ODESZA Makes Electronic Music so Damn Well, I’m Upset
They were "just two stupid college kids"—their words, not ours!—and now they've scored a number one with their new LP. Stream it here.
There’s nothing like two young college dudes getting together, forming a band as a side gig, and quickly reaching international success to make you question your own work ethic/standing in life. While they’re out laying down sick tracks, you’ve probably been laying down in your not-so-sick tracksuits. Still Juicy Couture, in my case.
As technological developments and overwhelming popularization of electronic music merge to create a broadening pool of talented producers, often exposed to the same loops, drum kits, and inspirations, the need for such newcomers to develop a unique sound increases drastically. ODESZA—that’s consisting of Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills—have accomplished something diverse enough to make them stick out, yet familiar enough to resonate instantly with most listeners. It’s sort of like going to McDonalds in another country, if McDonalds were spelled MCDONALDZ and produced cool beats rather musty meats.
Their music utilizes synthetic instruments that generate Eastern strings to shimmering sonics usually covered in highly manipulated and I frequently incomprehensible female vocals. Every track off of their latest album In Return (stream it above) hangs between blithe, ethereal spaces and thumping percussion, like fuzzy clouds punctuated by dope-ass thunder. The duo keep things unpredictable, never relying on same beat for too long, their music making you feel as if you’re being teleported into the future that's nostalgic for the past.
Earlier this month the pair released their second album, In Return, which scored a number one on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart. With songs like “All We Need” and “White Lies,” featuring Shy Girls and Jenni Potts, respectively, it feels like only a matter of time before mainstream artists will be lining up to work with the Seattle-based band. We spoke with them in-between flights during their current nationwide tour.
ODEZSA by Tonje Thilesen.
Noisey: I know that you two met in college. Can you tell me what those years were like?
Clay: We both met at Western Washington University. It’s kind of like a hippie, little liberal arts school. Not a lot to do, really. I studied physics and math, and music was always just a hobby or something to do after school. It’s pretty low-key and definitely not a big party school. They didn’t have any frats or sororities or anything like that.
Harrison: I was a graphic design major, with my focus really being on media stuff. I definitely thought I was going to graduate and go to a design firm pretty quickly. Throughout school I was kind of interested in music and when we started working on some stuff together it sort of felt like the one last hoorah before we had to get real jobs, so it was just a snowball effect from there.
You guys reached number one on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Album Chart. What does it feel like to be recognized by such a major force in music?
Clay: It doesn’t feel real honestly. Since our hype has been on the internet for so long, I’m not sure if it’s all a delusion kind of thing until I step out into a place with a large crowd. So I’m anxious to see how this tour comes about and who shows up. It’s pretty surreal and I feel really lucky to do this. We were just two stupid college kids.
When I read that you had reached number one for that genre, it was in an article about Ariana Grande hitting the top on Billboard’s Hot 100. Are you guys fans?
Clay: [The music is] definitely better than most of the other stuff out there. I love how she works with some of the producers and tries something different. I always have respect for that. She also sounds like Mariah Carey, who’s pretty awesome. I saw her do the National Anthem and she killed it.
Harrison: I like the song she did with Cashmere Cat.
I’ve seen you referred to as Catacomb Kid and BeachesBeaches. Can you tell me where your individual producer names came from?
Clay: Honestly I was high in my bedroom making music one day…
Harrison: At the time I was a huge hip-hop fan and I was listening to a lot of underground instrumental stuff. I got into Aesop Rock and he has a song called “Catacomb Kids.” I thought it sounded cool.
What was it like for you guys to tour with Pretty Lights?
Harrison: We went from playing 400-600 person venues to playing stadiums. It was absolutely crazy. He has such a big, loyal fan base and he definitely had a big influence on me. I really like soul music and hip-hop, so it was really cool to see someone whose music I looked up to when I was younger and who’s an innovator in electronic music put us under his wing when we were relatively unknown.
Clay: It’s definitely a more intimidating experience than anything we had ever done before. We had opened for other acts, but [Pretty Lights] seemed almost a little out of our league at the time. But it was fun and he was a nice guy.
You had a remix on the film Divergent. Would you be interested in scoring or continuing to work with films in the future?
Harrison: I absolutely loved soundtracks growing up and I was interested in composers, especially brass stuff, like on the Truman Show. I’ve always been a huge fan of that. Both of us really like cinematic sounding music and “bigger” stuff, so that would definitely be something we’d really love to do. Really, it all depends on the timing.
If you could see any other artist just jamming out to your music and loving it, who would it be?
Harrison: The lead singer of the Gorillaz. That would be great for me.
Clay: I would probably say the lead singer of M83.
Harrison: I’d be impressed with anyone honestly. Strangers on the street…
Fashion week recently wrapped here in New York. They’ve started incorporating up-and-coming musicians such as yourselves into the shows and after parties. Do you ever see that being your scene?
Clay: I respect the fashion industry and I wouldn’t really mind crossing over into it, in that way. I wish I were better dressed.
Harrison: I think Clay and I would wear a suit everyday if we could. If we didn’t have to sit in airports all day. I’ve got a lot of respect for the industry.
Speaking of airports, what was tour life like for you guys in general?
Harrison: Our first tour we ever did was with our friends who were local acts here. The second one we ever did was on a tour bus with Emancipator, so we were really, really spoiled in the beginning I think. Because then we went back to driving a Suburban with our friends rather than a tour bus. It was always a fun experience playing our music in front of people.
