Interview: Washed Out
Posted in Interviews
"I relate the process of creating an album to how a painter or artist visually finds balance within a painting/composition."
Recently I received the opportunity to sit down with Ernest Greene of Washed Out for an exclusive interview for New York's Baeble Music (yay summer internships!). Check it out below, and remember Within & Without is out July 12 on Sub Pop Records, but you can stream it now at NPR.
On July 12, Washed Out, the operational alias of Ernest Greene, will release his debut full-length album Within & Without on Sub Pop Records. It's a wonderful sigh of relief for the Atlanta-based artist, who first became recognized by music blogs everywhere through songs he posted for fun on his MySpace back in 2009. From there, he subsequently released two critically-acclaimed EP's which garnered him international attention and put him on the forefront of the so-called "chillwave" movement. Needless to say, it's been a longtime coming for Washed Out. Recently, we spoke with Ernest about Within & Without, and some of the challenges that came along with the making of it.
Lets jump right into things. Your debut full length Within & Without releases July 12th. How excited are you for this?
Extremely excited. I mean it's kind of been a longtime coming. I started working on the record around this time last year, and really had most of the songs finished by December but had a couple of delays that made it take a little longer than expected. So yeah, I'm super psyched.
Now this may be your first full length, but you've done several EP's in the past. What made you want to peruse a complete LP this time around?
Yeah, well I guess an LP is kind of the traditional way of doing things, just like putting out a full length record and doing tons of promotion for it. I had never written one before so it was a bit of a scary idea, but it was also sort of a challenge. Most of my favorite records have this nice flow over the course of like 40-50 minutes, so i was definitely trying to give a shot at that.
Recording a longer record, was the creative process different at all?
Yeah pretty much. Before, I would mostly just sit down and write song to song, never really thinking about how everything would fit together. On this record, there were definitely some times where I felt I needed songs to kind of fit into certain places. With writing lyrics, I kind of knew what I wanted to do, which is really different and pretty challenging just because my style of writing is very mindless. I kind of just let the songs go where they want, so that kind of made it take a while to finally have a collection of like 12 tracks that all had similar balanced sounds.
So you probably had a lot of extra tracks that didn't fit into your vision of what you wanted Within & Without to be. how did you know when to cut off the album and leave it be? I feel like anyone can keep editing and keep adding, but it takes real self-restraint and vision to know when to stop.
Exactly. I kind of relate the process of creating an album to how a painter or artist visually finds balance within a painting/composition. The songs that ended up getting cut had a completely different feeling. There was one track that had like a really strong, almost club-y beat that compared to everything else, stood out. And that was kind of my main idea going into it, I wanted the record to be really balanced. I pull from a lot of different influences but I didn't want any of those influences to be too obvious, so in a case like that where one beat was taking over, I wanted to try and scale it back. So yeah, I think it ended up making sense in the end.
What was it like working with producer Ben Allen-—who's helped produce albums for Animal Collective, Gnarles Barkley, & Deerhunter—on Within & Without? That had to be quite the experience
My wife and I around this time last year moved to this small little cottage out in the middle of nowhere Georgia, so I did all of the writing and demo-ing there. My style of writing is kind of like recording as I'm writing the songs, so because of that the demos I got out of it were pretty strong. So a couple months later around December, I ended up moving into Atlanta and was able to work at Ben's studio for 12 days straight. He has a studio there called Maze Studio and it's actually where Cee Lo Green does a lot of his stuff, so it was pretty funny. I was kind of nervous about working in a real studio like that, but it ended up being a really good situation. There was definitely some collaboration happening where we were sort of meeting in the middle with our different tastes, but I think that made the record a lot better in the end.
Once you guys were together in the studio, how long did it take to get it all together?
We only had ten days to work on it because at that point Ben's schedule was pretty crazy, so we didn't have much time. We were recording and mixing within those ten days, so we were working like 12 hour days just to get everything done. But now looking back, I feel like it was a good thing to have that intense focus. If we were to spread it out, I think it would've been a completely different experience.
We really enjoyed the cover art for Within & Without. Could you give us a little background information about it and why you chose it for this project?
I was down in Australia in December doing some shows, which was right around the same time I was wrapping up most of the demo's and kind of had a basis of where I was taking everything. I picked up this magazine in Australia and that photo was featured for an ad for Martien Mulder's—the photographer of the picture—solo exhibition at Kahmann Gallery in Amsterdam. The picture just made sense to me on a couple different levels. Within & Without has a very different sound compared to my previous work and is definitely a step forward. My last records were very, for lack of a better word 'washed out' and painted with hazy colors, so the stark white of that image just really made sense. And the content of it, I really like the idea of voyeuristically looking into a very intimate moment. That's kind of how I think about the new record—a glimpse into some of the things I was dealing with at the time. I mentioned before how when I write it's very mindless, but I think on this record particularly, a lot of my feelings come out of the songs, so I want that to shine through in the image. I think a lot of people have seen the album art as sort of this sensationalist, provocative thing but it was never meant to be that. It was more about just this fragile, intimate moment.
What made you choose the song "Eyes Be Closed" as your first single on the new record?
I mentioned before how a lot of the new songs are a step forward in a slightly different direction from my previous work. To me, "Eyes Be Closed" sort of bridges the gap between the two, mainly because it has kind of a slower tempo to it which is a lot like my previous stuff, plus it has such a bigger dynamic of sound which I think is one the main things that stands out on Within & Without. There's a few different things on that song that kind of make up what my music is about in a very simple way, so choosing that song was an obvious choice.
The "Eyes Be Closed" single (out July 5th) will feature a couple different remixes along with it. We heard Grimes' take on it the other day, who else do you have remixing the song?
There's this guy from New York named Steve Moore who has this project called Lovelock that I was a big fan of so I got him to do a remix. His version has kind of a Miami Vice, 80s feel to it that I thought was pretty cool. The other remix is from this guy called Star Slinger out of the UK who's sort of hip-hop influenced. He put a heavier beat and more of a hip-hop feel to to the song, so it turned out nicely.
Your U.S. tour is starting up here in a couple days. What are some of the things we can expect from your live show this time around compared to last year?
The shows I was doing last year was with a totally different band than the one I have now. Last year I was with the band Small Black and we didn't really have much time to rehearse before we started touring and they were obviously much more focused on their own career than Washed Out. So this is really the first time that I've had my own group together, and we've had more than just a couple days to rehearse the songs, so it's sounding a lot bigger/better. And at this point, I have about a year-and-a-half experience under my belt, so I'm a little bit more prepared this time around.