ODESZA discuss evolving through experimentation for ‘A Moment Apart’ [Interview]
When ODESZA first hit the indie-electro airwaves in 2012, the angelic chords and lush piano of their debut EP, Summer’s Gone, shone like a golden hue through the cracks in a heavy hitting EDM market. By weaving indie-folk roots into their largely instrumental debut body of work, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight created a euphoric oasis between the stabbing synths and aggressive bass lines of their contemporaries.
On their forthcoming sophomore album, A Moment Apart, ODESZA fosters this dreamy yet kinetic niche within the indie-electro sphere by experimenting with new genres, tinkering with organic instrumentation and collaborating with unexpected vocalists. Where other groups falter via unconvincing annual rebrands or lackluster imitations of previous work, A Moment Apart amplifies the best aspects of ODESZA’s sound from new perspectives.
Since the duo’s inception, ODESZA has embraced an artistic philosophy of experimentation to stay fresh in the genre. The title track to their 2013 EP, My Friends Never Die, amplified the stunning instrumentation of their debut by adding subtle trap elements and choppy vocals.
The following year, ODESZA entered into the pop neighborhood with their celebrated debut album, In Return. Mills and Knight’s experimentation with pop-leaning vocalists such as Zyra, Py, and Madelyn Grant blended vibrantly with their signature compositional style. This fusion elevated In Return to critical acclaim, and would lay the groundwork for continued experimentation on A Moment Apart.
Knight explains that their highly anticipated sophomore LP, which arrives September 8 on Foreign Family Collective, is an evolution in the ODESZA sound because it refines the heat-sleepy feel of In Return while paying homage to their indie-folk roots. He shares that, “even before In Return was done, some of the material that [they] were working on made it on to” the new album.
According to Knight, the duo’s recording process was more hands-on this time around, allowing for creative experimentation with vocalists from acoustic, R&B and alt-indie backgrounds.
“In Return was our first real try at writing full tracks, having top lines and working with other vocalists. A lot of In Return was done via email and by swapping tracks back and forth. So, for A Moment Apart, we were in the studio quite a bit working with the vocalists, and tried to be as much a part of the top line writing process as possible.”
The product is a cohesive collection of sixteen tracks that heighten everything fans initially fell in love with about ODESZA and dig deeper into what makes them so eye-catching. A Moment Apart was primarily recorded in the artists’ hometown Seattle studio and across numerous sessions with vocalists in Los Angeles. From its nostalgic melodies, to the album’s aura of longing and hope, the diverse biomes of the West Coast are undeniably engrained in A Moment Apart.
“This last winter was a really long one; we had almost two months of straight rain [in Seattle], so we just hunkered down and got in that zone,” Knight explains. “Seattle is known for its rock, folk and indie scene so a lot of those elements make it into our music.” Elaborating further, he notes that ODESZA’s roots and location play a pivotal role in their creative processes, though these factors are intangible, operating on a subconscious level:
“I’m not sure if we were aware of what effect our surroundings were having on us, but it definitely speaks to the music. On this album specifically, we were trying to hold on to more organic instrumentation, and I think that’s due a lot to where we come from.”
According to Knight, the final track on the album “Corners Of The Earth” was ironically the first track to come together. The track’s orchestral vocals from Australian indie vocalist RY X and soaring horn sections are a chilling denouement to a cinematic album. Composed in an experimental, collaborative environment, RY X apparently wrote the top line in a single, eight-to-ten hour session. amazing top line all in one [eight to ten hour] session.”
For Knight, the process behind “Corners Of The Earth” reinforces the effectiveness of ODESZA’s creative strategy, and was crucial in realizing the duo’s end goal for A Moment Apart. “It set the tone for the rest for the rest of the album in some sense,” he argues.“It’s an all encompassing track that embodies the epic feel we were looking to accomplish.”
Indeed, “epic” is an accurate word to describe the upcoming LP, due in part to buzzworthy featured vocalist Regina Spektor on the still unreleased track “Just A Memory.” After reaching out to the Grammy-nominated indie songstress on a whim, ODESZA scored a once in a lifetime collaboration with the singer in an unlikely way. Knight explains that, after sending Spektor “some makeshift demos, which were just light instrumentals,” she wrote them back with an unusual request.
Spektor wrote vocals for the track, but wouldn’t send over the final product via email — she wanted them to hear it in person. So, last fall on a Seattle tour date, Spektor invited the duo to her hotel room to do just that, fundamentally changing the future of the track. “It was absolutely amazing, we made her sing it twice,” Knight explains. “[After we left,] we went back to the instrumental and stripped it down even more to try and capture the vibe in that hotel room. We wanted the instrumentals in the background, and her vocals right up front.”
