INTERVIEW: Dave Baxter Of Avalanche City Talks About New Album
New Zealand's Avalanche City is described as “the brainchild of Dave Baxter”, and that is precisely what it is. The story of Avalanche City is impressive and rare. Dave Baxter recorded his recently released album, "Our New Life Above The Ground," using a true guerilla DIY approach. For those who are unfamiliar with the DIY approach, it essentially means what it stands for (Do It Yourself). Baxter writes all the songs, produces, records, and plays every instrument on the album. The outcome is a unique and raw folk-like sound that is heart-warming and high-spirited.
The EP Love, Love, Love was released to the U.S. on March 20th. After its release in New Zealand, the song “shot to number one on the New Zealand singles chart, becoming the fastest selling debut #1 for a NZ group in the digital era“. "Our New Life Above The Ground" has since reached #4 on the national album chart.
Avalanche City is currently on a sold out tour with FUN. Dave Baxter took some time before his show at the Glass House in Pomona to talk about his album.
NT: You recorded your album, “Our New Life Above The Ground” with a true guerilla DIY approach. Can you explain that process and your motivation for recording it in that way?
Well, I worked as a recording engineer for a lot of years, so I had that kind of background anyway. I used to write music for live TV and short films, so when I do that, I record myself and play the instruments as well. So, I had that background and I kind of wanted to make an album that way and just do it myself. I didn’t really have money at the time either and it was just kind of like a labor of love. The process was I basically hired out a little country hole [Kourawhero Hall] in New Zealand, moved in for a week, and did it there. It was just a nice and interesting way of recording.
NT: Did you set that one week time period for yourself?
Yeah, well they have a farmer’s meeting every afternoon in the hole that I was recording at, so I moved in Friday night and recorded there, and I had to get out of there by Friday morning before the farmers had their meeting.
NT: How did you feel working under that time pressure?
I like a little time pressure—the right kind of time pressure. It was nice, and I always had my home studio to fall back on, so it was good.
NT: Is there any other reason as to why you wanted to do this album all on your own and not have other people in on it?
Well, part of it was that I had been in bands my whole life and I just wanted to do something that was my own and something that was all kind of me, because when you’re in a band, you write a rough and every band member critiques it. I just wanted to do something that was mine and that I could control myself.
NT: Which new instruments did you learn to play for this album?
I learned a few; I didn’t really learn them very well. I played accordion on it and I kind of just learned the parts that I needed to play. I didn’t spend months becoming really good at it, I just spent a while learning the parts. I can pick an instrument up and learn to play it within a certain amount of time. I’m definitely not a master of all the instruments I played on the album.
NT: Now that you have other musicians playing live performances with you, does it change the sound of the original recording or how you envisioned certain songs?
Yeah, it has, but I like that. I like having the song and its recorded version and the song that is the live version. You can’t really make a song sound the same all the time. I like it when someone picks up the song and adds their own flavor to it.
NT: Did you have some songs that you had written before you started putting the album together?
The songs that are on the album are the first lyrical songs that I’ve written. I never used to sing before Avalanche City, and Avalanche City was my project where I taught myself how to sing and write lyrics. So those are my first songs.
NT: Your music is instrumentally experimental and it doesn’t sound like a lot of the music that is out right now. Do you identify your music with a certain genre?
I usually fumble when people ask me this question. My friends have described it as folk inspired pop music. I’m just trying to write catchy songs that I like and that are fun to record, fun to play, and that are interesting to me. That’s what Avalanche City really is to me—a musical project that I want to try new things with.
NT: Do you plan to record future albums using the DIY style?
I think so. That’s something that I really enjoy, and one of my passions is recording all the instruments and just having fun and going a little bit crazy with the recording. There are definitely other things that I’d like to include in the next album; I might get someone to play the violin. In terms of the nuts and bolts of the song, I’d like to record it myself.
NT: You initially put Our New Life Above The Ground for free download on your website. What was your reasoning behind this?
I kind of always had this theory that you have so much more fun and make a little more money if you put it up for free than if you try to sell it. New Zealand has a really small market and it is so far away from the rest of the world. At that time, I was playing shows in New Zealand and there were probably about 30-40 people at each show. Avalanche City wasn’t really known, so if I had recorded the album and then sold it, I would have sold maybe 300 copies at the most. I felt like I just worked on my album way too hard to only sell it to 300 people, so I thought if I give it away online, it will reach an international audience and it will spread faster and reach more people. That was theory. And it worked.
NT: What are your plans after your tour with FUN?
After that, we fly back to New Zealand and we’re there for a couple of weeks and then we go to the UK for a couple of weeks and then back to America.
Dave Baxter is an incredibly interesting and humble musician. Avalanche City has two upcoming shows in San Francisco with FUN, and their last show of the tour will be in Salt Lake City on the 31st.