What was the strangest performance you ever did while touring?
Harrison: We never really had too many bad shows. Although it was really funny once, there was a show in this one small town in Colorado, and no one knew who we were. And we played at 6:30PM. in a hotel lobby to an audience of three girls texting. So that was hilarious.
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
Clay: We’re so boring. All the people that work with us… everyone we’ve hired are long, long time friends of ours so it’s basically just one big group of friends drinking together. That’s about it.
Harrison: No, we have an all-out brawl.
Clay: Yeah, we fight each other!
Have you ever pretended to know the words to a song when you actually didn’t?
Harrison: Oh of course. Like every concert I’ve ever gone to with a girlfriend, probably.
What are your thoughts on remixing as opposed to totally original music?
Clay: Remixes are definitely a different process than what we do with our normal writing process. Usually I don’t like to hear the track that we’re remixing. I like to hear the stems first, or just little pieces of the track, because if I hear the track and really like it, I’ll feel like I can’t add anything to it. Usually we just take care of the vocal section and try to put new chords under it, new production. We want a whole new twist on it as opposed to using some of their internal stems. We try to make it our own basically from the ground up besides the vocal piece, which differs a lot from how we go about making our originals.
Harrison: The hardest thing to do with a remix is, if you’re absolutely in love with a song, to change it. We’ve gone back and been like, “Can we please do another song? This one’s just too good.”
What is the best dream or worst nightmare you guys have ever had?
Harrison: I was just had one on the flight and uh, pretty sure I had a nightmare that the plane was going down. I woke up screaming at the lady next to me. It was actually pretty hilarious. No one else witnessed it and I’m pretty sure she was a stewardess for a different flight.
Clay: I’ve definitely had dreams where I felt they were so real that I’d wake up and be sure the events had happened, but then as I go about my day I realize it was just a dream. So I’ve had some pretty horrifying experiences where I’ve woken up thinking something had happened. Or you wake up hating someone for no reason.
ODESZA’s LP, In Return, is out now via Counter Records.
ODESZA Tour Dates
Mon. Sept 22 - Los Angeles, CA @ Amoeba Music (In-Store Performance & Signing)
Tue. Sept. 23 - Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom*
Thu. Sept. 25 - Austin, TX @ Vulcan Gas Company*
Fri. Sept. 26 - Dallas, TX @ Trees (Index Festival)*
Sat. Sept. 27 - New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks*
Tue. Sept. 30 - Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall* (SOLD OUT)
Wed. Oct. 1 - Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda's*
Thu. Oct. 2 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom* (SOLD OUT)
Fri. Oct. 3 - Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg* (SOLD OUT)
Fri. Oct. 3 - Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade (Official Afterparty, DJ Set)*
Sat. Oct. 4 - Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair* (SOLD OUT)
Sun. Oct. 5 - Montreal, QC @ Le Belmont*
Mon. Oct. 6 - Toronto, ON @ The Mod Club Theater*
Wed. Oct. 8 - Ann Arbor, MI @ Blind Pig*
Thu. Oct. 9 - Columbus, OH @ The Basement*
Fri. Oct 10 - Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge*
Sat. Oct. 11 - Madison, WI @ Majestic Theater*
Sun. Oct. 12 - Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club*
Wed. Oct. 15 - St. Louis, MO @ Firebird*
Thu. Oct. 16 - Lawrence, KS @ Bottleneck*
Fri. Oct. 17 - Lincoln, NE @ Vega*
Sat. Oct. 18 - Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre*
Sun. Oct. 19 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge*
Tue. Oct. 21 - Vancouver, BC @ Venue*
Wed. Oct. 22 - Vancouver, BC @ Venue*
Thu. Oct. 23 - Seattle, WA @ The Showbox*
Fri. Oct. 24 - Seattle, WA @ The Showbox* (SOLD OUT)
Sat. Oct. 25 - Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom*
Sat. Nov. 1 - Los Angeles, CA @ HARD's Day of the Dead Festival
Sat. Jan. 1-6, 2014 - Miami, FL @ Holy Ship
*w/ Ambassadeurs, Hayden James
ODESZA European Tour Dates
Fri. Nov. 7 - Copenhagen, DK @ Loppen
Sat. Nov. 8 - Stockholm, SE @ Debaser Medis
Sun. Nov. 9 - Gothenburg, SE @ Pustervik
Thu. Nov. 13 - Haarlem, NL @ Patronaat
Fri. Nov. 14 - Brussels, Be @ Ancienne Belgique
Sat. Nov. 15 - Birmingham, UK @ Library Institute
Sun. Nov. 16 - London, UK @ Electric Ballroom
Mon. Nov. 17 - Glasgow, UK @ Garage
Tue. Nov. 18 - Manchester, UK @ Club Academy
Wed. Nov. 19 - Paris, FR @ La Bellevilloise
Thu. Nov. 20 - Winterthur, CH @ Salzhaus
Fri. Nov. 21 - Milan, IT @ Circolo Magnolia
Sat. Nov. 22 - Rome, IT @ Lanificio 159
Tue. Nov. 25 - Bologna, IT @ Locomotiv Club
Thu. Nov. 27 - Prague, CZ @ Podnik
Fri. Nov. 28 - Berlin, DE @ Gretchen
Sat. Nov. 29 - Stavanger, NO @ Tou Scene
Sun. Nov. 30 - Vilnius, LT @ Loftas