“With each song we are definitely trying to paint some kind of picture, trying to convey the imagery that we have in our head,” says Isaac Edwards, one half of the American group Odawas. The duo has recently caught the attention of many music listeners who relish the band’s fusion of synthetic and organic elements that combine to produce a widescreen and cinematic sound on their third album The Blue Depths.
The name Odawas is taken from a Native American tribe and it also holds some childhood memories for singer/guitarist Michael Tapscott. Edwards explains, “His family used to vacation in Michigan. I don’t know where it was exactly but it was around Lake Michigan and there was an island the Odawas Indians ran a casino and resort on. He and his family would visit that and the island was kind of sinking into the lake slowly and surely.”
The notion of sinking beneath the surface comes full circle with some of the themes that are explored on The Blue Depths, themes of contrasting emotions and the light and dark aspects of life. “You’ll have a lot of songs that deal with both love and hate and songs that are dealing with life and death and how these things are inevitable from one other,” says Edwards. “They depend on one another to exist. The good comes with the bad and you just have to accept that; that is where this album came from.”
Alongside the grander themes of the record were the personal situations of both members which played a crucial role in the formation of the album. “A lot of it had to do with where we were at personally. We weren’t approaching it from a conceptual idea but our lives were going through a tremendous amount of change and all these ideas about the relationships you have with the world, your life, things around you were in a lot of flux and swinging back and forth and that ended up in the album.”
The sound of the new album is one that has either turned off listeners or pulled them in, according to their readiness to embrace the new direction. “You have people at both ends of the spectrum,” says Edwards, “I think for me, that is usually a good sign that you are at least doing something interesting – if you are managing to get a reaction out of people, especially when the reaction is about the same thing.”
That ‘same thing’ is the way the duo has seamlessly melded organic and synthetic sounds. The synthetic elements are drawn from ‘70s and ‘80s synths, washes of texture and padded effects, while the organic is the haunting voice, guitar and harmonica of Tapscott.
Tapscott’s voice is quite the ethereal instrument, bringing to mind Jonathan Donahue from Mercury Rev. It is no surprise then to hear that that band is indeed an influence.
“That was one of the very first bands that Michael introduced me to and it just blew me away and from there we have followed them very closely and both of us love that band,” enthuses Edwards. “It is absolutely no surprise or coincidence that you would hear them. I think that this time out I wasn’t quite as focused on them for my arrangements but they are always just kind of there, they are a pretty important band to us, it permeates nearly everything we touch.”
When it came to writing the songs for The Blue Depths, Edwards and Tapscott made some changes to their normal division of labour. “I think that one of the biggest actions that changed with this is that Michael started writing a lot more of the songs on keyboard and using these pads,” Edwards explains. “He would be giving me these tracks with a synthesiser pad line. Once he gives me that kind of idea and song structure, I start trying to create this world around it to situate it in and kind of flush out exactly where this song exists. That was one of the biggest differences with Michael changing to the keyboards to do most of the writing.”
The ‘80s synth influence that is so strong across the album is partly due to the obsessive way that Odawas listen to music. “Michael and I are both kind of voracious musical enthusiasts,” Edwards admits. “We take just about everything we can get so once we find a particular sound that we are going for we will look for everything across the genre to try to start pulling together ideas and hear new things.”
Interestingly, Tapscott was the one who grew up listening to bands like Talk Talk and OMD, while Edwards had a fundamentalist Christian upbringing with little exposure to music. “I honestly had not heard very much of anything until I met Michael and that just opened up an unbelievable world to me. A lot of this stuff is still incredibly new to me, I’m still discovering a lot,” he freely admits.
As well as taking inspiration from other musicians, Odawas openly acknowledge the influence of cinema on their music. Edwards is initially stumped when asked which existing film the band would like to soundtrack. “Oh man, good question. Not to trump any soundtrack that has already been done, but just about any of Werner Herzog’s films. We absolutely love his films and their imagery, especially Aguirre, The Wrath Of God and Fitzcarraldo, with these absolutely panoramic epic shots.”
Their love for vivid and resonant images drives their work in the studio and Odawas are now beginning to expand their live performance, including fleshing out their sound with a live drummer. A recent foray to SXSW resulted in some good industry contacts and experience – though the trip back to California was a little too eventful.
“We got lost in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We got trapped on the side of a mountain so that was a delirious trip back, we made it back in one piece though,” he recalls, laughing at the idea of it being lyrical material for future songs. “I’m sure there will be, about resorting to cannibalism in Nevada!”
INTERVIEWED FOR FASTERLOUDER – please visit them…