December 2017

The Babe In The Woods

Washed OutWashed OutWashed OutWashed OutWashed OutText: Digby Woods Images: Ernest Greene

From the depths of South Carolina comes Washed Out, a slicker-than-your-average bedroom-producer who makes swirling lo-fi synth-pop that induces a warm nostalgic feeling in your frontal lobe which slowly works its way through every fibre of your body. Christened as one of the forerunners of the ‘chillwave’ movement, (birthed during the American summer of 2009) along with fellow luminary Toro Y Moi, Washed Out has taken everything good about laid-back ’80s dance music and then injected it with a hefty dose of modern re-imagining, creating what he calls, “dance music for people that never grew up listening to dance music.” Let’s listen in.

Digby Woods: Where am I finding you at the moment?

Ernest Greene: I am in Eatonton, Georgia at the moment, about an hour away from Atlanta. My wife Blair, her parents own this lake house and it’s kind of like a weekend getaway spot, so we took over for the summer and luckily we’re living here for free. We moved here in the beginning of June and I’ve been here tinkering away, writing and recording this new record, which I’m kind of just finishing up.

DW: Is this the same house that features in the Adult Swim profile you did?

EG: Yeah, it’s the same one.

DW: That must be great working out there.

EG: Yeah, it’s really nice, although a few months back it started to get pretty cold out here, so it’s not quite the same, I’ve had to park the boat for good, there’s no swimming and all that, but yeah, it’s really secluded and it’s really nice working here for sure.

DW: It must be very conducive to making the kind of music you make, Chillwave that is.

EG: Yeah, I was in a similar situation last summer when I wrote the EP, and so moving here I was kinda trying to recreate what was happening there. I really haven’t changed very much with my recording set-up or anything. I thought the EP was kind of a first try at the sound and I considered taking a drastic step forward, maybe changing some things up, but it made more sense in the end to try and make a more well-rounded version of what the EP was, and then maybe for the next record try something new. So I’ve pretty much kept everything the same, just had more time, so hopefully the songs will be better (laughs).

DW: I remember you did an EP titled 2010 Tour that was just numbered tracks…

EG: Yeah, yeah, that was a lot of older stuff. The way I thought, it was just random songs I’d done over the past three or four years, and we kind of threw them all together in a mix, and it was kind of how I figured out where I’m at now, because I was listening to a lot of different things and experimenting a lot with what kind of style I wanted to do, so if you listen to the songs they’re kind of all over the place, but I think there is something that kind of ties them together and that’s what I feel Washed Out is now. It was a very long process figuring out what I was doing, over the past two or three years. I started out making kind-of hip-hop stuff and so it’s gradually progressed to what it is now.

DW: There’s a song on High Times called Phone Call that has an answering machine message sample in it. Who or what is that exactly?

EG: That’s a friend of mine. He got into the habit of, whenever he would leave a voicemail he would just off the top of his head start freestyle rapping or just going on these long dialogues about whatever. So that was one of his little things, and I thought it was kind of funny and at the same time… he’s just a crazy guy, I wish I had his skills. He comes up with the cleverest stuff off the top of his head. It was more of a practical thing really because I was writing the song and I just couldn’t figure out how to end it, so, I mentioned before I’m a big fan of hip-hop and I know there’s this one Outkast song, I can’t remember which one, where they end the song that way, so I totally ripped that off.

DW: (Laughs) That’s alright, building on the past. That’s all music is, I swear. I wanted to get into the whole chillwave moniker if only because you’ve been described everywhere, every article I’ve read about you, as the forerunner of this movement, and I’m wondering if this is a title you embrace or do you not really bother about it?

EG: It’s hard. I don’t really like it or dislike it. I mean I understand, number one: what’s it’s done for my music, just being thrown into this pot with a handful of bands that always get mentioned has definitely made me stand apart from the hundreds of thousands of people who are doing similar things. But also it’s kind of a name that was coined out of fun at the music and what it was at the time. So that’s kind of amusing, but at the end of the day people are going to categorise it in some way, that’s inevitable. It’s pretty funny I think.

