Beyond Return with Harrison Mills Of ODESZA

Sandra Song

One-half of chillwave super-producer duo ODESZA, Harrison Mills took some time out of his non-stop tour schedule to chat about festivals, friends never dying, and becoming the future overlord of an army of miniature horses. Because even though he and Clayton Knight are busy promoting the Counter Records‘ release of their album In Return, the dudes still find time to sniff through Soundcloud and trade snaps with fans.

And while previous efforts like glimmering club banger “My Friends Never Die” lean more toward bass-driven club classic vibes, this latest offering is more like a future chill soundtrack for the last remaining days of your hazy-dazy summer. Matched only by their own lovely and lackadaisical IRL personas, the duo sport a distinct Emerald City calm that can’t help but bleed into their music.

Filled with sparkling synths and blissful chords, In Return is a beautiful vision of a never-ending aural utopia that soothes and would relax the most amped of EDMers. And this sultry swank and feeling of perpetual bliss is just further propelled by the angelic vocals that come courtesy of rising songstresses such as Zyra and Madelyn Grant, whose yearning cries and clipped whimpers lend the entire album an almost zen-like sense of otherworldly calm.

For the uninformed, tell me about how you guys met? How long have you known each other? When did you realize that you guys were perfect collaborators?

Harrison Mills: We had a mutual friend who in college was directing videos… he actually played guitar in a lot of the stuff that we put out, but he was thinking of doing a music video for me and I went over to his house. He and Clay were friends from high school, so they were living together and so he came out when I was playing stuff and was interested in what I was doing. So we ended up trading a lot of music back and forth. We then jammed one day and made three or four tracks, which we had never done before, because we had never known anyone who made anything similar. We went to school at a very liberal arts place where folk and indie rock were the main sources of music, so it was interesting to find someone else who listened to the same stuff. We have a lot of the same taste, the same variety of stuff. We just kind of clicked.

What kind of artists? Who’d you bond over?

There are a lot of weird Soundcloud artists that were kind of big at the time, but now not so much. Like I remember showing him Girrafage, Slow Magic, and stuff. Yeah, so we were into a lot of the same people on Soundcloud.

Tell me about the process of making In Return. Inspiration? What’s the sort of driving theme?

Basically we’ve been working on it for the last year. We’re kind of trying to be a little less sample-based and trying to do more singer-songwriter stuff. We try to make full verses and choruses and bridges all that…and we’ve been doing cool lyric stuff on them, because up until this point it’s mostly been chopped up vocals. It’s just us kind of trying to experiment and try to mature as musicians.

In Return seems to have a much quieter, more mystical sort of aesthetic than the very bass-heavy Emerald City. Almost a return to the Summer’s Gone kind of feel. Would you agree?

In Return is like… when we named it, it’s kind of ironic, but we really liked returning home because we started going on tour so much that In Return was just something really special to us. You know, like just returning home, being comfortable, being in a different headspace. So it was kind of supposed to represent that but was the irony was that we’ll never really be home. But the album cover is definitely an ode to Summer’s Gone and “My Friends Never Die” together.

You seem to have a lot more female vocal guests this time around. How’d you choose collaborators? Was that intentional for the whole mystical, ethereal vibe?

I think that me and Clay just kind of gravitate toward a lot of falsetto and a lot of like beautiful, angelic voices, and usually that comes from girls, but we’re definitely open to other things. Now that we’ve kind of dialed into that style, we’d like to try some other things.

You’d never use your own voice?

Haha, you don’t want to hear it.

Well what’s your go-to karaoke jam?

Definitely going to be Chumbawamba’s “I Get Knocked Down”, are you kidding me? Haha.

Photo by Marybeth Coghill

Photo by Marybeth Coghill

Excellent choice. So you guys just did a Q&A for fans who preordered the album yesterday, right? I’m going to steal some thunder and ask what the best question was.

Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

And what did you say?

We went for a 100 duck-sized horses. I could grow to become their king.

You guys have a very active social media presence. Obviously you guys have a real driving urge to connect with your fans on a personal level, since you even have a Snapchat that you give out. Why? Can’t that be overwhelming?

I think it can be at times. It can make you a little wary to say your opinions, because you know how quickly people like to be negative and backlash. But I don’t know, what I like about other artists is actually understanding their personality and actually feeling like I know them, so I just try to be out like how I perceive other people who I respect.

Ah okay, so no branded voice?

Like do we have one way of describing our personality so a PR person could write for us?

Yeah, like shitty puns or something.

Haha, yeah sometimes we have a marketing team that we work with and every once in a while they’ll post something on Facebook or Twitter, but in general those are just like news posts, like “Hey, we’re going to be playing in this city.” Everything else is pretty much by me and Clay and it’s personal. We write all the emails that we send out. We try to make sure that we’re in control of how we’re perceived and make sure that it’s us and not some big corporate thing.

Apparently every border guard always asks what an ODESZA is? How do you usually answer?

Ha, sometimes I have fun with them, but usually I don’t want to do that. So I think I usually just go with, “It’s a band,” and then they’re like, “No it’s not, that’s a place,” and we debate for a while. And I keep telling them it’s a band and they give up and are like, “Yeah, move on.” It’s probably not as exciting as you think.

Best part about this tour? Shittiest part?

Best part about tour is probably…I got to say this is a pretty blessed job that I get to do, so the best thing ever is going out there and playing for people. Like seeing their reaction. The worst is just the actual travel aspect of it. Because like you pointed out earlier there are people wondering who we are, like giving us grief at borders, sitting on planes for 10 hours, you know, and getting that every day can be pretty tiring. But it is a lot of fun. I really should have no complaints.

Final question – just the standard what’s up next for you guys.

The album’s out, and we’ll do extensive touring. We have a lot of remixes in the works, but I think the biggest thing is that we’ll have a lot of collaborations. We’ve been talking to more and more artists and hopefully the album does well enough that they’ll want to work with us. Just kind of trying new stuff and experimenting and producing for other artists would be fun.

ODESZA’s In Return is out now on Counter Records.

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