Washed Out, aka 28 year old Ernest Greene, is an American synth-pop musician who plays music that has been defined in the genre of chillwave. Having just finished a four-month tour, Washed Out played his last show at the notorious gay nightclub, Heaven in Charing Cross. After playing an hour set comprising mostly of songs from his debut album Within and Without, as well as a surprising choice of cover song, Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, I chatted to a worn out Washed Out at 11:55pm about his tour, his new music and his university life.
Discovered by music bloggers only in 2009, Washed Out’s sound has changed a lot since his 2010 EP Life of Leisure. Less than three years since being discovered, I asked Ernest if he felt pressured to keep to his tried and tested sound in the new music that he’s currently writing. “I definitely felt the pressure, but at the end of the day I was in a different place with that album.” In fact for Ernest, trying to find a sound that can be recognisably called Washed Out whilst still stepping forward musically as an artist is quite the struggle. He muses: “I would love to go as far in the opposite direction as possible from my last record whilst still maintaining that Washed Out sound. It seems simple but that’s what keeps me up at night.”
Whilst Washed Out’s debut album Within and Without was considerably different to his other records, Ernest is a true believer in creating records that transition seamlessly from song to song so that the end result is a continuous perfect sounding record. Ernest says: “All the records that have influenced me have been like a singular piece of art that flows from beginning to end and I will always think of records like that.”
As for the bands that have influenced Ernest and the Washed Out sound, he notes his university days where he took his first steps into the chillwave scene as profoundly changing his music for the better. At undergraduate level Ernest studied English literature and philosophy in his home state of Georgia, USA and then spent time working in a university library in South Carolina. For Ernest the library could not have been more different than his life as a musician now, he describes it as a “Sterile environment”. But it was this sterile environment that led him to meet other prominent chillwave artists such as Toro y Moi who was a student at the university too. Ernest says: “For the first time I had real peers to bounce ideas off of. Before that I was just this weird guy making weird music, just like on my own.”
It cannot be underestimated enough how much Washed Out has changed this librarian’s life. Whilst tirelessly playing a four-month tour around the world, Ernest has been able to travel more than he could ever dream of. When I asked about his favourite place in London to go, he said: “I should probably say Gatwick Airport”. Why Gatwick? As a place Washed Out is continually being held up at, it’s a place he knows best. Ernest remembers one time in particular when the band returned from a festival in Portugal at 2am, caught a flight to the UK at 7am and were stuck at Gatwick having their documents checked for 3 hours just before they had a session for the Guardian. Ernest jokes: “We literally drove straight from the airport and had to get straight on stage. It ended up being pretty fun, but it was just like numerous red bulls to make it through.”
Although I can’t help thinking Washed Out has been used to late nights for quite a while. After finishing the interview sometime after midnight, I commented on how tired I was and that I had to rush home as I had a 9am lecture the next day. Ernest related, saying: “When I used to have 8ams at my college, the day before was the night everyone went out. So regularly we stayed up all night then went to the lecture in the morning.” Surprised I asked if he was still drunk for many of these lectures, “More often than not” he replied. If there is one thing I learnt from this interview, it is that in comparison to Washed Out, I am a rubbish student.