Hailing from Seattle, Washington, ODESZA—an electronic duo consisting of Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills—has been slowly and steadily building something special. What started in college as just two friends making music, has grown into two albums, a loyal following, and sets at some of the biggest festivals in the world—yet there’s still a sense that they’re far from reaching their peak.
Their sound, sometimes compared to Flume, is dreamy and whimsical, laden with falsetto vocals and warm, bubbly percussion. It’s music you want to listen to on a hot summer’s day, volume loud, windows down, and the wind in your hair. It’s catchy but not too repetitive, a quality exhibited perfectly on popular tracks such as “Sun Models” and “Memories That You Call.”
September has been a huge month for the duo, as just two days ago they released their sophomore album In Return (buy here) on Counter Records. In just a few more days they’ll embark on a 33-date US tour, quickly following that up with a month in Europe opening for Slow Magic. The ball is rolling faster than ever, and as ODESZA continues to gain momentum, they are slipping ever further into the spotlight.
Right before they hit the road for their biggest tour yet, we caught up with Harrison Mills to talk about their new album, rap collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, and the first time they felt an “I fucking made it” moment.
When did you guys first meet?
I think the first introduction was that he had a piece of equipment that I had never used and I was friends with his roommate. His roommate told me to come over, and that he would show me how to use it. I went over there and he was showing me and I was like, “Wow this is really cool,” then that was about it [laughs]. Fast-forward a year and a half later and I was showing some friends the music I was making and he came downstairs. We ended up jamming that day and we made like three songs. It was amazing. I’d never met anyone I vibed with so much and bounced ideas off so quickly, it was really cool.
Were you guys studying music in college?
No, neither of us were.
At one point then did you realize you were ready to commit to music?
It was definitely not a commitment at first. We just kind of though, “Hey we’re both graduating, want to spend the next three months—before we have to find real jobs—making music?” That was our first album and after that we got a couple of opportunities that were kind of bucket list opportunities, like playing Sasquatch Music Festival, opening for Disclosure, and we just couldn’t say no.
It kind of snowballed from there and we kept having these opportunities that we couldn’t say no to, playing for people we were big fans of. Obviously the first couple of years of a band setting up they’re making no money so it was really more about how much we enjoyed it and being passionate for it.We always expected to get real jobs, like “Oh next month we’ll get a real job!” We just reached that point where it actually seemed like a viable career option for us which was very cool.
Who did you look up to when you first started out?
Obviously a lot of beatmakers, definitely looking up to people in the L.A. beat scene, that whole Flying Lotus crew. They were very important in the beginning when we first thought about beats, and then just people on Soundcloud. Listening to people like Lapalux, Bonobo, Slow Magic, and Giraffage, I guess Bonobo and Lapalux wasn’t too similar but definitely Slow Magic and Giraffage. Indie electronic with a hip-hop backbone was kind of our style, it has slowly developed into something else now but that definitely helped us back when we started.
It was definitely the first moment we had where we felt like, you know that moment where you’re like “Holy shit I fucking made it!”
I remember seeing you play at Sasquatch 2013, that was right as you were coming up.
It was definitely the first, “Holy shit I fucking made it!” moment, even though we were just some young kids who got a really awesome spot on the stage. It was a really special moment for us and the first moment I can look back on and be very, very proud. If you told me today my career is over I’d be fine, I did something I had always wanted to do.
Where’s your mind at now that you’ve played a Coachella stage or an Osheaga stage?
For me, maybe this sounds like a cop out, but the stages don’t really matter—the audiences do and they really do range. I was surprised when we played Salt Lake City, we walked in there and people were so rowdy, it was packed full of people and they were screaming before we even got to our laptops. That kind of a energy is unbeatable and it doesn’t really matter where you’re playing. I could just sit there and play drums for two hours and I feel like people would find a way to have a good time. That energy is amazing and it sets you up for a really fun show. It also allows you to experiment more on stage and do different stuff because people are so ready for it.
You guys are off on a pretty big tour shortly. Is that exciting? Nerve-racking?
It’s really exciting, I think the interesting part is we’re playing a lot bigger venues this time around and we’ve upped our production so much. We want to do really big shows but we’re used to this other realm so we’re hoping it goes good, but we won’t know until we mess up or we do well.
How are you preparing?
We’re back home working on our live set and building our studio. Basically building our entire live set from scratch right now.
What does that entail?
