A Moment Apart: The Evolution Of ODESZA
We chat to one-half of the Seattle duo about their bold and confident third album, and drawing inspiration from the world around them.
Header photo and in-article photos by Dani Hansen.
It's early on a cold, winters morning when I'm placed in a conference call with Harrison Mills - one-half of the electrifying Seattle duo ODESZA. It's around 7am and the sun is only just beginning to rise, with orangey-pink streaks of light shooting across the dark sky, growing brighter as the day progresses. A Moment Apart - the duo's long-awaited third album - paints a similar picture, with the sun-lit sounds of their break-out sophomore album In Return reduced to just a faint shading, dominated by a more darker force. "We’re known for making happy music,” says the duo's other member, Clayton Knight, in a quote accompanying the album's release, "Although Harrison is always trying to slip dark stuff into our music. This time he succeeded."
On A Moment Apart ODESZA are bolder and more confident than ever, drawing inspiration from the world around them to create an album which distances itself from the overwhelmingly joyous sound of In Return and Summer's Gone in favour of one that's far more complex and personal, something which Mills says comes from finding beauty in the more darker moments in life. "If you heard the intro, you'd hear this quote from the movie Another Earth," he says. "I feel like that really encapsulates the album for us." The quote, spoken by character Rhoda Williams in one of the film's more tender moments, details how a Russian cosmonaut found inner-peace in the insanity that comes with being isolated and closed in, inner-peace that arrives by finding perspective - something which Mills says is the overarching theme of the album. "We've been on tour for two years and gained a lot of perspective being around the world and amongst different people and cultures, away from our families and close friends. I feel like we've learned a lot and gained a lot of perspective in finding the beauty and melancholy in the sadder moments."
This theme is channeled across the duration of A Moment Apart, with the highs and lows of the duo sonically mapped out in the album's 16 tracks, which includes collaborations with Regina Spektor, RY X and Leon Bridges. Singles such as Line Of Sight, La Ciudad and the Sasha Sloan-featuring Falls are upbeat and perky, shining with ODESZA's nostalgic festive sound. Meanwhile some portions of the album feel more tender, like Just A Memory, their aching collaboration with Regina Spektor, and melancholy. "I’m not necessarily saying that the album is sad or dark, but I think it adds perspective and context," says Mills of the album's surprisingly varied sound. "We’ve gone through some horrible experiences, but these learning experiences have added so much depth to our creative maturity and vision, and A Moment Apart reflects this."
With A Moment Apart scheduled for release next Friday (September 8th) through Counter Records/Inertia and their own Foreign Family Collective (pre-order the album HERE) and a short-yet-sweet Australian run at the end of the month (dates at the bottom of this feature), now is the best time if ever to dive into the magic of ODESZA - we can guarantee it's worth it.
To start things off, I wanted to ask how you're feeling in the lead up to A Moment Apart, and how you were feeling before the release of In Return. Does it feel different this time around?
I don't know if I remember exactly how we were feeling before In Return dropped because it was so long ago. I think we were on the road too, so we were very distracted by working on our live show, and there were a lot of ideas on the go. I’m really proud of the album, and I’m hoping people appreciate it as an album and not songs out of context because I very much feel that we’re an album-based group.
Are you feeling any pressure to follow up the success of In Return?
Yeah, I think there’s always pressure for that. At first, it was a bit overwhelming, but I think we pretty quickly concluded that you couldn't let that impact you write the music that you want to write; otherwise, it’s going to end up being bad music. If you write for other people it’s pretty transparent.
Something that is immediately noticeable about A Moment Apart is how different it is to In Return. Was this avoiding writing a similar album a purposeful move? Particularly since you could've easily written an In Return replicate and it still would've been incredibly popular.
Yeah. I mean, no matter whether the album’s good or bad, if you stand in the way of your own progression as an artist I think you’re going to hinder yourself regardless. You always want to make the album that feels right at the time. So yeah, we dove in on the ideas we wanted to try, and we were influenced by a lot of composers, cinematic pieces and orchestral pieces for the album. It was a bit of a journey to what it is now.
Have there been any cinematic or classical pieces in particular that you've gained inspiration from for A Moment Apart? Cinematic music seems to a big thing at the moment, with Hans Zimmer performing at Coachella and everything.
[laughs] I think we’ve always been inspired by a lot of different cinematic pieces. I’m a big film buff too, so there are a lot of things we always wanted to try, especially having real strings on the record and an actual composer work with us. That was such a fun experience that I’ve always wanted to try, so being able to do that stuff was really new for us and really exciting.
How did the album evolve? Was there some sort of sonic blueprint that was set out before writing the album began or was it a more natural process?
We had a lot of ideas, like tonnes of ideas. There were things that we did that we didn’t include, mainly because we wanted it to be a more cohesive album. We started with the album-finishing Corners Of The Earth and the Intro with A Moment Apart, and used those as bookends on where we wanted it to start and stop and hopefully have a full circle of tracks on the album. That was kind of the beginning of the album, and then it continued as a journey throughout the different genres and styles with changing moods and tempos.
