This week sees Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, release his debut album ‘Within and Without’ on Domino Records subsidiary Weird World Records here in the UK. The album’s markedly different to the EPs that made his name, with the dusty, reverb-laden ‘chillwave’ vibe dumped in favour of a more laid-back, summer pop sound: tracks like ‘Amor Fati’ and lead single ‘Eyes Be Closed’ build to epic, explosive choruses, while ‘Echoes’ and ‘Far Away’ share the same subdued, chilled funk as Waldeck and The Whitest Boy Alive. We caught up with him as the album began to fill shelves and minds.
How’s everything going? You must be really excited, with the album coming out, but also really busy.
Washed Out: “Yeah, totally. We’ve been super busy leading up to today. We had a couple of shows on the west coast on Friday and Saturday and then flew over here to New York on Sunday. Had a pretty full day yesterday and then been doing some promo stuff. We played a show last night at the Bowery Ballroom. That was really fun. It was sold out and luckily we had a lot of friends and family there, so it was a blast. We have a couple of days off, doing some promo stuff but nothing too crazy, and then we’re heading to London on Wednesday night. Pretty busy as soon as we get in. It’s really exciting and it’s the best motivation, when it seems like people seem to be enjoying the new record.”
Tell me a little bit about the process of recording the album and how it all came together. For example, when did work start on the tracks that have made it onto the album?
Washed Out: “It was really about a year ago. I did a short tour with a band from Brooklyn called Small Black around this time last year, where we did a week of UK dates and a week of European dates. My wife and I got home afterwards and really didn’t have a place to live, because we’d been travelling so much we’d moved most of our stuff into storage. We moved into this small house that her family owned that was a really nice cottage on this lake in the middle of rural Georgia. That’s where I started work writing the record and spent most of the summer and the beginning of the fall getting my stuff together and then later in the process working in a studio in Atlanta, Georgia with this producer Ben Allen (the producer behind Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion and Gnarls Barkley’s St Elsewhere) to kind of finish everything up. So we wrapped up everything around late December and we’ve really just been sitting on the record since then. Which makes me even more excited that it’s finally out today, because we haven’t really played the songs live and been waiting for the album to come out. It’s a really great time.”
I gather your place in Georgia was quite secluded, in the middle of nowhere almost. How important do you think that’s been on your production? Has it helped to concentrate you when you want to make music, for example?
Washed Out: “Definitely. Yeah, it’s about 30 minutes from any sort of civilization, which was both good and bad. Mostly good, with the first couple of months of the process, because it was very easy to get lost in what I was doing. I think it’d be a lot harder to go to that sort of place dealing with average, day-to-day sort of worries. I just respond to that sort of environment, I think. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to get away when that writing process starts, at least in the initial period.”
You mentioned working with Ben Allen. Tell me a little bit about working with others on this record, compared to producing alone – you had production from Ben, and also had Caroline from Chairlift involved on vocals for some of the album. How did it feel working with others on the album, compared to the EPs which were very much a solitary activity?
Washed Out: “Yeah, both of those collaborations were definitely one of the more exciting moments of the process. I’d never really done much collaborating before. I’m pretty particular about how I want things to sound, and I have a pretty strong idea of what I’m going for, so I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work. Whether or not I could handle meeting someone in the middle creatively and compromising. In the end, in both situations – with Caroline and with Ben – the collaboration made the music that much better.”
Has it made you feel differently about working alone? Perhaps it’s made you warm to the idea of writing with others?
Washed Out: “Yeah, it’s kind of inspiring moving forward. I’m very much open-minded about working with other musicians and that was another thing; Ben has quite a network in Atlanta of musicians that I was able to tap into and we used a lot of instrumentation that I never would have dreamed that I would have access to. We used string parts and some horn parts, and it was pretty amazing.”
You mention using different instrumentation on the album. How do you think the music on the album compares to the two EPs? Do you think it was a drastic change, and if it was do you think that was a conscious decision?
Washed Out: “Well part of it is that it had been over a year since I had written any new material, so I was sort of at a different place with what I was listening to and had definitely learnt a lot from playing shows and being around really good musicians more than I had a couple of years before. But another part is having access to other, better equipment or more opportunities in general. So I was just trying to embrace that, while still holding on to whatever the core Washed Out ‘sound’ was. I have some sort of an idea of the sound I’d carved out for myself and was sort of trying to honour that but at the same time trying to do something different with it.”
It seems on the first listens of the album that there’s a lot less sampling and looping, compared to the earlier stuff and that, because of that, where the two EPs had a hip-hop or trippy feel to them, this album has more of a disco and electronic feel to it in places, because it’s more original stuff rather than samples.
Washed Out: “Yeah, that’s exactly right. Totally. Again, I was in a different place having played a year or two’s worth of shows, I was used to actually performing and playing keyboards or pianos, which was much different to when I was starting out on those two EPs, which was very much more computer-based, editing, and like you were saying, looping. That was a conscious decision, to have more performance on the record and Ben brought that out even more. He was just pushing me, instead of just sequencing things out, just kind of playing things from beginning to end. Which breathes life into the song. And I think that really shows in the record. One of my favourite things about the record is the stuff that’s happening rhythmically, the percussion and that sort of thing. All of that was tracked live, which was much different to things I’d done before. Most of the older material was sequenced. So yeah, the idea was just to change things, and keep things fresh for sure.”
I’ve seen you comment before that when you were starting off that music was something you’d always loved, but that you felt you’d almost stumbled into producing, and that before that point it never really seemed like something you’d expected to do well out of. Do you feel now, looking back and with the album being a finished product that you’re really happy with, that you’ve grown into the role of the musician and songwriter?
Washed Out: “Yeah. I think a little bit. It’s still a bit strange. I try not to think about it too much, because it’s too easy to get weighed down with expectations or just start to overanalyze things. But there’s no doubt that I’m more comfortable with what I’m doing. I definitely know that I’m not a producer by any stretch of the imagination, in the traditional sense. That was one of the great things about working with Ben. He really knows the technical side of recording, to the point where I didn’t have to really get bogged down in those types of details. That was something that really opened me up creatively, just thinking about sounds in a very abstract and general way, without having to deal with the really super-technical details. I think moving forward, I’m going to be more concerned with songs and less concerned with the technical side of things. Even with performing, and that sort of thing, the more you do it the more you’re comfortable with it. It somehow feels more natural now, whereas at first I might have been faking it a bit trying to act like I knew what I was doing. It’s coming together now.
You’ve got a really busy couple of months now, with the live side of things starting up again. You must be really excited to be back on the road and coming over to Europe as well.
Washed Out: “For sure. Especially this time round, I have my own band together, some old friends. It’s a great situation: whereas before I was doing a lot of shows by myself, which on a practical level and with travelling, isn’t as much fun when you’re by yourself. When you’re with a group of friends it’s really great and performing the songs is way more fun with a band and I think an audience definitely responds to that, just having more bodies onstage. It’s easier to get to that place sooner of making a vibe happen onstage. It’s very exciting. We’re going to be all over the world over the next couple of months.”