Odesza – Interview

Odesza has just dropped this beautiful new track, “Sun Models,” featuring the R&B vocal prowess of Madelyn Grant, a newcomer out of Ann Arbor, MI. The tune is a part of a compilation titled “Rat Pack #1” from Australia’s imprint Pilerats Records. It kind of reminds me of some of what Bonobo does with vocals on tracks like “Emkay” and “Know You.” Centering around simple percussion, an almost steel drum sound, Odesza builds a short and sweet musing on the girls of summer, all the while strengthening their signature sound.

There is undoubtedly a new movement stirring up on the coast of the Pacific. Every time I open my SoundCloud stream, I ultimately end up bumping this same style of tune, dreamy and slightly trappy. Gen-Y producers out of California, Washington, and Oregon, like Giraffage, Electric Mantis, and Slow Magic are utilizing some the same basic production techniques as trap producers but doing to it as Phaeleh and Flume did to UK garage and Pretty Lights and Gramatik did to the more intense trip-hop sounds. By smoothing out the edges, minimizing the moving parts and adding beautiful glitched out vocal melodies the result is what some would call dream-wave or what I refer to as deep trap.

It was around the time of Sasquatch Festival in 2013 that I first heard a variation of this sound. My roommate arrived home from covering the festival, raving about the “ethereal and beautiful” set that this group Odesza threw down in the late night tent. “How Did I Get Here?,” that was the track I reposted and liked, listening over and over for a few days. It was as if I was listening to a hyped up hip-hop show with shoulders shrugging and couples grinding in slow-mo. Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills, originally BeachesBeaches and Catacombkid respectively, are musical soul mates meant to bring together their unique specialties in production and composition. Knight, a classical pianist and guitarist, contributes the more shoegaze sounds along with the bass-centric beats. Mills is the maestro of the hip-hop synth work and sample-based melodies. In 2012, during the spring semester of their senior year at Western Washington University, the duo began work on their debut album Summers Gone and have since released an EP titled My Friends Never Die and a remix album under the same name featuring Little People, Tor, 1990, Kodak to Graphand Vindata.

Throughout the rest of 2013, I noticed Odesza’s name halfway up the lineups for some of the most respectable electronic music festivals in the United States, including Symbiosis Gathering, Lightning in a Bottle, and Decibel Festival. Then I saw them playing support to both Pretty Lights Live Band, Michal Menert and now the Emancipator Ensemble on their respective tours. As I looked over the top-level names included on Pretty Lights remix album last fall, again I saw Odesza, who remixed the track “One Day They’ll Know,” which hit #1 on Hype Machine and #8 on the iTunes Electronic Chart. It was the group’s recent “NO.SLEEP” mixes circulating the web that truly got me hooked on their style. These guys have yet to even headline their own tour (set for later this year) and they already have five million plays on the tracks posted on their SoundCloud page. Think these guys are worried about releasing their music for free online? Think again. After the trap music epidemic, this duo is making the music that people need right now. As Odesza begins their musical career within the context of this new age of live music and streaming, they have shown that all it takes is the right combination of distinction and relevance to produce a movement that makes the people move. I know they’ve got me moving already, and I’m finally ready to do so at the live show. Last week, I spoke with Clayton Knight regarding the beginnings of Odesza, their recent success, and where things are heading…

[LiS] Your “NO.SLEEP” mixes have been some of my go-to’s lately, can you explain the concept behind them and whether or not we will be seeing more of them?

[Odesza] There is this company called Jiberish we had worked on an event with in Boston and they approached us looking for a mix. We just kind of picked everything we were into at the moment, put it together and that became the first one. Now, it’s gotten pretty popular and we’ve just kept rolling with it.

Can you tell me a little about the My Friends Never Die release and the concept behind it?

When we made Summers Gone we didn’t really think about performing it live, we were just making music we wanted to hear. When we started doing live shows we started realizing, “Ok, this is pretty downtempo.” We went about trying to make tracks for just the live setting basically. We added those tracks to the live set and they got a really good response from the audiences and people were asking “What is that? I haven’t heard that before from you guys.” It was unreleased stuff that we never really planned on releasing but we got asked so much we decided we might as well put it out and that was the birth of My Friends Never Die. The title is about all the people that have helped us along the way so far, our friends and family.

San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, and New York are most often referenced when people talk about American electronic music. What is happening in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest’s music scene and what should we expect in the future?