You mention that the Intro and A Moment Apart were two of the first songs written for the album. They seamlessly combine into each other as one song, so I'm interested in whether this suggests that A Moment Apart is an album designed to played from cover-to-cover with no skipping around?
I mean I won’t hold it against anyone if you want to skip around – I’m guilty of that too – but hopefully yes, that would be ideal. I’ve always been a fan of just putting on an album front to back and let it run how the artist meant it to, so we really tried to approach it that way and it’s entertaining for us to do – to have an album-based progress instead of just writing and putting together singles.
The electronic music scene is heavy on releasing singles and EPs, but you guys seem really focused on albums. Is there a reason for that?
I personally just like albums more where I feel like the songs work in the context of each other like they’re trying to tell a story or something. That doesn’t mean that the songs can’t stand on their own, but it’s just something of a preference for the both of us and we really take a lot of care in even just making the transitions between the songs on the album flow.
Has there been anything in particular that you’ve learned over the past few years touring and making In Return that you’ve been able to apply to the making of A Moment Apart?
I mean yeah, there are a lot of things. For instance, when we were in Cologne in Germany there was this Latin night at this club we had played at, and there were four rooms and every room had a different type of act – like a 50 person live band or a DJ, or something else. We were up until like, 3am just dancing and experiencing all of this music. Everyone knew every word of every song that was played there, and I remember just falling in love with the Latin culture and all the different types of music and the singing. There’s a moment where The Chamanas come and sing on the album [The Chamanas, an American/Mexican four-piece, feature on Everything At Your Feet] which we really wanted to incorporate. Spanish is such a beautiful language, and there are a lot of different rhythms influenced by that, so yeah, the experiences we had trickled into our album.
So you're saying that your surroundings - whether you're touring or just exploring - impact how your music sounds?
Yeah. I think it’s just all these extra learning experiences which allow you to grow and get different perspectives on things. I believe that it’s really about maturing and growing and seeing both sides of the spectrum of music and us as ODESZA really touching on the more melancholy side of music.
There are a lot of collaborations on A Moment Apart, and while we don’t have the time to talk about every single one, I did want to speak about the Regina Spektor single Just A Memory. That’s an absolutely beautiful moment on the album, so I’m interested to hear how that went down?
Yeah, that one is a really cool story. Clayton and I have been a fan of Regina Spektor forever, since like high school, so we sort-of jokingly reached out to her management thinking it wasn’t feasible that she would actually want to work with us. We didn’t hear back for about two months, but then randomly she hit us up. She was super excited and she wanted to work with us, so we sent over a track and a couple of days later she sent us back an email saying how she loved the entire song, but she was like, “I don’t want to send it to you guys, I want you to come hear me sing it to you.” So, we actually went to her hotel when she came to Seattle and we went up to her floor, knocked on her door and met her entire family – her kids, her husband, everything. We sat down on the couch and she opened her laptop, played the instrumental, closed her eyes and sung over the top of it.
It was a pretty crazy moment for me, especially being such a fan of her from such a young age, working with her on a collaboration and her singing it to me. I remember her ending the song and opening her eyes, saying “ah what do you guys think? Would you change anything?” and we couldn’t change a thing. It was really awesome, and a really unique collaborative experience for us. There was a lot of production on that song, but it was such a beautiful and intimate moment hearing it for the first time that we stripped down a lot of it and made it more about transforming people to that first time we heard it. That’s why it’s such an intimate track.
That's beautiful, and that intimateness is definitely visible on the single. Moving on, I guess we should talk about Australia too seeing as you're coming down here. It’s one of the first set of shows that come after the album’s release – what is currently going into transforming A Moment Apart into your live show?
We spend a lot of time remaking almost all of our songs for the live show, like I would say that 80% of the show is reworked versions of our songs. We add horns; we add guitar; we incorporate drum lines; we work really hard on making all our visuals with our visuals guy; we try to make it a really immersive and theatrical experience.
And that really shows. You guys renowned for being such a theatrical live act, but how important is it for you guys to be a live act instead of just choosing the easy way out and being a DJ act?
Yeah, it would probably be simpler for us to be a DJ act [laughs]. I think the way our music is, and the way our music is built with so many organic instruments, it just translates well. We do DJ sets all the time and I’m not knocking DJs, especially because we’re a fan of a lot of DJs and I’ve seen a lot of great DJ sets, but I think for our music, in particular, it just makes sense. It’s actually really fun for us to rewrite the elements to make them more epic live too. It’s a fun project, we almost consider it as like writing two different albums.
And you guys have a real love affair of sorts for Australia. You’ve toured down here a couple of times; you have The Kite String Tangle and Running Touch (two Australian acts) supporting your shows down here; you have a couple of Australian features on the album; you and Hayden James remixing each other a while back, and everything else. Are you guys ever just going to pull the trigger and move down here at one stage?
[laughs] Yeah, it really is our second home. We absolutely love Australia, and some of our closest friends in music are down there – like Hayden James and I talk all the time and yeah. I don’t know what it is in the water down there but you guys make great music, and you’re all such good people. I don’t know why we haven’t moved down there already [laughs].
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