Electronic duo ODESZA (Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight) recently released their fourth album. The last farewell. Ten years after their debut, Summer has passedthe Washington state duo’s latest album chronicles Mills and Knight’s musical growth.
Exploring a wide range of styles, including a healthy dose of atmospheric hooks, ODESZA’s record is at its most vulnerable, including bits of the band in therapy.
I spoke to the pair about the new album, their dreams for a film score, how the electronica genre is evolving and inspiration from friends like Alison Wonderland and Rufus Du Saul, the current tour and more.
Steve Baltin: Where is the hotel room today?
Clayton Knight: We’re rehearsing right now here in Everett, Washington. It’s kind of like Seattle. Yes, it’s nice here now, summer has finally arrived. Therefore, we are happy that this happened. [laughter]
Baltin: There are songs that you started performing at rehearsals The last farewell are you excited to play live?
Knight: Yeah, I think there were a couple that were unexpected that you didn’t even think about. But yeah, put it on a big rig, put it on big speakers, get the band out there, there’s a couple like “Equal.” I think that’s what I think is in the set and the way it’s laid out is going to be a really big moment and it’s kind of on the album it’s kind of in the background, but here I think it can take a place in the first row and really shine.
Harrison Mills: This song though, when different people on our team asked us the same question, “What song did we like?” Four different people on our team said it was the same song. So it’s funny because we were thinking about finishing that song at one point and we were like, “Oh, maybe not.” But now who knows, because it turned out very cool.
Baltin: It’s interesting because a lot of the stuff you put out early on was obviously a little bit more atmospheric, a little bit slower, but I also feel like that stuff can be slow-burning and really surprising.
Knight: Yeah, and we also tend to go back and remix a lot of the audio as well. So, “Forgive Me,” for example, has this extended version where it kind of flips into this darkhouse moment. And even on “Equal” there are a few moments where we break it down and certain bits that maybe lurk in the record stand out a little bit more, which is really fun to do in a big system. And like you said, even some of the ambient stuff will be reimagined for a live setting, and it becomes kind of a fun project to reimagine these tunes that have been sitting around for a while.
Baltin: Now, like everyone else, you’ve had two years to sit down and really process everything that happened in the years before the quarantine. Are there things you’ve come to appreciate in a new way that you want to take with you on this tour?
Mills: I think we took a lot of ideas about how we really wanted the show to flow and really put it on steroids in a lot of ways. Because we really want the whole show to feel like one band and also give you about 10 different genres of music, all kinds of different energies. We want there to be cinematic moments and theatrical moments, but you also want to have just dance party moments. And really tweaking it and making it feel like a cohesive journey that was really fun. We want you to laugh, cry, dance and do it all. So taking the time to figure that part out was a really interesting experience for us.
Knight: Yes, and it also took years of trial and error starting with “AMA” (A moment apart) journey to that, just taking all those mistakes and all kinds of trial and error situations where something doesn’t work here, but maybe you change it. So, like the set we have now, the audio program has had almost a decade of touring. I think it’s really succeeded, we feel really good about it and we’re really excited to show it to people.
Baltin: When you started putting on the show, were there any moments that surprised you when you realized that this is who you are now after a decade of touring?
Mills: I think that says more about the album than our tours. It’s weird, this record is in a lot of ways, it’s meant to be celebrated with friends, but it’s also, in a lot of ways, our most personal record. There’s a lot of our footage, a home video, there’s a therapy session, there’s notes from a psychiatrist, there’s all sorts of things that happen on the record that feel deeply personal and intimate to us. But we also wanted it to feel like a journey that you’re a part of and you experience it yourself and then you embrace it. From the inside to the outside, it’s a ride of sorts, and we hope it’s one of those records that you can experience with your friends and have the time of your life.
Baltin: Will there eventually be a Metallica-type ODESZA therapy session documentary?
Mills: (They crack) I don’t know if we need it.
Baltin: I wanted to say that you guys just told me that you’re all for it.
Knight: (Laughs) It took a lot of therapy to get there, let me tell you.
Baltin: I look back at the piece we made in 2018 at the SUNDARA festival, and I have to quickly ask, will it ever happen again?
Mills: We want it, there’s a lot of logistics involved, and COVID has obviously set us back a lot. This is quite a task because we are quite practical. We want it to be a really fun interactive experience, and if we know we can do it right, we will.
Knight: Yes, of course.
Baltin: The reason I brought this up is because you played Alison Wonderland, who is one of my favorite people in the world. She went through a very similar process talking about her new record that you’re talking about. Is it interesting to see how everyone is growing up emotionally at the same time and it’s easier for them to talk about it?
