Ernest Greene, the man behind Washed Out, has recently taken some bold steps with his music: the warmer, more organic tones of his latest release Paracosm reveal a marked shift in creative process from the one-man, bedroom recording project that he started out with.
Getting some time off with his wife to retreat from the concrete jungle, Greene explains more about how his experience in the countryside and domestic delight have influenced Paracosm, among other interesting thoughts that might give us a better understanding of the man’s musical genius.
Lately, the sub-genre ‘chillwave’ has been said to have evolved tremendously into something more defined. It’s often represented by musicians such as Toro Y Moi, Memory Tapes, Teen Daze, and yourself – what do you think of this categorisation, and does it bother you?
I think there is definitely a “chillwave” sound — so I’m OK with the genre tag. But I never want to make the same album twice, so I’ve made a conscious effort to move on and try new things. However, I’m not even sure if my new record is chillwave or not!
I definitely try to come up with something new with each record while having it connected to my past work in some way. I guess that’s the challenge that I face.
How consciously did the shoeboxing of your previous releases effect the new direction you took with Paracosm?
A little bit. But it’s also a reflection of how my project has been changing. Washed Out live performances involves a band — not a solo, beat-driven studio project. We play shows probably eight months out of the year. So I wanted the album to be more of a reflection of that togetherness as a band.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about what makes sense for me so that it feels inspiring enough to spend three months working on.”
We have also read that making the album “playable” live was something you considered when writing Paracosm. Are there any other external factors that affected the creative process?
I set out at the beginning of the process to make an optimistic-sounding album, which is quite hard to achieve without it sounding clichéd or melodramatic. Wanting the album to sound warm and inviting, I had to make the choice of deciding on the album’s instrumentation. This meant I had to resort to using a lot of string instruments and other elements of an orchestra.
How much do you allow external influences to affect your output? Do you see it as a compromise?
I try to balance audience’s expectations with my own. At the end of the day, it’s all about what makes sense for me so that it feels inspiring enough to spend three months working on.
What is your #1 favourite concept album? What do you think of the “death of the album”?
I think YouTube and iPod culture have changed the way that people listen to music and it’s much easier to consume a catchy single than an entire album. Nevertheless, I think albums are still relevant. I enjoy telling a story over the course of the 40 minute record and my favorite albums do the same. OK Computer still pops into my head now and then as one of my favorites.
“I try to constantly remind myself to see the beauty and poetry in the world.”
“Paracosm” very literally describes the sound of the album. How closely does your music link to your real/personal life? Or is it something much more abstract to you?
The album felt very close to my personal life actually. My wife and I live out in the countryside and we sort of retreated away during the making of the album. The house felt like our own little paracosm so a lot of the songs have to do with that. Domestic bliss I guess!
If there is a Washed Out song that best described your current position in life, what would it be and why?
The song ‘Paracosm’ comes to mind. It follows the same idea as what I described above. Mainly the joy of being alone and being free to do the things you love (which for me is creating art and music). It’s a really special period in my life that I’m able to make music for a living.
Do you have a life philosophy that you live and create by?
I try to constantly remind myself to see the beauty and poetry in the world. It’s easy to become too carried away with a single aspect of life. I try to keep my mind open and do what comes naturally.
Lastly, name three artists that you think we should all know about!
A JUS TED: ‘A Brighter Light’ is a really amazing song.
Henry Darger: An incredible visual artist and story teller — he was a big inspiration for the artwork for Paracosm.
Eadweard Muybridge: Discovered his wonderful photographs the other day.
By Shawn Ng
Washed Out will perform as part of the Mosaic Music Festival on Saturday, 8 March 2014 at 7.30pm at the Esplanade Concert Hall.