Odesza On ‘The Last Goodbye,’ Aspirations Of Scoring Movies And More

The electronic duo of ODESZA (Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight) recently released their fourth album, The Last Goodbye. Coming a decade after their debut, Summer’s Gone, the Washington state duo’s latest album finds Mills and Knight growing up musically.

Exploring a wide array of styles, including a healthy dose of atmospheric hooks, the record is ODESZA at their most vulnerable, including snippets of the band in therapy.

I spoke with the pair about the new album, their dreams of scoring a movie, how the genre of electronic is growing up and seeing friends like Alison Wonderland and Rufus Du Sol inspires them, the current tour and much more.

Steve Baltin: Where is today’s hotel room?

Clayton Knight: We’re here in Everett Washington doing rehearsals right now. It’s kind of like outside Seattle. Yeah, it’s beautiful up here right now, the summer finally showed up. So we are happy that happened. [laughter]

Baltin: Are there songs that you’ve started to do in rehearsals from The Last Goodbye you are excited to play live?

Knight: Yeah, I think there’s been a couple that have been surprising that you wouldn’t necessarily think would. But yeah, put it on the big rig, put it on the big speakers, getting the band out there, there’s a couple, like “Equal.” I think that’s one that I think in the set and how it’s kind of laid out is gonna be a really kind of huge moment and it’s kind of like on the album, it kind of sits in the background a little bit, but here I think it might take a front row seat and really shine.

Harrison Mills: That song though, when we all were asked the same question by the different people on our crew, “What song stood out to us?” Four different people on our crew said that it was that same song. So it’s funny ’cause we were thinking about ending on that song at one point, and we’re like, “Oh, maybe not.” But now who knows, ’cause it is coming out really cool.

Baltin: It’s interesting because a lot of the stuff you’ve released early, obviously was a little more atmospheric, a little slower, but I also feel like that stuff can sort of be a slow burn and really surprise.

Knight: Yeah, and what we tend to do too is we’ll go back and remix and kind of reedit a lot of the audio. So like, “Forgive Me,” for example, has this extended version where it kind of flips into this darker house moment. And even “Equal” has a couple of moments where we break it down and certain pieces that maybe get tucked away in the recording highlighted a little bit more, which is really fun to do on the big system. And like you said, even some of the atmospheric stuff will reinterpret for the live setting and it becomes kind of a fun project to re-imagine these tunes that have been sitting around for a bit.

Baltin: Now, like everybody, you’ve had two years to sit and really process everything that happened in the years leading up to the lockdown. Are there things that you developed a new appreciation for you want to bring to this tour?

Mills: I think we’ve taken a lot of the ideas on how we really wanted the show to flow and really put that on steroids in a lot of ways. Because we really want the whole show to feel like one band, but also give you like 10 different genres of music, all different kinds of energy. We want there to be cinematic moments and theatrical moments, but you also want there to be just dance party moments. And really fine-tuning that and making sure that that feels like a cohesive journey and it’s really fun.We want you to laugh and cry and dance and do all the things. So really taking our time to sort that part out was a really fun experience for us.

Knight: Yeah, and that took years of trial and error too, going from the “AMA” (A Moment Apart) tour to this, just taking all those mistakes and various trial and error kind of situations where something doesn’t work here but maybe you move it. So like the set we have now, audio-wise has been almost a decade of touring underneath it. I think it’s really kind of hit the stride where we’re feeling really good about it and it really excited to show people.

Baltin: As you started to put the show together, were there moments that surprised you when you realized this is who you are now after a decade of touring?

Mills: I think that really speaks more to the album necessarily than touring for us. It’s weird, this record in a lot of ways, it’s meant to be celebrated with friends, but it’s also, in a lot of ways, our most personal record. There’s a lot of pieces of us, home footage, there’s a therapy session, there’s notes from a psychiatrist, there’s all sorts of stuff going on across the record that feels deeply personal and intimate for us. But also we really wanted it to feel like a journey that you’re a part of, and you’re experiencing it yourself and then embracing it. From internal to external, it’s kind of a ride, and we hope that hopefully, this is one of those records you get to experience with your friends and go and have the time of your life.

Baltin: Will there eventually be like a Metallica-type documentary, the ODESZA therapy session?

Mills: (They crack up) I don’t know if we need that.

Baltin: I was going to say you guys just told me you agree on everything.

Knight: (Laughing) Took a lot of therapy to get us there let me tell you.

Baltin: I’m looking back at the piece we did in 2018 at the SUNDARA Festival and I have to ask quickly, will that happen again at some point?

Mills: We want it to, there’s a lot of logistical stuff, and COVID obviously did a pretty big setback for us. It’s a pretty big undertaking ’cause we’re pretty hands-on. We want it to be a really fun interactive experience, and if we know we can do it right, we will.

Knight: Yeah, absolutely.