DW: I know some people have described more along the lines of IDM (intelligent dance music).

EG: Yeah, I think of IDM as being a little more house-y, kind of less pop, more experimental. But as long as people are into it I really don’t care what they call it.

DW: Chillwave has a certain DIY ethos to it, keeping the production kind of lo-fi. Do you think this is necessary in order to remain true to that signature sound?

EG: Yeah, I mean, I’ve kind of been dealing with that because I’ve been working on this new record and one major thing is the ’80s influence and looking at some of the current and even past bands who’ve taken that influence, there’s a lot of different ways to take it, and I feel like most of the hi-fidelity stuff ends up coming across as a copy of what was happening back in the ’80s, and i definitely don’t want to do that. Part of the aesthetic, the lo-fi thing, is to just go about using that influence of similar sounds and doing something new with it. And then the other thing, a lot of practical because I’m really not that great a producer, and when I’m mixing and mastering everything myself with a pair of monitors that are $100, you’re a little bit limited. I mean, software these days is fairly cheap and if you know what you’re doing you can definitely pull off a really professional sound, but for me, my ears are the biggest guide and that’s kind of what led me to do what I did. I’m a bigger fan of more raw-sounding stuff in general, but yeah, there’s more time and I have more resources now, so I have a lot of different options. Everything’s recorded so I’m at the point now where I’m going to be mixing down things in the next couple of weeks and that’s where hopefully they’ll be a compromise where it’ll still sound raw but also well-balanced and easily translatable to playing on a car stereo or a huge club. That’s been the hardest thing, hearing my songs played on these massive systems that just doesn’t sound good.

DW: Was that a particular problem when you first started to play live?

EG: Yeah, at first it was really hard because I didn’t have that much experience playing, and initially I was playing by myself with a sampler, a sequencer and a couple of effects pedals so I could loop my vocals. It’s definitely really fun now, but at the time everything happened so fast for me, I was immediately thrown into playing these pretty big venues with really nice sound systems and I quickly realised I needed to change some things, everything just sounded like a big wash, you couldn’t really hear what was going on. So I tweaked some things and I’m currently playing with a band, which makes things a lot easier because the guys I’m playing with are much better musicians than I am, so they kind of take the songs and do their own thing. But that’s the challenge really, to keep as true as possible to the aesthetic but also make a balanced record.

DW: Exactly, the challenge of every honest musician. The band you’re playing with wouldn’t happen to be Small Black, would it, because I know you recently toured with them?

EG: Yeah, I did a tour with those guys, but no, it’s not. They just had a record come out and they’re just doing their own thing. I tried to talk them into it but they’re very much into doing their own thing.

DW: How did your relationship with Small Black come about?

EG: It was purely the Internet really. They sent me a message on MySpace saying they were a fan of my stuff and asked if I would be willing to do a remix (of Despicable Dogs) and at the time I might’ve done one other remix before that but it was still a really new thing for me, but I was already a fan of their stuff and it just worked out really well and we kept in contact. Another big thing was at the time I didn’t really have many people to work through what I was going through and they were kind of on a similar level, they were starting to get press, so we helped each other out and that carried over into the tour. I can’t imagine starting to tour in any other way because, it was really nice, they were already kind of a functioning unit and so it made it a lot easier for me stepping in. So yeah, they’re really great friends of mine now.

DW: Speaking of remix’s, you’ve done remixes for various artists like Small Black, and you yourself have been remixed. What’s the process for you when you remix another artist? What do you look for?

EG: I’m pretty picky about it. I’m really not that into the remixing thing because I feel like it’s quite rare that something really stands apart. I was talking about it to someone recently, that last Phoenix record, I feel like I’ve heard over a hundred different remixes of various songs and I feel like it kind of takes away a bit from the original songs. That’s the biggest thing though, it just has to be a song I’m a big fan of and that is easily translatable into my world, because for me, it’s mainly just taking the song and covering it, just in my style. I’m won’t just take the initial parts and cut it up, it’s mainly just me taking the song and reinterpreting it and recording everything myself.

