How ODESZA Pulled Out All The Stops On ‘A Moment Apart’


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Ahead of ODESZA’s annual voyage to Australia, this time to show off their new album A Moment Apart, JACK TREGONING speaks to the duo’s Clayton Knight about taking headphone music to the masses.

Back in May, ODESZA played two headline dates at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a spectacular open-air venue near Denver, Colorado. Those shows saw the duo joined onstage by a guitarist, live brass players, eye-popping LEDs and even a drum line, while 10,000-odd fans cheered from the tiered rows. (You can watch it below for a sense of the spectacle.)

A Red Rocks-scale show is pretty remarkable for music as intimate as ODESZA’s. Right from their self-released debut album, 2012’s Summer’s Gone, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight have made songs for headphones. Filling huge venues was the unexpected byproduct. That flair for mood and texture returns, along with some live show-ready peaks, on ODESZA’s new album, A Moment Apart.

A Moment Apart comes three years after the duo’s last album, In Return. Released by tastemaking labels Ninja Tune, Counter and Inertia, In Return propelled ODESZA to a new level of renown. Mills and Knight hit the festival circuit hard, played their first Australian headline shows in January 2015, and landed a Grammy nomination. (The RAC remix of ‘Say My Name’ was in the running for the 2016’s Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical category.)

When Music Junkee tracks down Knight in his hometown of Seattle, he’s impatient for fans to hear the album. “It’s this weird combination of excited and very scared right now,” he says with a laugh. “It was a long haul to write the album; it took a substantial amount of time and effort. We’re very happy with how it turned out, and we’re hoping the reaction from fans is good. Once you finish something, it’s not really yours anymore.”

Instrumentals and Up-and-Comers

A Moment Apart features guests like Regina Spektor, but the vocalist-free tracks show off its grander cinematic scope. From the upbeat chug of ‘Late Night’ to the pensive, enveloping ‘Thin Floors and Tall Ceilings’, the tracklist is punctuated by evocative instrumentals.

“We learned early on that working with big artists who have a set, defined style weren’t willing so much to step outside of it to try new stuff.”

“We definitely tried to keep a cohesive vibe,” Knight says, “but we are fans of such a wide range of music, from dance/electronic to ambient, so we love to create all different genres. Some of the electronic albums I really love show a wide breadth. I think we try to show that we’re not just one sound. So creating instrumentals is a great way to exercise that and unify the album.”

Elsewhere on the album, lesser-known voices shine brightest, including Sasha Sloan (‘Falls’) and Kelsey Bulkin (‘Divide’). ODESZA makes a point of working with emerging acts who are more willing to experiment. “We learned early on that working with big artists who have a set, defined style weren’t willing so much to step outside of it to try new stuff,” Knight says.

The duo also recruited retro soul crooner Leon Bridges for ‘Across The Room’, a song that might surprise some fans. “It’s definitely one of my favourites,” Knight says. “The album has some really intense moments, and this one has a real Motown throwback feel. It just kind of came out in the studio, and Leon crushed it.”

Photo via ODESZA Facebook page

Making Indoors Music

Mills and Knight met as students at Western Washington University in 2012. The uni that birthed ODESZA is a 90-minute drive from Seattle, in a corner of the Pacific Northwest known for grey, drizzly skies and long winters. In other words: a perfect place to make headphone music.

Earnest indie-rockers Death Cab For Cutie also formed at Western, and theirs was a dominant sound. “Being around all that indie music shaped what we listened to and how we make electronic music,” Knight recalls. “We try to use a lot of organic elements in what we do.”

“It’s such a tight-knit community in Australia, and there’s just something about the energy of the audience. You get thrown into this family and everyone has a positive outlook.”

Cardigans and acoustic guitars, however, weren’t the path for ODESZA. “In college I got introduced to a bunch of more eclectic electronic music, like Boards Of Canada and Radiohead,” Knight says. “Then from there I got into more four-on-the-floor and heavier beat stuff. It was a natural evolution.”

Seattle’s famously brooding climate has always suited the duo’s take on electronic music. “We’re into these intimate albums; some of our favorite pieces of music we connect with on a personal level,” Knight says. “I think the weather and the vibe of Seattle plays a role in creating those pieces of work, where it’s intimate and also cinematic at times.”

Australia Calling

ODESZA comes back our way in mid-September for (mostly sold-out) shows in Sydney and Melbourne. The duo considers Australia something of a “second home”, ensuring it’s on the itinerary for each album tour. Their Australian connection is solidified on A Moment Apart with a couple of standout collaborations: ‘Line of Sight’ featuring Sydney band Mansionair (plus British singer WYNNE) and the tingly ‘Corners of the Earth’ with in-demand expat Ry X.

In fact, ODESZA is tight with a whole crew of Australian electronic luminaries. “The RÜFÜS boys are our really good friends, plus Hayden James and Tom [Golden Features],” Knight says. “It’s such a tight-knit community there, and there’s just something about the energy of the audience. You get thrown into this family and everyone has a positive outlook. In the US, it doesn’t happen quite as often. That’s why we’re drawn to Australian artists. I mean, you guys are killing it.”

The A Moment Apart tour kicks off with a true hometown show headlining Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival. “The first show of a tour is a lot of trial and error, seeing what connects and what doesn’t,” Knight says. “It should hopefully be quite an experience.” Turning intimate albums into communal experiences is, after all, what ODESZA does best.

ODESZA’s new album A Moment Apart is out September 8 on Inertia. You can pre-order it here.

Jack Tregoning is a freelance writer based in New York. He was formerly Editorial Director at the US dance music site Beatport and Editor of inthemix, and has written for Billboard, Red Bull Music Academy and Rolling Stone. He is on Twitter

ODESZA Australian tour

Melbourne — September 15 at Forum Theatre

Sydney — September 16 at Enmore Theatre

Tickets are on sale now.