"We were thinking, ‘This could be really bad for us.’ "
Harrison Mills, one half of the electro pop duo Odesza, is sharing the anxiety he felt before stepping onstage at Global Dance Festival in Red Rocks this past July. Filled with such hard-hitting digital smackdown EDM maestros as Borgeous, Destroid and Zedd, the three-day dance fest had the potential of swallowing up the Seattle-based atmospheric chill wave group entirely. They just didn’t belong there ... or did they?
"We just went up and did what we do," Mills said, "and, you know, we ended up getting the most compliments we’ve ever received after a show. People just wanted something different."
Yes, people have been making that known loud and clear. To truly grasp Odesza’s frankly meteoric rise in the electro world -- or, rather, within the music world itself -- we would have to break down our society’s current music culture as a whole. After all, for two guys (his other Odesza cohort being Clayton Knight) who met at Western Washington University in late 2012 and just released their debut full-length album, "In Return," on Sept. 5, "meteoric" is putting it lightly.
They’re currently headlining a world tour (which also brings them to the Belly Up on Sept. 21); enjoying chart-topping success on the Billboard Electronic Chart and Hype Machine, among others; and dialing up millions upon millions of SoundCloud and Spotify streams. In essence, they’re a product of the Internet. Twenty years ago, we’d have probably never heard of Odesza – which Mills admitted.
"Without [the Internet], it’d be a thousand times harder than it is now," Mills said. "We’d be lost in the mass of music out there. The culture has shifted from people caring about ‘the album’ to trying to get you to ‘the show.’ It’s shifted from album focus to show focus. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a change. Half of ‘buzz’ is just people taking the time to listen to you. Music gets to people quicker, and I’m from a generation that almost expects music to be free. Back when Napster started, I was downloading everything I could. For better or worse, that is where it’s going."
Hard on the heels of the biggest album release in the history of the planet, where U2’s "Songs of Innocence" got mainlined into our iTunes libraries whether we wanted it or not, Odesza have made their new album available to stream in full for free. When you’ve conquered the Internet, what else can you do?
"I think the best thing you can do when a lot of people are listening to you is do something different," Mills said. "If you have people’s attention and have that opportunity, you’d be wasting it if you didn’t expose people to the different types of music you can create."
In so many words, "In Return," is a refreshing re-program of an exhausted genre. Alternately sparse and rhythmically complex beats slither and surround dreamy, glitchy vocals (courtesy of several key guest vocalists, including Zyra, Jenni Potts, Madelyn Grant and Briana Marela) in a bed of divine atmospherics and esoteric, trancelike synths -- the metaphorical equivalent of driving through heaven’s gates in a lowered Impala. While the 13 ambient tracks straddle the line between EDM and woozy chill wave, at their core, they’re just sublimely constructed (and highly melodic) pop songs.
"I think ["In Return"] incorporates a lot of the different styles of music we like," Mills said. "From down-tempo, hip-hop, trip-hop to orchestral stuff – through it all, the tracks definitely have a pop sensibility with real song structures. We just wanted it to have a fuller, more cinematic feel."
And what about feeling out of place at those massive EDM festivals?
"We’ve remixed some of our songs to hit harder live, 'cause it’s fun to get people dancing," Mills said. "But we try to keep it tasteful -- and that’s been a hard part for people who try to categorize us. We love the energy of EDM shows … but we don’t necessarily like the music [laughs]."
Stream "In Return" in full below.