The problem with labelling an artist under a singular genre is that as soon as they cross the boundaries of that genre, the illusion is lost. It’s a good thing, really: no-one wants to be known as a one-trick pony. When I catch Ernest Greene, the musical brains behind Washed Out, on a call from his home in Athens, Georgia, he feels as if ‘chillwave’ is a somewhat lackluster term to describe his music, now that his second full-length, Paracosm, has been released.
“When I think ‘chillwave’, I think ’80s-inspired pop music, and there’s still quite a bit of synthesizers on this new record but by no means is it an ’80s throwback,” he says in a mellow tone, trying to express the need for a balance between the music he’s known for making and the music he wants to make. “I never want to make a record that’s just a 180 reaction against what I’ve done. So the idea was to change the palette of sounds subtly. Ultimately, I want it to be a Washed Out record.”
Although Greene’s early music was a reaction against southern music groups like The Allman Brothers Band, he’s now deeply entrenched within his own retro-futurist style: Paracosm could only be a Washed Out record. Whilst it references the clear electronic soundscapes of his previous record, 2011’s Within and Without, it has a broader instrumental reach, which Greene hopes will reinvigorate his live shows.
On touring the critically acclaimed debut, Greene admits, “It wasn’t very fun for two hours each night performing, just being stuck behind a keyboard. I’m trying to move away from doing so much sampling. It’s often really frustrating making songs that way because there’s not a ton of flexibility.” Although he has realised how limiting a purely digital production set-up can be, Greene still acknowledges his electronic roots: “I still feel like an electronic musician, although this record sounds much less electronic… I’m a child of digital recording.”
On Paracosm, the influence of digital recording is matched by Greene’s love for concept albums, as well as the world of outsider art. When I mention that Paracosm reminds me of The Flaming Lips’ quasi-concept album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Greene exclaims, “I love that album,” although he believes that Paracosm isn’t a concept album in the traditional sense: “It isn’t a full-blown concept record like The Dark Side of the Moon or anything. I had a clear cut sonic palette of what I wanted to use for the narrative arch of the record.
“I was very influenced by records like The Flaming Lips’ record where there is a beginning, middle and end. There’s a natural flow to everything. Track sequencing is something I spend quite a lot of time on, thinking about the transitions between the songs. I definitely had some big picture conceptual stuff in mind.”
Greene’s ears prick up again when I mention the outsider art of Henry Darger: “His style has a sort of hand-made quality to it which I feel mimics my sound pretty well. I was also really inspired by his personal life. He was a very reclusive guy who I kind of draw a connection with. He was able to live freely in his art in a way that he couldn’t do in his real life. I’ve always been inspired by that idea.”
It’s clear that Greene really understands the power of music. “Music is a very powerful healing mechanism,” he posits, after admitting that making his own brand of bittersweet has helped him cope with bouts of depression in the past. “I always look at the past through the prism of half missing it and half enjoying that it’s passed,” he says, wearing both his realist and optimist hats.
As he becomes increasingly comfortable within his own sound, Ernest Greene is set on enjoying each moment as special. When asked about whether he and his band (which includes his wife) will next be on Australian shores, he reveals, “We have plans for early next year some time,” clearly trying to escape the American winter in exchange for the Australian heat. “That endless summer idea. I really like that.”
Washed Out’s latest record, ‘Paracosm’, was released in Australia last Friday.