It’s been almost a year since electronic duo ODESZA‘s third studio album A Moment Apart burst into the dance scene last September, setting college friends Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills on a global tour far from their native Seattle that just this month included Japan’s Fuji Rock and Melt Festival in Berlin. As Knight puts it with a laugh, “we graduated college and went on tour and almost never came back.”
Along the way, they’ve developed a reputation for complex, theatrical performances full of surprises, like the hundreds of drones that famously flew over the crowd at their double-weekend Coachella sets in April. On Sunday (July 30), Mills and Knight brought their live experience to Panorama’s main stage in New York, where they incorporated a tightly-synchronized drum line, appearances from A Moment Apart collaborators Naomi Wild and Wynne, a trumpet player and their signature LED-lit moving logo into a breathtaking 50-minute set.
Just an hour before the show, Mills and Knight hopped backstage to catch up with Billboard on their whirlwind year, festival memories and why they think it’s time to “rediscover ourselves again.”
You just played in Japan for Fuji Rock, and now here you are in New York. What’s it like to be consistently on tour?
Harrison Mills: We got so used to it, because we just did a Europe run before that. It was just different time zones every day, so I think our bodies are used to being screwed up.
Clayton Knight: Our bodies hate us. [Laughs.]
What do you like about performing at festivals versus solo shows?
Mills: I like the feeling of when you win a crowd over. When you see a guy in the front who’s like [rolls eyes], “I don’t know what this is,” and then by the fifth song they’re dancing — that’s a great feeling, seeing that connection.
Knight: It’s a little bit of a proving round. We were just in Europe, where we’re not as well-known. It can be a hit or miss sometimes, but if you hit it, it’s worth it.
You incorporated drones into your recent Coachella set. How’d you swing that?
Mills: We were talking to HP and Intel, and they had done it before for the Olympics. We were talking about, “how can we make this moment special?” And they really came through.
Knight: There were a bunch of things we wanted to try, and we ended up actually doing all of them. We had the drummers, we had the moving logo with an LED wall inside of it, and then the drones. They all came to fruition.
— Festive Owl (@TheFestiveOwl) April 16, 2018
Do you have a favorite song to perform at festivals?
Mills: I like our collaboration with Leon Bridges [“Across the Room”]. When people know that song, it’s a community. Everyone’s singing the drop.
Knight: That’s a classic. There’s a custom edit we did with “Always This Late” and “How Did I Get Here.” It’s this big, ambient, wall-of-sound moment.
It’s clear you spend boundless time and energy crafting every last piece of your live show. Why do you think that attention to detail is important?
Mills: We’re trying to set ourselves apart, and we were trying to think, “what would we like in a show?” We’re big fans of cinema and soundtracks to that. We wanted to make it feel really theatrical and cinematic when you see our show.
Knight: Building the audio and the visual and lighting elements all together, I think that’s what’s set our show apart from a lot of this other stuff. We take a long time in building a cohesive set, not just around the audio, but around the visual, the lighting. Giving everything its own space creates this really dynamic partnership which is really fun to watch and build. We spend a lot of time working really closely with the production team. We’re in the same house, basically right next to each other.
Where do you start when you’re planning something like this?
Mills: Before we do anything audio-wise or visually, it’s us writing out what moments need to happen, and in what order. So it’s like, we want an intro, we want it to feel beautiful here, we want it to feel ambient here, really dance-y here. The flow of a show, we really have to plan it out. We’ve watched the show over a thousand times before.
Knight: We do this show so much, it can almost get boring. So we’re always trying to revamp it and make it better.
—— PANORAMA pic.twitter.com/EI7zraTnTg
— ODESZA (@odesza) July 30, 2018
The music industry right now feels driven by singles, but A Moment Apart is a cohesive, almost cinematic experience — just like the live show. What made you take that route?
Mills: A combination of us loving and growing up on albums, and also I went to school for design, so branding and doing stuff across different mediums where everything feels cohesive has always been a thing I enjoy. It’s fun for us to make a music video that feels like it’s still part of this world we’re creating within an album. I think we always try to make soundscapes that feel like a world.
Knight: When an album does it right, you create a world that you get submerged into. That’s what we try to go for. To try to break it down to one single three-minute track makes no sense to us.
Tell me about a memorable festival moment for you.
Mills: We just played Fuji Rock festival in Japan. To see that music got us to this place that we’ve always wanted to go, and to hear people singing [our music] in a foreign country…that is so powerful. To be in Japan and hear people singing a song that you wrote in a basement when you were broke is pretty incredible.
Knight: We’ll do a lot of meet-and-greets, and hearing how much the music has impacted some people… You live in your own world when you’re making the music. You know what you’re putting into it, but to see it reciprocated back and see how much people can be moved by music in itself is pretty powerful.
When you reflect on how far A Moment Apart has taken you, what do you think about? Have you even had time to process?
Mills: You’re in a new place almost every day, and it’s a weird limbo of Groundhog’s Day. Time travels fast and slow at the same time, so you think about where you were a month ago and how far away that was, but it also feels really close. It’s not until you get off the road and get home and just hang out for a bit that you can unpack what actually happened.
Knight: We graduated college and went on tour and almost never came back. We don’t really know what real life is anymore.
Do you feel like you’re taking inspiration from the places you visit?
Mills: That’s one of the best things — getting back into writing and using those inspirational pieces. We were just in this festival called Melt, outside of Berlin. It’s this abandoned factory site by the water. Super-industrial, cranes everywhere. Everywhere we go, I’m like, “I want to live there.” I find something new and appealing about each place.
What’s next for ODESZA?
Mills: It’s time to rediscover ourselves again. It’s been so long since we’ve written anything, at this point. I think some songs might come out, but actually things that are really old. We’re ready to go find out who we are now, and not play music from a head space we were in two years ago. I’m excited.