Exclusive Interview with ODESZA + ‘In Return’ Sneak Peek
I first saw ODESZA at Lightning in a Bottle 2013 on a dusty afternoon at the Bamboo stage. It was less than a year after their first release "How did I get Here," yet they managed to draw a massive crowd. Since then they've released the acclaimed My Friends Never Die EP and are gearing up for the release of their next big album In Return, out September 9th. They'll be embarking on a European tour with Slow Magic and Lindsay Lowend among others, covering 18 cities in 12 countries.
These guys are going to be huge, and this album is going be their catalyst. They've been building a devoted following in the West Coast scene, getting a modest 50-70k plays on Soundcloud and landing decent spots at major festivals. Their first single off this album hit 2.5 million plays. They just dropped another single and it’s getting over 100,000 plays a day. The album is not just a few hits: its flush with great songs. I had the pleasure of going over the album with them in its entirety and chatting about their recent adventures and the making of the record. After the interview we break down each song (and you get to see the track listing).
You have some great vocalists on In Return, can you talk about some of your favorite collaborations on the album?
Clayton: "Memories that You Call" was a fun one to make, its more all over the place. We did it near San Francisco out in Oakland with Monsoonsiren, he did a really good job, it came together smoothly.
Harrison: One I really like is "Kusanagi." It's an inner, deep track.
You have gorgeous album artwork, who do you work with on that?
Harrison: I actually make all the album covers. Thanks!
You did 2 official Pretty Lights remixes, what’s your relationship with Derek?
Harrison: He had heard some of our stuff and asked us to do that first remix. He liked it so much he asked us to come on the road with him while he was working on his B side album and do a second remix.
How was it working with Madelyn Grant on “Sun Models?”
Clayton: She actually hit us up a long time ago, we found her on Soundcloud or maybe Myspace? She sent us a few tracks and we took one of those and cut it up. We like the tone of her voice, she has a very soulful feel. She’s a trained gospel choir singer. It was a blast working with her stems.
You’ve said that your name is derived from from your uncle’s ship that sank… Let’s hear more about that story.
Harrison: That story is 100% true but has nothing to do with ODESZA. When we first started with the name ODESZA, our story was so boring that we decided we were just gonna make up a story every time and by the 20th interview we had run out of stories. That’s a story about my uncle who’s ship was not called ODESZA. He called me out on it, and I told him ‘Sorry, it’s a good story” and he goes 'Alright, keep using it.'
You guys have been putting out a release every year on the dot. September 2012 - Summer’s Gone, September 2013 - My Friends Never Die EP, September 2014 - In Return. Is that a coincidence or is are you intentionally staggering for September releases?
Clayton: It's more of a coincidence but every year we want to try something new. As a result each release is different than the next as we experiment with new techniques and production styles. This new one’s a little different than everything else we’ve done, it’s been a lot of fun.
You have a strong connection with the Do Lab, how did you guys get involved with them?
Clayton: One of our first tours ever was with Emancipator. We did a show at the El Rey theatre and we met them, they were really supportive and nice to us. They’ve done a lot to help us break on the West Coast so we owe a lot to them.
Oh right, I met you through Doug at Hudson. Are you guys working on anything together?
Harrison: We just saw him at Shambala. We’ve done a few tours with him, he’s like family at this point.
Any collabs in progress?
Harrison: We did a remix of “Eve II” of his last album that’s available if you pre-order this album along with all our remixes.
Any good stories from on the road with Doug and Ilya?
Harrison: Ilya has a dog that he brings on the road. It’s like the coolest dog ever. He actually takes it on the plane with him.
Clayton: A lot of dice rolling and dollar games on the road. A lot of gambling.
What venue are you most excited to play on the upcoming tour?
Harrison: I’m excited to play the Sherlock in Seattle. I really like Mezzanine in San Francisco.
I love Mezzanine. I’m in Oakland at the moment actually. How do you approach playing the Bay Area verse other areas?
Harrison: Oh, very nice. Some things hit harder with different crowds and San Francisco is a little more artsy. They respect some of the slower stuff rather than just dance tracks.
Clayton: The energy is definitely there in San Francisco, I feel it a bit more.
What’s something that you’ve recently done for the very first time?
Harrison: I think getting into the festival world in general. The first festival I ever went to was one we played so I feel new. Sasquatch Festival.
Clayton: Shambhala, Osheaga. I never went to Coachella and I got to see that.
Harrison: We’d never been to Montreal.
Lastly, let me know your three records for a desert island.
Clayton: Flying Lotus the Los Angeles album, I like that one. M83 Saturdays = Youth, Animal Collective Merriweather.
