Breaking: ODESZA

The Seattle duo discuss the intricate processes of editing with sounds and collaborating with artists for their sophomore album, In Return.

MEMBERS: Harrison Mills (aka Catacombkid) and Clayton Knight (aka Beaches Beaches)
FOUNDED: 2012
FROM: Seattle, Washington
YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Hype Machine and Spotify charts
NOW: releasing sophomore album In Return

If you’ve ever spent any time with some form of music production software, you know how easy it is to get carried away. The libraries of loops, sound effects, tweakable parameters, and MIDI instruments that come standard with any digital audio workstation are enough to make anyone dizzy with possibilities. Spend ten minutes with one of these things and you’ll see how easy it is to pile on layer after layer of sound until you wind up with a brain-battering, Skrillex-grade aural assault. Like one of those self-serve frozen yogurt shops, once you start, it’s pretty tough to stop. But for ODESZA, a dream-pop duo from Seattle, it’s about addition and subtraction.

“We call it ‘trimming the fat,’” explains Clayton Knight, the blond-haired half of the duo. He’s calling from a basement in Seattle that he and bandmate Harrison Mills recently retrofitted into a studio and rehearsal space. “Once we have a starting point—be it a really simple piano loop or a couple chords we’re digging—we get that first thing down and then we keep building layers on top. Then, once we have too much stuff, we trim it down.” For Knight, who studied physics in college, the key to a good sonic formula is finding the right balance: “We ask ourselves, ‘What do we really like about the song? What piece is getting in the way?’”

It’s a methodology that comes across strongly in their music. The elements of an ODESZA track—hard-hitting beats, strong melodic leads, and ethereal electronic flourishes—span the sonic spectrum without sounding cluttered or constrained. Make no mistake, this is not minimalism; each track simply has enough musical elbow room for the individual parts to breathe, to expand and contract as each song’s movement permits. The roomy production lends their music a strong emotional component that can be felt even (and perhaps especially) in the instrumental tracks.

The massive success ODESZA had with music sharing sites like SoundCloud and Hype Machine following the release of their debut record Summer’s Gone had a strong influence on the making of their second LP In Return, which is chock full of collaborators, most of whom are relatively little-known artists Mills and Knight met through those very platforms. There’s the British vocalist Zyra who sings on lead single “Say My Name” and the downtempo “It’s Only,” and fellow Seattle native Jenni Potts who croons her way through the fantastic “White Lies,” both of whom bring a powerful feminine energy to the mix. Knight and Mills would send tracks back and forth with collaborators until they found something that worked, a technique that could more accurately be called song-building than song-writing. “We’d send them something really simple and be like, ‘Hey, here’s a melody. Sing that, but also just jam on it. Free-form it,’” says Knight. “Once we had a vocal sound we were digging, we went back and restructured the song to fit with the melody.”

The use of guest vocalists on In Return adds an unmistakably pop sheen to the record, and this, along with their creative production, will likely draw in fans of a wide array of artists, from Flying Lotus to Purity Ring to Lily Allen. All this to say, it seems that a good formula is worth all the tinkering. FL

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