“We love Florida! It just always seems like there’s always some weird obstacle to get through to get there."
That's Harrison Mills — who makes up half of internationally-acclaimed electronic duo ODESZA — when CL pressed him on why the duo hasn't visited the Sunshine State since playing Okeechobee Music Festival in 2016.
“I’m excited to get back. Those Florida shows, I remember them; they were really, really fun," Mills added. "The Florida audience has always given us a lot of love, so it’s good to come back.”
CL on the Road review: A look back at Okeechobee Music Festival in South Florida
A month out from the duo’s return to Florida — a three-day stretch where the two will hit Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami’s Bayfront Park — I had the chance to catch up with half of ODESZA before the guys kick things back into gear for the second leg of the "A Moment Apart" tour.
The electronic outfit has been on a bit of a break since the New Years, when it capped off three months of touring in support for the Grammy-nominated album A Moment Apart, the duo’s third studio release.
That’s not to say the guys haven’t been keeping busy.
With its calendars clear for the months of January and February — save for a quick run of shows in Australia — Seattle natives Mills and Knight have utilized the time off to help fine-tune things before heading back out on the road.
“We’ve made some changes to the show, we’ve reworked a lot of pieces. When you rework one thing, it kind of has a domino effect,” said Mills, as he described the the tedious nature of the behind-the-scenes tour production.
“Starting from just the audio we’re making, but then it becomes the horn line, and then the choreography for the drum line. It’s a little bit of a slow process.”
While ODESZA has always been a drum-driven electronic act, in particular with its live shows, the "A Moment Apart" tour has seen that affinity for various mediums of percussion transform into a visual and comprehensive live show unlike any other electronic act touring today.
The tour — which wraps up in early August — features a full drum line and various orchestra pieces. While I’ve personally avoided any footage or photos that would spoil the show for me, the near-unanimous acclaim among tour attendees and from Mills himself is enough to validate the hype.
“It was actually something that we’ve wanted to do for a really long time,” Harrison said of the added drum line. “We’ve always loved these big band, orchestral elements. Big choirs or big drum lines. We just never really had the means to do it. Three or four years ago we were bringing them out for special occasions like Red Rocks or really big festival settings. Now we have the means to really incorporate them into the show like we always wanted to, which is a lot of time to build up choreography to each song that they’re on and really spend the time to make it a unique thing instead of them just standing in front of us drumming along.”
While this newfound level of success and fame has allowed ODESZA the means to bring an even bigger and more comprehensive stage show to life, it’s hardly unexpected to those in the electronic community familiar with the Northwest-based electronic duo.
ODESZA has been one of the most clamored for and celebrated electronic acts for years now, and with the mainstream just now catching up its potential seems limitless. With its iconic alt-electronic catalog, breathtaking cinematic production and notoriously dazzling live accompaniments, ODESZA’s early summer Florida trek make these some of the hottest tickets of summer.
Find more information on tickets below, as well as the rest of my Q&A with Harrison Mills:
Thu. May 17, 7 p.m. $47 & up.
CFE Arena, 12777 Gemini Blvd N., Orlando.
More info: cfearena.com.
Hey Harrison! My name’s LJ. I’m a contributor for Creative Loafing Tampa, who will have me on assignment next month to cover ODESZA’s Orlando show at the CFE Arena on May 17. I also run my own page and website Franz.mp3, where I’ll be providing coverage of ODESZA's sold out shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on June 15-16. Just wanted to catch up and see what you guys has been up to so we could have an idea of what to expect when ODESZA returns to Florida in May. I was doing a little research on you beforehand, and saw you have the nickname “Catacomb Kid“ — where did that come from?
Yeah, well I was really, really into hip-hop when I first started making music and I was really into underground rap. Aesop Rock had a song called “Catacomb Kid,” and I just thought it was a really cool name and it stuck with me.
And Clayton [Knight, the other half of ODESZA] goes by BeachesBeaches, is that correlated at all?
You know, I think he was just listening to a lot of Beach Boys and he was lazy so he just did it twice.
After the New Year you guys had wrapped up the first leg of the tour. It looks like you guys had the entire month of January off. In February, other than a string of shows in Australia, you had some time off as well. [During this break] were you guys working on new music? Or just taking a break after touring that album so heavily for three months?
A lot of it’s really... the show is really the focus for us. So we’ve made some changes to the show, we’ve reworked a lot of pieces. When you rework one thing, it kind of has a domino affect. Starting from just the audio we’re making, but then it becomes the horn line and then the choreography for the drum line. It’s a little bit of a slow process. So we’ve made some changes to the show there, but we’re also working on Coachella which is like a totally different beast. So a lot of show stuff.
Oh yeah, Coachella is next month as well. You guys have got to be excited about that one, right?
Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s going to be a lot of pressure to make it exactly what we want it to be, but we’re excited for the opportunity. It will be really fun.
You guys are one of the few shows I have purposefully avoided watching any videos [from the tour] ahead of time, wanting to go in to the show not knowing what to expect. For someone like me that isn’t familiar with what you’re doing on the "A Moment Apart Tour," what would say they can expect that’s different than previous ODESZA shows?
It just feels like everything’s bigger and more cinematic, there are a lot more elements. So many more details. We’ve just put a ton of effort into our show, trying to make it feel like its a full spectrum of different genres and styles, but all our own music.
About 80-percent of it is really reworks of a lot of our other music to fit the settings. It’s got a lot of theatrical elements and hopefully a good ebb and flow of everything.
You guys have talked a lot about how you enjoy those cinematic aspects of music, in particular making this album. Does this tour feel like a cinematic production with all the pieces you have?
