The duo that make up ODESZA, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, have been killing the electronic music scene consistently over the last 2 years. With their unique style of melodic bass music, they have been increasingly playing more festivals and sold out shows all around the globe. Their innovative sound and energetic live shows keep fans coming back for more, and ODESZA’s infectious sound is quickly spreading around the world.
These guys have had quite the week – from playing in front of a sold out crowd on the top stage of the majestic Red Rocks Amphitheater on Saturday for Global Dance Festival, to traveling to California and closing out the weekend at Northern Nights Festival in Mendocino. The duo share some insight on their humble beginnings, ever evolving sound, and the direction of mainstream electronic music. Read on as our contributor Cameron Crumpler talks about the Grammys, festival life and the transition from classical symphnies to bass-heavy melodies.
CYM: So you both originally met in college, correct?
Harrison Mills: Yeah.
CYM: Tell me a little about how you two connected, and what caused the spark that started ODESZA?
Harrison: Well, we were both doing stuff solo, and we had a mutual friend, his name is Sean Leonard.
Clayton Knight: Kusanagi. (laughs)
Harrison: Ha yeah, he’s changing his name everyday. He was always telling me that Clay made music, and then one day Clay came to a show I played. We had always talked about making music together but it had never really happened. I was at their house, Sean’s house— because they lived together at the time — and I was showing him some music. Clay came downstairs and we decided to talk about music for a while and we just ended up sharing a bunch of music and found out we were really like minded and diverse, and loved variety in music. We also didn’t really know anyone else in the town that we were going to school with that made anything close to electronic music.
CYM: And where were you going to school?
Clay: Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA.
CYM: That’s a heady town, I’ve been up there before.
Harrison: Ha yeah, that’s a great way of putting it, super heady place. At first we were thinking of just making a double LP, and we were going to remix the same song and see what we each of us did, But we ended up just jamming one day and we made like 3 tracks, and we were like ‘Wow, this could be really cool.’
CYM: Just seemed to click?
Harrison: Yeah exactly, it just worked really well.
Clay: The flow was really solid.
Harrison: Originally we were both graduating and just wanted to make an album, and it was just kind of something to do for fun. We wanted to experiment, and ever since then it’s just kind of taken off from there.
CYM: Awesome. So, in the EDM scene there are so many artists these days. With that being said, it can be difficult to coin your own sound, but you guys have definitely done it. When you hear ODESZA, you know it’s ODESZA.
Harrison: Thanks man.
CYM: What would you say you guys create within your sound design and songwriting process that gives it that distinctive ODESZA sound. Where do you draw from artistically and how do you go about writing a track?
Clay: Oh writing? Well that’s a tough one.
CYM: Or more just your sound design, and how it all comes together to be such a unique finished product.
Clay: Well we’re really bad at mixing, so… (laughs). I think we really like warmth in tracks, even when it’s a darker song.
Harrison: Yeah kind of that vinyl sound that hits really hard.
CYM: Your signature side-chained bass sounds come to mind.
Harrison: Yeah lots of side-chaining for sure. Falsetto vocals are a really big one for us. We really like that energy that falsetto gives the music. I think we really like trying to make something that seems normal, but also be kind of strange. Like when you hear a pretty vocal, but it’s pitched weird and sounds kind of awkward, but its also really catchy. That kind of stuff, something that’s catchy but kind of odd.
Clay: Lots of layers. A LOT of layers.
Harrison: Percussion as well. We love percussion. We always keep it in mind throughout our whole writing process.
CYM: Definitely, your tracks seem to come together with such continuity. Could you share a bit on your songwriting process?
Clay: That process has really been changing, because we’re learning new stuff all the time, on how to mix and master, and how to write basically. Some of our old sessions are a mess, things are wired to things they shouldn’t be wired to…
Harrison: And when you change your process your music changes too.
CYM: Yeah definitely.
Harrison: I think that’s a good thing, because it allows up to keep pushing the envelope.
CYM: You two have been expanding a lot in the past couple of years. How has being so involved with other artists in the scene had an impact on your style?
Clay: I would say its had more of an impact on our live show than our writing process itself. We kind of live in our own worlds in the writing process, but touring with other artists and seeing how they perform has definitely affected how we perform.
Harrison: Yeah, every artist we’ve toured with has been a bigger learning experience than I would’ve expected.
Clay: Basically just watching how they do it and what you like about their show, and wanting to incorporate that into yours.
Harrison: Or talking to them about their process on how they make music – it’s interesting to hear.
CYM: I feel like it’s a very unique thing with each artist. Especially with the software these days, there’s seemingly a million ways that you could do one thing.
Harrison: Yeah, no one can teach you how to remix a song. Maybe how to play guitar, but not how to approach a remix or something.
CYM: I actually studied music in college, jazz specifically. I learned so many ways to go about improvisation, harmony etc. that at a certain point I realized its all about learning those rules so you can make your own rules.
Clay. Yeah exactly, you gotta make your own twist on everything for sure.
CYM: So where do you guys see ODESZA going in the future?
Clay: Grammys. (laughs)
Harrison: I think for us we’d really like to expose other artists that we like, and expand our live shows into something bigger — I don’t want to say a theatrical event — but just something really big and entertaining.
CYM: More sensory involvement?
Clay: More sensory involvement for sure.
Harrison: Like the visual overload so to speak. We’re not trying to do a billion lights though…
CYM: Yeah, you guys are all about being tasteful.
Harrison: Exactly, we want it to be something that seems professional, you know?
Clay: Something that will hold your attention for like, an hour and a half and you don’t look away because its a fresh, new thing.
