Adapting to environment and pushing boundaries with Washed Out’s Ernest Greene
In the moment, being recognised for shaping a movement in our musical paradox would be overwhelmingly exciting. You can’t deny the responsibility of crafting something so extreme to be deemed shiny, new and so well received as a huge boost to the ego – it’s simply a natural human reaction. In saying that, music is and always will be progressive. Ever-changing. These tremors in the water will dissipate and new sets will roll right over, offering even more to the well for people to fall in love with.
An artist who found himself accidentally shaping one of these exciting new currents is American extraordinaire Ernest Greene. Explorative in sound, gentle in delivery and weaving a sense of escapism in his songwriting abilities, Greene struck a chord with his WASHED OUT project.
Through the release of 2009’s Life Of Leisure EP, Washed Out stepped into the conscious of electronic and experimental music fans. Alongside peers Toro Y Moi, Teen Daze and Neon Indian, music welcomed a sensual new motif. Whether you want to coin it as “Chillwave”, “Dream Pop” or a merge of the two, this feel-good, soft sonic immersion became an experience beholders pined for.
Fast-track the next four years to discover the gifts of two forward-thinking LPs – Within & Without (2011) and Paracosm (2013). Thoughtful, dulcet and light, Washed Out charmed fans with his compositional skillset. Dense and complex in its simplicity, deep-thinking fans responded in awe, though others built connotations to that of a “stoner’s paradise” due to its extremely relaxed culture.
Never wanting to be pigeonholed by any token, Greene has laid low for the past four years, yet has remained active under the covers. Meticulously working on music for none other than himself, he’s been experimenting with beats, samples and different methods of production. Patiently shaking off the Chillwave stereotype in this current context, this hibernation has allowed a phenomenal new angle for the artist in the form of Washed Out‘s third album – Mister Mellow.
Running themes of mediocrity and banality, the record ironically shimmers in rainbows of vibrance, and collates sound and structures in the most unexpected executions. Going beyond the listening experience, Washed Out has enlisted the work of several visual artists to complete a dimensional, multi-sensory experience.
Eagerly curious to delve into the progression of Washed Out‘s trajectory, we recently engaged in a deep chat with Ernest Greene.
It’s been four years since you’ve released an album and a lot has changed for music in that time, which is reflected in Mister Mellow. Do you feel that exploring new territories of sound has become more accessible as opposed to the era that Paracosm and Within & Without were born into?
Yeah it’s tough, I think generally music listeners are a lot more open-minded [now] than say ten years ago. Now with streaming, it’s become more of the norm which I think is also a good thing that artists can hopefully try new things and we’ll be accepting of it. At the same time though, I get categorised in a certain way from time to time which can be hard to step outside of a bit.
I never consciously try to rebel against any kind of genre tag or whatever, I just do what I do most of the time. I do have a hard time making the same record over and over again – I don’t even think I’m capable of doing that. I work in such a 90s way which just happens the way it happens and that’s it.
I’m curious, this record is quite different to the last couple. I hope people are along for the ride. I do think it’s going to take an open mind, for sure. I was actually surprised at the reception of the songs so far, for the record they’re two of the more up-tempo songs, there’s other songs that are quite different. Overall people seem to be getting into it.
Yeah I’ve had a listen to it, I really enjoy it. You’ve really adopted that Stones Throw hip hop beat theme to it so naturally. I was going to ask you, you’ve been coined as a “chillwave” artist, and one of the pioneers at that. Why do you think that you’ve stepped outside of that categorised label? Has it been a natural progression?
Yeah, that’s the real challenge for me; to continue to try new things and incorporate different influences and all of that. I still want to be connected to some of the previous work I’ve done, so there’s sort of a blurred line that’s connecting everything together even though it’s constantly changing. So that’s what I’m attempting to do, whether or not it’s successful that’s another question but yeah, that’s kind of the fun part in the real challenge. Also never going too far in one direction where it starts to not feel like a Washed Out song.
You’ve just released Mister Mellow. Could you explain the boredom in privilege concept that unravels?
Sure, well it all kind of starts from my own simple perception of things and how I feel in my own life. Kind of envious of other writers or those songwriters who can write from other perspectives or speak through other people’s stories. For me it’s always been just how I’ve been feeling that day is what comes out, you know? I’m in my 30s and for the first time in the last few years I’ve been struggling with being comfortable with a lot of the responsibilities that come along with being an “adult” [laughs]. Just a lot of different things – it could be heavy stuff, it could even just be quite boring. It’s a lot of spontaneity of my younger years that I miss. So all of that was sort of influencing these songs, and started from my very simple perspective, but I realised the similar stuff I was going through a lot of my friends were going through. It’s very much a shared experience I think. It might be at different timing for each individual person, but at some point you go through it.
I also realised how sort of silly my worries were, and that became a motivation to take the tone and really make it tongue in cheek, because I think a lot of peoples’ perception of me is that I like sit around and smoke weed everyday and like lounge around the pool or whatever [laughs], making music here and there but in reality this project is kind of insane and quite complex. I was pretty stressed out and working all the time it felt like. All of that was sort of filtering in as well, so I like the idea of turning that stoner guy character on its head and calling it Mister Mellow.
