Odesza is back in Aspen for shows at Belly Up and the Aspen Art Museum
Five 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, Grammy-nominated band at the top of the game on a mostly sold-out tour supporting their third album “A Moment Apart,” released this fall. The duo is in Aspen for two shows this week — one at Belly Up and another at the Aspen Art Museum’s “The Now” benefit.
“We were kind of the only people making weird electronic music,” Knight said of Odesza’s origins during a 2015 stop in Aspen. “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 local Colorado hero 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 2014, Odesza was playing Coachella and becoming the darling of music blogs.
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 features three standout 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, Knight said. 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,” Knight said. “We have a lot of connections to that community and it’s a big part of how we work.”
Their second full-length record, “In Return,” produced hits in “Say My Name” and “Sun Models.” The new record has produced “Line of Sight,” now up for a Grammy for Best Dance Recording (the album is also nominated in the competitive Best Dance/Electronic Album.
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,” and Wynne & Manionair on “Line of Sight,” for example. In concert, the pair mostly uses samples of those vocals.
“We’d love to incorporate (live singing) more,” Knight said. “But right now with our budget that’s a little over our heads. Hopefully soon — that’d be amazing.”
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