ODESZA Is the Electronic Duo With a Bigger Purpose

ODESZA Is the Electronic Duo With a Bigger Purpose

Leading up to the Grammys, where they have two nominations, the duo talks about performing, their path to music success, and helping others out along the way.

Leading up to the Grammys, where they have two nominations, the duo talks about performing, their path to music success, and helping others out along the way.

Text: Jake Viswanath

It was all going to plan. Harrison Mills was set to start a job at a design firm after graduating from Western Washington University, while friend Clayton Knight would go on to grad school to pursue his Master’s degree in physics. But things rarely work out according to plan. A common bond for creating and listening to “weirder electronic music” as a side hobby united the two while in college, which naturally led to more collaboration. During their last summer in Bellingham, the boys created what would eventually be their debut album Summer’s Gone and their mapped out plans went out the window: ODESZA was born.

Fast forward to 2018, and the duo is now one of the top names in the EDM world, drawing huge crowds at virtually every festival known to man and releasing their third studio album A Moment Apart, which earned them two Grammy nominations this year—even to their surprise. “Our management didn’t really inform us that the announcement was being made that morning, so we actually had no idea the nominations were being printed that day,” Clayton remembers with a laugh. “We woke up to 300 messages from different people congratulating us, not knowing what was going on.” But as humbled as they are by the honor, it’s not all joy for the two either. “Honestly, it’s a lot of pressure I think,” Harrison says. “It’s a great feeling, especially because I feel like it’s one of those things that your Mom would be really proud of. But we really try to keep our heads down and focus on the music and focus less on the accolades. As much as we really appreciate them and they’re great, I think it can hinder your music if you overthink it.”

Obviously, this wasn’t the case for their latest album. Going into the recording process, Harrison and Clayton had a specific vision to fulfill, and they weren’t going to compromise. “The first album was more producer friendly, a lot more instrumental, there wasn’t really any really cool songwriting on that one; and In Return was our chance to dive into songwriting.,” Clayton explains. “A Moment Apart was us expanding on that a little bit, but focusing even more on songwriting and trying to build this orchestral, cinematic vibe throughout the whole thing. It’s a style we’ve had in our heads for a while and only recently have had the time and the production background to get it out.” And now that they’ve achieved that goal, they have no clue where to go next. “Now we’re ready to really experiment and find something new,” Harrison says. “That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re just trying a lot of things and making a million songs and a beat a day, just to find a new direction that we’re really interested in, and I think that only happens when you experiment enough to find it. We’re reinventing ourselves a little bit.”

Photo: Avi Loud

But while they try to find themselves once again (who hasn’t been there?), their main focus is on live shows, an art form they've virtually mastered. The boys sell out venues small and large (like the STAPLES Center) in a snap, and their set is versatile enough to withstand both atmospheres. “We did a private Aspen show recently that was literally on the floor, six inches from the people watching the show,” Clayton explains. “There’s only 50 people there in a small room, and people we’re just standing there staring at us. I think it actually challenges you as a musician because you don’t have all the bells and whistles.” Not that those bells and whistles aren’t nice though. “You get 10,000 people jumping to one song, and they’re connected for the rest of the night and it’s a beautiful thing,” he says about playing in arenas. "It’s definitely a process to make something that feels really massive when you’re playing in an arena also feel intimate, and I think that our big, theatrical moments are the things that do that. We have a full moment where everyone walks out on stage and it’s a six person drumline, someone using a bow guitar, and then two horns and we stop everything and hold everything in the air while the horns play, and right at the end of it, we all go into drumming. We’re just standing there staring at the audience for a good 15 seconds, letting the horns play, and I think there’s moments like that are about connections, and hopefully it works." (It does.)

Next up is possibly their biggest and most challenging festival gig yet: sub-headlining Coachella under Eminem. "We’re gonna pull out all the stops and try to create a show that is pretty unique to that setting," Harrison says. "Especially in a festival setting, people don't really know your music, so the best thing to do is try to create some way of standing out. We always play our own music, and that gives us an edge over other DJ sets because you’re creating your own world and no one else is gonna sound like you. We might not always be the loudest or the most intense, but we’re definitely unique and that’s set us apart from other acts musically."

Going forward, their goal is to not only expand their own career, but also further those of acts they see potential in. Harrison and Clayton co-founded the Foreign Family Collective, which houses budding electronic acts looking for more exposure and resources in the industry, but with the freedom to still pursue their true vision. “It was at the very beginning of Soundcloud days, and we were just finding people every day that we thought deserved attention that were so incredible,” Harrison explains about the label. “These are all people we’ve met first, and then put out their music second, and just became close to and really believed in. It was really important to us to have a team built before we started doing it, because we didn’t want to be one of those labels that just puts out music only posting it on Soundcloud and it doesn’t even do anything for you. [They] don’t do PR or help you with any issues that you have, and we use our experience to help artists that are going into a lane where a lot of that stuff is new.”

And as far as their own repertoire goes, they may not know where they're heading yet, but they still have a goal to fulfill — and touring just might help that. "You can be really inspired by your music or an experience you’ve had on the road, and that’s what's so great about electronic music, you can whip out your laptop and build a whole song in a car," Clayton says. "We set up a little studio on the road, and we try to get in there and make a song everyday." Let's see where it takes them.

Credits: Banner Image courtesy of: Tonje Thilesen

UP NEXT

Paul Smith Plays By His Own Multicolored Rules