NEW YORK (AP) — After a four-year hiatus, electronic duo Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills of ODESZA are back with “The Last Goodbye” — a dance-friendly record that nods to the friends and family who made them and continue to support them.
Being pulled off the road during the pandemic, ODESZA used the time to self-reflect. The result is an album that is experimental but returns to the group’s sampling roots.
Knight and Mills spoke to The Associated Press about the new album, the pressure creating a follow up after “A Moment Apart” received two Grammy nominations and their excitement to get back to touring.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
AP: What inspirations did you pull from when working on “The Last Goodbye”?
MILLS: When we finally started writing this thing, COVID times and being trapped inside, we took a long time to reflect on ourselves, and we ended up deep diving into who we are and who we’ve become because we had basically been touring for seven years straight. And then suddenly: full stop. And it led to a lot of self-reflection. We ended up reconnecting with our parents and our family and friends, and we dove into ourselves. We started watching home videos and all this stuff from our past and recognized how much our parents were within us and how much we really missed and had gratitude towards the people we loved around us. Slowly, we started putting home footage into our music. It became this journey of self, in a way.
KNIGHT: I think a lot of artists went through the same process during COVID. You get a lot of time to unpack stuff. Because you’re out there touring so much, you don’t really take a beat to reflect. And this was forced reflection in some way. We had planned on a little time off, but not three years.
AP: You mentioned that home recordings are on the album. Can you tell me more about that?
MILLS: There’s a lot of our parents talking throughout it. And even the intro of the record has a therapy session. The therapist recorded herself on my phone, almost like a guided meditation. I found that like four years later and it started to touch on the themes we were talking about. It felt kind of serendipitous and we ended up putting it in the beginning of the record.
AP: What was behind your decision to pair some of these heavier themes with a more light-hearted sound?
KNIGHT: I don’t know if it’s ever really a decision. It just kind of happens in the process. You know, again, going through COVID, unpacking all that stuff, there was a sense of this collective trauma that we’ve all endured. So, definitely that seeped into it a little bit. But on the other end, we wanted this record to be something that brings people together in a celebratory fashion. So, all these different energies are intertwined in this record.
MILLS: I feel like the heaviness of thinking about your loved ones and how much they mean to you and how tough it would be to lose one of them, we think the best way to embrace that feeling and honor those people is also to have a good time with them while they’re here and to enjoy their company and to celebrate together. And I think that’s a big part of it, is we wanted to make sure that this record still felt celebratory, even though there’s heavier things talked about.
AP: Are there other samples or techniques people would be surprised to learn you used on the album?
KNIGHT: Well, we like to keep the record continuous. So, the record itself is a loop. If you listen to it from start to end and let it repeat, it will play in a way that makes it seamless. So that’s one aspect. But yeah, a bunch of little found sounds are in there, various recordings, party atmospheric stuff is going on in the back. There are all these little tidbits we love to insert behind the music, just to give that kind of energy, the ambiance to it that I think really adds some character.
MILLS: We went back to a more sample-based direction. That’s what we grew up in coming from a hip hop, electronic background. We love to take stuff, chop it up and kind of reinterpret it. And this (album) I think is an ode to that.
AP: How do you decide which artists to bring onto the album?
MILLS: That’s tough. I mean, we send a lot of messages that never even get a response, so you never know. Usually we try to connect with people who don’t really live in our space. It’s exciting for us to kind of cross genres. For instance, Bettye LaVette, even though (“The Last Goodbye”) is a sample-based song, you may never think that we would do a track with that type of vocal. And that’s what is exciting for us, is to make these things that feel unexpected or shouldn’t work together, feel cohesive and right.
KNIGHT: You’re looking to have this kind of conversation where you’re taking them outside their comfort zone. They’re taking us outside of our comfort zone. And that usually ends up being the best stuff, when you’re both pushing and pulling in a way that maybe at first feels a little weird, but then you end up landing on something really unique.
AP: After the success and two Grammy nominations for your last album, “A Moment Apart,” was there more pressure writing this record?
MILLS: I think there’s always pressure. It is our career, so you want it to be successful, you want people to like it. But at the end of the day, I think the bands we look up to and the people whose music we really love, they’ve always just done what they really love. And we tried to rely on that and listen to our guts and make the music we wanted to make and not think too hard about it.
AP: Your music really lends itself to live shows. What is performing like for you and what do you get from the audience?
KNIGHT: Well, it’s been a bit now, so we’re a little rusty, but we’re doing rehearsals right now. But yeah, there’s no better feeling than getting out there and playing the music that you’ve been working on and seeing the current fan reaction in a physical way. You know, getting that feedback is something you kind of get addicted to and we absolutely love.
AP: The title of the album is from the Bettye LaVette track, but there aren’t any hidden messages, right? This isn’t your last goodbye?
KNIGHT: No, we’ll be doing more. But, it definitely plays into the themes of where we come from, who made us who we are today and the people that we’re surrounded with. “The Last Goodbye” hopefully sparks that we’re saying maybe there isn’t really a last goodbye. They are always with you and you carry them forward in various ways.
Ragan Clark, The Associated Press