When Western Washington University students Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight originally formed the electronic dance music act ODESZA after they first met at the small liberal arts school that's located about an hour north of Seattle, they had modest ambitions. Knight had grown up studying classical piano and only discovered electronic music while at the college.
“My dad was a classical pianist,” he says during a recent phone interview from a Phoenix tour stop. ODESZA performs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 4, at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica. “That was a big part of my life. I moved to college, and I got introduced to all this interesting electronic music for the first time. That’s where this project started. [Harrison Mills] and I started swapping music back and forth. At the time, we were really into indie-based electronic music like Four Tet and Boards of Canada. We liked bands that blended genres. That was our bread and butter. That’s where we connected, and that’s what made us want to start making music.”
Upon finishing at Western Washington, the band issued its debut, Summer’s Gone
, in 2012. Knight says that at the time he thought it might wind up being the group’s one and only release.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
“That was an easy one,” says Knight when asked about the making of the album. “Back then, we were two kids making music in my college house. There were no expectations. It was us just having fun. It was our last hurrah in college before we went to get day jobs. I had planned to go to grad school. We just wanted to make music and put something out for fun. It got some attention, and we started doing shows and never looked back.”
The group would wind up signing to the pioneering electronic music label Ninja Tune, the underground British imprint that’s been home to cutting edge acts such as DJ Food, DJ Vadim and Kid Koala.
“We were huge fans of everything Ninja Tune put out for a long time,” says Knight. “That was right before [2014’s] In Return
finally got released. We were on tour, and it was this big moment that culminated in a bunch of different things. It made us realize things were happening, and it felt very real."
Knight says the band took a different approach when it began recording its most recent album, last year’s A Moment Apart
“We wanted to take it in a new direction because you don’t want to repeat yourself, but we also wanted to capture the energy of our sound,” he says. “We wanted to push ourselves. It took us a long time to find the right balance of something we wanted to explore and a sound we wanted to attain. We were more focused on being cinematic and capturing orchestral moments and taking organic sounds and putting them in these electronic settings. That was the goal.”
Knight says the band recorded many of the vocals in L.A. but tracked the bulk of the album in a basement studio in Seattle.
It opens with a snippet of dialogue from the sci-fi flick Another Earth
that sets the tone for the chilled-out tunes.
“We have always been big fans of cinema, as you can tell,” says Knight when asked about the sample. “It’s a nice quote that embodies what we were feeling and where we were trying to take the album. A lot of the music is euphoric. We’ve been attracted to electronic music because it can do that so well. We wanted each song to have a moment and really feel something, like when you have chills on the back of your neck. If it’s not generating that physical response, we think it’s not done. We want that emotive physical response. It’s something we really focused on. We want you to really feel something when you hear the music.”
Guest singer Naomi Wild turns in a particularly soulful vocal performance on "Higher Ground," a hypnotic tune featuring crooning vocals and rattling percussion.
"She saw us after she snuck into Coachella way back when," says Knight when asked about Wild. "We were doing a pretty tiny stage. She had never heard of us but really liked the show. She hit us up and threw this a cappella song at us. We were drawn to it. We wrote an instrumental and then went into the studio with her and worked on the song."
A song that begins with trumpet blasts, “Everything at Your Feet” has a real jazzy feel to it even if shimmering synthesizers ultimately dominate the mix.
"We're a bunch of big jazz heads," says Knight. "That song was inspired by a horn line. It has this Caribou-esque feel to it and this Latin rhythm. We wanted to blend different ideas into that one. It came together really nicely."
Indie rock singer-songwriter Regina Spektor adds her touch to “Just a Memory,” a dreamy tune with orchestral flourishes.
"We’ve been huge fans of hers forever," says Knight. "She has this great, intimate tone and feel. It balances the album. There’s a lot of high energy moments on the album, and it’s great to have this song that resets the energy a bit."
Knight promises the upcoming Cleveland show, the first of summer’s outdoor concert season, will be “very visually based.”
“We spent a lot of time dialing the visuals in,” he says. “We have a six-piece drum line doing percussion work and a brass section, and there are a lot of moving pieces. It should be a good show. It’s gonna be loud. That’s one thing we got down.”
ODESZA, 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4, 2014 Sycamore St., 216-622-6557. Tickets: $45, livenation.com.