10 Minutes with: ODESZA

Beatrice Cook


It’s fair to say that you probably haven’t heard anything like ODESZA before. Comprising of Harrison Mills (aka CatacombKid) and Clayton Knight (aka BeachesBeaches), the Seattle-based pairing are setting the stagnant EDM community on fire, with their refreshing and quite frankly incredible take on the genre garnering huge support globally.

Described rather generically as ‘electronic-chillwave’, ODESZA’s music is anything but generic; since the release of their debut album Summer’s Gone in 2012, a heady mixture of otherworldly vocals and hypnotic multi-layered melodies, the duo have gathered a strong fanbase, with tracks ‘How Did I Get Here’ and “iPlayYouListen” instantly heading up the number 1 spot on the Hype Machine Popular Chart. They followed up this triumphant debut with the equally amazing Friends Never Die EP in 2013, with their remix of Zhu’s track ‘Faded’ also taking the number 1 spot on the Hype Machine Chart.

2014 has seen the release of arguably their best work yet; In Return is an album of musical maturity, of mixing old with the new, and including insane collaborations with up and coming vocalists such as Shy Girls and Madelyn Grant alongside their distinctively haunting instrumental tracks. Without a doubt the most original and innovative album of the year, a personal standout track from In Return is ‘Say My Name’, featuring the saccharine sweet vocals of Zyra.

ODESZA have gone from strength to strength over the past couple of years, and it is only right that this has meant success outside of the US. The Glasgow Guardian caught the duo at the Glasgow date of their Set It Off European tour; despite a disappointing crowd turnout at the Garage’s G2, and an interesting performance from a seemingly inebriated Slow Magic, ODESZA’s set was the highlight of the night, absolutely mesmerising from start to finish. The Glasgow Guardian also managed to speak to Harrison prior to their gig, where we talked all things ODESZA:


How did ODESZA first come about?

Well, we had a mutual friend at college, and I was over at his showing him some music I was working on. Clay (Knight) came downstairs, we started talking and realised that we listened to a lot of the same music, and that we were both trying to make similar music, so we ended up kind of jamming one day and it went really, really well, and we decided to make a whole project out of it.


What did you want to achieve through the pairing?

I think we always kind of like dreamed big of things that we would love to do, but I don’t think we thought any of those things would happen. We were graduating college at the time and thought that we would be going off into our respective fields.  I really liked college, and I think Clay did as well. I was going to be a designer, and Clay was a Physics major. We finished our album right when we graduated, and we were like, well, we have about two months till we have to get real jobs, and we tried to see if we could go on tour. So we ended up going on a couple tours, and then opportunities arose that allowed us to keep trying to do it, so we basically went for it, and never really looked back since.


How would you describe the sound of ODESZA?

I am absolutely horrible at this question. I feel like I can say things that are really prevalent, like genres that are prevalent in what we work on. We have a lot of hip-hop percussion, and world music percussion, mixed with electronic sounds, organic samples. I feel like I can label different things, but I can’t label what we are. It’s such a mixing pot of sounds for sure. There’s a big assumption when you say that you’re an electronic artist that if you play festivals you must play the heaviest music possible, and maybe its melodic, maybe it is just noise, but we definitely try and stay in the more melodic department, and try and keep things musical; we try and evoke a form of emotion in our music.


What have your musical influences been, past and present?

Oh man, so many.  I think that’s one of the main reasons we work so well together ‘cos we love good music in general.  We don’t feel like we are bound by genres at all. We really like film scores, and hip-hop, and electronic, and classical music, soul, funk; we’re all over the place.


Would you say that In Return differs, if at all, from your 2012 release, Summer’s Gone?

In Return is us trying a lot of new things; we tried to recreate this sound using just instruments we recorded, and resampling things we played. We also wanted to go back to the things that we loved about music. We listened to a lot of artists that inspired us in the beginning. We wanted to try working with vocalists, and try singer-songwriter kind of stuff; it was a lot about experimentation.


You have collaborated with vocalists including Shy Girls and Zyra on your latest release – why, and what did they bring to the table musically?

I think they brought a lot of amazing harmonies, vocals, and rhythmic things that we are not really known for. It was something we really wanted to try, to work with people like that, ‘cos for both of us, we hadn’t really collaborated with anyone else similar to us, and then, after collaborating with each other, to collaborate again with someone else, you learn so much in that process from someone else who works completely differently than you do. That was definitely a big learning experience for us, it made for creating a different kind of music than we would normally make, which I think is the most interesting part.


What is your favourite track off of the album, and why?

I think if I went for a song where we collaborated with a vocalist, I would say it would be ‘It’s Only’ featuring Zyra. If I went for just an instrumental track, I would say ‘Kusanagi’. I think that with working on ‘It’s Only’, it encapsulates a lot of things I like about music, and I am very proud of it; it feels like a more mature version of the music we were making, something that we wanted to do at the beginning was to try and create a song that had sort of a cinematic feel, but touches on a lot of things that we try and put inside of our music. For ‘Kusanagi’, it was a track that came together really quickly, but it felt very organic, and the way we went about it was, it was kind of collaboration with our friend who played guitar on the song, Sean Kusanagi, and it was a really great experience, and I think back on that a lot when I hear it.


Thoughts on ‘Set it Off’ EU/UK tour; are there any particular places you are most excited to play?

I am excited to see the world at all because I feel so sheltered; we’ve only toured the US, so for me it’s just exciting to experience anything different than what I am used to.  I’m very much not an adventurous person, so for me it’s all kind of a treat. I’m definitely excited to go to Berlin because my brother has been living there for eight months, and I haven’t seen him in so long.  [The tour is] going really good, I’ve never been to Europe ever in my life, so this has been quite an experience. I really like Sweden, I feel like I have liked everything that I have experienced. It’s very strange for me to walk around and have no idea what things cost, or what streets I am on.  It’s all new to me.


How does playing to a UK/EU crowd compare to your home crowd?

It hasn’t been too wildly different; everything has been going really well though. I have noticed that, in the last couple places we have been to, the people have been quite quiet, and maybe its an American thing, but I can already tell how loud and boisterous we are from when we are walking around and talking, everyone kind of keeps to themselves, whereas I am kind of used to it being hustle and bustle.


Any tour stories you want to share?

Not ones that are necessarily appropriate; I have seen some wild things on the road, that’s true. There was one funny moment on the States tour, we went with some friends after our show at about four in the morning, and went to this place that they said would be a cool place to look at the city, in Madison, Wisconsin. We walk up there, and the ladder that’s usually there on top of this building to get to the roof is gone, and we decided we were just going to scale up this pipe. We’re scaling up there, and immediately when we get to the very top, a police officer sees us from the street, and yells ‘Hey get down from there!’ We kind of get swarmed by police, they threatened to arrest us, and had to get a ladder made to get us down, and as they were making it we said, ‘Do you want us to try and scale down this pipe again?’, and they said, ‘That’s a GAS line – if you had broken that, a lot of people could have died!’ It was a very intense moment for us.


Final thoughts?

I am just really happy with how the album turned out, and I really hope that other people enjoy it as well. It has been great to see people from all around the world enjoying it; I think that’s one of the biggest compliments to me. It’s been really fun, and I hope people come out to our shows.


Recommended Listening:

‘Say My Name’ featuring Zyra (In Return, 2014)

‘Hey Now’ (Summer’s Gone, 2012)

‘Saola’ Beat Connection [ODESZA remix] (via SoundCloud, 2013)

In Return is out now.


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