The Pacific Northwest evokes stillness: mossy trees, idyllic mountain ranges, and cliffside views of the sea. These aren't exactly the first images you associate with the mechanized chaos of EDM, but Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills of the perennial festival-headliners ODESZA have always called the area home.
"They call it the Emerald City for a reason," Knight says of Seattle, where he now lives. "I think it's more of a subconscious thing for us, but having the water and all this great scenery is definitely inspiring."
Knight and Mills started ODESZA while they were still in college at Western Washington University, where they were operating as separate producers. Since then, their work has owed at least some amount of debt to the place it was born. The way their compositions rapidly change scenery and biomes is much like their home state—floral synth lines give way to watery vocals, each drop feels like a plummet off a seaside cliff. It was an interesting look in a scene that often prizes unrepentant spectacle—they offered some biodiversity around the drippy neon architecture.
But the sound resonated far beyond the region, pretty much from the beginning. The very first song they released "How Did I Get Here"—a hip-hop influenced track bathed in chillwave's fuzzy runoff—started gaining traction on a few blogs. The duo kept releasing material, and in 2014, they started to see a shift.
They got into the swing of touring, a couple remixes found large audiences, and they released their breakthrough album In Return. The album's singles "Say My Name" and "Bloom" emphasized the neon sides of their earlier work—pushing it to closer to bright pop sounds. Pretty soon, they were playing bigger venues,and inching up festival bills—in 2015, they played at Coachella with a full marching band. Just a couple weeks ago, they headlined the esteemed Colorado amphitheatre Red Rocks.
Today, the duo are back with news of their third album A Moment Apart, due September 8 on the Ninja Tune imprint Counter Records. "A lot of [A Moment Apart] was done in the past like six, seven months," says Knight, "We got time to just hunker down in the studio in Seattle and that's where a bulk of the work was put together." Earlier this morning they shared "Corners Of The Earth" and "Meridian," two songs built to triumphant percussive swells—which seems to demonstrate what Knight describes as the "big and epic" direction of their new record.
"Just getting those mixes back and just hearing how big they got was definitely a moment of inspiration for me," Knight says.
Last week, THUMP spoke with Knight about recording A Moment Apart, how the duo ended up collaborating with indie A-listers like Leon Bridges and Regina Spektor, and how they've managed expectations after their rapid rise. Check that out below alongside the record's tracklist and a slate of freshly announced tour dates.
THUMP: How'd you guys conceptualize the album when you were going into it?
Clayton Knight: We first started trying a different sound—a little dark and edgier in some sense from In Return. But as we wrote more and more we kind of rediscovered our old sound. The album went through this transition, because we had heard so much of our older music on the road that we kind of got sick of it. It was rejection at first. But then as we were writing it, we kind of fell in love with the stuff that we started with in the first place. It was kind of a back-and-forth process of us finding a new world to explore and trying to connect with as much as possible with our signature stuff that makes us, us.
How do you feel yourself and Harrison have grown together as collaborators over the years, as this is your third full length project?
We're basically family at this point. We spend basically everyday together, he's basically my brother. We've learned how to work back and forth a little bit more and spend some time trying to figure out the new process and experimenting in different ways. And this last writing period we definitely got in a stride and everything just kind of fell into place nicely. A lot changes from each song, someone might take the lead on one track, where as another person might take the lead on another and letting each other have room to explore and critiquing each other. Usually one of us will take something pretty far and get to the 70% done and the other person will have ideas and how to make it better.
Since both of you started with your solo projects coming together, how do you incorporate other people into your work?
All the production stuff is sort of our realm and where we live, we don't like to share that workload with anyone else. But on the vocal topline, we're awful lyricists, so it's a long process of trial and error and seeing who we work with best. We met a couple of talented and nice writers through this last process, who we might go back to and use again and that helps quite a bit with the tracks. But we meet so many people and see so many people, so it kind of flows into what works and what doesn't. [The] RY X track was one studio session we spent like eight hours with him and he just kind of connected to ["Corners Of the Earth"] and we just vibed together really well and we just kind of took off from there.
I noticed a couple things looking at the tracklist, I saw Regina Spektor and Leon Bridges, which are two slightly bigger names. How'd you guys end up coming together and working with them?
