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ODESZA on Their ‘Cinematic,’ Percussive Live Show

“I don’t know if you really wanna see a lot of pushing buttons and knobs turning,” duo says ahead of high-profile Coachella appearance and big tour

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ODESZA are launching the 2018 leg of their A Moment Apart tour.

Tonje Thilesen

Chill-bass duo ODESZA are bringing their massive A Moment Apart tour back on the road starting with three sold-out shows in their home base of Seattle Thursday through Saturday. While their show is a spaceship-circus of geometrically pleasing lights, smoke, video and a six-member drumline, the group’s members – Harrison ” Catacombkid” Mills and Clayton “BeachesBeaches” Knight – insist this isn’t a nonstop EDM sugar rush. They’re aiming instead for the cinematic and theatrical. This dynamic approach is also apparent in their sweeping music, popular enough to earn them a slot right under Eminem’s name on the Coachella flyer. Rolling Stone caught up with the duo to find out what to expect when they hit amphitheaters across America.

When did you guys find about the size of your band name on the Coachella flyer?
Mills: A big “holy shit” came out of my mouth.
Knight: We knew we were pretty good billing, but we had no idea.

You are an enormously successful, popular band, but I wouldn’t call you “famous.”
Knight: It’s true. It’s a conversation we have quite often. We live in an interesting space where there’s a community of people that know us really well, and then there’s a whole world outside that that has no clue.
Mills: I love it.

What do you love about it?
Mills: I think it allows for a bit more movement in what we do. We don’t feel really constricted. I think, when you get famous off something, you’re kind of defined by it, and that’s what everyone knows you for, one song or whatever. But we kind of have the ability to jump around and try different things.

Are you guys able to walk around a music festival and not get recognized?
Knight: It depends. Like in Laneway, when we were in Australia, I was walking around. No one really cared. We’re pretty mysterious onstage. We don’t show our faces too often to begin with. We’re pretty easy to walk around with.

Do you find that annoying or liberating?
Mills: Liberating.
Knight: Liberating for sure, yeah.

For A Moment Apart 2018, are you doing anything different than the 2017 run?
Mills: Yeah, we got some different stuff lined up.
Knight: It’s just kind of fine-tuning what works and what doesn’t. … But, you know, we’re never satisfied.
Mills: Yeah, it’s gotten to this point where one change has to [go] through, like, 30 different people ’til it’s actually changed. From just production, to lighting … to rehearsing different choreography, to writing parts for different live elements, and it just turns into so much more than you think. One tiny change can just have a ripple effect.

On the last leg, you guys had more than 200 moving lights, six trucks, four buses, video elements and live band members. What elements of your show do you think are most important for an audience member?
Knight: You know, these days, especially at festivals and whatnot, there’s a lot of over-saturation of a lot of the same sound. So we’re trying to supply a pretty unique show. We spent a lot of time and effort in creating something that has these theatrical moments, ebbs and flows where it should, kind of has the whole broad spectrum of different sounds … I want it to have ambient moments, dance moments, theatrical moments. You know, we have a lot of people come off and onstage. It’s a lot of moving pieces, but it keeps the energy up and keeps the show more interesting. … We love taking people on this roller-coaster ride of energy, and I think, when you do that right, the big moments feel a lot bigger, and the intimate moments feel a lot more intimate.

Do either of you have theater background?
Knight: No, we were not theater kids.
Mills: Actually, I didn’t tell Clay this, but I did do theater in high school [laughs].
Knight: OK, I take it back!
Mills: That was supposed to be secret!

What was your play of choice?
Mills: I did a lot of reenactments of Upright Citizens Brigade [laughs] skits, ’cause it was kind of just more of a free-form class, so I kind of got to pick the things. I was obsessed with comedy as a kid, so I would just study SNL skits and Upright Citizens Brigade and all these different comedy troupes.

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Yeah, and we say [our show is] “theatrical,” but I feel like in the end what it really is, is cinematic. We’re definitely huge fans of film and film scores. … I’ve always just been a fan of people like Philip Glass and Ennio Morricone. I think we really try to incorporate those moments in our show, while still trying to represent modern dance music and electronic sounds.

Are there any movies you can point to like, “Oh, I find this ambient moment in this film really touching, so we tried to capture that energy in our show.”
Mills: Interstellar. That theme is insane. That’s really beautiful. … Even Ennio Morricone in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, like those are incredible. Actually, you know, that scene in Life Aquatic, where they finally see the shark and that Sigur Rós song plays? That was really impactful for me. And then the Drive soundtrack was incredible. It was like one long abstract music video. … I feel like when I see a really gorgeous moment in a film, I’m like, “How did this emotionally hit me in such a heavy way while still being so minimal in a lot of aspects?” I think we try to find ways to do that throughout our show.

Do you get into conversations with people who haven’t seen dance shows?
Mills: I think it’s funny when people kind of expect this to be more like a jam band than a more, like, theatrical performance. Like they’ll see us one night, and the next night they’ll come and be like, “Wait, I expected a completely new show.” And it’s like, “I don’t know why you would think that – it took us six months to make this one [laughs].”

Are you bringing the drumline back with you back on the next tour?
Knight: Yes, they will be with us. They’re with us full time now, basically.

Why does the idea of a drumline connect with you guys?
Mills: They’re one of the most obviously visual instruments. You know exactly what’s happening when you see a drummer. When you’re behind a keyboard, you’re not really sure what they’re playing.

Is it at all a reaction to the fact that you generally can’t see what you two are doing onstage?
Mills: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you really wanna see a lot of [laughs] pushing buttons and knobs turning, which is why we do live drumming and stuff during the show, too.

You guys do both have tom and cymbal setups next to your gear. Is it important for you to do something physical?
Knight: Yeah. Having that energy and, you know, whaling on something onstage, it definitely feels more like a show for us. By the end of the show, we are drenched in sweat. … I think if we weren’t having that it would definitely feel a little flat. We like to get into it, you know?

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