You may have heard his music but probably don't know much about the man behind NZ's latest number one. Jacqueline Smith meets Avalanche City's Dave Baxter
It's highly likely you have sung along to the fun, folky tune Love Love Love that was top of the New Zealand pops last week. And if you haven't, you will probably find yourself humming along to it on a first listen.
It's one of those beautifully simple numbers that sticks but doesn't bristle your nerves. It was cleverly crafted by a bearded Auckland resident named Dave Baxter, under his solo project Avalanche City.
Modest, thoughtful, just a wee bit coy, Baxter seems a little overwhelmed by all the attention. Ever since his distributor Warner Music brought the release of his debut album forward a week and sent out press releases touting 7500 single sales in two weeks, he's been addressing a deluge of emails, and dealing with his sudden high profile.
"I'm generally not a hugely busy person, I like to have relaxing time and not be too stressed out and busy," he laughs.
But while playing to a crowd of 3000 at the Christian music festival Parachute in January, he realised he wouldn't be able to hide for long.
"We played a way bigger show than I expected, I think people had downloaded it already. They knew all the words.
"It was a huge surprise, I just didn't know what to expect, and I always err on the side of, well, nobody knows who I am," he says.
So far, he has done such a good job of keeping his life story off the wires that even though people know his songs, the man behind them is still a bit of an enigma.
Baxter is 27, married, born in Tauranga. He moved to Hamilton to go to high school. He played in a hardcore band and completed a music degree. He thought he would get a job at a cafe like most of his classmates but couldn't, so he moved to Auckland to write music for TV, films and Vodafone ads.
And then, adding a final string to his bow, he taught himself to sing.
Baxter thinks he was always going to end up a musician.
"I have a photo of me in nappies holding a toy electric guitar with the biggest smile on my face ever, so I guess I probably started there," he says.
He learned the ukulele and by age 10 was playing the guitar.
"I always wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. My step-brothers at the time were very into metal, and I got into it as a consequence," he explains.
Until recently, he was in hardcore band The Chase.
Avalanche City was born out of a new desire to write quirky, fun songs, and something of his own that he could feel precious about.
The name came from a song he wrote a number of years ago that he hung on to, knowing that one day, he would use it as a moniker.
"Years and years went by and I was still clinging on to this name wanting to make a band and then finally this happened and I was like, yes, this is my Avalanche City."
He locked himself away with a mandolin, a banjo, a manjo (a mandolin-banjo hybrid), a glockenspiel, a tin whistle and the likes of Love Love Love were born.
"I wanted to write music that you can walk along the street humming to," he says.
He realises folky, cheerful Avalanche City is about as far removed from his metal roots as one can get, but he's not as surprised as everyone else is.
"I have always liked blatant pop music: I wrote ads and scores for documentaries so it doesn't feel weird to me."
Baxter explains that teaching himself to sing was a highly covert operation. He would wait till everyone left the house and would practise his scales.
He would record himself and then swiftly wipe anything that sounded remotely bad - taking care to delete the original files. It took a good six months to nail it.
"Your voice is an instrument that doesn't have frets on it so you can't just put your finger in a specific place to hit the note.
"It's kind of like a violin, you've got to learn where to put your fingers and the only way to do that is to do it repetitively."
He found himself writing simple melodies because he was convinced he couldn't manage anything complicated. In the end, it was one of the simplest of them all, Love Love Love, that won audiences over.
The end result is a self-penned, self-produced and self-recorded labour of love. Satisfied he had a good dozen or so songs ready for release, he packed up his instruments and headed to Kourawhero Hall, west of Warkworth to record.
Every day for a week, he drove to the hall to record until pumpkin hour, and then returned home for a few hours sleep.
"I wasn't allowed to sleep there, I tried to but the lady was furious at me, so every night I would pack everything into the van, drive back to Auckland, sleep, then drive back, set it all up, and do it again."
The vocals were the most labour-intensive. "I would record songs, end up hating them, record them again, record another song, end up hating it, record it again, it went on like that for most songs on the album."
The final set of 12 songs was released over the internet late last year, and Love Love Love was picked up by TV2 for its network promos.
It was his performance at Parachute that showed just how far the album download had reached in a few months, and that he needed to give fans something more, so he is releasing a seven-track EP with his album, which hits stores on Monday.
"I said 'who here has downloaded this album for free?' and the whole place just erupted. I thought, man, I hope they are still going to buy it when it comes out as a physical CD otherwise it's going to be a big flop."
Who: Dave Baxter, aka Avalanche City
What: Debut album out Monday.