We Spoke to the Now-Grown
Up 12-Year-Old The Avalanches
Sampled on Their New Song — Thump
The internet has been abuzz with the return of The Avalanches, as the sample-obsessed Australian group is set to follow up their critically adored 2000 LP Since I Left You with a new album next month, entitled Wildflower. After sharing a new MF Doom and Danny Brown-featuring song "Frankie Sinatra" last week, footage has surfaced of them playing a new song "Subways" at Barcelona's Primavera Sound festival on Friday night, after teasing the track in late May via a call-in hotline.
Upon hearing this new Avalanches tune, we did some digging and learned that the track's sampled vocal is from a song of the same name on a cult no wave/post punk EP called Transportation. Aside from being a fascinatingly obscure record in itself, that 1980 release is also intriguing because it is sung by a 12-year-old: Chandra Oppenheim, daughter of the conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim. Transportation was reissued in 2014 by Cantor Records and Rain Boots records, and the artist is still working today, having released a new record called A Slightly Better Idea in 2015.
We know that it's odd to hear recordings of ourselves speaking, but we had literally no idea what it would be like to hear our 12-year-old selves remixed by an acclaimed electronic band. Luckily for us, Oppenheim was kind enough to talk to us over the phone from her home in Maine and tell us exactly what it was like.
THUMP: Did they get your permission to sample that track?
Chandra Oppenheim: Oh yeah, yes they did. I was really excited to get the news. Anytime anyone is interested in that record, I feel very happy and grateful. And because it was The Avalanches, too, it was really cool.
So you're a fan of their work?
Actually I hadn't heard of them, but since I heard about them, I am now a fan. They approached me about two and a half years ago, roughly, and since then I've been getting to know their music.
Do you think their version of "Subways" is a good song?
I really like it. I'm probably a bit biased, but I can't stop singing it. I'm singing their version of "Subways," not mine. [Laughs]
What was it like to have this recording as a memory of your younger self injected into the present?
I'm still trying to figure it out. I feel like I have to ask some friends of mine which philosophers I should be reading, because I can't quite make sense of it. It's very strange. I'm having a kind of emotional reaction to it too. I can't articulate it yet because it's all new, but there's something very deep about it and it has something to do with basically your whole life and being. From a very young age you know who you are, and what you want to do and be, and what's important to you, and then spending your lifetime, over three decades, striving, trying to get this thing, and it's just not happening, and then coming to terms with that... and then boom, out of the blue, there it is.
What's the thing you're striving for?
I think it has to do with connecting with people through music and reaching people. To see all of those heads in Barcelona, hearing this, taking that in, that voice, my voice from when I was ten years old, coming through those speakers... I feel like, "Yeah! That's what I wanted. That's what I was after." I feel almost like a sense of relief.
How does it feel to be a sample?
Transportation has had its own life, on a very small scale. I feel like being a sample is gonna give it this other life that's gonna propel it beyond where it ever could travel before.