INTERVIEW

Ernest Greene reviews his own record, with the help of Edgar Smith.

Photography by Owen Richards

Less than two years ago, Washed Out (née Ernest Greene) was talking to Pitchfork about a forthcoming cassette release and how he wasn’t going to bother with touring. The buzz that followed was loud enough to have been the sound of the universe chuckling at this moment of dramatic irony. Tracks like ‘Feel It All Around’ and ‘Belong’ got the internet so steamed-up that people started trying to combine ‘blog’ and ‘synth’ in one term, like blogability was now a parameter of sound itself and that Greene was Hip Priest at the shotgun wedding of music and broadband.

Though the knowingly obnoxious ‘chill-wave’ emerged as the winning term, the idea stuck that these blurred snapshots of electronic afterglow were The Sound of Now. That, prior to even a first LP, could understandably derail any recording career.
It’s turned ‘Within and Without’ into a ‘difficult second album’ without it even being one – the pressures upon the record to justify itself to a large and expectant audience are somewhat beyond those of your average first attempt. Happily for Ernest Greene, his debut is surprising and possessed of a sharpened and mature tone; a ‘grower’ that has a lot more replay value than his EPs. It’s pretty much everything it had to be to avoid an annihilating backlash. What with it being such a big deal, we thought we’d get Greene to take us through it himself, outside a pub in Islington.

Ernest Greene: “Please cut me off if I start to ramble! I’ve only slept five hours in the last three days so I’m a little bit spaced-out.”
Edgar Smith: “Your new record seems more ‘together’ than your old stuff.”

EG: “Well that was something I was concerned about. I’d never written a full-length forty-minute record before. The two EPs were just collections of tracks that sounded nice together. I wanted it to have a kind of narrative and it took me a long time to figure out how to do that. I had to limit myself with a certain pallet of sounds. I guess I’ll just go through the different tracks. So first track…”

01. Eyes Be Closed
ES: “Where’s the name from?”
EG: “It’s from Herman Melville. I can’t think which of his books it’s from but it’s this really cool passage. I’ve been meaning to like, tweet about it – ha! – to tip people off. I think it kind of captures what I was trying to do on a technical level, trying to write a much bigger sounding song. To me it’s very triumphant, especially the chorus at the end and that’s the type of song I’ve always wanted to write. I found this really cool synth sound, which is the main texture and then the little bridge section that builds is definitely a dance music reference. I’m a sucker for the big build-ups like that. I recorded demo versions in my studio and then booked ten days at a proper studio, in Atlanta where I live, with this producer Ben Allen. That song was the most fun because it was the first track that we recorded together and it was his idea to have the rototoms. The big kind of Phil Collins-y thing. They just sound so massive, really loud and they cut through a mix really well.”

02. Echoes
EG: “Like most of my songs, it’s very simple. There’s a little synth part that basically loops for the entire song and that’s the core of it I guess. What I love about it is I think the melody is really sad sounding. I felt like my previous work was kind of flat and that there wasn’t much range of emotion. I wanted to have some up and downs to mirror my own kind of journey – for lack of better words – over the last couple of years. It’s a dream-come-true to be able to do this, but it comes with a lot of pressures and that song, for me, was kind of dealing with some of the anxieties I was dealing with. I think that’s gonna be a fun song to play live because it’s a bit faster and at the end we jam a little bit. I have a band now. It’s me and four other guys, and it’s really fun to reinterpret the songs. We can kind of extend things and make decisions on the fly, which is cool.”

03. Amor Fati
EG: “The third track ‘Amor Fati’ was one we struggled with. I love pop music and I can’t think of many choruses to my songs that are as pop as that, but I was scared of going too far in that direction – where it kind of loses emotional value. On the mixing level we spent a lot of time tweaking things in order to get that right, otherwise that song happened really quickly. My writing ritual is very mindless – I just sit down on a computer and I have a loop playing and I’ll just start adding layers. That song came together in a matter of hours, which is a pretty good indication that it’s working. One of my favourites on the record.”

