Ernest Greene, who goes by the moniker Washed Out, is from rural Georgia, but a little over a year ago he put some music up on his MySpace page and it got noticed by a few important blogs and music websites. Blending dance and disco samples with psyched-out, druggy vocal harmonies, the songs eventually turned into an EP, Life Of Leisure, which was released by the indie taste-making label Mexican Summer in September 2009. We caught up with Greene outside The Cannery Ballroom, where he opened for Yeasayer at the Next BIG Nashville festival.
You’ve played solo and with bands as Washed Out. What are the differences?
In my solo shows, there’s a lot of improvisation happening and changing the arrangements on the fly, based on what’s happening with the vibe in the room. But with a band, there’s more energy because we’re playing off of each other.
You’ve called your music “dance music for people who don’t listen to dance music.”
I initially started making hip-hop music – not like Top 40 – more instrumental, sample-based. Through that I evolved into a dance sound – not even realizing it, just the natural evolution – and sampling more obscure stuff. Traditionally hip-hop is pulling from a lot of ‘70s funk, and I got tired of that and started listening to disco. And that was only like two years ago, and I didn’t listen to it enough to really know what was cliché and what had been done 100,000 times before, so my music is super-naïve with the arrangements, which can be good and bad. Somebody who’s really into dance music might not like it, but it sits in a weird place between a lot of genres. I’m naturally into ambient music and soundscapes – so it’s taking hip-hop, sample-based stuff and adding reverb-y vocals.
What’s your songwriting process?
I have a weird way of working that I’ve just naturally developed because it’s sample-based. I start with a simple loop and, in the best cases, a melody will naturally happen. I’m listening to it over and over again and something pops into my head and I’ll just record it without any lyrics. Normally there’s a natural cadence to how I record it, and I try to fit words to it. Then I’ll change the words so that it makes sense, but it’s still fitting that cadence of how I did it that first take. All of my songs for the most part start like that and I try to keep the [lyrics] pretty open-ended and the vocals low in the mix so you can’t really tell exactly what I’m saying.
What type of gear do you use?
I have this vocal pedal that’s kind of new. It’s a TC Helicon Voice Live 2. I got it mainly for when I play by myself, because the record has two and three part vocal harmonies a lot of the time. It has a lot of really cool effects, the [vocal harmonizer] is only one of them. I use software mainly – Reason. But the problem tonight was a computer malfunctioned and delayed us, so I feel like hardware is a little bit more reliable, so I use an MPC on stage to trigger things and I’ll probably end up getting a [Roland SP] 404. So I’ll probably end up using more of those on the recordings, but I haven’t yet.
How did you record the EP Life of Leisure?
It was pretty simple. I had a MIDI controller, an old Dell desktop, and Reason and Cubase SE from 2003 or 2004. I’ll normally record synth or vocal parts in Cubase and then bounce it to Reason to use the effects in Reason, but for the vocals I always use this reverb in this entry-level version of Cubase.
If I was born ten years ago, I would have had a completely different approach with music. For one thing, living in rural Georgia, there’s no way I would have come across the stuff I found online that influenced the music.
Is it weird to make dance music in rural Georgia?
Totally. Growing up, I never went to clubs. But I would go to dance parties in college and I absolutely love it. But I grew up outside Macon, Georgia, which is the home of the Allman Brothers. Southern rock is king where I’m from.
What type of material are you working on now?
Over the past couple months, I would sit down every morning without any plan or any sound that I was working toward. I came up with a lot of different stuff that I realized pretty quickly wasn’t Washed Out material. Acoustic-y, bare bones – maybe only an acoustic guitar and a drumbeat, and having the vocals more up front. I was really into ‘70s AM sunshine pop. 12-strings.
But I have a group of songs I did awhile back that I’m kinda basing the record in my head, which is more like the EP. So I’m gonna put that out and then maybe try something new.