Regina is kind of a funny story. We've been fans of her music since childhood. Harrison reached out to her on Twitter to see what she was doing and she hit us back and we shared a kind of shitty demo with her. She was performing in Seattle one day, and she was like "I wrote some stuff to it and I don't wanna send it to you, I wanna perform it for you." We went to her hotel room and she sat down with us and she played the beat off her laptop and sang what is now the track, right there in front of us. It was pretty insane, that was the first time I had done that.
Then Leon [Bridges] was in Seattle on day and we hit him up and said "We'd love to sit down in the studio with you." Then we went to a studio and spent eight hours and showing him a couple different things and he kind of connected to this one track ["Across The Room"] pretty fast. And the topline just came through really easily, it's actually one of my favorite tracks on the album.
How'd you arrive at the idea of making album-length statements? It's different from what a lot of big electronic acts do, which is put out a single every few weeks or months.
Yeah, we've always been big fans of full albums. That's how I like to listen to music, I'm a big fan of being able to explore an artist for 45 minutes or an hour. That's translated into how we do it, because a single only allows for so much exploration, whereas an album allows for one to hear the whole dynamic range of an artist. But you can showcase a lot more than whatever a three minute track could. It allows you to be a bit more experimental at times and you can get outside of your comfort zone and try new things, whereas a single format doesn't allow that.
Do you feel like you're facing different expectations for A Moment Apart ?
We definitely felt the pressure, because In Return did so well and it was kind of like how do we and make an impact and do something big and sounded different. But, it took us a while to craft the sound that finally came together, it wasn't until the last couple of months that we got everything kind of sounding really cohesive and together. So I mean the expectations were high and we wanted to make something that sounded big and epic.
How does that compare to when you first started ODESZA?
There with no expectations, but [we] figured maybe some people would check it out. We put out "How'd I Get Here" first and some blogs picked it up right away and we kind of got a bit more attention than we thought we would and it grew from there. But when we first started we were in college and music was just something to do after school, so we'd meet up and make beats as a hobby. Then once things started rolling I was planning on going to grad school and Harrison had other plans. Music was definitely on the backburner and was never the main priority until we graduated and and got offered our first tour run with Emancipator. We kind of put everything on hold to give that a shot and then we never stopped from there.
A Moment Apart tracklist:
2. A Moment Apart
3. Higher Ground (feat. Naomi Wild)
5. Line Of Sight (feat. WYNNE and Mansionair)
6. Late Night
7. Across The Room (feat. Leon Bridges)
9. Everything At Your Feet (feat. The Chamanas)
10. Just A Memory (feat. Regina Spektor)
11. Divide (feat. Kelsey Bulkin)
12. Thin Floors And Tall Ceilings
13. La Ciudad
14. Falls (feat. Sasha Sloan)
15. Show Me
16. Corners Of The Earth (feat. RY X)
ODESZA tour dates:
June 23 - Rothbury, MI - Electric Forest
June 25 - Heber City, UT - Bonanza Campout
July 14 - Louisville, KY - Forecastle Festival
July 15 - Birmingham, AL - Sloss Festival
July 22 - Centre Hall, PA - Karoondinha Festival
September 3 - Seattle, WA - Bumbershoot
September 14 - Auckland, NZ - Great Hall<~
September 15 - Melbourne, AU - Forum<~
September 16 - Sydney, AU - Enmore Theatre<~
September 29 - London, UK - O2 Forum Kentish Town>
September 30 - Paris, FR - Elysee Monmarte>
October 3 - Brussels, BE - AB Main Hall>
October 5 - Amsterdam, NL - Paradiso>
October 7 - Berlin, DE - Astra Kulturhaus>
October 20 - Los Angeles, CA - STAPLES Center*
October 21 - Sun, October 22 - Phoenix, AZ - Lost Lake Festival (Headlining)
October 24 - Santa Barbara, CA - Santa Barbara Bowl*+
October 26 - Berkeley, CA - Greek Theatre*+
November 3 - Vancouver, BC - PNE Forum*^
November 8 - Minneapolis, MN - Myth*^
November 10 - Madison, WI - Alliant Energy Center*^
November 11 - Chicago, IL - UIC Pavilion*%
November 14 - Detroit, MI - Masonic Temple*%
November 17 - Montreal, QC - Metropolis*%
November 21 - Philadelphia, PA - Electric Factory*%
December 15 - Brooklyn, NY - Barclays Center*
* with SOFI TUKKER
> with Hayden James
< with The Kite String Tangle
~ with Running Touch
% with Louis Futon
+ with Chet Porter
^ with Kasbo