadn’t forgotten The Avalanches, either. He invited Chater over for a family dinner at his Santa Monica home, where they casually bounced ideas around for “Oh the Sunn!,” reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ uncharacteristic 1977 album “Love You.”
“I was just really moved by the generosity of all the people we worked with to really embrace this project and not just dial in some remote performance,” he says. “They actually fully involved themselves, and it was so very, very humbling.”