What could go wrong? I implore. "Everything," Knight admits. "Many things can go wrong," Mills adds. We're sitting in the grass under a tree in sunny San Diego before their set at CRSSD Festival, where they'll be returning again in March to headline. This was months before their international world tour for In Return kicked off last September with multi-date performances in major cities. Their computers were connected via ethernet cable at the time, where each would control a different session of Ableton. "[It] got really flaky because if they get out of sync then you have some serious issues and the sound is basically destroyed," Knight explained when I finally got the chance to dig deeper over the recent holiday break.
As the demands on the duo grew larger, the need to streamline their set to something more stable surmounted. They've done away with their laptops, a near-staple of most in the electronic music scene and, after having worked on their sets so extensively they've memorized them to a T, each is now equipped with a controller. Their performance style is more akin to a live band. "Harrison controls all the drum and bass audio but he can trigger different loops. He can swap out one kick for another because all of our tracks are all stemmed out in the kick, snare, bass, so everything's isolated. You can layer, you can swap out pieces from basically any of our songs into any other and it creates a lot of like jamming sessions. [There's] a lot of weird layering," Knight shares. "I don't know if we'll ever go full live band. We want to incorporate more live elements but we kind of love the blending of electronic with the live and really getting that in dialed in. You don't want to go too jam bandy and too bandy too fast can move you away from the electronic feel of the music. It's a tough balance to walk in."
Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills met in college through a mutual friend. Within two weeks, they started making music together and released their debut album later that year. They've collected over twenty #1 songs on Hype Machine and played at Coachella, Bonnaroo, HARD... you name it. Their sound lingered in eager ears with its mix of ethereal tracks alongside quintessential summer anthems. Their follow up, In Return, saw collaborations with a number of artists including Zyra, Shy Girls, and Madelyn Grant, which changed the production process compared to their debut LP. "It used to be we would write a song and then they would sing the song and hopefully that would work out, but more recently we've found that the best way to do it is we usually give them a very simple idea. Like, maybe a couple piano chords and a melody with some drums - basically this raw loop. We'd tell them to just jam on it, jam on the chords. If they hear anything, really lay it down." Clayton insists the big thing about trusting the artist is you have to put faith in that whatever they're writing. It will connect with people, even if you don't feel it right away. "[After that] we take what they gave us back and basically delete everything we had as far as production and re-do it all. We'll re-design all of production around the vocal piece and then we'll just kind of keep going back and forth with the artist until we get something we really like."
Like any production, there come the occasional snags. The song 'Koto' was one that stuck out particularly as taking a while to find its place. After being rewritten time and time again, the final product wound up being nothing like its original. "It's so weird because after you've been listening to the music for so long you get so attached to it. You kind of lose yourself in it. The a-ha moments kind of disappear and you kind of lose yourself in the music and you can get sick of it basically. Once that happens, it's pretty bad because then you start x-ing things you shouldn't be x-ing or thinking things suck when they don't suck. The a-ha moments usually occur at the beginning of a track where oh this little piece right there, that's it. That's the moment or that's the powerful section then you try to work around that."
When they're not busy on tour or in the the studio working on their own projects, Odesza works with artists they've brought under the wing of their recently formed label, Foreign Family Collective. "We've wanted to do it for a really long time but only recently have we had the means to really pursue a label," Knight shares. Now that they've collected a management team and other members of the group, they've been able to build their own company. "It's just been like an outlet. We're on Soundcloud continuously, trying to keep our ear to the ground as much as possible, and in the process we discover a lot of very talented musicians and producers that we don't think get as much exposure as they deserve," he continues. They work with a lot of tracks in-depth, helping musicians through the process and bouncing ideas off of them or matching up different artists together. "We've got to just give people the tools and then let the artist kind of take it where they want to."
Story by Jordan Blakeman
Photography by Robiee Ziegler