By Samantha Doucette
Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight met at Western Washington University where they both were new to experimenting with electronic music. After being introduced by a mutual friend, they realized they had the same taste in music. Thus, ODESZA was formed.
Started as a creative outlet, the duo quickly grabbed the attention of big names in the music business, allowing for their first album to be made within the first year they met. After just four shows, they played a major festival, and since then, they’ve added more festivals under their belt and sold out shows around the country.
I had the chance to talk to Harrison from the group. Read on to find out more about this unique DJ duo.
Sam: What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up?
Harrison: Lots of stuff. When I was growing up, I wasn’t super into music that much. I liked it, but I wasn’t obsessive like I am now. I listened to a lot of stuff my parents listened to, like movie soundtracks, a lot of soul and funk, disco, stuff like Frank Sinatra, stuff like that. As I grew up, I got more into hip-hop, indie music and classic rock. I like tribal music and lots of stuff. I’m pretty diverse.
I know that both of played instruments when you were in middle school. (Harrison played the trumpet and Clayton played the piano.) You also said that you don’t really remember much of the trumpet today. Do you still know how to play it?
I think I still do. I haven’t picked up one in a couple of years, but I still remember the basics. The biggest issue when you start trumpet is knowing the placement for your lips and how to shoot air through your lips correctly, or else you can’t make the horn sound. I still remember how to do that, and I think I would just have to relearn how to read music.
I didn’t know that about the trumpet. Would you say that this early incorporation with instruments has influenced the type of music that you make today?
Honestly, I feel like when I was playing trumpet, I was strictly by the book. I wasn’t really creative with it whatsoever. I kind of did what I was told to play. I played really boring things; I remember one of our learning things was the snake charmer song. (laughs) I don’t think I learned anything that influenced me in any way. I do remember just enjoying practicing, which I don’t think a lot of kids do.
Does Clayton still play the piano? Do you guys play any other instruments?
Ya, Clayton still plays the piano. I play piano too, but I’m not nearly as classically trained. Clay plays guitar every once in a while, but he is usually pretty piano based. I mainly play piano now too.
Your biography says that ODESZA started as a recording project. Can you explain what that means?
Ya – Recording project? Where was that written? I think they meant production project because that’s how we thought of it. It was us experimenting with different sounds. When we met up, we really didn’t know each other. We literally just clicked with music really well, and we just started jamming together. It was us meeting each other and learning about each other as we’re experimenting with different sounds we like. It was us hanging out and trying different things, things we always thought were interesting, and try to make them work, show each other stuff, maybe get inspired off that and work more together. We did our whole first album like that.
So, it was more of you guys producing music than promoting it to become famous musicians?
Ya, (laughs) in no way whatsoever. It was totally an experiment. I would say it was a huge learning thing for me because both of us did everything differently, but we had the same equipment, so we both learned a lot about how to do things differently, different peoples processes, different techniques and stuff.
I read that Clayton heard Animal Collective when he first started college and fell in love with it, but how did you get into electronic music?
It extends from when I heard the Gorillaz. And then from the Gorillaz, I heard the rapper Del (from Deltron 3030). From that, I listened to a bunch of old school music, and I got into beat production for hip-hop stuff and I really liked sampling. From sampling, I slowly got into different producers. After a while, I started getting eased into the electronic sound and totally fell in love with a bunch of different stuff and electronic music.
What do you think about sampling in electronic music? It’s always been a heated debate in music.
I could really write a term paper on this, but in my opinion, there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. I think the right way is to not have it so obvious as to what the other song was. If you change it up and make it your own, I think that’s your own piece of music. I think if someone else sampled what we did and made it completely different, I would be like, “Awesome! That’s your song now.” I think once you make something that leaves your hands, it’s not yours anymore. There’s only personal gain, and that’s the biggest thing with art in general: No one can really say what art is. Then it gets all stupid and pretentious and deep. There’s a right way to do it in my eyes. Some people will take a song and put different drums under it and say that they made another song. I don’t think that’s always the case. I think you have to do something creative with it, but when it is creative, it’s stupid.
How would you describe you music to someone who has never heard it before or never heard electronic music in general?
For electronic music in general, I don’t know what I would tell them. That would be hard for me since there is so much genre blending nowadays. For us, I would say influences of hip-hop, ambient, electronic music in general and tribal music is a big one. And pop. I would say those things.
Do you enjoy the producing or performing side more?
That’s a good question. I think that when we’re on the road for more than two months at a time, it is hard to enjoy it (performing) as much because you’re pretty drained, but I think I do enjoy the production because it’s a very comfortable zone. I really love going out and playing music to people. When you’re playing something that you haven’t played before and you get a reaction like that, you don’t see that when a single comes out on Soundcloud. You get a lot of likes and people say, “Cool.” It’s a lot more fun to see an immediate (reaction) like that at a show.
Can you explain your production process in the studio? Does one of you have certain responsibilities or do you split the work evenly?
It started very evenly, but as we’ve gotten more and more work, I think we’ve found more of our strengths. In general, what we usually try to do is we meet up and show each other little pieces that we started, like really simple things, and we say, “Do you want to take this somewhere? Does this inspire you to do something?” We jam on it together for a while, and then we kind of pick a direction for the song. Then, we both spend a day away from each other and just work on it. We meet up again to try to combine everything we like about what we just made. We think with each other, and then without each other, and then we try to combine.
You previously said that you like that “punch-in-your-face, hard-hitting sound.” How do you balance that with the smooth, chillwave, ambient style that you’re known for?
I think that you can do both, but it’s a different version of it. It’s not a punch-you-in-the-face energy; it’s a punch-you-in-the-face emotion. It’s something that we both like: something building and it just hits you whether in an emotional way or an energy way.
You guys just got your remix of Pretty Lights’ “Lost and Found” on the “Divergent” movie soundtrack, how was that?
That was absolutely insane. We didn’t even know about it until last minute. Our manager called us and said, “Hey. Just wanted to let you know: One of your songs is going to be on the ‘Divergent’ soundtrack.” We were like, “What the hell?” We were pretty much blown away. It was an awesome opportunity to be on a list of so many talented people on that soundtrack. It was something we were definitely honored by.
That soundtrack has been getting rave reviews. Growing up listening to movie soundtracks, was that a dream of yours?
Ya. Movie soundtracks, to me, are absolutely a huge, fundamental part of the film, and I’m a big film fan too. To be apart of something like that, I have no words. It’s amazing to me. It’s definitely a dream of mine, like a bucket list thing, so it was really cool to be apart of it. And I think that we’re the only non-famous people on there! (laughs) I don’t know how we got on there. We weaseled our way in.
That is a great achievement. What has been the highlight of your musical career thus far?
I would say, for me, my highlight has been that I got to meet some of my heroes and people that I’ve been really influenced by, people I thought I would never even have a casual conversation with. It’s really cool to become friends with the people that influenced you.
What’s next for ODESZA?
We have a bunch of stuff coming. We’re working on a bunch of remixes for some people that we really like that we’re not allowed to tell you who unfortunately. We have a new album that we’re working on that we’re trying to release this year. We’re doing a bunch of our tours and possibly some new beats with some popular groups that we can’t say. A lot more music and a lot more touring, and that’s about it.
Very nice. Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. We really appreciate it.
No problem. This has been the best interview I’ve done in months.
Also, if you’re in Florida, check them out in one of these upcoming shows!