Seattle duo Odesza are not your regular electronic artists - and now on their third album ‘A Moment Apart’, they continue to push the boundaries of their genre in every way possible, enlisting the likes of Leon Bridges and Regina Spektor to collaborate with.
Made up of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, the pair are heavily involved in every aspect of their careers - from spending months designing a live show to reflect both their old and new releases, to starting the Foreign Family Collective (an initiative to help up-and-coming artists release singles), to even working with their management to prevent scalpers from selling their concert tickets.
We caught up with Odesza recently while they were in New Zealand to talk about their new album, collaboration, and the importance of visuals in electronic music…
...a huge reason why our music is so cinematic - or at least we try to make it cinematic - is because we think very visually when we’re making the songs. We build it a lot around hopefully emotion evoking stuff that creates...
COUP DE MAIN: Your new album 'A Moment Apart' has some rad features - Leon Bridges, Regina Spektor - and I love that they’re artists who you would never imagine working in the electronic music scene. What was it about their sounds that you wanted to utilise in your own music?
ODESZA - HARRISON MILLS: I think we’re just fans of a lot of different kinds of music. We don’t even listen to electronic music that much, and kind of the goal of Odesza a lot of the time is to collage a lot of different styles together, so we really just went for people we were big fans of, we wanted to see if we could do something together. There’s some stuff of course, that didn’t make the album and just doesn’t work, but we wanted to try it and see what came out of it.
ODESZA - CLAYTON KNIGHT: It makes it a little more interesting when people are not too familiar with the genres, or electronic music, and they step into that role - you usually get something pretty unique. We tried to write with other writers that are usually more familiar with electronic dance music, and it just all sounded the same and not really anything special, but you take Leon for example, and put him in a setting like we had, I think you come out with something pretty cool, a little bit different.
CDM: And he performed live with you guys, right? How was that?
HARRISON: It was crazy. He is such an amazing talent.
CLAYTON: He crushed it. He came out there, he’s just the coolest dude you can ever imagine.
HARRISON: He wears the coolest clothes ever.
CDM: When you’re working with vocalists, how does that process work? Do you kind of treat their voices like an instrument?
CLAYTON: Each song, and each feature is always unique. We’ll usually send these very basic demos to them, or show them these very basic tracks. For example, the Leon track ['Across The Room'] was just basic piano and some drums. What we usually do is have them try to write over that as many ideas as possible, and build, once we have the vocal idea down, and the layout vocally, we’ll go and revamp the entire instrumentation around the vocal. So we’ll have a song done, have them sing over it, and then re-do all the pieces to fit the vocal piece, the tone, and the style they’re singing. We did that a couple times on this album.
HARRISON: It’s the scariest part, because they hear a totally new song by the time they hear it again.
CDM: I love the visual aesthetics that accompany the album - the three photographers you worked with are so talented. How did you figure out how you wanted the visuals to look that went along with the album?
HARRISON: It’s really hard to do it during making the songs, because you don’t really know exactly what the album is until it’s done. I went to school for design, so a lot of the friends we work with are people I know, that’s people we bounce ideas off of. My girlfriend, Michelle, helped do a lot of the packaging for it too, so we’re lucky to have a group of people around us who think visually like that. But really, it was playing off the growth itself that we’ve had, also visually. The first stuff was silhouettes, and all these colours. For this one, we wanted more contrasting light, because the whole album to us, the narrative is about perspective, and gaining perspective through self-reflection. So we tried to have that visually throughout the different singles.
CDM: Do you find imagery cohesion an important part of electronic music?
HARRISON: Yeah, I think a huge reason why our music is so cinematic - or at least we try to make it cinematic - is because we think very visually when we’re making the songs. We build it a lot around hopefully emotion evoking stuff that creates-- I feel like we made a fake movie in our head throughout this whole album.
CDM: You’ve said that you treat your produced music and your live shows as totally different projects - when you go about planning the live show, what are the most important parts for you?