CYM: Something so that you couldn’t see another artist to get that satisfaction. You’d need to see Odesza specifically to get that kind of thirst quenched.
Clay: Exactly. It’ll be a unique sort of performance.
Harrison: We’d like to keep it different from everything else – we’re just striving to change our sound and constantly evolve, but hopefully keep what people like about us.
CYM: Do you guys see any more live instrumentation coming into the mix? That seems to be a move a lot of producers are making these days.
Harrison: If it’s going to happen it’s most likely going to be us doing it, and maybe some horns would be cool.
Clay: I could see a vocalist. Our new album is pretty vocal-centric, so eventually we could have a singer come in on a couple tracks. Keep the energy of the dance party, but go back and forth, so you hit all of the levels.
CYM: Totally. Do you guys have any musical training other than electronic music?
Harrison: Clay’s more classically trained, in piano.
Clay: I started out playing classical piano for like, eight years, then a little jazz piano.
CYM: Jazz is the jam. It really opened up my ears a lot.
Clay: Yeah, everyone goes to jazz eventually. I was a really big classical guy before I came to college, always listening to classical music sonatas – it was pretty nerdy.
CYM: That’s some good stuff actually, I’m a huge fan of romantic era pianists; Chopin specifically. Really good stuff.
Clay: Yeah! Chopin, Beethoven, Moonlight Sonata, I had all that shit down. But then I started smoking weed, went to college and things changed. (laughs)
CYM: Started getting into more bass-heavy music?
Clay: Yeah, partying will do that. (laughs)
CYM: And what has been your experience being in this environment, the festival culture? Naturally it has to color your perspective on music, and the way you experience life. How has being in this scene affected your sound?
Harrison: I think just seeing the reaction of people when you create an energy. It’s not something that you can write down. Watching someone drop a certain sound, and then watching everyone else react to that quickly, in unison, that’s a tribal sort of instinct. It’s primal, and that’s something that we definitely try and capture, but in a different way. I think both of us secretly want to make a trap group and not tell anyone that were doing it. (laughs) Just make heavy, heavy stuff.
Clay: It’s crazy getting that response from a large audience. We’re just like ‘Here’s the drop! Here’s the drop, and BOOM,’ and everyone’s feeling it.
CYM: Sort of like an energetic conversation between you and the crowd?
Clay: Yeah, there’s something very powerful about that.
CYM: Totally. I feel like once you get to that point and are able to do that, it just feeds on itself, because you start to get this unique opportunity to better understand how energy works between people.
Clay: But yeah, a lot of it today is so cliche. There’s a lot of just big house and screechy dubstep (*garage house sound imitations – laughs*)
Clay: Yeah we were just at Global Dance Festival, and, not to call them out or anything, but a lot of the artists on the lineup were just playing the same song. Lots of big room house, these massive synth lines and then some dub step thrown in every once in a while. It is really cool to see the energy that you can get from a crowd, but sometimes it kind of feels like a one trick pony, you know?
CYM: Yea, again with the energy. You guys obviously understand what it means when a song is well composed, and having tasteful musicality intermixed with quality production. But, it is what people seem to be drawn to, so there is a lot to be had in say, moombahton and stuff that you see at larger electronic festivals.
Clay: Yeah, gotta have that tension and release kind of thing.
Harrison: I’m just really happy that we can go on after someone who plays something like that, and it’s not a negative thing, because we do worry about that. After someones been playing the loudest bass music for like 8 hours we come on and play more melodic music. Granted, we do play some harder hitting tracks, but it’s a different kind of thing. We kind of go up there feeling blind, and the fact that people react to that so positively is awesome.
CYM: I still feel like this is a fledgling industry at this point. The whole electronic, laptop producer phase, of people just mainly DJing the same tracks and sounds I feel like is just an aspect of an young art form. I feel like a lot of the past few years have been getting people exposed to the new technology, when a lot of it really hasn’t been explored yet.
Harrison and Clay: Yeah definitely.
CYM: You guys have been able to carve out such a unique niche for yourselves, and I feel like non-melodic, purely energetic sounds combined with melodic, well composed music is kind of the apex of music up to this point.
Clay: Exactly, it’s all about the balance.
CYM: For instance, I’m really interested in livetronica. These days you can fuse the organic fluid nature of people with the infinite possibilities of computers, and within that lies the future of music.
Harrison: Sounds like you’ve been thinking about this for a while?
CYM: Yeah (laughs), its fascinating stuff to think about. Where do you guys see electronic music going in the next decade?
Clay: Yeah that’s a loaded question right there. The next 5 to 10 years of electronic music I think are going to be really interesting.
Harrison: I expect people to be like, ‘Man I hate electronic music, its purely banjoes at this point’ (laughs).
Clay: I expect a straight 360. I feel like at some point it’s going to be such a wash of sound, of the same thing, that it just gets saturated. Like, I’m really surprised when dub step does well at a concert, because you know its been so overplayed for years.
CYM: Yeah it really has.
Harrison: I mean it’s hard to say this kind of stuff without sounding like you’re trying to like, shit on other people, and in no way are we. But you just hear a sound, and everyone copies it for like, 3 years straight.
CYM: You guys definitely seem like you have a drive to sound unique, which is really the most important thing.
Clay: I agree, it’s what defines an artist.
CYM: Yeah it’s really cool seeing you guys do your thing, as you seem to be continually creating more of an outlet for yourself, which seems to help push the envelope of the perspectives of other artists as well.
Clay: Yeah, if we start getting some imitators, I know we’re doing something right.