04. Soft
ES: “Now, ‘Soft’ isn’t a rock song at all, but it reminds me of My Bloody Valentine in a weird way.”
EG: “That’s exactly what I was going for. Before I was doing Washed Out stuff I was doing more soundscape-y stuff. Washed Out is very much a pop project, but I like the idea of taking from the avant-garde and presenting it in that pop format. The beautiful thing about the soundscape stuff is getting lost in it as it’s so drawn out and it’s hard to do that in four minutes so it’s a challenge; that could’ve been a fifteen-minute track easy. There’s this pedal that we used to do the little soundscape-y part at the beginning, umm what’s it called? Fuck, I can’t remember it, but, uh, it’s a delay pedal, which has this setting that’s like Crystal Something. It basically makes anything you send through it sound like an orgasm. I think Deerhunter use it a lot on their stuff, so after Ben was working with them he went out and bought one. It’s a really amazing little piece of equipment but they’re five/six-hundred dollars, so I haven’t got one yet.”

05. Far Away
ES: “‘Far Away’ sits in the middle of the record and feels a lot like a centrepiece. I think it might be my favourite.”
EG: “I’d never written a song like that and certainly had never written any string parts before. I had written that part with MIDI strings, which has a quality of its own, but it wasn’t right for the song. It’s got more acoustic instrumentation. Like, obviously the strings, but there’s some xylophone parts and I really enjoy the bass parts, one big thing I was trying to avoid was using too many sequenced basses. That’s something I can’t stress enough – I wanted the record to be really balanced and I didn’t want it to be like a dance record with the drums too heavy or too much synth bass.”

06. Before
EG: “So, ‘Before’ is the 6th Track. I’ve said this a number of times: I’m a huge hip-hop fan, it’s always been a kind of influence on what I do, but I think ‘Before’ is definitely the biggest, bassiest hip hop beat that I’ve done. It wasn’t something that I set out to do at first, but when I first started listening to electronic music I was really into down-tempo stuff. This record, on some unconscious level, started to use a lot of those sounds and, to me, ‘Before’ is very ‘90s in a way. That’s the beautiful thing to me about music or at least the way I approach music: it’s not the particulars that matter, it’s about vibes and that sort of thing.”

07. You and I
EG: “I wrote the song with Caroline Polachek from the band Chairlift. She came out to one of my shows in New York and I’d just got a commission to do this track for Adult Swim. Their idea was for me to find someone to collaborate with so I asked her. I just happened to have a few days off while I was in New York. She has this little bedroom studio and her boyfriend’s a producer. We were all together and actually there’s a vocal loop throughout the song and it’s us three singing together which I think is kind of cool. The chorus is pretty big. It might be that, having played a year of live shows, you want choruses that people want to sing along to and these big build-ups really work. I don’t think I’d have written that song two years ago.”

08. Within and without
EG: “Initially this was gonna be the end of the record. There were a couple of other tracks that ended up getting cut and this was originally going to be the ending but it didn’t feel right. To me it’s the darkest song on the record and I didn’t like the idea of it ending like that. I really like the little drone-y bit at the end. Again, I like getting lost in music like that, and on some level it is an ending because the last track is…”
ES: “…an epilogue?”

09. A Dedication
EG: “…that’s what it’s meant to be. I knew that it didn’t feel right until I recorded that really quickly in my bedroom studio after we finished working. Actually, I finished it the day before the record was gonna be sent to be mastered. As far as the lyrical content, it’s dedicated to my friends and family who’ve had to deal with me while working on the record. It was something I kind of obsessed over and I wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around most of the time. I was scared that it was going to feel out of place but I kind of like the idea of it sounding out of place. I love playing the piano and a lot of the time I then bring the synthesizers in, but it falls in line with what I was talking about, trying to include more acoustic instruments to give it more life.’
ES: “And when’s it out?”
EG: “I believe July 12th.”

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