Photo: Gian Galang
ODESZA & Golden Features Explore Duality, Berlin Soundscapes & Creative Boundaries On Collab LP, 'BRONSON'
GRAMMY-nominated dream-house duo ODESZA, formed by college friends Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight in Washington in 2012, are a beloved music festival staple, with their dreamy beats creating the perfect soundtrack for scenic outdoor venues. Their latest album, BRONSON, a collaborative effort with rising Sydney dark-house producer Golden Features (a.k.a. Tom Stell), explores a completely different soundscape, invoking images of dark Berlin clubs and the sunrises partygoers see as they emerge from another all-nighter.
Together, the trio is known as BRONSON; the collective creative exploration they embarked on in creating the new self-titled album, released today, Aug. 7, results in a hypnotic 40-minute journey.
Released on Ninja Tune and Mills' and Knight's talent-filled imprint Foreign Family Collective, which Stell is also a part of, the 10-track LP explores duality with aptly titled dark, industrial bangers like "KEEP MOVING," "TENSE" and "CONTACT" and pulsating, deep-house numbers like "HEART ATTACK" featuring lau.ra's warm vocals, and "KNOW ME" featuring Gallant's enchanting voice. The final feature comes from British alt-electro act Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, which closes things out with an epic seven-minute journey towards brighter days.
We caught up with Mills, Knight and Stell to learn more about the new album, some of their key influences and their biggest hope for positive change.
The latest BRONSON single "KEEP MOVING" is pretty dark and industrial, and the music video is wild. Can you give us the backstory/vision for the visual, and how the track came together?
The music video for "KEEP MOVING" definitely has a lot to unpack. On the surface it's jarring and kind of absurd, but there are many different layers in terms of the societal and cultural subtext to it and its underlying message/meaning. So, we really wanted to leave the interpretation of it up to the viewer, much like the album in general.
The song itself was in part inspired by a sample we ended up using in it, which was of a marching army—it's this driving track meant to propel the listener forward and energize them to—for lack of a better way to put it—keep moving. The vocals in the track serve as an inner-dialogue during "battle" when facing an "opponent." whether that be a mental obstacle or a physical one.
And with "DAWN," you and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs take the listener on an epic seven-minute journey towards brighter days. What was the creative process like on this collab? In what ways did this track challenge the ways each of you approach making a track, and what did you learn from it?
Working with T.E.E.D. was such a pleasure—he's a massively talented artist, both as a vocalist and as a producer. "DAWN" was the last song we wrote on the album. When we met up [with him] for the first time in L.A., we showed him a couple of the already finished tracks and discussed the themes and concepts around the album. Within 30 minutes of him sitting with the demo, he was able to put together a couple of really powerful lyrical ideas and melodies that fit perfectly with the working track. We then laid down the vocal pieces and ended up writing and recording almost all of the vocal elements in a four-hour window.
We find that some of our favorite tracks are done this way because it doesn't allow us to overthink and complicate the initial ideas which usually turn out to be the strongest. As we finished the track, we found it was a perfect way to sum up the album, hence the track placement.
Berry, Aus., where the trio spent a week completing the LP | Photo: courtesy of artist
Can you speak a bit more to the theme of darkness and light that you explore on the BRONSON album as a whole? How did the concept develop or shift as you spent more time on the project?
The album is really centered around this concept of duality—of the contrasting elements that balance one another in life. We wanted to explore that in terms of the sonic depth of the album; for example, you'll hear these uplifting, light (almost spiritual), moments in "DAWN" but also these intense instrumentals and driving elements, like in "TENSE." The project as a whole was an exercise in pushing our creative boundaries and allowing ourselves to take risks. We wanted to push the limits of what we could do, yet still create something that made sense as a cohesive body of work.
Your FOUNDATION playlist Spotify is filled gems from across the underground electronic spectrum. Can you speak to some of the artists and scenes that have inspired the BRONSON project?
There are so many incredible artists that have inspired us along the way and influenced this project. We wrote the album over a really long period of time (years), so there were so many different evolutions of the album from start to finish. It's definitely rooted in a darker European sound that we have found ourselves really being drawn to over the years. The whole goal of the project was to create something that felt new and exciting to us. We kind of just let whatever happen, happen during the writing process instead of setting out to create a specific sound or genre-based album. In that process, we found that we were making something that didn't fit in either of our respective projects, something that took on a life of its own.
What do you believe is the essence of dance music? What makes a great dance track?
The beauty of dance and electronic music is that it's essentially limitless. You have the freedom and ability to combine and work with virtually any genre or any sound you want and build something completely fresh and new. It's quite a freeing environment to work in. One that doesn't have borders or prerequisites. We think this is what makes it so accessible to so many people around the world and in turn gives the scene its underlying power.
"The beauty of dance and electronic music is that it's essentially limitless. You have the freedom and ability to combine and work with virtually any genre or any sound you want and build something completely fresh and new."
Who are the artists that got you interested in electronic music? And when did each of you first start producing electronic music yourself?
Mills & Knight: We started producing around the same time in college and were really drawn to a lot of the more left-of-center electronic music being made around the time. We're big fans of Boards of Canada, Four Tet, Radiohead—the list goes on.
Stell: I discovered electronic music through sneaking into music festivals in the late-2000s. I was lucky enough to be exposed to acts like The Chemical Brothers, Justice and The Presets almost immediately. This lit a fuse and I was making music within months.
This year has been a difficult one, yet one filled with important calls for change. What is the biggest thing you've learned from 2020 so far, and what is your biggest hope for positive change in the coming years?
This year has been so difficult and challenging. We're all just really trying to process the weight of it. The veil has been pulled back on so many global issues that have come to a head during this period, most pointedly regarding racism and the gross inequities of our society. We're in an unparalleled state of crisis and want to fully comprehend the gravity and magnitude of it.
We're trying to listen, reflect and learn, but also be very conscious of our own complicity in this broken system and, moreover, create space for unheard voices. We recognize that we're in a unique spot with our platform and with that comes a great amount of responsibility, so we're trying to navigate that with full awareness.