Catching up with Washed Out
Ernest Greene on the Internet, the live band, and NYE
Since the media frenzy and full-blown touring blitz following the August release of Washed Out’s second album, Paracosm (Sub Pop), has subsided, founding member Ernest Greene has been enjoying some time off. Now residing just a few minutes down the road from Athens, Ga., Greene has come to cherish the limbo between long stretches of touring and banging his head against the wall composing material for a new album. These are the times when Greene eases his way back into the creative process and allows his natural musical inclinations to flourish unrestrained. Before making his way to Atlanta to headline a New Year’s Eve show at Terminal West, Greene took a few minutes to reflect on the evolution of the Internet, the chillwave boon, and what the future may hold for Washed Out.
Nearly five months have passed since you released Paracosm. Is your schedule winding down?
Yes, and this is my favorite time — not having any pressure or thinking about putting together something big, not worrying about how something fits into our live show. Before Washed Out became a real thing it was a hobby, and whatever song I felt like doing that day I did. There’s more of an aesthetic in place now, and I write things with the band in mind.
Ever since “Feel It All Around” caught the world’s attention on MySpace in 2009, Washed Out has been under a pretty intense microscope. How has that affected your growth as an artist?
The blog world was kind of at the pinnacle of its influence around that time, and had reached a point where there were several alternatives to Pitchfork promoting interesting music. The music they were posting was getting passed around, and it meant something. I don’t know if it’s that I don’t pay as much attention now or if I’ve become jaded, but it doesn’t seem like there are many blogs that mean as much anymore.
I wouldn’t have been making the music I was making without that blog culture. I was following those sites long before they ever posted about me.
Have you reconciled being pegged as the originator of chillwave?
I see the music as combining ideas from lo-fi recording stuff — rock-based stuff with electronic music and hip-hop. It was as simple as that for me. That style just happened to be super hip, and everyone was writing about it. Having done it for four or five years now, I’ve seen other trends come and go, like indie R&B, for example. Having been through it, it’s interesting thinking about some of these artists: Frank Ocean has been on the verge of breaking for a long time, but there are similar artists that have popped up because it’s a hip thing. But that’s the world of alternative music. It’s always about the next new thing.
Do people still use the word “chillwave”?
It gets brought up in every interview that I do, and I think of it as a real thing now. At first I thought it was kind of a joke, or that people were poking fun. Now, I hear so much music in which the connection to chillwave sounds are clear. And I definitely feel like I’ve experienced being hot, and it becoming too much, and the backlash. I’m lucky to have survived that in some ways. We’ve played with a lot of bands from that era who aren’t really at it anymore.
It feels like you worked hard to step beyond people’s expectations with Paracosm.
I could see the writing on the wall pretty early on. When you see so many bands and producers using the same sounds, it’s time to move on. It’s not going to stand out. I’m not the most skilled, technical producer, and I started seeing guys doing the really obvious chillwave sound better than I could do it. My stronger suit has always been coming up with new sonic ways of doing things, and that was what pushed the new record. I used a completely different set of instruments and a new set of sounds.
What’s the Washed Out lineup these days?
My wife, Blair, plays keyboards, Cameron Gardner plays drums, his brother Chris plays bass, and Dylan Lee plays guitar. I play a couple of keyboards, and I’ve been playing a little bit of guitar lately.
How has the band’s presence affected the music?
In a lot of ways Paracosm is more traditional, from the rock world. It sounds less experimental and electronic, but the way I put it together was more like how an electronic music producer puts a record together — a lot of computer manipulation and samples. I pull a lot of ideas from progressive and experimental music, but the current format of Washed Out is that of a classic rock band. It looks like a rock band. But there’s so much going on behind the scenes, with a really complex computer setup that I use with most of the audio routed through it to add the filter — the graininess that’s very much the Washed Out sound. For the longest time I didn’t have the skills to do that, so it sounded like a shitty Washed Out cover band. Now it’s at a place where it’s starting to sound like the records.
The electric guitars bring a different energy to the songs — something that was missing when we were all standing behind keyboards. You can actually move around the stage, which is great. It’s hard to imagine not having a guitar player now, and we’re at an interesting sweet spot with the songs, where I think we’re playing them well, but we haven’t overplayed them to the point where it’s frustrating. Being bored with a song is almost as bad as not knowing the song.
Will you roll out any new songs on New Year’s Eve?
There are some songs from the record that we haven’t played live yet. “Weightless” is a slower number — one of the more synth-sounding songs. I think it will be cool live, we just haven’t had time to perfect it till now. There’s another one called “Falling Back.” We’ve been thinking about some older Washed Out songs that we haven’t ever played before, too, or maybe picking some covers to pull into the Washed Out world. We want it to feel different from a normal club show we’d play. It’s been a while since we’ve played in Atlanta, and we stress out over wanting it to be good. So many friends and family come out.