Clayton Knight of Odesza: "No one was taking an indie approach to sampling in electronic music"
Odesza is a production duo from Washington State that set out to make electronic music that isn't necessarily following in the traditional EDM mold. Inspired by indie rock but utilizing software in writing and production, Odesza's music recalls the early era of M83. Last year, Odesza released its debut album, Summer's Gone, and this fall, the outfit offered a free download EP of its remixes, My Friends Never Die. We recently spoke with Harrison Mills (Catacombkid) and Clayton Knight (Beaches Beaches) about the learning curve of performing their music live, using Machine to compose in creating a track and more.
See also: The best EDM in Denver in December
Westword: You both use aliases as performers. Is it safe to say you had been making music before collaborating with each other?
Clayton Knight: Yeah, I was doing it for about two years just kind of goofing around. I was just making piano stuff and old-school hip-hop stuff, nothing serious.
Harrison Mills: I got started when I got to college. I stole Logic and starting messing around with that.
Where did you go to school?
CK: We went to Western Washington University up in Bellingham, Washington.
What kind of outlet did you have for performing music, or at least sharing it publicly?
HM: Our college only has one venue, Wild Buffalo, and we're playing it [on this tour]. It's where we had our first show. It's actually a really fun town to play because not tons of artists pass through there. So when someone does, they really go all out, and everyone has a good time. The vibes are very good every night.
What made you want to collaborate with each other?
CK: We had heard each other's stuff, but I think the biggest thing was that we didn't know anyone else that was doing what we're doing. I had never met anyone else that was making anything similar. Anyone who was doing electronic music in any way was only making dubstep or something.
No one was taking an indie kind of approach to sampling in electronic music. We were fans of a lot of indie music, among other things, like old soul records, so we had a lot of different influences, and that's what really brought us together. We were sharing samples and new musical artists that we were really digging.
Were there particular indie bands you were mutually drawn to?
CK: I would say Animal Collective is one. Folky, indie stuff.
What got you more interested in making electronic music instead of something more along those lines?
HM: That's what I was kind of doing before. Me and my roommates were making ambient kind of garage music. Nothing special. But mainly it was hard to get them in the same room, and I started writing by myself, and Logic and electronic music allows you to kind of orchestrate a whole band by yourself. So that freedom really allowed me to pursue that direction. I wanted to make indie music, but I wanted to have that orchestra control over it.
CK: I never really played any band instruments. I played piano a little bit, but I don't know chords or anything. When people say "C to D," I have no idea what they're talking about. So when I would try to jam with friends, it was hard for me, because they didn't really know what I was trying to do, and they were pretty much on a different page.
For me, it was out of no one else really getting what I wanted to make and it being kind of a struggle to do that. So I was into a lot of different stuff, and I would make old-school hip-hop beats and ambient piano songs and stuff like that. It just came out of not knowing anyone else on the same page.
Did you have any mentors earlier on doing production work?
HM: I had people I liked to jam with, but no one knew anything about production. It was kind of learn-it-yourself. Learning Logic was just a lot of time watching YouTube videos, and any tutorial would show you how to do different stuff. But, yeah, no one on the production tip.
My dad is a big classical pianist, and I've worked with him, but on the production side, nothing. It was all trial and error for a while, but once you get over that steep learning curve, you start figuring out your own little tricks and what sounds good and what doesn't.
Learning software, as you said, there is a learning curve. What was your biggest challenge in terms of making the sounds you wanted to make and how you wanted it to sound, over a base level of merely making sounds?
HM: I would say probably learning how to mix was a big obstacle. I always knew how to make a good-sounding guitar. Adding delay and effects and whatnot, I could make cool sounds. But getting the whole mix together and things not interfering in certain frequency ranges and giving space to other stuff, that all took a lot of time, and I'm still learning that.
CK: We learned that the hard way with everything we ever made for a live show. We stem out everything separately, and when we [were first playing] live, we mixed it pretty wrong and we found out that when we were playing it live, there was a lot of high end frequency that was screeching sharply, so we had to go back and re-do everything.
HM: I'd say mixing has been the biggest thing and a thing you're trying to get better at all the time. It really shows. You take someone who makes a song and knows how to mix and someone doesn't, and you can tell very quickly.
A lot of musicians who play more traditional instruments don't always have to think about that to the same degree in preparation ahead of time, and it's an essential part of what you do.
You have a bright, delicate sound in your music. What attracts you to that particular style?
HM: I feel like a lot of stuff that was ear-catching for us were really bright songs that had angelic vocals. I think it's a mutual love of catchy and beautiful-sounding music.
Who would you say is an example of someone that does that well?
HM: I would say Four Tet is really good. He takes all these organic, pretty sounds and manipulates them in a new way to make something completely different. I really like that and strive to take organic, happy, bright sounds that you're familiar with and changing them a bunch, so that it sounds different enough.
You call yourselves a production duo. Why do you make a distinction between being a producer and another kind of electronic music maker?
CK: I think we try to jump around to a lot of different genres and influences and things that we like. I think maybe we haven't necessarily released tracks of the different things we like to do, but that's definitely what we're planning to do. I don't think we want to get too caught up in anything genre-wise, and we would also love to produce for other artists, so I think we try to think of ourselves as open-minded and eventually genre-less.
Do you split up your duties in this collaboration in any particular way? Do you feel one of you is stronger in certain areas than the other?
CK: It's a pretty fifty-fifty split. We try to do as much as possible. We're both pretty good with Logic. I try to do more of the synth work, and Harrison leans more toward the percussion but it seems to work well.
When you perform live do you use Ableton Live more or Logic or a combination of both?
HM: All the live stuff is done in Ableton. A lot of production is done with Machine and Logic.
Would you say you're more software or hardware based?
HM: With the new Machine, I'd say we use that quite a bit. The production process usually starts with us just jamming on Machine. We'll start a simple loop, and add layers and layers and layers. Once we have too much stuff, we trim it down and try to move everything over to Logic, where we can fine tune stuff like the EQ work. Some of the synth work is all done with the automation in Logic because it's just a little easier a layout as opposed to Machine. Machine is easy to use to jam on stuff for a while, which is really nice. Play a loop, keep adding different pieces, taking away.
CK: It's really fast for chopping and looping and just getting an idea out as quickly as possible.
Is there a significance to the title of your new EP?
CK: Yeah, we've been basically, since our album came out September, touring and haven't had a lot of time to work on stuff. So a lot of it was made on the road, and we were staying with a lot of friends, who were being really supportive of everything we were doing. It's kind of an ode to them. Our Friends Never Die is a tribute to our friends and family that have supported us throughout this whole "we're trying to do music" thing.
Odesza at Decadence, with Pretty Lights, Datsik, 12th Planet, Supervision, Paul Basic, Above & Beyond, BT, Pierce Fulton, Ecotek and Dragon & Jontron, 7 p.m. Tuesday, December 31, Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th Street, $55-$160, www.decadencenye.com, 18+
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