The intimate setting brought Spektor’s vocals to center stage, highlighting the the power of experimentation and open-mindedness when bridging the artists’ two genres together. Knight shares that both “Just A Memory” and the duo’s collaboration with R&B powerhouse Leon Bridges required a “unique back and forth progression” between both artists’ respective musical backgrounds. “Having them live in those genres allowed us to meet in a middle ground,” Knight shares.
Due to a give and take from all sides, the combination of Spektor’s vocally-focused, stripped down style with Bridges’ soulful vocals translate effortlessly into the alt-electronic genre. However, Knight admits that rising artists were often more willing than other bigger ticket collaborators to “go outside their comfort zone and experiment, usually ending up with a better track.”
“What we’ll do for a live show is put twists on and revamp songs that we wrote for the album. We’ll almost remix them ourselves, giving them a little bit more energy for a live setting.”
Similar to ODESZA’s songwriting process, the duo’s live shows evolve in tandem with their willingness to experiment. While Knight shares that their albums have a “headphone oriented, intimate vibe,” he admits that their live shows are “very different beasts.” Experimentation is key in translating the intimate sounds on their albums into high-energy live performances. “What we’ll do for a live show is put twists on and revamp songs that we wrote for the album,” Knight details. “We’ll almost remix them ourselves, giving them a little bit more energy for a live setting.”
Complete with a full drum line, live instrumentation, hypnotic visuals and an unmatched stage presence, Knight shares that everything on the A Moment Apart world tour is “completely revamped from the ground up.” Over Labor Day Weekend, the duo kicked off the nearly 40-date trek at Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival in their hometown of Seattle. With Leon Bridges and Naomi Wild as the perfect special guests, ODESZA introduced the newest evolution of their sound to the world.
The duo will soon head to New Zealand and Australia before returning to Europe and the United States to perform at their biggest venues to date, showing fans new incorporations of fresh perspectives to their sound. As ODESZA continues to experiment with the boundaries of the indie-electronic genre, they invite endless limitations into their continual sonic evolution.
Read our full interview with ODESZA below.
When did you start working on A Moment Apart?
Technically we’ve kind of been working on a lot of this stuff for 2-3 years. Even before In Return was done, some of the material that we were working on made it on to this one. So, overall it’s been a couple year project. But we really fine tuned and started dialing in tracks that we knew were going to make the album probably like in the last 6-7 months. Last winter was kind of when we locked ourselves in the studio and just spent 12 hour days trying to get everything together and finalize everything. So I’d say all through it was written this last winter, and kind of finished over the summer, and then but yeah some of the ideas were started way, way back.
How did your creative approach to In Return differ from A Moment Apart? I know you’ve said before on A Moment Apart you’re expanding on a lot of the themes of In Return…
Definitely. So In Return was kind of our first… well we had Summer’s Gone and My Friends Never Die EP and those were both pretty instrumental. In Return was our first real try at writing full tracks, having toplines and you know working with other vocalists. So this album kind of kept that idea which worked well and tried to refine it a little bit more. So In Return was done a lot of it via email and like online basically swapping tracks back and forth but for this one we went in the studio quite a bit and worked with the vocalists and kind of tried to be as much a part of the topline writing process as possible and kind of be a little bit more hands on. We dialed in a little bit more.
Where was the majority of the album recorded?
For a majority of the album, we have a studio in Seattle which is just like this little basement set up, so a lot of the instrumentals were all written there, we write a lot of the basic music and try to get the melodies and harmonies down, and we get in the studio by either popping in to LA or maybe in Seattle a couple times with the vocalists that we were trying to work with, and then we did a lot of writing down there, a lot of the topline writing down in LA. And like the Leon track was written up in Seattle, so it’s kind of all over the west coast in some sense. But most of the music and instrumentation was written all in Seattle.
Do you think that there’s part of Seattle in the music? Do you think it’s influenced the album?
Yeah definitely, I don’t know if I have a perfect example of what that would be but I know this last winter was a really long one and so we had almost 2 months of straight rain [in Seattle] so we just kind of like hunkered down and got in that zone. I’m not sure if we were aware of the effect our surroundings were having on us but it definitely speaks to the music. And you know Seattle is known for it’s kind of rock and folk and kind of indie scene so a lot of those elements make it into their music. And this album specifically is very organic and I think we were trying to hold on to more organic instrumentation and I think that is due a lot to where we come from, and like what are friends are listening to around us what were listening to at shows and what not.
So what was the first song that came together?
