Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Odesza's Harrison Mills

We chat with half of the chillwave duo about Seattle's electronic music scene and playing Capitol Hill Block Party.

By Seth Sommerfeld July 24, 2014

Odesza: Chillwave chllin'.

While the mainstream view of electronic music centers around dubstep's aggressive edge and the never ending pursuit of the biggest drop, Seattle's chillwave act Odesza continues to build a substantial audience with songs that don't demand repetitive dance floor thrashing to enjoy. The duo of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight is preparing to unveil the next chapter in its musical journey with the release of its second LP In Return on September 9. In the meantime, Odesza has a prime slot playing on the main stage of this weekend's Capitol Hill Block Party (Friday at 7:45).

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Mills about the duos new writing process on In Return, Capitol Hill Block Party memories, and repetitive dubstep.

What aspects of creating In Return were particularly new and exciting for you?

I think we went about making music pretty differently. The way we usually start music is Clay or I would show each other something we started that was really basic and we’d work off each other or we’d just jam in a room together. But for this, we basically made rough little loops of kind of like feelings of songs, chords, and then we would send a lot of the songs—I would say a little bit more than half—to singers, and have them sing on it. We went back and forth with the singers, and then we eventually cut up, restructured, and completely remade each song around the vocals that we got. There’s a lot of different stuff where we tried to experiment and try new things, and just show a lot of different sides of the music direction that we like and just the diversity of music that we enjoy.

How would you characterize the electronic music scene in Seattle?

I think it’s pretty new as far as building a real community. In the last year, I think there’s been a lot of buildup. Like Decibel Festival has been doing great for a long time, but they’ve just started to really get big enough where they can branch out more too. Local acts usually like more downtempo stuff, which makes sense because it rains here all the time. (Laughs) But we have a growing community and people like Customs who have been doing local DJ stuff at places like Q Nightclub and Beat Connection are still a part of the electronic world and doing stuff. It’s like a slow and steady organic build.

How do you feel like Seattle city culture has impacted your music?

I think probably the most obvious one is that it rains so much here that I’m trapped inside a lot, so I end up making a lot of music. But it’s so beautiful when it is nice here that I try to capture those kind of moments. The fact that Seattle really takes advantage when it is nice, I think, kind of shows through in our music.

Do you have a favorite show that you’ve seen in the past year?

I would say I was really surprised because I don’t really listen to trap music very much—that genre in electronic—but RL Grime put on a pretty amazing set at Coachella. When I listen to trap music, I’m like bored of it after several minutes because it feels like it’s the same drop going over and over again, but he made it feel like really smooth. He had really nice transitions and he changed it up enough consistently where I wasn’t bored at any time, which was really cool. And the energy there was insane. If you look up RL Grime at Coachella on YouTube, it’s like over 10,000 people chanting at once every couple minutes. There was like a very tribal aspect to his music.

What are you looking forward to with the upcoming the Capitol Hill Block Party performance?

Any hometown show, for us, is incredibly fun. We feel like we’re on the road for shows so much anymore that we don’t get to be here in our hometown very often, so even just to be here and see friends and play in front of them; a lot of people who haven’t really seen us on a really big stage in any way, it’s just really exciting for us. It’s really an honor because we love this festival so much..

Do you have a favorite Capitol Hill Block Party memory?

Flaming Lips last year was pretty insane. It was right past sunset, confetti was flying, and they had some crazy entertaining aspects to that show.

What do you think the key has been for Odesza building a local audience and being able to branch out on a national level?

If I had to guess I would say that there’s pop sensibilities in what we do, which allows for more easy ingestion of the music. But we definitely like a lot of weird music—like Animal Collective and stuff—and we try to incorporate sounds like that into everything and make it a bit strange and a little different. I think when you can make something that people aren’t used to feel like something comfortable to them, it’s kind of like a strange unique blend of things that can become really catchy. I think that’s something I like in any pop music I enjoy: I’m not really sure exactly why it feels familiar, but it still sounds really different to me. So that’s definitely something that we try to do sometimes when we’re going for more pop kind of feels.

Right, a lot of electronic music ignores any notion of pop sensibility.

That’s definitely something we experienced when we were on tour. Sometimes we’d have dubstep DJs open for us and we’re just like “Man, it’s just the same thing over and over.” That’s just not something we would listen to in our free time. We try to stay true to what we like.

Capitol Hill Block Party 2014
July 25–27, Capitol Hill, $50; two-day pass $90; three-day pass $125–$250

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