DW: Is there anyone who has remixed you whose reinterpretation you have been particularly impressed with?

EG: Yeah, I was a huge fan of the Toro Y Moi one (Feel It All Around), he’s one of my best friends, so it was really easy to make that happen, and I’ve been a big fan of his since before we were friends. I’ve known him for probably two or three years now and he’s always doing these crazy, drastically different projects that still sound exactly like him, pretty innovative. So I sent him the stuff and it’s like a key change that he does where it just makes it really fresh-sounding and different, and I think it’s great, it’s definitely one of the favourites that I’ve heard. A lot of the stuff is unofficial, like I’ve heard some people mash-up my songs, have like the instrumental playing with a rapper over it, it’s pretty crazy.

DW: Yeah, I’ve heard that, The Hood Internet’s Feel It On The South Side (Birdman vs. Washed Out). Awesome track.

EG: Yeah, it’s really cool. I have a lot of friends who like it better than the original, which is funny (laughs).

DW: You’ve only been around a relatively short time but your music is already influencing so many up-and-comers of this genre, like Teen Daze. Is there anyone that you have been listening to recently that has caught your ear?

EG: I definitely like the Teen Daze stuff that I’ve heard, and that’s really the most amazing thing to me, I mean it’s really great getting attention and being able to play shows around the world, but I think the coolest thing is like, considering maybe years from now, I might have influenced the time a little. It’s pretty amazing that people are taking ideas from what I’ve done. But there’s one band in particular called Summer Camp, have you heard any of their stuff?

DW: Definitely – Ghost Train, Round the Moon, Jake Ryan…

EG: Yeah, Round the Moon, that song has been my total jam. I’ve almost got to the point where I’ve played it out, but when I first heard it, it was just immediately worked for and was right up my alley for sure.

DW: It’s almost like you have to be careful not to play it out just so you can keep liking it…

EG: Yeah, I mean when I hear a song like that, it almost makes me mad more than anything like, ‘Wow, they did that really, really well. How did they do it? How can I do that?’ I was asked to write my top five albums of the year for a blog recently and I got the same effect with that new Deerhunter record (Halcyon Digest), in particular the song, Revival. When I heard it, it was just immediately like, ‘That’s a great song, everything about it is perfect’, so it made me mad like, ‘God I hate those guys, they’re too good’ (laughs).

DW: (Laughs) I know you’re a keen photographer, looking at your tumblr. What are your favourite photo blogs to look at?

EG: I read quite a few, it’s something I’ve been keeping up with for a couple of years now. There’s one called Feaverish (http://feaverishphotography.com/blog/), which is pretty good. Boooooooom! (http://www.booooooom.com/) is another one. It’s a pretty cool site, it’s kind of all over the place, it’s not just photography, there’s art and design, so that’s pretty interesting. What are some other one’s? I can’t think, you put me on the spot (laughs).

DW: (Laughs) Are there any photographers that you particularly admire?

EG: Yeah, William Eggleston is a big one.

DW: Last question. What do you feel music can express that other artforms are unable to?

EG: My favourite thing about music is kind of like this abstract thing where it can evoke feelings, and I’m not sure why or how. That’s a big part of how I write songs, is that it’s more about mood than telling a story.

DW: More like intuition?

EG: Totally, that’s the beautiful thing about it. That’s another one I wish I could think about a bit more, I could give you a better answer.

DW: (Laughs) No need, that was fine.

Washed Out this December in Melbiurne and Sydney

11 December – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW

12 December – Meredith Festival, Meredith Victoria

12 December – The Toff in Town, Melbourne Victoria

13 December – Roof Top Bar, Melbourne Victoria

Next story: Tuning In – Dan Arps

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