Last week, Harrison of ODESZA took some time out of his tour schedule to chat about playing live, production values, and general trends in the EDM world.
EJ: Hello Harrison, thanks for taking the time to speak to me, how’s your day been?
Pretty good, this is the first day without snow for a while.
EJ: Nice. I’m callin’ from Santa Barbara, where typical February weather means 75 degrees
Aw man, makin me jealous. It’s been like 30 below with wind chill the past three weeks.
EJ:I can only imagine. So to start, How’s the tour going so far?
It’s been really great so far. Randomly, you’ll get an off day, Mondays In the middle of nowhere, but overall it’s been awesome.
EJ: Glad to hear it. What’s it been like headlining versus opening? I caught you guys opening for PL at the Wiltern and they were definitely into it, but are you seeing an increase in fan reactions to your music now that you’re the main act?
Definitely. I think that when you’re opening, a lot of people don’t know your music, and they’re not really there for you, they’re there for the headliner, so you have to win them over a bit more. But when you’re a headliner, people are prepared to dance to your songs, instead of just getting warmed up for something else.
EJ: Makes sense. Do you plan out the set ahead of time, improvise it all, or some combination of the two?
We’ll do a little bit of both. We’ll plan out song structure, and kinda know how they flow into one another. Sometimes we’ll make decisions right before we play, to skip certain songs or jump to different ones. In general we know what we’re gonna play, and then we improvise by messing with the different set pieces.
EJ: Ok. Now that you’ve toured on both coasts, how do shows differ between east and west?
I’d say that on the east coast we’re a little less known. We’re probably more popular in the major cities than….let me think of a specific….Virginia, for example. We don’t have a big fan base there, but we’re building that by playing, meeting people, and we’ll see where it goes. West coast has been a little bit better, maybe because we started there and we’re from that side, but it just seems to be more of our vibe. I think cause our music is brighter, more upbeat and fun, and east coast seems to be more serious than happy, but I’m just going off…I don’t really know man I’ve only been to the east coast twice so I can’t say.
EJ: Well, you know more than me, but we on the west are definitely down to get down.
I’m not trying to shit on the east coast in any way
EJ: Yeah I didn’t take it that way, just different vibes in different places.
Right. I have noticed that it seems like the east coast takes a bit longer to warm up during the show, and on the west coast, people are ready to down to dance right away. Obviously that doesn’t hold everywhere, but it’s the norm. It’s seems more popular to headbob and hang out on the east coast.
EJ: Interesting. I’ve got one more section on playing live, and it’s about festivals. I’ve caught you at Lightning in a Bottle, you guys have hit What the Festival, Symbiosis etc. The first question is, do you notice a difference when you’re behind the decks at a festival versus a show, and do you try to react to the crowd in a different way when you’re just one act out of 8 or 9 instead of 1 out of 2 or 3?
Well, I think that when you’re at a festival, people have paid a lot of money to see a lot of music and they’re more open-minded about experiencing some new sounds. When you’re at a show, they’re there for 1, maybe 2, usually not 3, they maybe haven’t heard everyone and they’re not as open-minded. At a festival, people are down to just explore and walk around from tent to tent and just enjoy different kinds of music. That energy is really powerful and really fun, you can tell that people haven’t heard your songs and it doesn’t matter, they’re just having fun.
EJ: Here on the west coast we’ve seen a string of new ‘transformational festivals’ that have sprung up out of Burning Man culture. Lightning in a Bottle and Symbiosis are examples. Have you noticed a difference between those and more mainstream festivals where music is the only attraction, compared to the whole yoga/hippie vibe?
What do you mean, like a difference between crowds?
I don’t know. Actually, you know, I feel like every festival has treated us pretty damn good. I think every festival show we’ve had has been really really fun. I think every festival is so big that the crowds are all diverse, and even the ones that are more city based, I mean people react the same way to music as long as they like it. I don’t think it’s that big of a difference. One thing I will say is that it really depends on setting. Symbiosis and stuff like that it’s cool that they’re out in the wilderness, versus the city. I think the city can be harder for people to feel like they’re escaping and have a good time, but it’s not always the case, we have fun everywhere.
EJ: Sounds good, glad people are down wherever. Now some questions based on how you make your music. How would you classify your style? I don’t know if you guys can be put into a genre, but what do think of yourself in terms of what sort of music you make, and what are some artists that have inspired you?
I think the reason that me and Clay make music together is because we really like a diverse range of things so, that’s kinda what classifies us because we try not to be in one box. It’s really easy to get pigeonholed in the music industry, so you don’t want to latch on to any phases and be part of something too much, you want to be able to be really diverse and show your range, which is what we like to do. We’ve got a new album we’re working on, should be out sometime this year, and it showcases a lot of things we like. We’ve got everything from indie rock to Radiohead to old 50s music to James Brown soul music and brand-new future-bass stuff. There’s like a million things, and it’s really hard to classify. We try to sit around and classify all day, but I’m listening to this 14-year old kid from Russia who’s better than half the people I’ve heard, it’s crazy. I think it’s always changing, we’re always evolving, and we’re always trying to do something different, so…did that answer your question?
EJ: Haha yes it definitely did, I’m very excited to hear that new album. It sounds like what would happen if I pressed shuffle on my iPod.
That’s definitely what we’re going for. I want people to be able to listen to something dynamic if they’re listening to an album. I think that a lot of people think you can’t release an album anymore and it just has to be singles, but I think if they’re different but still have some continuity, you can do it still.
EJ: I agree. Soul is soul, no matter the genre.
EJ: Where do you look for artistic inspiration outside of music? I know that many artists talk about creativity as if it’s a sort of meditation. Is there a place you go to, or is it something you’re always looking for?
