Q&A: ODESZA Is Anything But “Two Dudes In A Basement” At The El Rey Theatre
By Cynthia Orgel; Photos by Quinn Tivey on March 19, 2013
If you’re even slightly into ODESZA—a new and addictive Seattle-based production team—you've no doubt had their song “How Did I Get Here," and its identical lyrics, bolted to your brain these past few months. Not a single person at the El Rey on Saturday night was asking themselves that question, however, because each person’s presence at the sold-out show—presented by The Do LaB—was very deliberate. They came to watch Harrison Mills (Catacombkid) and Clayton Knight (BeachesBeaches) perform their debut record, Summer’s Gone, during the duo’s first large-scale tour of the American West alongside Emancipator and Little People.
ODESZA's 45-minute set soundtracked what is the most awe-inspiring event to witness at a concert: audience members chucking all inhibition behind. Countless people had this similar sort of secret, barely there smile upon their lips while dancing with themselves. I believe it's called complacence. There was whistling, an equal ratio of beanies to baseball caps, a little weed, and guys grooving with their hands in the air like conductors. Freak flags were subtle, but rampant.
And who was responsible for this? Knight and Mills, who shared the same smile as the audience, though mixed with determination to keep the mood as colorful as the alternating warm and cool-colored stage lights flashing upon them. That's the vibe they have aptly dubbed Summer's Gone.
FILTER got to meet up with the duo right before their soundcheck to talk influences, falsettos and the future.
So this is your first tour beyond Washington and Oregon. Has it been meeting expectations?
Mills: It’s kind of been blowing them out of the water. It’s been pretty crazy for us. We didn’t expect to be treated so well and have so much support for a band that basically just started.
You guys have the biggest smiles on your faces, so it must be a pretty good tour so far.
Knight: It’s pretty surreal. I mean, we didn’t really think this would ever happen.
Mills: Yeah, we’re two dudes in a basement. [both laugh]
In a Seattle basement?
Mills: Well, it’s kind of half and half. We made most of it in Western Washington. We went to Western Washington University. [Knight] had a place in Bellingham, and I had just graduated, so I didn’t live there anymore. But I would come up and we’d stay there for about four hours or so.
How did you guys meet during college? Was it at a party or at a show?
Knight: We had a mutual friend named Sean, and [Mills] hung out with him quite a bit. I don’t know how you guys met exactly—
Mills: We were in the dorms together and he was a filmmaker. I just hung out in his dorm one day, and he was showing me all of these films he was into. Eventually he lived with Clay for like three years I think, and I would always casually see Clay, but I never really talked to him very much—
But you wanted to.
Mills: [Laughs] Well, he had gotten this thing called a Maschine; it’s basically a beat-making thing. I was like, "Oh, I’ve been thinking about buying one of those!" So I started talking to him about it. And I had heard his music, and he had come to one of my shows a long time ago, and we’d always talk about it, like, "Yeah, we should collab sometime." One day, I just had all of my stuff there, and I was showing our friend Sean some songs I was working on, and Clay [who] was nearby was like, "Hey, we should jam." So we went downstairs and kind of made a bunch of songs in a day, and things went really well.
How did you go about selecting the sorts of songs that you use as samples for your tracks, like Lily Allen's "22" for "How Did I Get Here" and Alicia Keys' "No One" for "Above The Middle"?
Knight: Anything with a smooth female vocal catches our eye pretty quick. So anything that’s kind of got that nice melody and flows with everything.
Mills: Almost all things falsetto. I feel like high, nice, pretty vocals you can manipulate in any way...
Is that also [Yeah Yeah Yeah's] "Cheated Hearts” in "Above The Middle"?
Mills: Yeah, that’s a great song.
And another female singer!
Mills: What we do is we just collect tons of samples we really like, and then we either start with a sample, or we start with just melodies, and then we find matching stuff or things we would like to incorporate. Then it’s just kind of a big mash of things: throwing as much as we can into it and trying to explore as many avenues of sound with it. Something that’s new for us is before, we would probably do like three or four versions of a song, and now, we’re trying to do like 25 and just really not stick to one thing.
By combining Alicia Keys and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, you’re bringing a bunch of different listeners into one song. That’s pretty sweet.
Knight: That’s kind of what we try to do: incorporate a wide variety of sounds, like harps and weird African drums. The wider the range the better.
Besides the artists you sample, who else influences your sound?
Mills: We kind of spend like every day on Soundcloud for hours, so we hear tons of people, [from] lesser-known to really well-known. It’s just following other people’s "likes" and stuff, so we kind of hear everything. If you asked me like a year-and-a-half ago who I was listening to, I’d probably just say all big people. But now with Soundcloud, it’s so much easier to find, like, some dude in Moscow who’s making the coolest, weirdest little beats ever. That’s another thing that’s really cool about working with someone: he’ll find stuff that I’ve never heard of and show me, and I’ll be super influenced by it.
I had read that Seattle contributed to the kind of chilly and captivating vibe of the album. Besides Seattle itself, what else has influenced your album?
Mills: Our friends, and just summer in Bellingham. Up there, [summer is] really amazing, and you only get it for a small amount of time. It’s really beautiful because there’s so much rain there that the trees are amazing.When the sun’s finally out there, you get to really, clearly, see everything and enjoy it. People really take advantage of it there and they’re always outside, although we spent that summer kind of downstairs [laughs]. We were mixing the album basically right at the end of summer, so that’s why the whole thing’s called Summer’s Gone; we were thinking back on summer throughout the whole mixing process.
Knight: People in the Northwest—because we get so little sun to begin with—when it does happen, people really try to maximize it to the full potential. I mean, that’s kind of the whole idea with the album: it’s kind of fleeting, [and] always fading and moving on.
Summer’s Gone was self-released and you made it downloadable for free on your website. What made you go that route? Are there any physical copies for sale?
Knight: As of now, there are not. Really it was just about getting people to listen to our music, so putting a price on it, I think we would have excluded a huge number of people. Putting it up for free was just a good idea because it allowed a bunch of people to get it right away. I think that’s the future of where it’s going. It’s not about album sales anymore; it’s about touring—
Mills: It’s about who likes your music.
Knight: Exactly. It allowed us to reach a broader audience by doing that.
What’s next for ODESZA?
Knight: Do some touring. We’ve got Sasquatch! later, and a couple other festivals, but we’d just really like to put out more music. That would be the next step.
Mills: Yeah, we’re kind of waiting for the [inevitable] scrutiny. [rolls eyes] "Summer’s Gone was sooo much better." F
Click here for more photos by Quinn Tivey.