Yeah, very much so. We try our best to really represent it in that way. There’s like a whole section of the show where we just want it to feel like a fun dance party, then shift to a beautiful ambient moment. Do all those things that make the whole show feel cohesive. It’s like our goal overall, you know?
Again, I’ve heard you guys talking about wanting to ramp up your music — which can be very beautiful and ambient — so that it has the energy of an electronic show. How has it been reworking this album for the live show, have you had to do a lot in terms of changing it up?
Yeah, there’s a lot of changes. We just really recognize that not everything is built through that setting. When we write an album, we try not to think, “How is this going to work live?” We really want it to work for, ya know, sitting in your car or just putting in your headphones while riding the bus or you’re walking down the street. All those things are a little more intimate, whereas if you’re at a show its this communal setting. So we try to bring a lot more energy and a lot more theatrical big elements that make it feel epic at times, then really beautiful and intimate at times. We want you to feel like you can go from small to big really quickly throughout the set.
When you guys go into making an album, you try to shoot for a theme. Does that theme you develop while working on the album change when you go on tour? The album came out in September, we’re in April now. Has the tour itself changed the theme of the album or how you play it?
That’s an interesting question. I think the show is a bit more of a discography, you know what I mean. It's touching on a lot of themes from different albums. But it’s trying to find a way to make all of those sound like they make sense to each other, instead of “This is our old album,” “This is our new album.” We try to really blend it and update older song so they all kind of fit to the same world.
It’s really important for us to not change the music to the point where you can’t enjoy it again; where you’re like, “Ah man, they changed it again.” We just try to beef everything up, not take it away.
Speaking of beefing things up, one thing I could not avoid in the buildup to this tour is the added drum line element. It’s really unlike anything other electronic acts are doing. I know you guys always leaned on drums but where did the idea of having an entire drum line idea come from?
It was actually something that we’ve wanted to do for a really long time. We’ve always loved these big band, orchestral elements. Big choirs or big drum lines. We just never really had the means to do it. Three or four years ago we were bringing them out for special occasions like Red Rocks or really big festival settings. Now we have the means to really incorporate them into the show like we always wanted to, which is a lot of time to build up choreography to each song that they’re on and really spend the time to make it a unique thing instead of them just standing in front of us drumming along.
I want to dive into both the Orlando show and Red Rocks. With Red Rocks, it’s such a special place and really it culls people from all over the world. What is it like for you guys playing that venue? Is it your favorite place to play?
It’s definitely up there. That and our hometown shows are really our two favorite spots. I mean it’s such a gorgeous venue, it’s definitely my favorite venue. Not necessarily my favorite place to play.
I’ve said this before, but I feel like it’s one of the only venues where I feel like, there’s 9,000 people there and you can see almost every person’s face, as they are like cascading down from the top. You see the red rocks and stars. To look up at that while you’re playing is pretty incredible.
You have a string of Foreign Family labelmates opening up for those shows, as well as some surprise guests. Who are you guys most excited to see open? Do we get any hints at who the surprise guests are?
Ah man, if I told you…nah, but we’re really excited. It’s really cool to add a little surprise element to keep people excited for the shows. Like you said it really is a destination place. So just trying to add all the elements that make it a really good time.
The Orlando show is on May 17 at CFE Arena. For many like myself, this is the first time we’ve got to see you guys in Florida since Okeechobee Music Festival in 2016. Are you guys excited to be touring in Florida again? I know it’s the exact opposite end of the country from [Seattle,] so I know it’s not somewhere you get away to often. What’s it like to be touring in the Sunshine State again.
We love Florida! It just always seems like there’s always some weird obstacle to get through to get there. I don’t know why, but yeah, we haven’t done a headline show there since like 2014, so I’m excited to get back. Those Florida shows I remember them, they were really, really fun. The Florida audience has always given us a lot of love so it’s good to come back.
You guys definitely have a big following here. I’m regularly on the Okeechobee [Music Festival] social pages and there was a big push to have you guys there this year. Hopefully we’ll get to see you there next year.
We’d love to, yeah.
I saw you guys just recently announced Troyboi will be opening some of the tour dates, the Orlando one included. Just curious, how did that style match up or what led to you guys booking him for these run of shows?
We’ve actually been friends with him for forever. I can’t really remember where we first met. But he’s actually the coolest guy in the game. I think he did a song with Big Wild, from Foreign Family, awhile back that a lot of people don’t know, it’s called “Decorous.” I think that’s how we first discovered him. We ended up seeing his show and hanging out with him and then he came to our show in London, where he’s from. We ended up hanging out a lot of shows for a long time and then he played our Foreign Family Electric Forest stage. So yeah, we became really good buddies and have hung out as much as we could.
Last thing I wanted to touch on. When I think of ODESZA, your music is really like an experience. It’s a feeling, a mood to everything — you guys have such a unique sound. How do you think that translates to the live show? A song like “Divide,” a song that is one of the prettiest I’ve ever heard, how does it translate to the live electronic show. In other words, how does the ODESZA live show compared to the ODESZA recorded sound?
Yeah, it’s kind of how we touched on it earlier. We take a lot of time to making sure that these things translate into the setting that they’re in. We try to take these intimate moments, like “Divide,” and make it feel like that by the chorus that it explodes into this bigger, more communal thing. We try to do that throughout the show and try to add a lot of dynamic. We try to make the show feel really small, close and intimate at moments and then just, hopefully, expand.
We play little tricks of having things go down the middle, and then by the chorus everything pans out stereo really wide and then it feels like it erupts. We do a lot of stuff like that in detail to make those songs feel intimate in the moment but then become these more festival-like, bigger venue sound.
That pretty much wraps up what I’d like to cover. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with CL. We’re looking forward to seeing you guys out in Orlando on May 17 and then Red Rocks soon after. Thanks so much Harrison.
Awesome, thank you man.