ODESZA keeps things honest

The Seattle duo rose to the top of the EDM heap through hard work, musicianship, and making a real connection with fans

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      Seattle electronic act ODESZA’s story isn’t one of artistic woe. Its members met in university, jelled quickly in the studio, and released their 2012 debut album for free. Then the band became very popular—it’s just that simple, for all you angsty bedroom producers taking notes at home.

      Today, the duo composed of Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills can sell out two consecutive nights at the Commodore Ballroom plus a DJ set at MIA with ease, along with a hundred other shows on their current world tour. Given how busy they are, the Straight is somewhat surprised that Knight picks up the phone before a gig in Detroit. Forget dodging interview requests, he’s actually happy to discuss his career.

      “It’s nice to talk to people in the press,” the 27-year-old producer says, likely the first time a successful artist has ever uttered that phrase. “You guys shed light on things that we don’t always do. I see where you’re coming from—a lot of producers are pretty introverted people, but we try to be open and communicate with our fan base as much as possible.”

      Knight later continues the charm assault by declaring strong affinities for the Seattle Seahawks and the new Justin Bieber album—two things that aren’t especially hip for indie electronic producers to ’fess up to.

      “It’s pretty awesome to see how someone in the pop world has opened themselves up to these new and unique producers. Very cool,” he says of the Biebs’s latest, Purpose.

      Knight counts himself a fan of former Vancouverite Blood Pop, who worked on a lot of the tracks on Purpose. And it’s easy to hear the similarities between his music and ODESZA’s, which a lot of people have labelled chillwave. But would ODESZA actually step into the studio with a commercial act to make Top 40?

      “I’m open to anything. If it feels right and doesn’t feel forced, I would be more than happy to see what happens,” he says. “You don’t want to force any sort of collaboration. It’s all about being comfortable in a creative space. That’s the best product. Trying to force some sort of collab never ends well.”

      While ODESZA’s growing legion of fans doesn’t have a nickname yet—a sure sign you’ve made it—they appear to be approaching the rabidity of the 12s cheering at CenturyLink on Sundays or the Beliebers scurrying to buy tickets for his world tour. Its sophomore long-player, In Return, which is full of dreamy and shimmering tracks start to finish, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart when it came out in September 2014. And then last week it reclaimed the top spot ahead of EDM heavyweights Avicii, Disclosure, and Major Lazer.

      “People are still discovering it, and it gives a new life to it,” Knight says of the album, which has spent over 40 weeks in the Top 10. “I feel it’s a genuine piece of work that we did. We tried to be honest with ourselves as well as our listeners through it, and I think that kind of paid off. People can really connect with that.”

      Something else people are connecting with is ODESZA’s live show, which is significantly more exciting than what many electronic-music artists on the circuit are doing. You won’t catch them hiding in the DJ booth and geeking out on their laptops. Instead, their set features Knight and Mills playing drums, samplers, and synths alongside backup musicians on horns and guitar.

      “As far as the show’s concerned, we’re trying to do something different. We could go up there and do a DJ set and play some of our tracks in between other popular stuff, but we really wanted to try to make a unique experience and give people what they want and try something new. It gets boring doing the same thing. So we’re always trying to expand and add on and try new pieces and just really evolve as a show in general,” Knight explains. “There’s been a couple tours early on that shed a lot of doubt on what we’re doing. But as much as you hate some of the shows, when you step back and look at it, you’re performing your music for people. It’s a pretty awesome privilege and a humbling experience.”

      Despite the, gasp, musicianship on display, there are still the accoutrements everyone loves at a good EDM show, specifically: mind-bending visuals complemented by ample confetti. Just how many tiny pieces of paper have they gone through so far on this tour?

      “Not nearly enough. I think we need to do more of it, honestly,” he says with a laugh. “Any chance we get, we’re gonna blast people.”

      So it turns out ODESZA has experienced artistic woe after all: there’s simply not enough confetti in the world to cover all their fans. Quite sad, indeed.

      ODESZA plays the Commodore Ballroom on Tuesday and Wednesday (December 1 and 2).

      Follow Michael Mann on Twitter @mmann.

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