ODESZA finds success through practice
Two years ago, Harrison Mills was looking for graphic design jobs as he prepared to graduate from college. Today, the 25-year-old has topped the Billboard dance charts and toured the world as one-half of the electronic music duo ODESZA.
“I don’t think either of us expected this whatsoever,” Mills says. “It was more like, ‘Well, we have to get a serious job in a couple months. Do you want to try to not do anything serious and do the things we love before we have to start a career?’ ”
Mills and his bandmate Clayton Knight, who play the Masonic Temple Saturday, met in 2012 while finishing up their senior year at Western Washington University. The two bonded over their shared love of electronic music, which they were both fairly new to at the time. Mills says he and Knight began working on their first song within five days of their first meeting.
“It was basically trial and error for a while,” Mills says. “I think that’s what made our friendship so quick ... There was a lot of back-and-forth, like, ‘Oh, that’s how that works.’ So we learned a lot really quickly.”
Mills had some previous musical experience — he played trumpet in middle school band, although he says he doesn’t remember anything he learned from those days. At age 19, he developed an obsession with instrumental hip-hop and purchased a sampler to begin cutting his own tracks.
“I started finding old records and stuff that my parents listened to and trying to rework those,” he says. “I kind of just fell in love with the process.”
In those days, Mills discovered a diverse range of influences, ranging from Pink Floyd and other classic rock to funk to symphonic music. He says he and Knight have honed in more on the genres of hip-hop, indie and world music as their influences for ODESZA, but the sound is still wide-ranging. The duo’s body of work has varied from propulsive dance songs to down-tempo ambient jams. Mills says one of ODESZA’s biggest challenges has been finding its place in the larger electronic music scene, especially when most of the group’s music runs contrary to the punishing beats and relentless bass drops that characterize the electronic mainstream.
“I think that we rely on musicality and the melodies more than we rely on trends and loud noises,” he says. “If you can incorporate the energy of those bigger, harder-sounding songs, but try to keep it tasteful, I think people react to that.”
The sales success and critical acclaim that have greeted ODESZA’s young career certainly prove the popularity of the duo’s approach. But Mills says he tries to remember that his success could be fleeting, given the “fickle” nature of the music industry.
“The only thing you can really do is keep your head down and keep working as hard as possible,” he says. “We don’t try to think too hard on becoming irrelevant, as much as we are trying to be innovative and try new things and make sure the quality is there first.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Featuring GRiZ, ODESZA, Will Sessions and Gosh Pith
8 p.m. Saturday
500 Temple St., Detroit
Tickets $32.50 in advance, $45 at the door