Baltin: The reason I mentioned that specifically is you had Alison Wonderland play, who is one of my absolute favorite people in the world. She went through a very similar process talking about her new record that you guys are talking about. Is it exciting to see everybody growing up emotionally at the same time and being more comfortable to talk about this stuff?

Knight: Completely. Even watching Rufus do what they’ve done this year and how much they’ve grown. We remember touring with them and we were doing smaller cap rooms, and it was just a small time tour, and now they’re selling out stadiums, which is awesome to see. And the Jai Wolf has been with us for a long time on our label, and just how he’s grown. Jackson Big Wild has been great to watch, so it’s really cool to see this generation of almost Soundcloud-based electronic artists step into this new paradigm, and really excel in it.

Baltin: Who are the artists, for you, that you feel like take you on that journey that really inspire you, whether in electronic or outside of it?

Mills: Radiohead is probably one of my favorite bands of all time and I just like everything they do, even just Johnny Greenwood what he does and his composing for film, I love that stuff. Like There Will Be Blood was one of the best films ever and his soundtrack was incredible. But growing up I think me and Clay loved a lot of niche market, like the Four Tets and Boards of Canada, and that world stuff. And I think what we loved about them is just always evolving and always making different takes on their sound, which I think was a big influence on us. Don’t be too scared to try new stuff, and that’s what excites us from making music.

Baltin: Writing is often subconscious both musically and lyrically. So are there moments when you went back and listened to The Last Goodbye that surprised you?

Knight: Oh yeah, I think there was. Yeah, especially ’cause near the end, you’re in the mixing process and you’re just so granular with it and you’ve been hearing it for so long, you kind of lose track of what it sounds like. But now working on the live show and being able to step away from that, rediscovering the music in some way has been really nice. And I think you get a different appreciation for some of these tunes that maybe have been overlooked. But yeah, I think “Light of Day,” ’cause we had finished that track first, so in the writing process it kind of got left out of the mind’s eye for a bit. And then coming back to it now, I’m just really happy with how it turned out, I think it just does a great job of rounding off and giving the whole spectrum of emotion and energy that the album does in one tune. So that one really surprised me how it came together at the end.

Baltin: Do you find that people are connecting with this on a deeper level because you have gone much more personal so far?

Mills: I think it’s probably gonna take the whole album coming out for people to really understand the story we’re trying to tell. A lot of the record has pieces of our family footage and all this stuff, and I think that’s the stuff that is more in-between some of the singles that have been released. So I think when they kind of get the full vision of everything, that’s when I think it’ll be the most clear communication of what we were trying to say. But definitely, I think people have an emotional connection, especially to “Light of Day,” and seeing responses from a lot of people saying they’re crying in their car.

Knight: But yeah, I think just going back to that genuine kind of approach, the more you’re honest while you’re writing this stuff and upfront, that kind of translates so people pick up on that. And so this record, I think we did approach it with a more open mind and free form and a little more relaxed setting than we have in the past. And I think that kind of shines through on this a little bit more. It’s a little more upbeat, you got a little more of that dance energy involved and we wanted it to be something that people play out with their friends, and a sense of community kind of a vibe comes through.

Baltin: What’s the last song that made you guys cry?

Mills: Oh man, I always go back to one, “An Ending (Ascent),” by Brian Eno. That one just hits me in the gut every time I hear it.

Knight: The last time I actually cried,it’s probably me and my wife were getting in a fight and then some Billie Eilish came on, “Ocean Eyes,” I think it played and that just broke me down. There’s a personal tidbit.

Baltin: When you go back and listen to The Last Goodbye, how do you hear all those influences come together?

Mills: Yeah, I think that’s what we love about being producers. And that’s what’s so fun about electronic music, I feel like in a lot of ways, is you can really bring all these different genres together on one song and trying to make it feel like one song is a fun thing. And that’s why the show is such a big undertaking as we want all those different styles and journey tracks, all these other the things to blend into one long journey. Yeah, I think that’s the most fun thing for us to do is to take all these different things that may not seem on the outside to work together and make them feel like they should and in a different way.

Baltin: If you could do a score for any one movie what would it be and why?

Mills: I think we just love film and we would probably do a lot of movies, but if I had to choose one, I think it would be fun do like Drive. I love the movie Drive, I think that opened up my mind to like the ’80s. It was one area of music I had never really been a big fan of, and after I saw that movie, all those modern takes on ’80s scenes and all these other things, it’s like ’80s pop, it blew up in a whole creative outlook for me.

Knight: Yeah, I think in that realm a little bit, Blade Runner would be a fun one. Just making those epic synth-like orchestral feel to it, I think is something I’m really drawn to personally.

Mills: We’d be open to scoring. We’re honestly would love to try it, we’ve never really kind of dug into it. But something we’d love to once we get off the road a bit, would love to unpack and take a stab at. It’s always been something we really like, original soundtrack is always something we’ve really enjoyed, so I think it would be a logical next step.

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