Electronica/pop duo Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, better known as ODESZA, released their third album last month. A Moment Apart (Counter Records/Ninja Tune) blends synthesized and processed sounds with more organic-sounding instruments and vocals from guests such as Regina Spektor, Leon Bridges, Sasha Sloan, RY X and more. Moment is full of sonic surprises, as well as some of the familiar processed vocal sounds that have been a hallmark of ODESZA’s music.
We spoke to Mills about the making of A Moment Apart following ODESZA’s appearance at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle this past summer. Tell a little bit about your writing process for this album: How do you work together to write songs and what tools do the two of you use to capture your ideas?
Most of the ideas start with a chord progression or sample chop recorded in the computer, and that is almost always one person working alone, because we find it’s easiest to get started that way with all of our travel and shows. Then we’ll take ideas to each other when they are in their early stages and talk about direction. Sometimes we’ll let one person lead the direction because they have a clear vision and you don’t want to get in their way. We each have our particular specialties, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re each only doing certain aspects of a track. Once we’re at the stage where we’re working on a track together, that all happens in our home studio.
Where did you cut and mix final tracks for your new album?
Most of the recording and engineering was done in our home studio in Seattle, and we produced all the songs on the album. The Regina Spektor and Sasha Sloan vocals were recorded at The Village in L.A. by Alex Williams. RY X vocals for “Corners of the Earth” were recorded at Temple Base by Alden Paguia, also in L.A. We made the Leon Bridges track “Across rhe Room” in a single session in Seattle, but then he re-recorded the vocals to tape with the guys at Niles City Sound in Fort Worth, Texas. Eric J. Dubowsky did the final mix, and Matt Colton at Alchemy did the master.
What was the process like for laying down tracks? Did rhythm parts always come first, for example?
We had been working on ideas since before our last album [In Return] came out. When we finally stopped touring and started to work on the album, the first tracks we finished were the opening track, “A Moment Apart,” and the closing track, “Corners of the Earth,” with RY X. That really set the concept for the album and helped us filter all these drafts we had been working on. The tracks themselves usually start with a melodic idea, then we build the rhythmic elements and experiment with a bunch of different sounds and layers, and decide whether or not it needs a vocal. Then we peel back everything that isn’t crucial to the song and try to make it as simple as possible.
What were some of the key techniques and equipment that were essential to the sounds on this album?
Our studio is built around Native Instruments Maschine and the S49 Kontrol keyboard, with a couple hardware synths like the Korg minilogue and Moog Voyager XL, and plug-ins from Universal Audio, iZotope and Soundtoys. We like to saturate and distort everything to give it lots of warmth but that can be easy to overdo.