Odesza doubles down at Belly Up Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Odesza doubles down at Belly Up Aspen

Odesza's second full-length album, "In Return," was released in September.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Odesza

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Friday, Feb. 20, 9 p.m. and midnight

More info: http://www.bellyupaspen.com

Three years ago, Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills were college kids with a mutual interest in electronic music production, preparing to graduate and enter the real world. In their last moments of collegiate freedom at Western Washington University, the pair decided to record some tracks together and put them on the Internet.

That’s how it started for the Seattle-based duo Odesza, which is now a chart-topping buzz band in the middle of a sold-out leg of their tour that brings them to Belly Up for two shows on Friday.

“We were kind of the only people making weird electronic music,” Knight said of Odesza’s origins. “Indie-folk was really popular at our school, and we were the only people doing the same thing, and we shared a lot of music back and forth.”

In 2012, after they graduated, they laid down some tracks before moving into real-world jobs in graphic design. The result was their debut, “Summer’s Gone,” released online that September. It became an underground hit, gave the duo a cult following, a place on the dance charts with songs “How Did I Get Here” and “iPlayYouListen,” and landed Odesza a gig opening for Pretty Lights in 2013.

The sound on the record was fully formed Odesza: synths, glitched-up vocals and dance beats mixed in gorgeous tracks that resisted the prevailing trends and tropes of today’s electronic music. As many have noted, unlike the glut of electronic groups and DJs on the scene, Odesza created songs that were actually, well, songs.

That creative aesthetic resulted from a range of influences – indie and experimental music alongside dance and electronica – as well as the freedom of not expecting any kind of commercial or popular success.

“We just wanted to make music that we wanted to hear,” Knight said. “I think that really made a difference. We weren’t trying to make big bangers or big hit records.”

By last spring, they were on a sold-out tour of North America, playing Coachella and becoming the darling of music blogs. Their second full length, “In Return,” released in September, produced hits in “Say My Name” and “Sun Models.”

Odesza has also displayed a knack for finding little-known vocalists that pair perfectly with their tracks – Zyra on “Say My Name” and Madelyn Grant on “Sun Models,” for example. In concert, the pair uses samples of those vocals, at least for now.

“We’d love to incorporate [live singing] more,” said Knight. “But right now with our budget that’s a little over our heads. Hopefully soon – that’d be amazing.”

For the live set on this tour, Mills and Knight are bringing along a live percussionist, while playing their tracks live on their linked computers, on which they have all of their songs broken up into small elements. They’re mixing 16 different tracks live on most songs, and pride themselves on improvising more than most DJs.

“We work hard on our live set and we’re trying to build something more entertaining than just watching people DJ,” Knight explained. “Each song we’ve ever made is broken up into a bunch of tiny pieces. … It allows you to jam a little more and be creative, as opposed to just mixing two tracks.”

The local show comes amid a string of sold-out dates around the U.S. To meet demand, the band added early shows and late night DJ sets at many stops, including Aspen, where after their main 9 p.m. performance they’ll spin records in a second late night DJ set.

Odesza is booked through July, with stops at major festivals like Coachella, Hangout, Sasquatch, Governor’s Ball, Bonnaroo, and Electric Forest. They’ll also be back in Colorado to headline Red Rocks with Chromeo on May 26. Knight said he hopes, after the summer tour and festival season, to take a break to write new music with Mills.

The duo’s rapid rise has happened so suddenly, Knight said, they haven’t yet been able to process it.

“I’ve seen changes in crowd size, but we stay so busy and stay in our world so much that it just seems surreal,” Knight said. “It doesn’t feel any different than when we first started. I don’t think we’ve hade time to soak it in yet. Maybe one day we can reflect and think, ‘Wow, that really did happen.’ But right now it’s just keeping our nose to the grindstone.”

Here in ski country, a lot of fans first discovered Odesza through their inclusion on the soundtrack of the 2014 Teton Gravity Research ski film “Almost Ablaze,” which screened in Aspen in the fall at The Meeting and prominently features three stand-out Odesza tracks – “Say My Name,” “Memories that You Call” and a remix of Zhu’s “Faded.”

The inclusion on the soundtrack of the popular, award-winning ski flick was no accident or simple licensing deal, said Knight. Their manager is a Jackson Hole skier and their stage lights and concert visuals producer is professional skier Luke Tanaka, who went to college with Mills and Knight.

“We’ve always been big advocates of the ski community,” said Knight, who has given up skiing for the time being as Odesza occupies his days and nights. “We have a lot of connections to that community and it’s a big part of how we work.”


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