ODESZA Steps Away From the Noise of Everyday Life

The electronic artists share why working with others is necessary for making an album about being alone.

Odesza (Tonje Thilesen)

Above all else, ODESZA was unexpected. Before the electronic duo racked up hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify, before they were headlining massive festivals like Coachella and Snowglobe, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight were two college students mixing beats together at Western Washington University.

Though it’s been nearly five years since their debut album, Summer’s Gone, was released, ODESZA’s shift from an after-school hobby to one of the largest defining voices of indie EDM today remains surreal.

“You don’t become a musician to be seen, at least for me,” Mills says. “Especially for producers — we all came from being kids in our bedrooms, making weird beats. And suddenly you’re supposed to be on camera, and talking, and charismatic, and fun, and all these things that are expected of someone in the public eye. And you just want to be making music.”

Thankfully, between being on camera and maintaining their charisma, ODESZA did manage to make some new music. Their third album, A Moment Apart, was released this past September, the duo’s first studio album release in three years. A Moment Apart has ODESZA’s usual airy electronic melodies, now heightened with swelling orchestral samples and features from artists such as Leon Bridges and Regina Spektor. For Mills, the album is the “cinematic soundscape” ODESZA was always striving for, but never able to accomplish until now. “It was something we’ve always wanted to approach but never really had the means to — to have a full on orchestra and choirs and stuff like that. A Moment Apart isn’t a reinvention as much as it is a mature growth.”

This “cinematic soundscape” is best understood in the context of the album’s opening track, a one-minute spoken word piece aptly titled “Intro.” Featuring only a rhythmic ticking sound and a sample of dialogue from the film Another Earth, “Intro” seamlessly morphs into what Mills calls the “epic, sprawling, string instrument moment” of the second song. Despite its brevity and unconventional lack of instrumentals, Mills cites “Intro” as the song he connects to most in the album, saying that the track attempts to “make you feel like you’re getting ready for a ride.”

Although ODESZA invests extensive effort into its live performances — Mills claims that he and Knight spent months developing new visuals and theatrics for their upcoming fall tour — A Moment Apart is intended to be listened to alone, rather than with a raucous concert crowd.

A Moment Apart, for me, is stepping away from all the noise to self-reflect,” Mills says. The record evokes the feeling of being “at a party, and you don’t really want to be there. And you just step outside and close the door, and you stop hearing the inside [of the party] and you look up at the moon by yourself. That one moment by yourself to just step away from all the noise — that’s really what it’s about.”

As much as Mills savors these moments of private introspection, years of working and touring with Knight has given him a strong appreciation for collaboration with others. While Mills laughs at the media’s portrayal of his and Knight’s relationship, comparing their group photoshoots to “getting a picture taken with your brother everywhere you go,” his respect for ODESZA’s creative partnership is sincere.

“With Clay I feel like we’re learning every day from each other,” says Mills, “From personal choices, and things we find online — we show each other different plugins and synths and ideas and songs.” Mills stresses the importance of recognizing each other’s skills when writing music together, stating that “there has to be a mutual respect in a duo. There’s a trust. If someone feels really strongly about something, you trust that they are making the right decision because it’s a collaborative effort.” Following their penchant for the unexpected, through working together ODESZA has crafted a moment apart.

ODESZA, Thursday, Oct. 26, 6 p.m., Friday, Oct. 27, 7 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 28., 7 p.m., at the Greek Theater. $53.50; thegreekberkeley.com

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