Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight met in college, and over a shared love of layered electronic music, started making songs together. But while most projects of that nature fizzle out once real world demands kick in, Mills and Knight defied the odds and became ODESZA, releasing two critically acclaimed records and becoming one of the buzziest electronic music acts in the country. Now they’re headlining major US festivals, touring the world, and have had songs featured in films and commercials. We sat down with Odesza before their Rough Trade NYC set to get the scoop on what it’s like to be two of the fastest growing producers in the industry.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Harrison: We have so many influences and there is so much music we like that it is really hard to describe our sound. The biggest influences we have are ambience, pop, hip-hop, and electronic.
Clayton: And indie. Throw it in there, for flavor. It’s all over the map, really.
H: There’s even some world music in there. I feel like every good producer now should be able to be like that. You have access to everything now.
How did Odesza form?
C: We met in college. My roommate is now Harrison’s roommate. One day [my roommate] was like, “Hey, I met a guy who makes music similar to yours.” So we met, kind of jammed, and then made the album that summer we were in college. It all kind of took off when we met Adam, our manager. He gave us direction and mentored us. He introduced us to our booking agent and then once we got booking and management in the scene, things started to get rolling.
How did Hype Machine help your success?
H: We did this thing that I don’t think we realized how smart of a move it was. We went on Hype Machine and looked up every single artist that was similar to us, and saw what blogs wrote about them. I went and checked out all those blogs and then wrote very personal messages to every blog with our album. A lot of those people answered back—well 1 in 30.
What would you guys be doing if you weren’t playing music?
C: I had plans to go to grad school and Harrison would be working at a design firm.
H: I don’t know, honestly. I’m not passionate when people tell me what I have to do, so I probably wouldn’t be at a design firm. I’d probably try to make my own design firm.
What have you guys been listening to lately?
H: A lot of stuff. I go from going way far back to the people who first made me like music, to new Soundcloud producers that are making weird music from Russia. I’m really into this guy Mura Masa right now. He keeps putting out music really fast and it is so good.
C: I recently discovered Temples. I’ve had the Sun Structures album on repeat for the past week and a half now. It’s a vibe straight out of the ’60s. They sound almost exactly like The Beatles. You can’t not like that album. It’s amazing.
Who first inspired you to start making music?
H: There is a band called Cloud Dead who are three guys from Oakland, and they made really abstract hip-hop music with a lot of weird sampling. I was really into hip-hop, but then I got into the weird experimental version of it. It kind of blew my mind. I went to a show of one of their side projects, and this guy named Jel, who was the beat-maker, opened for them and he did everything live on an MPC (a drum sampler), and I was like, how did he do that? I jumped on stage during the changeover and wrote down what he was using and I mowed lawns for two summers to buy it all on eBay.
C: I was into a bunch of shitty pop music in high school. I went to college and met a bunch of new people and they introduced me to weirder electronic stuff. Animal Collective was my first real dive into experimental sound. From there, I got introduced to M83 and then Boards of Canada and then Four Tet, and then I got into UK organic electronic. That’s really what got me into the electronic music scene. I had a house phase, and then I tried to make party music. But, yeah, the more organic sounding electronic stuff is what I was really into—like taking a guitar and reversing it and pitch-bending it.
What is your favorite activity to do alone?
H: I like to draw.
C: Read. I’m reading On The Road. I’ve been going back and rereading the stuff I read in high school to see if I like it more now. I read the Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby again. I fuck around with that stuff.
H: I fuck with Great Gatsby (laughs).
Do you have any phobias?
H: We used to be crazy afraid of flying. We were flying all the time but we told no one. We didn’t tell our managers or anyone, even when we’d have like four flights a month. We did a couple of Montana shows and we were in 20-person propeller planes. Me and Clay would be sitting next to each other in turbulence being like, “Hey man, you cool?”
C: I’m still really afraid of heights. I can’t do it. A ferris wheel is not my bag.
H: Flying is still a miserable experience for me, but I’m not as afraid of it.
What is your favorite thing about each other?
C: The beard. I love the beard!
H: When a problem arises, Clay keeps a really cool head about it. If you’re on stage and something bad happens, it’s nice to have someone next to you who can help figure out the situation instead of panicking.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you or a motto you like to live by?
H: I think the cliche one that is very true is if you stay genuine to yourself, you find such a better audience than if you follow a trend. Trends are so fleeting because it is not you. For us, it has always been about making what we really love. The whole idea behind what we wanted to do at the beginning—and I think we have stayed true to it—is we wanted to make headphone music that you could listen to totally by yourself, but that you could also dance to at a live show.
C: I would say never get too comfortable. I’m always trying to learn as much as I can and try new things. If you’re in a comfortable spot and things come to easy, then I think you are in the wrong situation. You’re not pushing yourself hard enough and you’re not learning anything. Once you stop learning stuff you have basically just died.