Washed Out is the ethereal dance-y alter ego of Ernest Greene. Starting out as a bedroom project for the Georgia native, he unexpectedly not only picked up massive attention but indeed became one of the front leaders of the popular pseudo genre of ‘chill wave’. Layered nostalgic synths and vocals as if a tape that you loved had been stretched out nearly beyond recognition is the signature style of this QRO fav. One of the few acts that make Miami one of their regular tour spots, Washed Out played at an absolutely crowded Eve with supporting act ANR. The set was short but lively with slight technical issues that led to an impromptu jam session. Lovely Blair Greene, who has been on album covers and often graced the site, has joined Ernest on stage playing keys and tambourine adding even more energy to the dynamic. Playing well-known favs “See It All Around”, “Hold Out”, and “Belong”, the audience danced the entirety of the set in a sweaty mess. Generally speaking, people appear larger on stage then in person, but Ernest defies this logic as he towers over the packed crowd when exiting. In person both Ernest and Blair exhibit that southern charm that leaves you at ease, both being quite polite and very personable. Ernest took the time after the show (around 4am) to stand around with two QRO writers and discuss music, photography and his advice for the next generation of musicians.
QRO C: So this is a departure from the last time you came down and played with Yeasayer (QRO live review).
Ernest Greene: Yeah yeah, it’s the same guys playing. That tour with Yeasayer was the first time we really played together. We had rehearsed for maybe three or four days, maybe four, so it was kinda hectic. Actually it was pretty hectic for this tour as well. I’ve been recording a record for the last couple of weeks, actually the last couple of months. Finished the record last Wednesday and left for tour on Thursday morning.
QRO C: And before that you did a tour of Australia.
EG: Yeah, we did a short tour in December and it was really fun. All in all we’ve probably down maybe 15 shows with the band. I had played with another band Small Black, this group from Brooklyn. They served as my backing band for a while and I did some shows by myself. This is the first Washed Out band.
QRO C: So you went from playing at The Fillmore, which had all this room, and now you are playing at Eve.
EG: Oh totally, yeah that’s one of the biggest rooms I’ve probably ever played in!
QRO C: How do you feel about venue size, do you have better energy in a large venue as opposed to a club?
It plays into the energy thing, sometimes when it’s super loud and distorted it plays into us getting into it and having a good time. That’s kinda how it was tonight.
QRO C: How long has Blair been in the band? It’s awesome to see her up there!
EG: Yeah she’s played five or six shows now. So she is still learning the ropes; a couple of things happened on stage tonight. We had a couple of problems, but she handled it well. I was proud of her. It was stuff you couldn’t predict and we just try to do the best you can when things go wrong.
QRO C: So do you think you guys will be coming back to Miami soon?
EG: Oh yeah for sure. The record will be out in the new couple months. We’ll do a tour leading up to that.
QRO C: Leading up to?
EG: To the album.
QRO C: And then after that you’ll have to tour to promote the album… [laughs]
EG: [laughs] Exactly, so basically we’ve already been playing for a year of touring.
QRO C: So how do you feel as an artist whose started – and I’m sure you get this all the time – but you started playing in your room and now you are touring everywhere. Do you still prefer playing music by yourself or has this made you want to incorporate more people into the writing process?
EG: I think it will probably always be at least the very initial writing recording process will be me by myself. That being said, it’s much more fun playing live with other people; there’s just more energy on stage. There’s more where we can improvise and jam with the band. That doesn’t happen when you are sitting in front of the computer. It’s all very calculated. I like both of the worlds and it’s been nice little mix so far.
QRO C: Would you ever want to go into a huge recording studio to make an album?
EG: Actually the record I’ve been working on, I did a long time writing and recording by myself and took it into a real studio. It was nice, it was kind of intimidating at first but everything sounds 100 percent more hi-fi. Yeah I think it’s really fun.
QRO C: Tell me you’re not going to lose the fuzz.
EG: Ahh, there’s still some fuzz. You can hear for better or for worse every little thing that’s happening. I’m hoping its not going to turn people off or be too drastic of a change. I think there’s enough of what was on the EP (QRO review) where I think it works. I have a new song that I want to put out. That should be a test to see if it was the right move or not.
QRO C: So it’s going to be the new hi-fi sound?
EG: I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s like a Coldplay album (QRO album review) or anything but in my world it’s very hi-fi, yeah.
QRO C: Favorite live tracks?
EG: First track we played tonight was “Hold Out”, which is an old song, it was on the EP. It was a drastically different version. I enjoyed it because there’s a lot of the stuff we do, if the vibe is good we extend it and play and jam.
We haven’t gotten there yet ‘cause we haven’t had enough time to work on it, but eventually I hope that will be the template for the show.
QRO C: How do you feel about your fan’s favorites versus your own?
EG: That’s tough. “You Feel It All Around” is obviously the song I think people gravitate towards and it’s fun to play live. We don’t do the recorded version. It’s more fast paced. I think it just works with the vibe of the rest of the show. The vertigo and the super slow I don’t think would work. So hopefully people will have an open mind and appreciate it and what people love about it is the zoning vibe about it.
