'My love is sitting in my room recording music'
Interview Marisa Brickman
Photography Asher Penn
Maybe it’s because I’m technically from the South that I always naturally gravitate towards things that are Southern. From biscuits and gravy to crunk, I’m always game. Nice, soothing, minimal, melodic electro–and from the South? Bring that on.
Washed Out is a one-man band. Named Ernest Greene at birth, he makes music in his bedroom in Perry, GA. A few of the right people stumbled across Ernest’s tunes and Myspace profile and posted some downloads and reviews. Soon thereafter, Washed Out quickly became a mini-Internet phenom, causing global chatter on the blogs and amongst music fans.
I initially heard a rumor that Washed Out was actually a suburban house dad and that all the photos on the Myspace and blog were of said dad’s teenage kid and his friends. Not believing the hype and excited to see how this all panned out live, I was compelled to check Washed Out’s first-ever NYC show at Santos’ Party House in early October this year.
I loved the visuals and the ambiance of the live show and totally enjoyed the tunes, but it’s definitely early days on the performing front. Ernest, for the record, is not a suburban dad. He’s a 20-something cute preppy young Southerner. During the gig, he nervously tried hyping up the crowd between songs with rough-around-the-edges banter–all part of the charm, I think.
I caught up with Ernest on the fly to take some photos for the interview the day of the NYC gig and just days after his honeymoon.
We love your music-it’s so beautiful!
Thanks a lot!
So what’s the deal with you being a 40-year-old suburban dad?
[Laughing] Sometimes I feel 40, especially when I’m out shopping at places like IKEA.
You just got married. That’s awesome. How was it?
It was really fun. We had over 400 people at the reception under this huge tent in my wife’s backyard, a Motown band and open bar, so everyone had a good time.
What does being in love mean to you?
Nothing really abstract. I think of it as the ‘golden rule’ with sex attached. Simply put, just caring about someone enough to put his or her well-being in front of your own.
What do you think about people who say they are scared of commitment?
I would guess the biggest fear there would be a lifestyle change, which is probably in order for a serious relationship, but I don’t believe it has to be that drastic. I would say that those people just haven’t met the right person, but I think it’s a little more complex than that.
I think it takes the right combination of meeting THE person and also being at a point personally and emotionally where a relationship is desirable.
How do you feel about life now that you’re married? When I got married I kind of felt like, ‘Right. Check. That’s done. Now I’m ready to conquer the world.’
I’ve only been married about 10 days, and five of those were spent vacationing in Mexico, but I’ve probably done more everyday life stuff like dealing with banks and shopping in the past few days then I have in the last year. I guess I’m becoming a proper adult. Before, my days were spent daydreaming and wandering around, so I’m looking forward to more of that.
You’re from Perry, GA. When I tell people I’m from Jacksonville, they’re like, ‘Huh?’ And they don’t really know what to say. Or, if they do think they know Jacksonville, they’re like, ‘Sorry.’ But actually it was quite an amazing place to grow up. I lived at the beach. We had the Milk Bar downtown and we had Einstein’s a Go-Go at the beach. We ended up getting a lot of decent shows and I was exposed to a cool little scene of kids who were into indie music. What’s Perry like? Is there a scene at all?
No scene in Perry, and I understand exactly what you are talking about with Jacksonville. Around the time that I moved away for college, I really resented the fact that I had been stuck growing up in a small town. But returning back earlier this summer after eight years-I moved back to Perry to record Life of Leisure (2009)-I started to realize what a beautiful place it was and how great a place it is for a kid to grow up. To me, it’s all about valuing the good things about a place and being less concerned with how it compares to this or that other place, or this or that other lifestyle. What Perry loses in culture or a live music scene, it gains in seclusion and nature. Look at William Eggleston’s photographs if you want a glimpse of the culture in Perry. Not much has changed here since Guide.
I was at your first NYC show. Had you done shows before? If so, where and how were they?
I had done one other show in Atlanta the week before. Playing live is definitely a completely different beast than recording music. I’ve been recording music by myself in my bedroom for years, and I feel very confident in the process but it’s taken years to develop that confidence. I feel like I’m starting over creatively when I approach the live show. The music was never meant to be performed, so it’s a huge challenge from the beginning to translate it to a live setting. Then also factor in my inexperience with entertaining and you can imagine my hesitance towards performing. If given the chance, I’d probably rather not play shows.
How did you think the NYC show went?
All things considered, I think it went okay. I definitely think my inexperience showed. I had a terrible time communicating with the sound guys about the levels on stage, so it was really hard hearing myself. I also was using a few new vocal effects that malfunctioned a bit.
What is your idea of performing live? What are you trying to do compared to your recorded music?
Ideally, I’d like the two to be different but complimentary, but with the NYC show there wasn’t much variation from the recorded versions. It was basically a DJ set of my songs with live vocals.
How will the live show evolve?
I’ll probably either include more people in an effort to better perform the songs, or either expand the set a lot more with transitions and additions. I enjoy DJ-like sets, but I also see the value and energy that accompanies a live band.
Is live necessary or important? Is it enjoyable?
My love is sitting in my room recording music, but at the same time live shows are great for promotion and even better for travelling and seeing the world. I’d love to be as confident about the live show as I am with the records, but that’s probably a long way away.
Besides putting up a Myspace did you do anything to get your music out there?
I was lucky enough that Mexican Summer found me. My friend Chaz (a.k.a. Toro Y Moi) received some great press earlier in the year and through that these guys from No Pain in Pop stumbled across my Myspace profile. At the time I only had one or two songs up, so I quickly recorded a few more and the ball has been rolling since.
Seemed like all of a sudden, a few months ago, I heard about you from a few different people right around the same time.
Gorilla vs. Bear has a huge influence these days so I credit most of the exposure to Chris.
In terms of your output, why did you choose to release music on cassette format?
At the time, I didn’t think the demand would be so great for my tunes, so it was just something different and fun to do. I was really into the idea of designing a sleeve and label, less about the actual music.
Is there a new scene of producers that you feel close to? I’ve noticed a sound that’s common to a bunch of artists like Memory Tapes and Neon Indian.
I like their stuff a lot. I would guess that they both have similar influences that I do. On one hand you have Ariel Pink and most of the lo-fi stuff that Gorilla vs. Bear really pushes. On the other hand, you have ’80s pop and dance music. I do think that we all approach the idea the same way but with different results.
Songwriting seems to be as key to your sound as distinctive production. Which writers are you a fan of or find inspiring?
Pretty much anything on the radio can be a huge inspiration as far as song structure goes. Whether it’s R&B or a country song, I’ll hear an idea for a bridge or whatever. Sonically, my inspiration a lot of the time is naïve or half-remembered recollections on ’80s pop. I don’t own any Men at Work albums or Toto albums, but I have an idea of what they are or how they were made. I think this naïve recollection is a lot better because in most cases it’s a completely different or skewed version upon comparison.
Your music is dreamy and if it had a visual side it might be sepia. Washed Out is almost onomatopeic in that it sounds like that. Are there conscious visual references that you can describe?
I look at photographs and art—as much if not more—as I listen to music, so I can’t deny that that influence seeps into the music. I have as much fun working on the artwork/covers for the albums as I do recording them.
Hopefully more new tunes really soon. I’ve been really looking forward to peace and quiet to work.