Dave Baxter’s solo project turned band, Avalanche City, has not yet achieved widespread recognition in the U.S., but in his native New Zealand he has already topped charts. Baxter’s album, Our New Life Above The Ground, was originally available to download online for no cost. Expecting the album to be downloaded only a few hundred times, Baxter was pleasantly surprised to learn that more than 10,000 copies of his album had been downloaded. At that point, Baxter did the only sensible thing to do – he removed it from the web and began to sell it.
Avalanche City’s first single, Love Love Love – which you may have heard in the movie trailer for the newly released film Hope Springs – debuted at the top slot on the New Zealand charts, despite not receiving much airtime. The single went on to reach the top of the sales charts and airtime charts.
Love Love Love – Avalanche City
Salkeld: What inspired the name Avalanche City? Or more specifically, what prompted you to present yourself as the band, Avalanche City, as opposed to the musician, Dave Baxter?
Baxter: Well I mean, I’ve always been in bands and I still wasn’t that comfortable with the whole solo artist thing. And plus I’d feel really weird selling t-shirts with the name “Dave Baxter” on them.
Salkeld: You’ve named The Rocket Summer, an alt/pop rock band, as an inspiration to create an album entirely on your own. I also understand that you used to be a member of a hardcore band. How do alt/pop rock and hardcore influences translate into folk music?
Baxter: Well, it doesn’t, in musical sense [laughs]. I guess, when I was in a hardcore band, that’s not all that I used to listen to, obviously, but I kind of feel like Avalanche City had the same ethos, if you will, of hardcore bands. In my hardcore band the first CD we recorded we released it for free and sold it for $2 at shows. It was just all about trying to record songs for as cheap as possible so you could just let people have your music. And that’s when I started Avalanche City.
Salkeld: Nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell records because music can easily be pirated online. Did this knowledge factor into your decision to make your album available for free online months before releasing it commercially? Would you say that this decision contributed to the success of your album at home in New Zealand?
Baxter: Oh yeah! Definitely, definitely! I mean, the funny thing is that I actually had this theory that I kept on telling people that I’d make more money and have more fun by releasing it and giving it away for free than if I’d tried to sell it.
Salkeld: Well it worked!
Baxter: [laughs] Yeah well what happens is that in New Zealand, you’re a small band and New Zealand is so far away from the rest of the world that if I sold it all I’d ever reach were New Zealand people. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think it would have gone very far. I was playing shows to like, thirty or forty people, and I would have sold maybe 500 copies at most. So I just thought, let’s just record it and release it for free and see how it goes.
Salkeld: What has it been like playing alongside bands like Fun. and Walk Off The Earth?
Baxter: It’s been good, it’s been really cool. Great crowds and everything! [Walk Off The Earth] is like a YouTube sensation band, this is absolutely phenomenal that these guys can release a song on YouTube and do some crazy video and have this much success off of it. It’s amazing and so cool. That’s the cool thing about these days, the way that the internet and digital age is just breaking all the rules. This is breaking all the rules! And YouTube bands have such a vast audience, it just feels bigger.
Salkeld: How long have you been touring in the states for? What’s your best experience been so far?
Baxter: I haven’t been in the states for too long, but the Fun. tour was amazing. The best venue we played at was Salt Lake City. The crowd and audience were the best crowd.
Salkeld: In recent memory, many indie bands have found success recording songs centered around the theme of love lost, such as Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago.’ What inspired your more joyful album, and how do you think this has contributed to your success?
Baxter: [laughs] I actually hadn’t really thought about it! Now you’ve made me think I should keep my next album happy. I mean, I have tons of fun playing the music and I’d hate to play sad songs every night, it would make me depressed!
Salkeld: Explain the process of teaching yourself to sing and play the many instruments featured on your album.
Baxter: Teaching myself was a big deal, but I had a little bit of a leg up because I used to work in a recording studio and I would record a lot of vocalists. Over the years they’d kind of explain things to me, and by the end of my recording studio days I could kind of help people through the recording process, but me myself not being able to sing [laughs]. It was definitely a lot of hard work because your voice is a muscle, and you can actually train it but it just takes a lot of effort to get things working.
Salkeld: What made you decide to incorporate such unique instruments into your work? Not many artists can boast that their album features a glockenspiel, but you can!
Baxter: I love collecting instruments and I never really buy two of the same instrument, unless I absolutely need to, so I have tons of instruments and I love expanding and learning new things. I love organic sounds, it’s just fun! Just creating a soundscape and everything just using organic instruments.
Salkeld: We were talking about how this album is very upbeat and joyful, and your music videos seem to mimic this feeling. Who’s the mastermind behind your videos? Are they your ideas?
Baxter: It is, a little bit! For the first video, Love Love Love, I kind of had this crazy idea for penguins and pirates and I have this friend, Josh Smith, who’s an amazingly talented animator and he agreed to do the video for me. So I’d just come up with outlandish storylines and he’d cut bits out and hone it and get them in a clear direction. But there’s a new video for Sunset, and it’s really fun and it’s another one I had an idea for. I just wanted little kids to dress up with fake beards and hats, so I got in touch with a director and he said it’s cool and we just wrote a storyline about it.
Sunset – Avalanche City
Images courtesy of the band's management.