Talking Music, Visuals, and Festivals with Harrison Mills From ODESZA

Photo by Bronson Selling

Anna Cieslik ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

There’s no denying that ODESZA are workaholics. The Seattle duo, who was featured on Emertainment Monthly just a few months ago before their show opening for Emancipator, are back again, this time playing a headlining show at The Middle East Downstairs. In the time it’s taken them to get back to Boston, they’ve already been featured on the Divergent soundtrack, have started working on a new album, and even found time to play an impressive set at Coachella.

 Emertainment Monthly was able to catch up with Harrison Mills (one half of the production team) on the phone and talk about ODESZA’s rapid rise in the scene, the duo’s beginnings, and where they’re headed now.

 Emertainment Monthly: So to start off, ODESZA offers basically all of your music for free online on your Soundcloud page. Why do you choose to make your music so accessible to your fans?

Harrison: I think the key word really right there is accessible. I think that a lot less people would have ever heard of us if we did charge people. And also, with the style of the music industry nowadays, I think it’s kind of a struggle to get heard and one of the most powerful things you can do is get people to hear you. So that was definitely a huge reason for it.

EM: You guys had an official remix of “Lost and Found” by Pretty Lights that you did. How did that opportunity come about to be featured on his remix EP?

Harrison: The first time we did a remix of Pretty Lights was for a different song called “One Day You’ll Know” and after he heard that remix, I guess he really liked it and he invited us to come do a couple of shows with him down the west coast. And when we were doing the shows, he asked us if we wanted to do another remix for him.

We had no idea what he was going to do with it, or that it was going to get on the Divergent soundtrack or anything. He just said, “Hey, if you guys want to do this, go ahead and try to do something with the song.” And we loved the song so it was just a fun opportunity and we just embraced it.

EM: On top of some of the headlining shows you’ve been playing recently, you’ve also been opening for a lot of really impressive names lately [Pretty Lights, Bonobo, Emancipator, just to name a few]. What has that experience been like?

Harrison: It’s pretty crazy. If someone had told us when we first started working together that this is eventually where we would be and these are the people we would meet, I think we would be pretty blown away. I remember maybe the fourth time me and Clay were working together, just kind of like hanging out at his house working on music, we set our goals, what would be amazing, if we could do something in a year. And our goals were to play shows with either Pretty Lights or someone similar and to play Sasquatch! [Music Festival] and we got both things, so I don’t even know what to think anymore. I think we’re both pretty happy with where it’s gone; it’s definitely been a crazy ride and really, really fun. Me and Clay never would have guessed that this would have been our careers in any way so it’s just been really fun.

EM: You mentioned that you guys succeeded in your goal of playing Sasquatch!, but you also just got done playing Coachella last weekend and you had a pretty impressive timeslot too. What was that like?

Harrison: Coachella was pretty crazy. We had some friends staying down there so we stayed with them and they rented out this really swanky place and it was really fun to go and hang out in the sun – something we don’t get very often in Seattle. Playing music, especially at that time, what meant a lot to us was that there were some heavy hitters like Skrillex and stuff playing at the exact same time as us and to pack out where we were playing during those people’s sets was definitely crazy to us.

I remember when we were talking to our management, they emailed us saying “These are the people playing while you’re playing,” and it was like Muse, Skrillex, and we were just like, “Well, it’s going to be a little bit quiet while we’re playing! Guess we’ll just be jamming out.” Fortunately though, people came out and it was fun. We feel very humbled by all the things that are happening to us because while we’re working hard and it’s fun for us, you never know how it’s going to turn out.

EM: You guys always seem to have a really impressive handling of ODESZA’s visual aspects, from the graphics behind you onstage to the design of your fliers and everything. How important is that visual aspect of ODESZA for you guys?

Harrison: Well, for me, it’s incredibly important because that’s what I went to school for. I went to school for Design & New Media, which is like graphic design across different mediums, like websites and apps and stuff. I’ve always been very into the art world so, for me, when we first started, it was kind of like a fun project to do graphic design and stuff too, while being able to also do my biggest hobby, which was music, with Clay. To be able to combine both the things I love into one project has been absolutely amazing.

I think we definitely have bigger plans in the future to incorporate more and more things. We just want to create our own aesthetic and stuff.

EM: You mentioned you went to school for Design & New Media, so neither of you went to school for music specifically, correct?

Harrison: No, no.

EM: So when did you realize that ODESZA was becoming this full-time project?

Harrison: For me, it was always a full-time project. I had just graduated [when we started] and Clay had I think one quarter left in school and it was kind of like, “This is what I want to do for like four months and see what happens before I have to get a job.” Both of us invested whatever money we had and I think we actually took out some loans from people, and we just went for it. We felt like this was the only time to do it and we’ve just been working our asses off trying to make it a thing.

It’s always just been a passion project; we didn’t really expect it to go anywhere. But we’re really glad we made this decision. I think there was a point a couple months in where we were like, “Uhhh, this is costing a lot of money.” Going around touring and stuff, unless you’re pretty well known, you don’t really make any money – you definitely lose it. It was definitely pretty hard in the beginning to convince our friends and family that we wanted to do this thing that was just like spending money and playing music. But I think we’re really glad we did it.

EM: So have you managed to pay back the loans you had to take out from people?

Harrison: [laughs] Yea, yea we have. We’re not doing crazy good or anything, but we’re definitely at a place where it’s comfortable.

EM: What does the future hold for ODESZA? Do you have anything big and interesting coming up in the next few months or year, however long you can look into the future?

Harrison: We have a new album coming out this year that we’re working on right now. We’re close to finishing it up and we’re very proud of what we have so far, so hopefully people react the same way. And we’re just playing shows and making remixes in the meantime, so we’ll see what happens.

EM: Last question – and this is just out of curiousity for my own sake – Why do you choose to make “ODESZA” all caps?

Harrison: I think this goes back to my major, and it’s just the type. With something like that, it looks so ugly to me when the “O” is capitalized and everything else is lowercase. That’s really it.

If you want to check out ODESZA’s tinkling beats and mesmerizing visuals, make sure to grab tickets for their show this week in Cambridge. The duo’s wonderfully curated set, complete with hazy backbeats and sunny melodies, is the perfect way to welcome the beginning of summer.

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