When Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills met in the summer of 2012 and decided on a whim to head into the studio together, who knew it would result in one of the year’s biggest emerging acts? ODESZA's first album, Summer's Gone, propelled the duo towards mainstream adoption, and since their crossover album In Return released last year, their ascent hasn’t slowed a bit.
Last week, the power of their live show inspired us to gush about why ODESZA is one of the most important acts in EDM right now. Indeed, they've been having another monumental year, with 2016 poised for even more success. I got a chance to catch up with Harrison about their upcoming live shows and what they're planning for their third studio album.
You’re taking the tour in a bigger direction this year, what are your plans for the live show?
We’re now on one computer instead of two, each working within the same Ableton file on different mixes. We’re using different MIDI controllers, doing new drum stuff, and there’s a lot of surprises to come.
Now that you’ve been touring the world, have you been influenced by other cultures you’ve seen abroad?
I would say more music scenes have impacted me more than the actual locations, mainly because when you tour a lot, unfortunately you really don’t get to see much. But I would call Australia our second home. We have a lot of real close musician friends out there. It’s one of the only places we’ve gone abroad and went into the studio with someone and been inspired by the energy that’s there.
Who have you worked with out in Australia?
We’ve done some stuff with Hayden James, just goofed around in the studio, but there’s other people out there like KILTER. There’s a really close network of people in Australia which is really cool. There must be something in the water.
Who’s been a key influential figure in your musical career?
Someone I look up to musically career-wise is Bonobo because I feel like he’s changed and adapted his sound in all these different ways but never really lost it. He’s only evolved over the years and that’s something I really hope we can do with our music.
What kind of techniques do you use for your melodies?
We use a lot of different synths, a lot of Native Instruments and Sylenth stuff, but I think that sometimes the most interesting melodies are the ones you make accidentally. Like a vocal where it gets pitched so high you can’t tell the difference, or a weird bell sample, things like that.
You got your start opening for a lot of big-name acts, but now that you’re a marquee act, you have the opportunity to showcase new artists yourselves. The highly-buzzed Little People opened for you over the last few months: how did that come together?
Actually, the first tour we ever did was an Emancipator tour on a bus, and the supporting act was Little People. We were opening for them every night, and that’s how we all met and became very close friends. We’re still really good friends with Emancipator and Little People, and it was an awesome way to hang out again, so we just asked them to do it.
For your second album, In Return, you had a lot more vocalists and made it a lot more accessible. Where do you want to take the next record?
It’s kind of a tough call, because we can obviously make In Return again, which maybe some people want and expect, but we don’t want to do that. The big thing is deciding what the next album should be, because we have so many ideas, but maybe they’re not necessarily consistent with each other. For us, that’s what makes an album versus an EP, so it’s really finding the route that will sustain for an entire album and feel fluid. We’ve noticed that we’ve been making a lot of heavy hip-hop beats. It’s strange, because we were moving away from that, into chopped-up weird sounds, then we started going back to gritty snares and old hip-hop breaks. That’s a possibility of where we might go, a grimy old hip-hop record with weird samples around it.
I think ODESZA going hip-hop would be sweet, and I’ve also heard that you were originally into 90s hip-hop. Who did you listen to?
In the beginning, I listened to all the classics, like B.I.G., Nas. Then I got like really into 90s and started listening to Q-Tip and the Tribe Called Quest guys. Later, I moved towards super abstract hip-hop, a lot of artists off Deep Puddle Dynamics, this Oakland label, like Slug. Eventually, I got into spacey trip-hop, getting into the soul records where all that stuff originated from. Slowly from that, I got into electronic music by following people on Soundcloud, seeing what other people were making.
Whereas Clayton has a classically-trained musical background, you approached music from the production end. How would you say you and Clayton complement each other?
I did some piano stuff, but it was really simple. I stuck with feeling and went with more of emotion than going for a jazzy chord progression that would be harder for me to play, and I stuck to the roots. Clayton really helps in that area where we’ll be trying to find the next chord and he knows the theory which definitely helps speed up the process of making music. I would say we complement each other in a lot of different ways too. At first, I didn’t really like dance music, but Clay was super into dance music. He made me find the more abstract dance music, or just driving stuff that made me like that style of music more, especially pop music. I was pretty anti-pop, and Clay really likes pop and dance music. Now we have so much of the same music that we share back and forth. Knowing him has definitely broadened my palette.
What were the challenges you faced with ODESZA?
The biggest roadblock was probably learning how the music business works, and also realizing you’re not going to be home for a long time. It’s really hard to cope with knowing that if you want to really take up every opportunity, you’re not going to have a life outside of music for a long time. But it’s definitely worth it, not something I regret whatsoever, and it’s been a really awesome ride.
You studied new media design in college, so you must have a visually-oriented side. How much control would you say you take over the visual aspect of the live show and the music videos?
I’m pretty much the art director, and I have my best friend from college, Luke Tanaka, as our visual projectionist. He works very closely with me on producing all the content.
You recently started your own label, the Foreign Family Collective. What kind of music do you want to put out there?
There’s a mix of friends that we think are making awesome stuff and don’t get the attention they deserve, but it’s also about finding completely unknown people. Maybe we found a Soundcloud that has twenty-five followers, but they’re making incredibly interesting music that a lot of people won’t get to hear because the Internet is so saturated. For us, it’s highlighting the people that inspire us or deserve the attention, but we also want to do projects together.
Coming from an artistic background, I love animation and film, and I’d love to incorporate that with our music and the music of people we like. We want people to know we’re not putting limitations on what we want to do with this. We’re not going to just be a label and that’s it. As things get bigger, we might do a block party, we might do film and scores, there’s a lot of things we want to try.
Harrison definitely just hinted at a block party style event with ODESZA and their crew. Now that would be amazing for fans all over the country if they took that on the road. It's evident we can expect big things from ODESZA and their Foreign Family Collective. They have been on a steady ascent to the top of lineups all over the festival circuit in the past year and are looking to continue to do big things. Have your ears open for their next album coming in the near future and we'll keep you informed every step of the way.