CLAYTON: After we finished the album, we started basically designing the new show from the ground up. The way we do that, is we have all these stems - a stem is just an individual piece of a track - and we’ll go back and remix stuff that maybe on the album was a little more low-key, try to give it a little more energy, add a little more production behind it, to beef it up a little bit for the live setting. Stuff that translates in a personal setting with your headphones on, doesn’t always translate when there’s a bunch of people partying and getting drunk in some sense. You have to find a nice balance of retaining the musical quality that you have, but maybe just adding a little more energy here and there, and getting the flow between tracks, it’s a pretty intensive process. So the new one took us a month, basically, of just sitting and trying different things, reconfiguring stuff, remixing old stuff - just a bunch of different ways of listening.
CDM: It’s kind of like making a second album, from the album.
HARRISON: <laughs> Exactly. And then we keep changing the show, which becomes a new album.
CDM: I feel like you’re making more work for yourselves.
HARRISON: Yes! <laughs> What are we doing?! It is fun, it pays off. After you’ve spent enough time, and you’ve had a good set... I think part of our success is due to that time and effort we spend on that show, getting the visuals and the production lined up with the music - it is a painstaking process, but it pays off.
CDM: You recently tweeted about some extra tickets going on sale for your Red Rocks show after some scalping tickets were cancelled - do you find this a frustrating part of being a touring artist?
HARRISON: It sucks because it’s such a crazy market for that. There’s the legal issues of people scalping which is super hazy, it’s a very grey area. You can’t really do much. But what our management did, which was awesome, is they went through every single one by hand, and found every one that went to the same address--
CDM: That would’ve been so hard for Red Rocks, it’s such a huge venue.
CLAYTON: 19,000 tickets. It’s kind of a weird thing in the music industry, it’s hard to fight it, because you have to go through this painstaking process.
HARRISON: And you don’t want to cancel someone’s ticket who didn’t do it.
CDM: Do you think there’s any solution for scalping?
CLAYTON: We were talking about this the other day with management, and I think there is - there’s ways to release tickets, if you do it right, if you direct it at the fanbase, or give the fanbase previews to the tickets before everyone else does, that helps. But then you’re isolating other people that didn’t know about it. It’s a really fine balance of trying to make it as fair as possible, but also you don’t want people taking advantage of those tickets.
HARRISON: It’s also easy to misconstrue us trying to help, I think it’s easy to miscommunicate, and be like, ‘What, you gave those people tickets?’ You can’t really do right by everyone.
CDM: When we saw your show at the St. James Theatre last time in Auckland, I loved the 'Adventure Time' visuals that popped up at the end of the show - what made you guys choose to do that?
HARRISON: <laughs> That’s Luke.
CLAYTON: He’s unfortunately not with us on this run. He does all the visual elements, he customises everything off the music. He’s been with us for a long time, so he’s the brainchild behind that.
HARRISON: He’s my best friend from college, he’s the goofiest kid. He’s the kid in the back of class who was never doing the work. But he’s extremely talented, and when we started playing shows we needed someone to do live visuals for us, and he just learned along the way with us. He always tries to sneak in funny, goofy stuff. There was one visual he had where all these cats were just falling down an LED screen during the entire drop. Just cats in the air. It was hilarious.
CLAYTON: We’ve also done a couple of surprise birthdays with him, so we wouldn’t tell anyone on the crew that we’re gonna call them out during the set, and they’d show up and we would have this ridiculous picture that they forgot was taken of them at some point, blown up on this giant screen.
HARRISON: It’s not good to have your birthday on tour.
HOW WE FEEL ABOUT OUR NZ SHOW...
CDM: Do you have plans to have a Foreign Family music festival? You teased it via a reply to a fan with a winking face…
HARRISON: Yeah, we really want to do it! I just think it’s so easy to just do a shitty job at it. I don’t want to put on a festival, and it’s like, ‘Oh, where are the bathrooms?’ I’d like it all to be logistically very sound, and I don’t think it’s an easy thing to pull off, that stuff can take years. We’re going to take our time.
CLAYTON: Plus I think it’d be really cool to have not just music, also some art installations, kind of make it feel like a more cohesive festival in some sense. We just played Bumbershoot which does a great job at including local artists, music, and a bunch of food. That takes a lot of time to set up correctly. But down the line, I think it’d be really fun.
Odesza’s album ‘A Moment Apart’ is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘Across The Room’ music video below…