TVD Recommends: Odesza at the Bottom Lounge, 10/10

Let me tell you about Odesza. Odesza is a duo of Seattle producers, Clay Knight and Harrison Mills, who make dreamy, super groovy dance music, that if you’re one of those people who absolutely needs to slap a genre on something, then fine—it’s electronic dance music. But In Return goes far beyond the bass drops and heavy womps so commonplace with EDM. It’s more mature than that. Instead, In Return is much closer to a pop record with catchy melodies and is a showcase for Knight and Mills to reveal that they can produce the hell out of some songs. 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Clay Knight last week about what it was like to make the record he’s been dreaming of, how things are different from their first release, Summer’s Gone, and of course, vinyl. Odesza have been on the road for a little while and will be coming to Chicago this Friday, 10/10, for two sets at the Bottom Lounge

In Return is your first release on a physical format, so I was curious how you went into the recording process and envisioned this record. Was vinyl something that was in the forefront of your plans?

Being able to play my own vinyl has been a dream for a long time. Having In Return on a physical format is something I’ve wanted, so I can cross that off the bucket list. Just getting to hold it for the first time was a dream come true.

When did you start getting into vinyl?

I didn’t really get into vinyl until college when I started messing around with sampling stuff. My first vinyl record was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and I just really fell in love with the overall sound quality and the warmth you get on vinyl. You definitely can’t recreate that. That was kind of the beginning and I’ve been collecting ever since.

We recently went to Amoeba Records which is such a classic LA record store and we did a little in-store there and they gave us a little money to spend to pick out records. They have anything you could possibly want.

When you and Harrison decided to put this album together, was there a conscious choice to pursue this album with a focus on the songs? 

We’ve always had a thing for pop music so we kind of wanted to try pushing ourselves as far as producers go. Working with other artists was kind of the next step in trying to actually create full vocal, song, chord, type tracks. It was definitely an experiment. We learned a lot from it and have a bunch of good ideas for the next one. Yeah, it was just a growing process. We wanted to really try to push ourselves as much as possible.

How did some of the collaborations with other artists like Shy Girls and Zyra come about? A majority of the album has someone on it with you which is awesome because you get to hear so many different voices.

Each song has it’s own unique story. When we started out we kinda just reached out to anyone who we liked to sing and wanted to go on a track. Like the one, “Sun Models” with Madelyn Grant, we just posted on Facebook, “Hey if you sing, we’d love to hear your demos.” She hit us up and told us, “I’m a choir singer in Michigan.” And she had this really nice soul aspect to her voice and she recorded some stuff and sent it over and we really chopped it up and did our own thing with it.

Each song is a little different. The Shy Girls track, we actually got in the studio with him. We didn’t actually get in the studio with Zyra because she lives in the UK, but we spent a lot of time going back and forth saying like, “Oh we love what you did here, can you emphasize that a little more,” and so on. There was just a lot of back and forth process and then the songs are rewritten to match the vocals more. A lot of the songs started out sounding a lot different from how they ended up because we were trying to match the vocal tonality with the instrumentation.

That’s interesting—the back and forth process. That’s great that the way the album was done allowed for so much freedom for everyone creatively. It kind of reminds me how the Postal Service recorded their album.

Yeah, it’s a little different from just going in the studio and doing like one big session and trying to give people a lot more freedom. I think people, especially vocalists, some of them are not really well-trained or haven’t been to the studio quite a bit, so it can be high stakes to perform under that pressure. Allowing someone to record stuff on their own in their personal space and you can then take any chance you want at it. It gives them more freedom and I think it actually ends up being a better product when you allow people that [freedom].

You and Harrison are from Seattle, so how has the music scene been for you there? 

Electronic music is not that dominant out there. It’s definitely got a pretty strong hip hop scene as well as folk and indie rock scenes, but there have been some recent music festivals like Decibel that are more electronic oriented. It [happened last weekend] actually and yeah, it kind of brought to light more of the electronic scene there and I think the future is pretty bright for Seattle as far as electronic music goes.

How did you guys meet? How did Odezsa come to be?

We were kind of doing our own individual things throughout college. While I was taking classes and whatnot, music was always a hobby of mine. Growing up I played classical piano, all throughout middle school, I went and did that for 8 years and then I went to college and got more into the production side and started recording piano pieces I was writing and guitar licks and whatnot. Then once I started working with the digital audio workstations like Ableton and Logic and those kind of applications on the production side, we were kind of the only people making or listening to weird electronic music up there, so it worked well.

I think it’s nice to be a big fish in a small pond sometimes. I was also curious about your influences. What are you listening to?

We are all over the map as far as what we listen to. But for this one specifically, In Return, we’ve been on the road with some heavier electronic acts. [We’ve been] working with the heavy EDM kind of formulaic style of music while we are out there performing. We were in the car on the way back home and were kind of burnt out from it—just doing it every night basically. So we kind of went back to the weirder, more ambient sounds we listened to in college. Like, I’m a big fan of Animal Collective and they kind of have these ambient vibes. Same with M83 and a couple of other artists. We kind of just refreshed our palate a little bit and take in as much as possible and reworking old songs and then writing new material to match that [sound we liked]. So that’s kind of how the whole process came to be.

Odesza plays Chicago this Friday, 10/10, for two sets at the Bottom Lounge

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