The Avalanches collected thousands of samples over several years to establish the ecstatic eclectic electricity of this obsessively original olio of laid back dance grooves and freeflowing frontier psychiatry. Childhood friends Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater had been in Melbourne band Alarm 115 with Tony Di Blasi and Manabu Etoh before starting The Avalanches.
Seltmann says: "Robbie went to university as soon as he got out of high school and did a media arts degree that was based on film soundtracks and things like that. He ended up hijacking the soundtrack part because everybody wanted to make films and nobody cared about the soundtracks, so we were given free rein in the studio. They'd close doors at nine at night and reopen at nine in the morning — all the other hours we could have. That was sort of the blueprint for the way we worked from there — we've really closed everything off and become very isolated. It's something that we love too much to give up."
By the time their 'El Producto' EP was released in 1997 on Wondergram Records and distributed by Shock Records, work on their next project had already begun. 'Since I Left You' was recorded over eighteen months with Robbie Chater on mixing, production, Yamaha Promix 01 and Akai S2000 samplers; James Dela Cruz on turntables; Tony Di Blasi on keyboards (credited with "Halos and Heartstrings" in liner notes); Dexter Fabay on turntables (credited with "Animals and Westerns" in liner notes); Gordon McQuilten on pianos and percussion; and Darren Seltmann on mixing, production, brass band, vocals, Yamaha Promix 01 and Akai S2000 samplers. Bobbydazzler/Bobby Dazzler (aka Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann) were responsible for choir, chorus, guitar, design, and mixing. The sessions also included assistant engineers Chris Corby, Dave Davies, Matt Maddock, and Jimi Maroudas; with mastering by Mike Marsh; mixing by Richie Robinson and Tony Espie; vocals by Antoinette Halloran, Sally Russell, and the Saïan Supa Crew; and Pro Tools transfer and Macintosh overhauls by Chris Scallan.
Chater confesses: "Since I Left You was just an attempt to find our own little corner of the musical universe, a spot where we could just do our own thing rather than be in competition with anyone else. A lot of dance music at that time was about big drums, big production: think of a record like [the Chemical Brothers] 'Block Rockin' Beats', with those amazing drums, and how huge those records sounded. We thought, 'We're never gonna win a battle of beats with a record like that.' So instead we went, 'Why don't we try to make a record that was more '60s influence, with less bass, inspired by Phil Spector and the Beach Boys — but using dance music techniques? A light, FM-pop record?' ... Originally, we thought we'd make a love story. An international search for love from country to country. The idea of a guy following a girl around the world and always being one port behind. And that was just because we had all these records from all over the world, and we'd like to use all that stuff ... Luckily, there were so many $2 records in op shops around at the time that once you had a sampler you didn't need much money to have access to all these fantastic sounds. It seemed like such a fantastic way to create exciting sounds, and cheaply ... We were always just loading up our library of sounds and then often, in a particular song, you need to go find something to finish it ... I guess it took a few years just collecting stuff, and then a year and a half making the record. I don't know how we're expected to do all that in like eighteen months. I mean, a lot of it is just listening and sampling, then making the record ... We were really manipulating samples in a way that we could get whatever we needed. We'd just lay a whole bit of keyboard out, and if we needed the music to change key, we'd just do it."
Fabay: "We really just made the record for ourselves. There's so many samples on it because we never thought that anybody would even really hear it."
Chater considers: "Well, the record was finished and mixed, and then I guess publicists around in the UK started to get excited, and all of a sudden it's like, 'Okay, we've got to make a list of everything that's on the record and where we got it.' And we don't really know-- most of it's on unlabeled floppy disks. So we had to go through and find where everything was from ... We were really unorganised and were just sampling on the fly as tracks progressed. We had no idea the record would get such a wide-scale release so we saw no need to keep track of what we were using — we were definitely guilty of harbouring a 'No-one's going to listen to it anyway' sort of attitude. Plus that was in our days of getting kinda, um, lubricated so who the f**k knows. It's all kinda fuzzy! ... Modular was incredibly patient. Pav [Stephen Pavlovic] was gonna start the record label to do this one-off thing. He just believed in it. [Success] didn't seem to happen that quickly at the time, from what I remember. It built over a few months. CDs were getting passed around in England just as it was getting into summer over there, and it was a summery record, so that's when people started getting into it."
