Summer Stars: Washed Out

Mike Greenhaus on June 19, 2014

Our annual Summer Stars series features a variety of groups making the rounds on the festival circuit. Today we feature Washed Out. We’ve also checked in with St. Paul & The Broken Bones.

For many TV viewers, Washed Out became the soundtrack for Portland, Ore.’s trending independent music scene after Portlandia used a clip of their glitchy anthem “Feel It All Around” in its opening credits. But according to Ernest Greene, the group’s mastermind, Washed Out’s trademark chillwave sound is actually a direct result of a life spent diagonally across the country in the Southeast. “I fall somewhere in the middle,” Greene says of the indie and jamband communities that peacefully coexist in his current hometown of Athens, Ga. “Both of those sides have influenced me in different ways. Everyone at my high school in [Perry, Ga.] was into jambands and, through that music, I discovered some of the big influences that really shaped Washed Out. Athens has this great indie music community and, especially in Atlanta, there’s a lot more bands that play around with electronics. So I pulled from a lot of different genres.”

Though he played in bands growing up, Greene started making sounds on his computer in college and continued to tinker with ideas while he pursued a master’s degree in library and information science. Eventually, he honed in on the mixture of shoegazing, electronic, ambient, psychedelic and trip-hop sounds that have come to define chillwave. While still essentially a bedroom project, he posted some music on MySpace, and Washed Out reached the outside world.

“Software was the main background that I came out of as far as writing and recording,” Greene admits. “It’s really great because it’s a very controlled environment, but it’s quite different from getting up in front of people and having to flesh it out. It was a struggle at first.”

Several years removed from college—and with his librarian hopes looking dim—Greene released a series of EPs in 2009 and 2010. Those independent
recordings helped him ink a deal with Sub Pop, who put out his full-length debut Within And Without in 2011 and secured his connection to the Pacific Northwest music community.

Washed Out’s early shows essentially featured a DJ setup that was souped-up with keyboards and a few other instruments, but as Greene’s music spread, he started putting together a more expansive, richly colored live band. The group’s current five-person configuration includes his wife Blair, which he says
makes being on the road more manageable. In an odd turn of events, the live band not only gave Greene’s songs new life, but also inspired him to write with this group in mind for 2013’s Paracosm.

“There’s definitely enough of an indie-rock influence there to flesh the songs out a little bit more in that world,” he admits. “It started from all very humble
beginnings. But I’m sitting in my workstation right now, and it’s not that different from when I first started. The computer’s sort of the heart of what I do. I use a lot of samples and, recently, I’ve kind of grown to use a lot more live instrumentation because the live version of Washed Out has turned into more [of a] rockband thing.”

Though Washed Out is still sweeping through the festival circuit after a profile-raising headlining tour behind Paracosm, Greene has already set his eyes on his next studio album.

“I fit in a little bit of writing here and there—it’s actually the best time creatively when there’s no real obligation or no real pressure to sort of make another record,” he admits. “I’m doing what I’m compelled to work on and have come up with a ton of material. It doesn’t really all fit together very much yet but it’s a fun time.”