The first song that came together was actually the last song on the album “Corners of the Earth.” So this one had kind of been working for a while, we had the instrumental down and kind of done and then we popped in with RY X and really kind of bonded over that track and he wrote this amazing topline and all in one session so like 8-10 hours of kind of sitting and working on this one track and that’s what kind of came out of it. So yeah that was the first one done. It set the tone for the rest of the album in some sense. It’s kind of an all encompassing track that kind of embodies um the tone and kind of the epic feel we were looking to accomplish in some sense.
I know there’s a lot of buzz around the album’s Regina Spektor and Leon Bridges features. What about the experience of working with these two artists makes them stand out?
Oh man well so Regina, this is actually kind of a funny story. You know we’ve been fans of hers since you know way back when, I remember in high school listening to her music, so we actually just kind of on a limb reached out to her and sent her some makeshift demos which were just light instrumentals, and she hit us back and said she had written a topline but wouldn’t send it to us. So she actually was performing in Seattle a while back and she was like, “I’m not going to send it to you but you guys are more than welcome to come to my hotel room and I’ll perform it for you!” So yeah, until that point I had only met her over email and she invites us up to her hotel and she has her kid and her husband there and she’s like, “Do you guys want to hear the track?” and we were like why not we’re here! So she plays the instrumental and sings us this little private concert of the song that she’s written and it was absolutely amazing, we made her sing it twice, it was a very intimate moment. We actually went back to the instrumental and kind of stripped it down even more to try to really capture the vibe that she had done in that hotel room. We wanted the instrumentals in the background and her vocals right up front so we really tried to capture that intimate setting with that song as much as possible.
How did these experiences working with bigger artists like working with Regina Spektor and Leon Bridges differ from working with unknown vocalists on the album?
That’s a good question so with these guys specifically, we tried working with a lot of different artists at the beginning when we started writing and we kind of came to a point where it’s like more established artists are going to have a certain kind of sound that they were going for they were a little less curious about experimenting and trying new things which was our kind of vibe with what we were trying to do, so that didn’t really work out. We discovered people who were a little less established besides Regina and Leon were willing to venture out and try new things and kind of experiment with sound a little more and that usually ended up being the better product, the better track in some sense. With Leon and Regina they obviously come from very different worlds with so electronic music… they’ve kind of dabbled here and there but having them kind of live in those genres in some sense kind of allowed us to meet in a middle ground. We both were trying new things we weren’t familiar with their style and they weren’t familiar with ours, but it allowed a very kind of unique back and forth progression and we ended up with some really cool ideas so yeah that was the biggest thing, you want to find people who are willing to go outside their comfort zone and who will kind of experiment as opposed to writing a track for someone or the other way around. That was definitely a learning experience for A Moment Apart.
Where did the title A Moment Apart came from?
Good question. So a long time ago we had a bunch of different names and we were actually kind of sitting down at a show and it just kind of popped into our heads, it was more of a look of the writing than the actual wording itself, but A Moment Apart just kind of written out captured this underlying longing and perspective that we were looking to capture with the music. And it’s a lot of longing and and reaching out for new perspectives in some sense. And I think A Moment Apart did a good job of capturing that idea.
What did you incorporate into A Moment Apart to capture the live instrumentation aspect of your shows?
Right so for us, the albums are very different beasts than say the live show. So when we go into album mode we kind of really like albums that are a little more intimate and kind of headphone oriented and it’s hard to get that spatially on the road because what we like about live music so much is that energy in a live setting can be pretty high. So when we go back into album mode we try to remove ourselves from that as much as possible and really try to capture that intimate vibe. We really try to focus on that in one world. And then what we’ll do to a live show is take these songs that we wrote for the album and kind of almost remix them ourselves and give them a little more energy in a live setting and put a twist on it and kind of revamp them. So that’s kind of the basic process of what we’ve done with quite a few of our tracks on the album, as well as on older stuff that is a little more downtempo that we can revamp a little bit with bigger stuff behind it which works in a live setting.
I’m coming to see you at the Staples Center!
There will be a bunch of new surprises for this, we’ve revamped everything from the ground up so we’re really excited to get started.
Are there any new places you’re excited to play at or familiar venues you’re excited to return to?
Yeah we get to go to Australia soon so I’m really excited for that, we have a bunch of friends out there, Sydney’s really cool and a close knit music community so that’ll be fun to play. But I mean doing the US tour, it’s been a while so we’re excited to get back on the road. We have Staples Center which is a huge venue, we’re really excited to play there and to put on the best show we can. I think that will be definitely one of the more nervous shows so hopefully it all comes together and we’re ready to go.
Featured image by Avi Loud. Live photos by Jonathan Gipaya, courtesy of Bumbershoot.