Knight: Absolutely. Even watching Rufus do what they’ve done this year and how much they’ve grown. We remember when we toured with them and we did smaller numbers and it was just a small tour and now they’re selling out stadiums and it’s great to see. And Jai Wolf has been with us for a long time on our label and he just grew. Jackson Big Wild was great to watch, so it’s really cool to see this generation of electronic artists, almost based on Soundcloud, step into this new paradigm and really transcend it.
Baltin: Who are the artists for you that you feel take you on that journey that really inspires you, whether it’s in or out of electronics?
Mills: Radiohead is probably one of my favorite bands of all time and I love everything they do, even Johnny Greenwood, what he does and his film scores, I love that stuff. I love There will be blood was one of the best movies and its soundtrack was incredible. But growing up I think Clay and I loved a lot of niche markets like Four Tets and Boards of Canada and stuff like that. And I think what we liked about them is that they’re always evolving and always changing their sound, which I think has been a big influence on us. Don’t be afraid to try new things and that’s what inspires us to make music.
Baltin: Writing is often subconscious, both musically and lyrically. So there are moments when you turned back and listened The last farewell did that surprise you?
Knight: Oh yes, I think it was. Yeah, especially because towards the end you’re in the mixing process and you’re just so granular with it and you hear it for so long that you kind of lose track of what it sounds like. But now working on a live show and being able to step away from that and rediscover music in a way has been really nice. And I think you get a different appreciation for some of these tunes that may have been missed. But yeah, I think “Light of Day” because we finished that track first, so in the writing process it kind of got sidetracked for a while. And then coming back to it now, I’m just really happy with how it turned out, I think it just wraps things up nicely and gives the whole range of emotion and energy that the album has in one tune. So it really surprised me how it came together in the end.
Baltin: Do you find that people are connecting on a deeper level because you’ve become more personal now?
Mills: I think it’s going to take the whole album for people to really understand the story we’re trying to tell. A lot of the records have bits and pieces of our family records and stuff, and I think it’s more of a crossover between some of the singles that have been released. So I think when they get the full vision of everything, then I think that will be the clearest message of what we’ve been trying to say. But of course I think people have an emotional connection, especially with Daylight, and seeing the responses of so many people saying they’re crying in their car.
Knight: But yeah, I think going back to that real approach, the more honest you are when you’re writing these things and up front, that translates to people taking it. And so this record, I think we approached it with a more open mind and a free form and a little bit more of a relaxed setting than we have in the past. And I think that sheds a little more light on it. It’s a little bit more upbeat, you get a little bit more of that dance energy, and we wanted it to be something that people play with their friends, and there’s a sense of community, like an atmosphere.
Baltin: What was the last song that made you cry?
Mills: Oh man, I always go back to one, “An Ending (Ascent)” by Brian Eno. Every time I hear it, it just hits me in the gut.
Knight: The last time I really cried was probably my wife and I had a fight and then some Billie Eilish, “Ocean Eyes” came on, I think it lost and it just broke me. There is a personal tidbit.
Baltin: When you come back and listen The last farewellhow do you hear all these influences coming together?
Mills: Yeah, I think that’s what we like about being producers. And that’s what’s so interesting about electronic music, I feel like in a lot of ways, you can really put all these different genres together in one song and try to make that one song feel like fun. And that’s why the show is such a big challenge, because we want all these different travel styles and itineraries, all these other things, to blend into one long journey. Yeah, I think the most fun thing for us to do is to take all these different things that maybe don’t seem like it on the outside and work together and make them feel the way they should and in a different way.
Baltin: If you could write music for any film, what would it be and why?
Mills: I think we just love movies, and we’d probably do a lot of movies, but if I had to pick one, I think it would be fun, like drive. I love the movie drive, I think it opened my mind to love the 80s. It was one area of music that I was never a big fan of, and after I saw this movie, all these modern takes on the 80s scene and all that stuff, it’s like 80s pop, it just exploded creative perspective for me.
Knight: Yes, I think that in this realm there is a little, The one who runs on a razor’s edge would be fun I think what really appeals to me personally is the feel of an epic synth orchestra.
Mills: We’d be ready to score. We’d honestly love to try it, we’ve never really dug into it. But something we’d like to do once we’re off the road a bit is unpack and give it a go. That’s always been something we’ve really enjoyed, the original soundtrack is always something we’ve really enjoyed, so I think it would be a logical next step.