Kourawhero Hall sits hidden in the shadow of the Kaipara Flats and Dome Forest, tucked off an ambling string of wineries and scenic reserves winding up from Auckland City. Five years ago, Dave Baxter, a frustrated player-for-hire took to the wild, bedding down in the building to record what would become Our New Life Above the Ground.
The rest is neo-folklore. The album, with its ready-for-summer anthem Love, Love, Love propelled Baxter’s musical moniker Avalanche City into radio mainstay. While he spent two years travelling the world, Love, Love, Love was being awarded Song of the Year, and Most Performed Work back home in New Zealand.
Now, on the eve of his anticipated sophomore release, Baxter is pining for the wild places again.
“We Are For The Wild Places is about where we come alive, that spot in the middle of fear and uncertainty, determination and courage. It’s the moment when we struggle and we can see our own failure just behind us but we push on.” Explains the songwriter, “I think a lot of fulfillment in my life has come from overcoming obstacles and achieving things I wasn't sure I could. The wild places are where adventure happens.”
In a way, Baxter’s debut outing was a longing for adventure; by his own admission, a collection of pop tunes thrown to the wind to see what would stick. Settling into We Are For The Wild Places is the sound of an artist debriefing an accidental hit career.
“I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and I’ve spent a lot of time at home writing music and I feel like I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better for it.” Says Baxter, “When life is fast paced and you’re constantly in motion with a million things to do you don’t have the time to examine yourself. I’ve been pretty lucky because I had an intensely busy year or two and then an extended period of stillness that was great for just figuring out what I wanted to do. And it just confirmed that music for me is about having fun, it’s about experimenting and challenging myself.”
The songwriter spent unhurried months in his home studio, a leafy backyard room affectionately named The Treehouse. He surrounded himself with a cadre of old instruments and invented the familiar, yet evolved songs that would become We Are For The Wild Places.
Baxter cites eponymous track ‘Wild Places II’ as a favourite on the album; an inward, cathartic track: “‘Wild Places II’ is about challenging yourself to not walk down the popular path. Sometimes I think I write these songs to make sense of the difficult career I’ve chosen. To me it’s about getting my priorities right and to not worry about what other people think.”
Lead single ‘Inside Out’ is another favourite. It’s a plaintive ode to a friend’s broken relationship that builds from arpeggio guitars and ghostly atmospheres to orchestral brass motifs. Baxter inserts himself into heartbreak dialogue: “This is inside out, I want you here, but all we have is gone.” It was the final track to be included on the record – Baxter wrote it while the album was being finalised, holding up the final production in order to include it.
We Are For The Wild Places also saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Baxter to work with a childhood hero, former Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, who mixed the album. “He makes really musical decisions” enthuses Baxter, “He understands that music doesn’t have to be perfectly in time or perfectly in tune for it to be good. We have a very similar approach to music in that way. My studio is right next to a couple of big trees and sometimes the birds are loud and they get all through my recordings. There’s one track in particular where you can really hear them and he loved it. He understood that it’s these happy little accidents that give recordings uniqueness and character.”
As the pair huddled in Walla’s bunker-like studio in Seattle, USA, We Are For The Wild Places came alive, a fitting tribute to a happy accident half a decade ago, and a full-circle from the country to the city.
The man behind Avalanche City is ready for the next adventure.