To say that their time at Western proved creatively fruitful for Harrison Mills (’12, Design) and Clayton Knight (’12, Physics) is, well, a bit of an understatement.
Mills and Knight are the electronic dance music duo ODESZA, a partnership forged during their senior year. The year they graduated, the Washington state natives – Mills hails from the Bellevue/Redmond area and Knight is from Bainbridge Island – watched two songs from their debut album, “Summer’s Gone” – “How Did I Get Here” and “iPlayYouListen” – go viral via SoundCloud.
Their 2014 follow-up, “In Return,” opened at No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic album chart. Their current tour sold out in advance and they are now a firm music festival fixture, popping up everywhere from Coachella to Lollapalooza.
From Here to “It’s all still awfully surreal,” says Knight. But while they may be frenetically and perpetually on the road – their spring and summer tour dates include gigs in Europe as well as the States – their experience remains comfortably infused with familiar elements of their alma mater.
ODESZA’s posse includes guitarist and filmmaker Sean Kusanagi, (’12, English/Creative Writing) who has known Knight since their days at Bainbridge High School; Luke Tanaka, (’11, Design) who, as visual projectionist, creates displays for live performances and produces videos; Chris Lien, (’13, Environmental Science), who assists the tour manager; and designer Michelle Gadeken (’11, Design).
ODESZA’s music, coaxed from an electronic combo of computers, synthesizers and samplings, is an atmospheric, lush and mesmerizing mix that manages to be ambient, danceworthy and headphone-friendly all at once. And their compositions – recalling a rich range of artists such as Chicane, The Avalanches, Single Gun Theory and Deep Forest as well as the chillaxed noodlings of Ibiza-based Café del Mar – are nothing if not collaborative.
It’s not just the Mills and Knight teamwork ethic: They keep their musical minds wide open, discovering singers and other artists on social media platforms and inviting them to contribute to ODESZA’s works-in-progress.
That open, generous approach was something they both enjoyed at WWU. “I met so many people at Western who opened my view of the music world, basically,” says Knight. “One of my friend’s boyfriends showed me a lot of out-there electronic music and that’s where I got my start into it. I felt a creative enlightenment there; so many things definitely played – and continue to play – a part in how I make art.”
And while Mills relished working in his Design major – “It was a competitive department; it made me a better designer because of that” – Western provided him with an even bigger gift: “I made lifelong friends and those relationships still contribute to what I do now. Western is where I launched my career.”
That would be the career that continues to skyrocket. But Mills and Knight still keep some things simple – their contract rider for backstage sustenance is back-to-basics: whiskey, beer, fruit and veg – and they have plenty of friends to kick back with.
Even more refreshingly, they actually sound a tad dazed – in the nicest possible way – by the fact that they are clearly riding the crest of a still-gathering, ginormous wave: “We’re constantly in motion,” says Harrison. “I think it’s felt like a never-ending road-trip with my friends.”
Photo by Tonje Thilesen