Right now, the electronic music scene in Seattle is pretty new. It’s starting with Decibel Festival, they have kind of given more attention to electronic music here. There is a lot of indie folk right now. That Mumford and Sons kind of generation of kids, The Head and the Heart are really big in Seattle. Slowly I think… And that is what we are trying to do, is give Seattle a more electronic background and highlight that part of the music scene. There are definitely some talented producers in the area. There is monthly called Dial Up here and hopefully we can get a weekly thing set up that could bring in artists.

You’ve performed at some of the most important events in America, such as Decibel Festival, Symbiosis Gathering, Lightning in a Bottle, and Sasquatch. In terms of crowds, vibe, and production, how different is it to play at one of these events compared to another?

They are not too different, the city show will be a lot different than in a festival setting. The crowd is definitely more into it at a festival, as they are there for three or four days to listen to music. They get into the headspace a little more. There is a little more excitement and energy from the crowd, as opposed to a show on Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for example.

What are some of your impressions of the state of the live music culture in this country? How do you view your part in it?

America is always kind of lagging behind what is happening overseas, so I usually just look at what’s happening in the UK right now and that is probably what is going to happen in America in the next couple years. A lot of the pop stuff on the radio here is sounding more electronic, like Lorde’s production for instance. I see America becoming more a part of the fabric of electronic music. I hope to be a part of that and to bring Seattle more into the forefront.

What are you thoughts about the current commercial EDM phenomena?

It happens with anything that can draw a crowd. It’s going to get bigger, it’s going to get commercialized, it’s going to get monetized in a way, and people are going to try to make cash off of it, but I think that will fade eventually as the next big thing comes and electronic music has more of a permanent place within the American audience. As much as that commercialism happens, you will get backlashes of people rejecting it and people will begin pushing the envelope in a weirder way, which is always a good thing I think.

You have already had millions of streams of your tracks on your SoundCloud page, what effect has social media and independent distribution had on your current success?

I don’t think we would be anywhere close to where we are now without SoundCloud or Facebook and giving music away for free. I think it allows you to reach a larger audience. Some people would not have downloaded or heard it without it being free. It’s about people sharing and I think that is the future of music. Especially recording, I think the monetary gain is going to come from shows. Selling an album was a kind of an outdated idea, like going triple platinum, I think those days are long gone.

Before you were Odesza, you were individually BeachesBeaches and Catacombkid. What are your musical backgrounds like and how do you each differ both stylistically and in the studio?

My dad studied classical piano for most of his life and I grew up around someone playing the piano basically everyday for a couple hours. I started taking lessons and playing classical and jazz piano, so I have total of 6 or 7 years of piano training. In high school, I started getting into the guitar and started trying to record the stuff I was writing. That kind of led me into the electronic side of music. I got more into creating new sounds and manipulating sounds I was making and creating synth stuff from scratch. Harrison and I have a different background. He has a really good ear for some more downtempo, more hip-hoppy sounds. When we first started I was kind of into the house, more electronic, kind of like Four-tet, but also like atmospheric at the same time. So when we met up we would take the hip-hop drums and hip-hop feel that he had and then put these kind of bright poppy works behind it and that’s kind of the evolution of our sound.

What are some of your favorite VST / FX Racks?

Right now, my go to is Soundtoys. They have the best delay I’ve ever used, some really nice compressors and the saturation they have, this thing called Decapitator, is absolutely fantastic. A lot of Logic stuff, for extra compression we will just use the Logic compressor, which is really good as is. For mastering, we will use Ozone out of iZotope. A lot of the synth plugins, like “silence” we use and then we have all the Native Instruments stuff. I’ve been using the Monark plugin, a modeled analog autotune that’s really fat and warm sounding.

What do you think of the trend of extremely specific sub-genre labeling today? Does your music fall under a niche genre or should your music be categorized more broadly?

Electronic music is so vibrant and has so many different aspects to it that I think the genre will become outdated at some point. People love to categorize and love to label, so I think new genres will arise just blending the old genres. I’m curious to see how that evolves, I personally think that genres are there for a reason but trying to classify a sound in a couple of words is tough to do. I like making music for myself, I’m not trying to peruse one genre’s sound and take advantage of a trend that’s happening. If I just wanted to make trap music right now, I’m sure I could get a little bump in whatever is hot right now. But that fades away eventually, so you gotta’ make your own unique thing and make music that you want to hear.

How do you describe the “dream wave” sound and are there any such artists that stand out to you specifically?