Harrison: I would bring the debut Gorillaz album… Oh this is hard. Radiohead Kid A, and Tribe Called Quest Low End Theory.
It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you! Take it easy.
'In Return' drops September 9th
I spent a few weeks in California listening to this album before writing anything. Mid-afternoon rays fall still here, and I’ve been playing it in the background to let it sink in. I realized it has a quality that very few records achieve: it grows on you over time, the stems unfolding as you grasp their intricacies, the hooks and melodies maintaining their allure. It's distinctly ODESZA while evolving towards an abstract soundscape which is at once elaborate yet uses only essential layers.
The album opens up with "Always Late," a two-and-half minute prelude to an album laden with chopped up female vocals and cheerfully sun-drenched melodies.
"Say My Name," was just dropped as the third single. It's a solid choice, a poppy hit featuring catchy vocals from Zyra, who reappears later on "It's Only." The vocals decorate interwoven melodies, with a grooving drumbeat that hints at funk without drawing attention. Zyra's Zelda-esque name perhaps inspired some of those video-gamey synths. It marks a casual shift in ODESZA's music from their light and melodic-focused beginnings to a more pop-centered sound. That being said, their next song returns to their downtempo roots.
"Bloom" brings back that chilled, echoing vibe that OSESZA is known for. Ghostly female vocals fade in and out as it builds to slow crescendo before dropping into a melodic breakdown with hints of a wobbling synth sliding left to right. At a sedate 65 bpm, it's a perfect song for smoke-filled summer afternoons.
"All We Need" introduces a heavier hip-hop drum beat and some honey-laced R&B vocals courtesy of Shy Girls. He croons:
"I was thinkin' you and I could skip the part where we small talk each other, to the beat of to the rhythm, to the beat of, to the rhythm..."
His tremendous range is instantly reminiscent of Frank Ocean (see "Thinkin About You") as his voice rises ever upward to a chorus of "I could be, you could be all we need." Distant,echoing percussion fills speckle the cheery pop-centered synths and then the track fades to a muffled music boxes winding down the melody.
The rhythm quickens and the mood swings upward as "Sundara" fades in. The melody sidechains to the kick drum of the EDM heartbeat and a sitar floats over the top. Claire says it sounds like "A little ball of sunlight floating over the water in India."
"White Lies" introduces Jenni Potts' delicate vocals over a thumping kick drum. The bass cuts out for a jagged low-frequency synth that crosses the crispness of piano and vibration of guitar strings into a pleasurably rough contrast as the melody builds into a pop-enthused chorus: "Cross my heart and hope to die, if you catch me in the white lies."
"Kusanagi" is like looking back into your past at your childhood. It takes you to a happy memory, but the taste is bittersweet because you know you can never be back there. Windchimes twinkle in the wind and the muffled sound of kids laughing and playing floats on the breeze. It's melancholy, it's heartbreaking. It's a shift in pace and one of the best tracks off the album.
The stretched attack in the synths on "Echoes" complement Py's warbling vocals. Guitar notes slide up and down the neck and steady claps hold time for another lazed, cheerful tune.
"It's Only" is a poignant shift in tone and a huge leap forward in the maturity of ODESZA's sound. Zyra returns for a haunting verse that spirals downward into despair - then her chorus cuts crisply through the fog:
"It's only water, it's only fire, it's only love. It's only slaughter, we're only liars, its only blood. They're only thoughts, I'm having thoughts safe within my head. You're only crying, you're only dying, you're only dead."
There is beauty in the chaos.
"Koto" is complicated yet maintains no central focus. There's a few too many ideas: cheery Nintendo synths over a muddled kick and a mildly discordant rhythm section. It's not as catchy as the others, but the layering is interesting and not without merit. It feels a little more experimental, as if the duo were trying out multiple ideas to a convoluted result.
The second single off the album, "Memories That You Call," shines as an achievement in the progression of ODESZA's sound while staying true to their roots. A sparse and longing melody recalls the rustling of reeds over a still lake and then claps and ecstatic, childlike vocals build upwards until falling back into tranquility.
Okay here's my favorite song. It was actually released 6 months ago as a single, but now its back on repeat. "Sun Models" is the perfect example of ODESZA's sound: a catchy piano melody, twinkling chimes, and misty, ethereal vocals floating on top. The layering is impeccable and it is at once pleasurable and cerebral
"For Us" wraps together all of the best elements from the entire album: abstract vocals, twisting melodies, and meticulous layering. The last notes stretch and fade into the distance.
Interview and Article by Jesse Wheaton,
Further album notes provided by Claire Halloran (quite excellently)