Washed Out's Ernest Greene Talks Chillwave, Hip-Hop, and Weird Mishmash
"The new album is slightly [more rock-based]," Greene says. "There's just more live drum sounds. There's a bass guitar. So just little things, but still straight beats. It's kind of a weird mishmash."
In the second part of our recent interview, Crossfade caught up with Greene to talk about changing his sound, what he thinks of the chillwave movement, and playing with ANR this Friday.
New Times: Your music seems to cover a lot of different bases, with hints of everything from lo-fi to disco, hip-hop, mo-town. What's your songwriting process like?
Ernest Greene: I definitely have a lot of different influences that come together -- mostly at random. I've been listening a ton to the stuff I've been working on. There's definitely a hip-hop influence on it, a little bit of disco. Mainly just trying to do something different than what I've heard listening to hip-hop stuff. There's definitely some kind of cliched things that happen in every hip-hop song. I try to grab things that aren't the cliched parts and use for good. I guess across the board that's my approach. I can kind of grab something from any genre that I really like and use it. It's really just a lot of grabbing different influences, throwing them against the wall and seeing what sticks [Laughs]. That being said, it's never really a kind of conscious thing. As I'm writing I don't plan on writing a hip-hop song. It just kind of naturally develops over the course as I'm working on it -- which is kind of exciting and frustrating, too. I'll end up with like 10 hip-hop songs, when obviously I'm not trying to put out a hip-hop record.
Yeah, you seem to mention hip-hop a lot. I've heard that you go through different music "phases" and you become obsessed with particular genres, then move on. Is hip-hop what you're obsessed with now?
Yeah. I mean I hadn't really listened to hip-hop for like eight years or something. It's just something that when I started writing songs I kind of had that mindset. It's still kind of with me and shapes the way that I think about writing. That's probably the biggest influence. But that's the weirdest thing. For the first time in my life I haven't really been obsessing over any one kind of style. If anything, I've been obsessing over my own style -- which is really kind of isolating and frustrating. I can't wait to finish. I'll finish it all in like a week or two, then I look forward to not listening to Washed Out for a while [laughs] and start exploring. I'll start looking for like "best of 2010" lists. That'll probably be a good place to start or something. [Laughs]
Your music hit sort of a mainstream-style success pretty quickly what with being profiled in the New York Times and Pitchfork, touring with Yeasayer. What's it been like for you?
Yeah, definitely. It all picked up really fast. The intention was pretty consistent. I was writing the songs summer of 2009 and pretty much as soon as I posted the songs online the right people heard them and sort of passed them around. Immediately there was attention there. I think the high was South by Southwest (SXSW) this past year in March. That was right as I was starting to play shows. Before I was kind of this mystery -- like who I was and what I was about. That was a big deal. But it's been one really great opportunity after the next. I did some shows with Beach House -- who I've been a big fan of for a long time. Same thing with Yeasayer. I've done a few tours now like in Europe and Australia. It's been a good ride.
Has getting married in the midst of all of this and breaking out influenced you at all musically?
Yeah. I would say it's the biggest thing -- especially with this writing -- that I've kind of struggled with. It's just been so different. It has something to do with being married. But it's such a lifestyle change, 'cause we got married right as everything was really happening. So it's gone from working a nine to five job and not being married to being married and really not being tied to anything potentially and really be working and thinking about music all the time. It's amazing in one sense and it's really demanding. I kind of obsess about it. At one point I'm just like, "Okay, you've gotta step back from this." But it's been great. My wife has been with me the entire way. She kind of tour manages with me while I'm on the road and kind of handles things when we're not touring. So we're together pretty much all the time.
So it's almost like an extended honeymoon.
Yeah, yeah. We had a short honeymoon. We've been so busy. In a sense the lifestyle is sort of a honeymoon 'cause we have some really fun times and we don't have any bosses. We don't have to be anywhere if we really don't want to be there. But at the same time we'll be working on stuff late into the night and work really weird hours. She stays really busy too, so it's kind of a trade-off I guess.
What's going on with the new album?
I've been writing songs really all summer. I did some touring earlier in the year -- for most of the spring, I guess. I took some time off to write. My wife and I moved out into this really small cabin sort of house in middle-of-nowhere Georgia. It's on a lake. It was really nice. Definitely kind of secluded. I started writing songs and recording them myself there. Now I've finally gotten the chance to take all of the work that I've done and bring it in and add some things that I couldn't really pull off myself.
Do you have a date for the release set yet?
No, actually. I'm trying to work that out but I'm considering releasing a song or two pretty quickly, even though it's not even set up yet. I feel like it's been delayed a lot, so I want to get stuff out there.
How many members are you at now?
There's three other guys: A bass player, a drummer, a guy who does keyboards/percussion. Then I'm singing and playing some keyboard stuff too.
Would you say it's more alternative or rock-based, then?
Slightly. There's just more live drum sounds, which before it was a little bit more electronic stuff happening. There's a bass guitar. So just little things, but still straight beats. It's kind of a weird mish mash.
So then it'll be a completely different experience from the recorded version.
Oh yeah, definitely. And in some cases we play different versions from the songs than what's on the record, too. It's definitely a different experience.
What would you compare it to, then?
It's really hard. There's nothing '80s about it, that's for sure, 'cause there aren't many synths and stuff. If anything it sounds very '90s to my ears -- which I don't even know how to define that, really [laughs]. But that's kind of been what we keep referring to. I think what I was working toward were memories of certain songs, styles and stuff.
You've been dubbed the sort of poster child of the Chillwave movement. What's it like to take the reigns of a genre with friend and fellow Chillwaver Toro Y Moi?
It's definitely strange. I feel like I can speak for both of us when I say none of us intended on being a part of any genre, really. I'm interested to see what people think of the record I'm working on, 'cause it's much different. In some senses it's very much in line with what I've done. But it's also not traditionally what I think of as "chillwave." It's got a lot more kind of live band elements, playing with a band. I'm sure it'll still be categorized as chillwave, but that doesn't really shape how I do things. I just kind of do my thing and inevitably it'll fall in line with whatever people group it with.
You're taking the stage with ANR again in Miami. What made you ask them to open for you again?
Yeah. We both opened for Yeasayer last time, and we thought they were really amazing. Just so much energy for two guys up on stage. We were psyched. They were really cool guys. We got to hang out with them for a bit. They were the obvious first choice when we were coming back.
You realize that we're the only state in the US right now that doesn't have any snow.
Yeah, that's pretty amazing. It all falls in line with my aesthetic -- the beach kind of vibe that's been the method to my music. We look forward to being at the beach and playing some chillwave music [laughs].
Washed Out with Awesome New Republic, Josh LeCash, and Desiree. Friday, January 21. Eve, 1306 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors open at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $12.50 via wantickets.com. Ages 18 and up. Call 305-995-5050 or visit miamieve.com.