I think the first thing we had to do is decide if we really wanted to become part of the whole light-war and all that stuff that’s going on with live music. How much we really wanted to focus on live visuals and how much we wanted to focus on playing actual pieces of the song, instead of just triggering. It really came down to us trying to make it more of an event and we added a lot of light-production, but nothing crazy, over the top, not full of strobes in your face or anything. Also we’re doing a lot more live instrumentation and we have a big giant projector wall that my friend and I are working on doing all the visuals for. We’re trying to keep it tasteful and theatrical, but also make sure it emphasizes the music and not the other way around.
Any spots you’re especially excited to play?
It’s always fun to play our hometown in Seattle, but because San Francisco, L.A., and New York have all shown us lots of love—San Francisco has always been a for sure sell out for us which is pretty crazy. I don’t know exactly how that happens but we seem to have a really big support system there, but yeah all of those we’re really excited for.
What is it like being a duo—are there ever any disagreements?
I think we’re both really level-headed and logical people, we like so many of the same things it’s not that common for us to not agree on something. When we do disagree it turns into more of a “prove it to me” situation. Like if we want to take a song on a different route than the other person then we’ll actually do it on our own time, show it to them and be like, “Yay or nay.” We don’t let our egos stand in the way, if someone doesn’t like something we let each other know very quickly. That’s the best way you can do it, be honest.
When you first started the record In Return, was there a sound you wanted to capture?
Well I think we just wanted to try and see if we could make more serious songwriter songs and just try to experiment by collaborating with vocalists. The number one thing we kept sampling were vocals and we kind of wanted to try something new. I think there’s only so much you can do with vocal chopping and we were getting bored of that so we decided to try something else. I don’t know what the next step is but we’re open to try more and more things.
How has it been expanding the creative process to allow those vocalists to come in?
It’s definitely forced us to write music differently, which is actually pretty cool because I think the process of how you make music really defines the amount of work you’re doing. For us it’s starting a beat from scratch, making a little loop, kind of deciding what type of singer would work well on it, then sending it to one or two people we think are best. Then going back and forth with them and cutting up sections of the song and remaking pieces of the vocals—back and forth until we really come to the final song.
It’s just a sound we really enjoy, kind of angelic, really beautiful, sexy vocals.
All the vocalists except Shy Girls are women, is that a conscious decision?
It’s not that we’re opposed to working with guys, but even Shy Girls sang basically falsetto for us. It’s just a sound we really enjoy, kind of angelic, really beautiful, sexy vocals. But I mean we are working with another male vocalist right now.
On twitter you said you wanted Kendrick Lamar or Q-Tip for a rap collaboration, is that something you’re looking at?
I have to say I highly doubt that will ever happen but that would be a dream for sure.
Are there any other artists around you electronically or within rap that you want to collaborate with?
There’s tons of people, me and Clayton listen to every genre of music. We’re big fans of old soul, folk and indie, experimental stuff like Animal Collective, old hip-hop, we’re all over the place. Some people we’d love to collaborate with are Lee Fields the soul singer, Phantogram would be cool, I really like this weird experimental group called CocoRosie, they make really interesting music. Like I said Kendrick Lamar would be awesome, he completely changed the game for me. I honestly thought hip-hop was over until I heard his album Good Kid M.A.A.D City. I hadn’t enjoyed a hip-hop album in so long and then that thing drops and it blew my mind.
Do you have time to look ahead? What excites you about the next year?
One thing I’m excited for is for people to finally hear these songs. They’ve been done for a while and I’m ready for people to hear them instead of us listening to them about 3000 times while we try to master them. The main thing I’m excited for though is, hopefully if this album does well, we get to collaborate with people that we’ve always wanted to. We might have a little more weight and we can go into the studio with people that we think would be great match-ups for at least some experimental and interesting tracks.
[Laughs] That’s right! “Aye Kendrick it’s ODESZA, you know us.”
ODESZA’s album In Return is out now. Buy here.
Check out their US tour dates below:
Fri. Sept. 13 – Jackson Hole, WY @ Mangy Moose (SOLD OUT)
Thu. Sept. 18 – San Francisco, CA @ Mezzanine* (SOLD OUT)
Thu. Sept. 18 – San Francisco, CA @ 1015 Folsom* (Official Afterparty, DJ set)
Fri. Sept. 19 – San Francisco, CA @ Mezzanine* (SOLD OUT)
Sat. Sept. 20 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre* (SOLD OUT)
Sun. Sept. 21 – Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up Tavern* (SOLD OUT)
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