I think it can range from anything like a life experience, when something happens to you, from a breakup to a near-death experience, it can inspire a lot. I think really, you just have to be open minded to anything making you feel a certain way, and try to create something out of that. It’s really hard to choose one thing as inspiration. I don’t really know, I feel like I’ll hear a song or experience something and I’ll be like I gotta take it and create something out of that. It’s really hard to explain for me.
EJ: That’s probably the way it should be.
Yeah maybe I don’t want to define it, it’s probably best if don’t.
EJ: Sounds good.
I didn’t mean that in a rude way, just thinking out loud.
EJ: No worries man, that’s a ridiculous question and you gave an honest answer, that’s all I’m hoping for, so thanks. Moving on, you two have done pretty well together, with releases from your first album reaching #1 on sites HypeMachine after you gave it away for free. You get tapped by Pretty Lights for an official remix, I’m assuming ticket sales are going well, at least on the west coast, cause you guys are becoming household names here. Did you see this sort of success coming, and what are your hopes for this year?
Definitely not at first. I think we were expecting some blogs to pick us up and for us to take some niche Soundcloud area. But I think that a lot of kids around us blew up and it helped create a scene, which is really cool. As far as this year, I hope that are album comes out and people can appreciate it, because it’s like a mix of everything we like. Hopefully you get an open-minded audience, and that’s why I really like our audience. Because we do a lot of things and it’s not super easy to put us in a genre, we attract people from all walks of life and they’re into different stuff. My favorite thing is when people say, “I don’t listen to anything like this but it’s awesome what is this.” That’s my favorite compliment so, hopefully we get more of that.
EJ: You guys have followed the likes of Pretty Lights, Gramatik, and others in giving your music away for free. Could you explain why you don’t charge for your tunes? Do you think it’s a model that you want to see spread to other artists?
I sorta think it’s the future of music. I don’t think that people buy music that often anymore, at least not in a way that you can make enough money to do this. I feel like you also eliminate your reach for people to hear you. The most important thing should be people hearing your music…if you’re looking for money, if you’re doing this for money, you’re gonna have a really rough time. It’s definitely something we love and we just want people to hear it, and it’s so much easier to just send someone a link and just say check this out, than it being ten dollars, it’s just not the future. The future is music coming out for free, support the artists if you care about them, and come out to shows.
EJ: Finish this question: before I retire as a musician I want to….
Dude that’s a hefty one. …. I would love to create a soundtrack for a movie.
EJ: Man, that’s about as diverse as you can get.
Yeah, I think that’d be really fun.
EJ: Would that be an action, or drama, or what would the vibe be? Your music is so happy, how would that transfer?
I would say, if me and Clay were to do it, it could be any number of things, but when I first started out, well, I’m a big movie buff, so my first stuff is more cinematic and airy and just big and ethereal. So I would try to do that. I guess something like Inception, where there’s a huge track but also really beautiful mellow stuff, and anywhere in between. Something where there’s a strange aspect to the film, something dramatic but also…not sci-fi but..
EJ: Something inventive.
EJ: Cool. I’d love to see that happen. Three wrap-up questions. One,what is something that worries you about America’s electronic music world?
Umm, I think people get too caught up in naming things and labeling them, and once they fall under a certain umbrella, the name gets commercialized and destroyed, it really sucks when that happens. I don’t know if there’s a way out of that, it’s how it’s always been I feel, just with anything that becomes popularized, but it’s really unfortunate. There’s definitely people that fall under a name, and they feel like they have to do that genre now, because it’s popular, so they push themselves to be something that’s just a phase, or something they’re just doing for money. It saddens me, not something I see all the time but it’s definitely there.
EJ: Yeah. I really don’t want to see electronic music go the way of hip-hop, it’s only now reviving. Stuff becomes plastic so easily.
I think there’s still surprisingly good hip-hop coming out, I only know a handful but that’s probably my fault. I know he’s popular but I think Kendrick Lamar is a genius.
EJ: Yeah, I agree. I probably listened to Good Kid Maad City every day the month it came out. The storytelling is so powerful.
I can’t believe he got away with that. Those songs hit number one, and they’re truly art. It’s amazing that he got away with that, and it gives me hope.
EJ: On that vibe, what’s something that gives you hope about the electronic music scene:
People that I would think want the attention, that deserve it, slowly getting it. People that aren’t doing what I was saying, jumping into what’s popular, but people that are doing their own thing. For instance, Cashmere Cat has a completely unique sound, and he’s just doing his own thing. He could’ve changed to dubstep or something if he wanted to do crazy festivals but he did awesome. New album’s really sick, he’s on the radio with Ludacris, he’s doing stuff in the mainstream but staying true to himself. It’s really refreshing.
EJ: Yeah, his rhythms are absolutely amazing, really cool to see that recognized.
EJ: I guess you may have already answered this one, I was going to ask about what fans should expect from you these coming months, both live and from the studio, but it seems like they should look for a little bit of everything.
Yeah, the album is a piece of everything we like. We stepped away from samples for the first time, but we didn’t steer away from our sound in any way, we tried to grow it. I’d say the main feel is big and I don’t want to say ‘epic,’ but maybe cinematic. I would say it’s all of our vibes but more cinematic.
EJ: Epic sounds like a great word for that. That’s all I have for you, thanks for answering my questions, hopefully we can meet up again when you hit LA.
ODESZA’s tour continues through May-get tickets here.
Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 introduced me to the world of electronic music, and ever since, it’s been a huge part of my life. I’m currently a philosophy student at UCSB, but music and shows are my passion. Thanks to EJ, I hope to share the magic of music with anyone interested.