Washed Out's Dewey Decimal soundsystem
Published: Thursday, October 13, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 18:10
Ernest Greene is a 20-something doe-eyed Georgia native with a degree in library sciences whose full-length solo debut as the artist Washed Out was well-received after a series of blogosphere-beloved EPs.
Admittedly an unnatural entertainer, the recent and heavily predicted success of Greene's "chillwave" LP, Within and Without, may have given the passive bedroom musician a case of never-ending OCD, both in the studio and out on the self-driven tour leg (Coincidentally, the book he's read the most is Kerouac's "On the Road"). College Times caught up with Greene before he and the band got ready for a day at the beach.
College Times: When you first came out with your EPs people called it bedroom music. So, how do you make a song that's going to fill a 1,000-capacity venue like the one you played last night?
Ernest Greene: It was tough for me. I was definitely thinking along those lines when I was writing songs for the new record. I just wanted them to be a bit bigger dynamically and potentially people could sing along to. First, it's all about a strong melody that just feels right. Luckily, I had some help on the production side from Ben Allen. His input was a big part of pulling off the bigger dynamics.
Ben Allen has worked with people like Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley, right? What kind of advice did he give you?
At the point we started to work together, I had been demoing songs for probably five or six months and definitely lost objectivity, I think, so he was able to come in and help me rearrange some things. After a few days, he could just add his sonic touch to everything, making things more clear and balanced and separated. […] I can't imagine finishing a record completely by myself again. It certainly helps not having just one pair of ears hear it before it's all done.
You're playing with a live band, does that change your sound?
On a certain level, yes. […] There are parts of this new record where there are 10 synthesizer parts playing at once. With our budget we're working with now, it would be impossible to have five or six guys on stage playing synthesizers or whatever. It's actually kind of fun to go back through the song to think about what you're going to keep and what you're going to throw away.
It's good to know fans can expect something different at the live show.
Definitely. That's the view I have. I love when bands will extend things or go through the song and rearrange things.
When you first started [recording music], you were struggling with a job, but I don't get that message, sonically, because the music is so relaxed. When you sit down to compose a Washed Out song, what kind of headspace do you need to be in?
On some level, it's mindless […] because I've been doing it for so long. I really enjoy sitting down and not thinking about anything and being so involved in the process of layering sounds. Hours will pass and I'll kind of have a rough sketch of a song. Because of that, a lot of the songwriting is kind of naive I think. It's very rare that I have a strong vision from the beginning. It's almost like closing your eyes and wandering in the dark. […] A lot of my songwriting happens out of experimenting, reversing a sample or something like that.
What are some of your favorite albums to pull samples from?
I definitely prefer something that's really obscure that won't be really noticeable —not just for a legal reason. This new record didn't really sample this much just because I have kind of reached the point where enough people hear my music that it's kind of a logistical nightmare. There are buried samples, so there's much less sampling but I prefer really obscure stuff. […] You can take textures from [the analog] era and mix it in with some of the newer, digital sounds and it kind of breathes a more organic life into everything.
Kind of like insulation, then. So, I know you played a little piano growing up, but what's your musical background?
I took piano lessons and I never got serious about it or was a virtuoso or anything. It probably helped start train my ear. When I was 12 or 13, I started playing guitar and listening to rock music a little bit. I started writing songs on the computer and messing around with synthesizers when I was 18 or 19 and it's been a natural progression. I've been sort of doing the same thing since then.
It probably took you about six or seven years, then, for you to find your sound.
Definitely. Yeah, just countless hours and hours of so many songs and when people ask for advice, that's the only advice I can give, just to write as many songs and work as long as you can and as hard as you can. I definitely was guilty of sounding like the bands I was into for years and years and it took just working through that until it reached a point for me where it was a mindless thing, when it reached that point I started to sound more like myself, I guess. It took me a long time to get there.
It's the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000-hour theory.
Definitely. Yeah! I was reading that book ["Outliers"] not too long ago. I definitely agree with that.
What kind of librarian qualities transfer over into your musicality?
That's tough, probably the nature of electronic music is things can get quite messy really quickly because things are complicated, so I think I've become more OCD. When it comes to the live show, you have tons of electronics, things need to be really tidy and everything needs to be in the right place or else everything will mess up. So, I'm definitely more super-organized. All I can do is expect the worse. That's probably the closest thing I can think of.