When we meet Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills of ODESZA in the Ninja Tune headquarters of south London, they are friendly, humble and clearly very excited about their new release. A sprawling visual and collaborative project that sees them pushing themselves to the limits of their capabilities, it’s set to be the most defining record of their career to date. We talk about their hometown of Seattle, their love of music and how they made this incredible piece of work.
Has Seattle affected the kind of music you make?
Clayton Knight: Seattle has that incredible folk and indie scene. We were just in a little northern town where we went to school; we were the only people who liked weird electronic music. That’s the genesis of how we hit it off. In the music we make there are indie and organic undertones, and that’s a big part of our sound. I think that’s because we’re surrounded by a lot more organic instrumentation. So it kind of seeps in subconsciously. Seattle does have an emerging electronic scene. It’s pretty new. There are a couple of venues that do it. But really not too much. So hopefully we can help that grow and make it a little bit bigger and better.
It’s good to stand out though. What drew you to electronic music?
Harrison Mills: I think it was because I like genre blending. Where people take things from different contexts and make it feel cohesive somehow. That’s why I really loved Gorillaz and hip-hop because they took all these other sounds and made them theirs and that’s what we love in production. Taking all these different things that maybe shouldn’t fit but making them feel right and after about three listens you start liking it.
Leon Bridges sings on the record. How did that come about?
HM: We’ve been a fan of his for a long time. We love soul and Motown. We’d done some samplings of weird hip-hop versions of stuff like that, but I don’t think our fanbase had ever heard us do it. Someone got word to him that we had said we wanted to work with him in a few interviews and he was in Seattle. He was the most humble, relaxed dude. He just came in, hung out with us in the studio for eight hours, and we wrote the whole thing. It was funny because we showed him like four pieces of music and he was kind of like ‘yeah that’s ok..that’s ok.’ And then the last one…he was like ‘THAT’S THE ONE!’ and started writing right away. He just sat with us, and he would test stuff on us and ask us what we thought and it was just really nice. It felt very open and cool.
Do you think that as an artist you have a responsibility to your listener to offer something positive rather than offer something negative?
HM: That’s a really interesting question. I think this is the first record where we’ve ever delved into melancholy sounds. We are more known for this sunshiny positive kind of atmosphere, and it sounds so corny, and I haven’t found a better way to say this, but I think there is a beauty in the sadness, in the darkness. However you want to say it.
Why do you think that is?
HM: I think people feel connected through feeling alone. A lot of people feel similarly, and I think when you feel that from a song you feel like someone else felt like that or maybe the person who wrote it felt this way, and I feel like I’m connecting to.
Do you get to meet a lot of your fans?
CK: Yeah we try to do a lot of meets and greet opportunities if we can. And that’s actually been a really good experience. You can see the feedback via social media but we just did an album signing in Seattle and people would come and tell you ‘your music saved my life’ and that kind of stuff.
HM: It’s a pretty hard thing to deal with too. That’s not enough time to have a real conversation when it comes to something that serious so you try to linger after so you can talk to as many people.
So how did the Ninja Tune connection come about?
HM: We were opening for Bonobo, and they had been talking to us and there is a guy who works here called Adrian Kemp. And he wrote this amazing critique of our music, and it felt right. You could tell that he’d taken the time to listen really and he told us what he thought worked and what didn’t. And that was what we wanted. We wanted someone who was passionate about what we were making. It was constructive criticism.
Tell me about the live show.
CK: We’ve got a brass section and a guitar player. And a percussion element with us too. We spend a lot of time on the live show. The album is one thing and that’s great but a huge section of our fanbase enjoys us for our live performance, and we try to make that a very special thing.
HM: Like 60 percent of the music is new versions of the songs.
CK: We have visuals that are custom made by this guy Luke who is a good friend of ours. And then all the lighting. We spend probably way too much time getting all that lined up. So it should be a visual audio experience. We work hard on it.
HM: As soon as we go ‘Ah it will be fine.’ That’s when it’s not going to be fine.
All photography Petra Eujane