'Since I Left You' was an international underground sensation, receiving rave reviews and going to number seventy-nine in France, thirty-one on the US Top Heatseekers chart, twenty-one in Australia, twelve in Norway, ten on the US Top Electronic Albums chart, and number eight in the UK, At the Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards, The Avalanches won Breakthrough Artist – Album and Best Dance Release, Producer of the Year for Bobbydazzler, and Breakthrough Artist – Single for "Frontier Psychiatrist".
"Frontier Psychiatrist" charted at number forty-nine in Australia and eighteen in the UK. Chater: "I guess the last six months, once we had sort of finished the main part of recording, we went back and listened to what we had, and there's lots of great little moments that we thought maybe should be on there, and they ended up being bridges between the tracks, even if they weren't finished songs. "Frontier Psychiatrist" was a good example of something we didn't plan and just happened from us just fucking around...I guess we've had this idea for a long time of doing a one-off TV special, where we recreate a big part of the album and we have a soundstage with horses and birds in cages and the whole thing. And that's something we'd love to do, and that was an idea that we had, and the guys making the video just kind of took the idea and adapted it."
"Since I Left You" found its way to number ninety-seven in the Netherlands, sixty-seven in Australia, twenty-nine in Ireland, and sixteen in the UK. Chater: "The vocal came last and that's one of the moments we really succeeded in writing a pop song. And there are a couple of moments on the record where I feel like we weren't so successful, and it's more of just a groove with samples than a proper sample. Which is nothing new. "Since I Left You"-- it's all found sound, but there's so much of it, and the atmosphere is something that was predetermined by us."
Chater: "I think the song 'Electricity' was the first number which really came together for us and made it on the album. That came out on a one-off 12-inch maybe a year before Since. That was the first time we thought, "We're starting to find our own sound now." Once the record was finished we thought, "That song still sounds good," so we put it on there at the last minute. But it wasn't originally made as part of the record."
'Since I Left You'
1. "Since I Left You" Robbie Chater, Tony Di Blasi, Gordon McQuilten, Darren Seltmann, Edward Drennen, Jeanne Salo, Jimmy Webb 4:22
2. "Stay Another Season" Chater, Di Blasi, McQuilten, Seltmann, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Johnny Mandel, Curtis Hudson, Lisa Stevens 2:18
3. "Radio" Chater, Seltmann, Claude Cave 4:22
4. "Two Hearts in 3/4 Time" Chater, Di Blasi, McQuilten, Seltmann, John Cale, Marlena Shaw 3:23
5. "Avalanche Rock" Chater, Seltmann 0:22
6. "Flight Tonight" Chater, Seltmann, Henry Lawes, Billy Rowe, Paul Huston, David Jolicoeur, Vincent Mason, Kelvin Mercer, Lawrence Dermer, Hubert Roberts, Henry Stone, Freddy Stonewall 3:53
7. "Close to You" Chater, Seltmann, August Darnell, Ernest Isley, Marvin Isley, O'Kelly Isley, Jr., Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley, Christopher Jasper 3:54
8. "Diners Only" Chater, Seltmann, Saladine Wallace, Salahadeen Wilds, David Willis 1:35
9. "A Different Feeling" Raymond Evans, Jay Livingston 4:22
10. "Electricity" Chater, Seltmann, Willie Clarke, Clarence Reid 3:29
11. "Tonight" Chater, Seltmann, Donald Borzage, Johnny Mercer 2:20
12. "Pablo's Cruise" Chater, Seltmann 0:52
13. "Frontier Psychiatrist" Chater, Di Blasi, McQuilten, Seltmann, Dexter Fabay, Bert Kaempfert, Herbert Rehbein, Carl Sigman 4:47
14. "Etoh" Chater, Seltmann 5:02
15. "Summer Crane" Chater, Seltmann, Bobby Lee Trammell 4:39
16. "Little Journey" Chater, Seltmann, Hudson, Stevens, John Phillips 1:35
17. "Live at Dominoes" Chater, Seltmann, Frank Farian, Fred Jay, George Reyam 5:39
18. "Extra Kings" Chater, Seltmann, Trammell, Alan Osmond, Merrill Osmond, Wayne Osmond 3:46