I think a big trend that is going to come is that kind of a minimal scene will be coming back. Pretty choruses and pretty melodies with some house beats underneath will be pretty big. This artist Kygo has recently been blowing up and he has been pushing that sound. A young Norwegian kid just doing his thing. He has done some remixes, I don’t know if he has anything original out. He has a nice simple sound, really poppy chords but pretty melodies running at 110 BPM.

I’ve been hearing these trap beats being played but with more of a sensual vibe going on versus that Lil’ John shit. Like deep house, I feel like there is a kind of deep trap…

I think you are right and it will be a big thing. Trap came out really heavy and hard but people always get sick of that heavy sound and there is a backlash to that. I think the next stage of trap, of post-trap or chill trap will be to take the pieces of trap that people like, the step beats and the 808 sound, and put it under something that is not so hyped up.

Who is mixing and producing some of the best tracks right now?

The Australian scene itself is kind of amazing right now. There is also a kid out of Portland that I recently found called Electric Mantis who has a very unique sound and really solid production, check him out. If he can take it to the next level and keep evolving with it, he will do very well. You can’t be static, you gotta’ be pushing the boundaries. Recently, I’ve been listening to old stuff, revising some of my older tastes like Four-tet. Animal Collective is always a big favorite of mine, those weirder experimental sounds.

What track off your remix album are you currently finding yourself playing the most?

I really like the vibe of the Little People remix.

Do you have anything planned out for 2014?

We are doing this month long tour right now. We will have some time off, then we go on our first headlining tour a week after that. That will be the first time we’ve gone on the road and tried to do our own thing. After that, we will do some festival appearances. We’ve been working really hard on a new LP, we’ve kind of got all the demos up for that. We will put it out there for people to hear and see what direction we should take things.

NO.SLEEP Mix.03 Tracklist:

1. Empire Of The Sun – DNA (Ta-ku Remix)
2. BANKS – Waiting Game (Ruddyp Bootleg)
3. Alpine – Icypoles (Star Slinger Remix)
4. Suff Daddy – ONE4PETER
5. Flight Facilities (Wave Racer Remix)
6. Daft Punk – Get Lucky (Mystress Remix)
7. Star Slinger – IV
8. Laura Mvula – That’s Alright (Silent Rider Remix)
9. Joywave – Tongues (feat. KOPPS)
10. Disclosure – Latch (Stwo & Phazz Edition)
11. Esta. – Kings
12. ElectricMantis – Flips and Flops, Drips and Drops
13. Empire Of The Sun – ALIVE (GOLD FIELDS REMIX)
14. CutOff!CutOff! – Limits Of Design (Essay’s Spaceship Remix) X Alina Baraz – Paradise (Prod. By ESTA.) (NO.SLEEP bootleg)
15. Flying Lotus – Puppet Talk (Ruff Draft rmx)
16. Hayden James – Embrace
17. CHPLN – White Snow (Shy Luv Remix)

Odesza’s NO.SLEEP Mix.03 begins with a swelling and mad Ta-ku remix of Empire of the Sun’s “DNA,” where the melody is completely unrecognizable. I’m kind of in love with this chick BANKS and this Ruddyp bootleg is really dope, swapping her vocals out for the super deep backup vocals featured on the original track. Odesza does a nice job of mixing the saturated and speedy Star Slinger remix of Alpines‘ “Icypoles” into the jazzy hip-hop sound of Suff Daddy‘s “ONE4PETER.” Things then get oddly cheerful with a whistle and arpeggiation drenched Wave Racer remix of Flight Facilities “Stand Still” moves into Mystress‘ take on “Get Lucky.” After seeing the British artist Star Slinger twice on this mix, including his recent hit “IV,” I am now officially “put on.” I am impressed at how Odesza has included a remix of a Laura Mvula track on each of these NO.SLEEP mixes, as I recently realized that this vocalist is poised to break out in a big way. Been seeing Stwo everywhere, digging this deep, slinky remix of “Latch.” “Kings” soulful and minimal sounds by San Diego’s Esta. slow the mix down into Electric Mantis’ break out track, “Flips and Flops, Drips and Drops.” Empire of the Sun is kind of my guilty pleasure so if you add the dream steeze of Gold Fields, then I’m really down. The Odesza boys do a little mashup of Berlin’s CutOff!CutOff! and another Esta. production. Ruff Draft, another Bay Area discovery for me, provides a variation on a Flying Lotus classic which moves smooth into the seriously sultry “Embrace” from Australia’s Hayden James which sounds so much like CHPLN‘s “White Snow” that I don’t notice the change. Tunes for the house party, a cruise, a sunny day walk… Just not sleep…

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