Odesza would have landed in the electronic music spotlight sooner or later. Their dreamy, mesmerizing style pulls from multiple genres — classical, rap, hip hop, and indie to name a few — and the attention to detail in every song distinguishes this Seattle-based duo from the chillwave pack.

The Internet helped fuel Harrison Mills’ and Clay Knight’s meteoric rise in the EDM world, with success on the Hype Machine leading to millions of plays on Spotify and Soundcloud. The duo’s latest album, In Return (Counter Records), reached number one on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Album Chart, and they’ll be appearing at one of LA’s preeminent EDM festivals, HARD Day of the Dead, next month. Did I mention the duo has only been making music together for two years?

In the midst of a headlining world tour of mostly sold-out shows (including last month’s stop by LA’s Fonda Theatre), Harrison Mills took some time out to speak with me about how the pair of recent college graduates is handling the hype and their plans to maintain it (spoiler alert: keep making quality music while staying humble about their well-deserved success).

ODESZA_TonjeThilesen3All photos: Tonje Thilesen

My sister met you after your recent show at Amoeba Records, and she was so nervous, she barely said anything. She was disappointed that she wasn’t able to articulate how much she enjoys your music and how you are her favorite electronic music artist, so I had to tell you that.

What is it like selling out shows and encountering people who are too nervous to talk to you? Are those the moments you step back and realize, “Wow, we are on our way”?

To be completely honest, it doesn’t feel real. I’m surrounded completely by my really good friends. Our entire crew, the people that work with us, are my long-time friends from high school, so I feel very grounded in that community. If I start getting a big head, I’m just shut down pretty quickly.

I have a really nice core group of friends around me. I am in and out at the shows. The craziest moment is when we meet people who are our heroes who have heard of us. That stuff hits me pretty hard. All the other stuff doesn’t feel real yet.

When you play festivals like Coachella and, coming soon, HARD Day of the Dead, are you excited or nervous to be playing the top opportunities in your field?

Definitely both. I’m more excited than I am nervous because I have the mentality that I think every musician gets after they play a lot of shows, which is, “Shit happens and work your ass off.” We work really hard to make our live shows as engaging as possible. We are doing custom visuals and lights. We play a lot of live drums, and we try to incorporate a live singer. It’s going to keep growing.


I love your music because each track is so different in terms of where it pulls its influence, but they are all fully formed songs with choruses and verses. How do you begin the writing process? Do you start with a general atmosphere or do you work around a vocal hook when collaborating?

I think it always starts with something like “I really like this small sound. How can I emphasize that?” and we layer and layer on top of that until it feels like something else. If we started with some chords and put some drums under them, and the drums felt like hip hop, we think, “Oh, this would work really well for a rapper.” Stuff like that. It slowly forms without us guiding it too far. Once we find a route for a song, it’s a lot of detail work to make it sound that way.

Does it happen in a few days or is it a much longer process?

It’s interesting because we make a lot of our music really quickly, at least the ideas, and as soon as the ideas are out, the detail work takes forever. We want it to sound right and for the transitions to be smooth and every piece to be interesting. We don’t want to lose people’s attention.


When recording these songs, do you think about how they would work live? Are some songs harder to perform than others?

We definitely try not to think about how the songs will be onstage because we don’t want it to hinder the music. They are definitely two giant, different beasts.

Live music and recorded music are completely opposite to me. I feel like live music, you have to create an energy either by your performance, your connection with the crowd, or the audience being willing to immerse themselves in the music, and there are a lot of factors with that: the time of day you play, where you’re playing, what city it is…all that stuff.

There is so much to think about that is out of your control, so the best you can do is put on a performance that you would enjoy. Clay and I think it’s boring to see someone up there for too long just twisting knobs and stuff. We really want to incorporate both of us playing pieces. We want to play more, but we want to make sure we have everything down before we play it.

I think the live show is always growing and evolving, but we try not to think about it until we have to do it, and then we focus on how to make it the best it can be.

That came across at your Amoeba performance. When you took out drumsticks and started playing along, everyone lost it. The attention to detail you are talking about is so important.

Thanks. That’s nice to hear because when we were playing, it was so quiet compared to where we were used to playing. There wasn’t bass in the speakers, so when I hit the sub kick while playing live, it was almost non-existent.

Who are some artists you’ve been listening to lately that you respect or that inspire you?

Someone I’ve always looked up to is Bonobo, and now that we’ve been playing shows with him, I respect him even more. I feel like I’ve mentioned him in every interview the past few weeks, so he’s gonna be like, “Leave me alone!” but he is absolutely incredible. I’m really impressed by the fact that he has evolved as a musician but never changed his style too radically. He has grown and matured, and that’s something I hope we do as artists.

The rest of 2014 will see you going to Europe, something you’ve wanted to do for a while. You’ll be playing the Snowglobe Music Festival (headliners include Disclosure, Skrillex, and Zedd) and will then embark on an already sold-out Holy Ship! festival cruise. What are you most excited for?

I think I’m looking forward to seeing how we approach new music. We’ve already started trying to make new songs. We’re always working on stuff, and we definitely don’t want to repeat ourselves. We’ll make a song and be like, “We like this song, but it sounds like something that can be on In Return, so moving on.” We want to make it different and better. I don’t want to release the same album again. We are just trying things and experimenting.

Do you worry that if you release an album too different from In Return, fans will be turned off?

I’m not worried about it anymore because I felt that way about everything we’ve released. I’ve decided it’s not up to me. Once it leaves my computer, it’s not mine anymore.

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