Washed Out's Ernest Greene on 'Paracosm' and His Work Ethic

Georgia-based musician Ernest Greene, who performs under the name Washed Out, was first billed by internet-denizens as "chill wave" for his chilltastic sounds that were prominently featured on his debut album Within and Without. But you can forget about that chilly vibe on his new album Paracosm, a collection of nine tracks that clocks in at just over 40 minutes. The album features Greene and a few collaborators playing over 50 instruments, incorporating nature sounds he recorded in his backyard, and above all, a very sunny disposition. Hive recently spoke with Green from his home outside Athens, Ga., about turning 30, his new album's influences and why warmth was "super important."

You turned 30 this year. Did you have any new midlife crisis moments happen?

That’s a good question. It’s funny, lifestyle-wise, being a touring musician is pretty extreme, in that, when we’re traveling and touring and it’s a lot of staying up late and partying and all that. But then when you’re off the road, which I’ve been off the road for about eight months making this record, it’s the exact opposite of that. My wife and I live outside the college town of Athens, Georgia. We have a house out in the middle of nowhere. It's more like the life of a 50-year-old really. But we really rarely go out. So it’s different extremes. All the guys in the band are much younger. When we’re back home I feel pretty domesticated.

There’s nothing wrong with hitting the bed early. 

Yea, totally.

A lot of musicians, they’ll work a lot through the night but with what you just said it sounds like you're an early riser.

Pretty much. I try to stay on a pretty normal schedule of nine-to-five. For me, that routine aspect kind of helps. It takes me a couple weeks to kind of break through whatever initial ideas are happening to kind of set up some form of limitation to work with that. And once that happens I can really hammer them out. I actually had probably 30 songs together, demos. And hopefully we will release some of the left over stuff some time soon. We’ll see.

This all sounds very mature. I’m impressed. Now let’s talk about Paracosm. That’s a funny word.

I saw this documentary film about an artist name Henry Darger who lived this very kind of normal, almost reclusive existence. He was, like, a janitor at a hospital in Chicago. After he passed away, it was discovered that he had this amazing collection of drawings and paintings and kind of created this alternative reality in his mind and it was super inspiring. But as I was doing some research about him, I came across the word and I guess, it was coined in the '70s so it’s a fairly new idea, Basically, psychologists are studying people like Henry Darger who have these very detailed imaginations that were called "paracosms."

It sounds like it could certainly correlate with where you’re living these days.

Actually, in my studio space, there’s a big window that I’m looking out all day long and it’s quite scenic. There’s a little garden. At any time of the day there’s various wildlife just walking around.

The record definitely sounds warmer. Did you want to move away from the sound that we heard on Within and Without?

Yeah, definitely. Part of it was we toured for two and a half years and I was just sort of tired of that type of performance. I made the record with just a couple of synthesizers. That meant with the live show I’m pretty much behind the keyboard the entire time. And that’s the beautiful thing about synthesizers is that you can kind of create any kind of sound, but when I got home from touring, I just really wanted to try some new things. The beautiful thing about working with new instruments is that you sort of approach it with a fresh perspective. I never wanted to fall into a pattern, using the same tricks. Warmth was super important. I’m glad you mentioned that. To me this record is very much a daytime record so anything I could do to express that.

The first thing that kind of popped up in my brain was, “this is going to be the best record to listen to this summer when I’m driving to the beach."

That’s kind of what I had in mind from the beginning and I hope people make that association. There’s some field recording sounds, just being outside, and a lot of textures that have a very daytime quality about it, a light psychedelic kind of quality too that I associate with being outside. Barbecuing, that sort of thing. But those were definitely the mental pictures I had in my mind.

I read that you play every instrument here. Is this true?

Most of it. I wrote most of the parts, but there’s quite a bit of upright bass on the album.  I write the parts on the computer and then I got a musician to actually play the part live. So there were a few instances. All the drums were done by a guy in Atlanta, a friend of mine. There was a pedal steel guitar player that came in and I guess that’s pretty much it. Me and the producer Ben Allen played everything else. He’s a pretty good guitarist and he’s played a lot of guitar. I did all the orchestral stuff.

A logical question would be, why ot hire a band? Why’d you have to do this all by yourself?

That’s a good question. I ask myself that often. It’d probably be much easier. But I don’t know, I feel like sometimes not being trained in an instrument means that you’re kind of doing something different with it sometimes. I try and embrace that. Honestly, I’ve just made music so long by myself, in some ways I don’t feel I’m a very good collaborator.

Paracosm is out now on Sub Pop.