Hopefully it’s seen like an artwork. There’s these references to various drug things, but it then sort of signals this unsettled feeling or what’s actually motivating from drug use or whatever. I don’t want to say there’s dark tones, but definitely less chill type of things.
You’ve gone for a real dusty demeanour in the sound quality and layering. It’s much more raw than the refined nature of Paracosm. Why is that?
Normally when I finish a project, the first instinct is to do something quite different as I get tired of working in a particular way. So I knew I wanted to try something else, but I got really heavily into visual art, and that led to getting into a lot of weird, experimental animations. I started to see shared characteristics. Mainly it was a lot of collage type animations, but I could see similarities to what I was doing with music and so I wanted my music to sound like how the videos looked – very imperfect and kind of raw, crazy and where the mistakes were the best part about it, like the rough edges. The motivation was trying to make work that had the same feeling as that.
You’ve broken the album up with some short tracks and sampling from YouTube videos and such. Why so, fluidity?
Yeah! Well that’s the thing, there’s so many different genres of music that influence songs, and there can be quite a big jump from the proper songs; like there can be a really fast one up against a slow hip hop feeling one. I felt like the interludes were a cool way to connect and adapt, to let it flow more naturally.
It’s inspired by DJing and DJ styled mixes. I really love how it keeps taking you on a journey in a different way.
You worked only with Cole M.G.M on this record. Why was that the case?
I’m a big fan of his. He had a project a while back that was very sample based, collage style stuff called Samps – it was really, really cool. I hadn’t heard from him in a while, but I was reading about when he worked on that Beck album that won the Grammy [Morning Phase] a few years back, which kind of blew my mind that he was working on that because it’s like two extremes – that record was quite traditional. I thought that if he could do both of these two crazy extremes [Samps and Beck], he’s probably a pretty talented guy so I reached out to him and we quickly became friends. We have a lot of similar interests that come from music so it was a really great experience.
Mister Mellow is a visual album, and I feel that the visual aesthetics marry up to the raw production of the album’s sound. Did you choose the artists based off this feature?
Yeah definitely. I had finished all of the music and had the sequencing pretty much all finished before actually reaching out to various artists to work on it. The cool thing was that each of the people that worked on the visuals all have a very unique style; they were quite different but there was also a shared sensibility in their approach. It just felt very natural for me where a certain style seemed to work well with a certain type of song, it just takes a time and place to gather the two together. After working on music for so long, it was really refreshing shifting over to visual stuff.
How did you work with the visual artists? Were they given briefs or did they have free reign?
Yeah like I said, most of them have a very distinct style which was helpful to generally know what to expect, but we had a few discussions over the phone and started sharing a lot of references about what we were going to do as far as the content. You know, I might explain what my interpretation of the song was or something like that. After agreeing upon pretty basic conceptions on what it might look like, it was kind of like, “do your thing” after that. Unlike a lot of animations, nowadays it’s just a computer in the digital realm where you can move things around after-the-fact. It’s really easy to then change and edit. A lot of this stuff which was done completely by hand, held a pretty huge jump to trust like, “Okay hopefully this is going to look cool,” [laughs] “we’re all going to be into this. There’s no turning back.” That was kind of exciting and nerve racking at the same time, but mostly really fulfilling when it was finished.
Mister Mellow has been released through the legendary Stones Throw, and it resonates so perfectly. How did your relationship with the label form?
I’ve been a big fan for a long time, they’ve put out some of my favourite records. I knew the aesthetic of the record – while it was quite different from Washed Out, to me it fit perfectly in line with a lot of the stuff they put out.
Especially in the last few years, the label has become far more diverse in terms of the kind of stuff they put out. To me, all of these various genres are represented in this album, like from my perspective it felt like a good fit and luckily they were into the idea. Oddly enough my manager was here in LA, and he plays basketball every week with a guy that works at Stones Throw so that was just a funny little connection made that just happened over shooting hoops.
You’ve released a video with Kyle Mooney. What can we expect of this?
We had all the created animated videos, and we kind of had a feature idea for this little character that Kyle plays. He’s super funny, he kind of just is interviewing me but then he doesn’t really know much about me at all, so it’s quite humorous. His SNL [Saturday Night Live] schedule is really crazy where he might be working six long days a week and yet he was super cool and shot all Sunday afternoon which was his only day off. It was the first time I’d met him, and he was a fan of Stones Throw and Washed Out so we really had a lot of fun shooting.
You’ve got a stack of US tour dates booked in. What can fans expect of the current Washed Out live show?
It’s quite different to anything I’ve done before. A lot of the visuals to the album are used in the live show, and we have a projection screen behind us. There’s also interactive features, we have in-motion sensors that can kind of project our silhouettes on stage with whatever instruments we’re playing and have all these weird and crazy effects behind us. It’s quite different, it’s very immersive and hopefully pretty entertaining for the audience.
Can we expect an Australian visit sometime soon?
I hope so, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve been down to Australia so that would be great. I feel like a lot of times it happens at the beginning of the year at a lot of festivals where a lot of American bands come over so yeah, that would be super cool. We’ll see what happens.
Released through Hip Hop connoisseurs Stones Throw, Washed Out‘s exciting new record Mister Mellow is now available in varietal formats.
Words by Hannah Galvin.
Photo credit: Alexandra Gavillet