QRO G: You are a photographer.
EG: Yeah, yeah. I shoot a lot of the tour; it’s really the only time I take pics. It’s all stuff from when we are traveling around, weird shit. It’s like the music; I’m not very technical. I use what my mom had in 1994, a film camera. Just point and shoot; it’s kind of how the music is, very basic. I try not to think about it too much, just snap away and get cool stuff. Not very scientific.
QRO C: That’s awesome because so many people are trying to go for that sound now, the second generation of your ‘chill wavers’.
EG: Yeah it’s kinda crazy.
QRO C: But they are using like, as you said an iPhone, to take a picture that looks like it came out of the seventies; they aren’t using the older camera. And their sounds are more modern loops and such that they distort the hell out of them. How do you feel about it versus going the more traditional route?
It sounds better and these people are probably much better musicians. Hopefully there is something in the basic original idea of some of the stuff I did that lasts.
QRO G: How does it feel to be a founder of chill wave?
EG: It’s again one of those things I can’t wrap my head around. Also the new record, I was kind of hinting towards, it doesn’t sound chill wave to me. The vocals are kind of the same. I spent a lot of time playing around and trying to figure out what the core of the Washed Out sound was. I figured out the simpler the song the better and I’m going to keep the vocals the same. That’s kind of the template of these new songs. It’s the Washed Out vocal effects but with a more organic sound.
QRO C: I don’t know how appropriate it is to ask considering you’ve had several releases, but what’s behind the name Washed Out?
EG: It was something I think I heard on TV; it’s also a term in photography I’ve seen a lot. It might be the way my mind works; I’ve never thought of it, really never thought of it as how the music sounded. I can totally see the connection now it’s pretty obviously. The sound is very blown out, washed out but it was never my real intention at all.
QRO G: Was it ever your goal to become as big as you are getting?
EG: No! I could never imagine that I would have the chance to every play a single live show. It was always a recording project in my bedroom so I was completely freaked out the first shows I did. It’s getting a little bit easier but I’m always freaked out that something’s going to go wrong, like it did tonight but it still worked out well.
QRO C: But at least you had the band up there; it wasn’t just you with a laptop.
EG: Oh yeah it would have been a fucking disaster if it had just been myself up there.
QRO G: You feel more comfortable playing with the band?
EG: Definitely, definitely. But there is also a lot more stress involved; I’m the person in charge if there’s anything goes wrong with any of their setups, it’s on me to figure out what’s going on.
QRO C: You’re learning the technical! [laughs]
EG: Yeah! Exactly, out of just having to figure it out. I feel like I’m the dad of the band, like I can never step outside of that and really enjoy it. It keeps me super focused, is what I’m trying to say.
QRO C: If you could tour with anyone right now who would it be?
EG: That’s a good question. There are some bands I look up to on the technical level. I really like the way they do their shows. LCD Soundsystem (QRO live review) are incredible, they’d be great. I would like to pick their brains. More on a friendship vibe, I have yet to do a tour with my friend Chad, Toro Y Moi (QRO album review).
QRO C: That would be awesome.
EG: Yeah, we’ve been friends for years now but we’ve never been on tour together, so that would be cool.
QRO C: So you guys have been working without management so far, doing everything yourselves. As your following is building how are you handling the workload of managing yourselves alongside recording and touring?
EG: It’s pretty overwhelming. I think we’ve finally reached the point where we can’t handle everything. Just mentioning the technical side of doing live shows where anything can go wrong, my mind is always in that world. Luckily Blair handles most of the everyday business side of things. There’s so many things that pop up on a day-to-day basis that get pushed back. I’m sure we have a reputation in the business of being incredibly lazy but it’s because we have so much shit we have to do. I think we are going to eventually get a really manager that can multitask and get shit done.
QRO C: I bet you’ve been getting a lot of offers.
EG: Yeah, it’s such a really personal thing. Like ideally I’d love to have a really good friend who knows us and who knows what we are going for. Yeah there are a few people I’ve met that I think could work out. It’s handling finances and I want to see eye to eye with the person. We’re not trying to make it big just trying for a natural progression.
[editor’s note: Since this interview, Washed Out signed to famed Seattle indie imprint Sub Pop]
QRO C: Any advice for any aspiring young chill wavers?
EG: Stop using a computer, especially if you plan on playing live, because shit might fuck up. We’ve had many problems with computers and it’s so much easier when you just have a guitar and bass. That would be my recommendation, just play the guitar and not the computer.
QRO C: It sounded good from the audience, I know you know what went wrong but from out there it was cool.
EG: It’s the sort of thing when we’d get bored practicing and we’d just fuck around and play that kind of version of the song. We know the songs back and forth. So it’s always kind of a joke kind of vibe. It seems that it was really fun for us – who knows if people were okay with it. That’s all we really could do at that point but we thought it was fun.
QRO C: Well from being in the midst of the crowd and being a short person I can say people enjoyed the set; it was like a full body massage with all the dancing.
EG: Ok, cool, nice, there were a lot of people here! I was absolutely blown away!
-Genesis Florentino & Christy Hannon