It’s a shame that songwriter and producer Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, doesn’t do all of his interviews on camera. Or, at least, in one way or another where people are able to hear his voice. His unassuming, down-to-earth manner, coupled with his infectious Southern drawl, make it nearly impossible not be be engaged by the 28-year-old Atlanta-based musician.
But, then again, "nearly impossible" could also describe Greene’s ascension to the forefront of a new breed of DIY pop stars hailed by all kinds of tastemakers from Wire Magazine to Pitchfork.
Alongside peers like Toro y Moi and Panda Bear, Greene has been earmarked as one of the best and brightest stars to emerge under the newly coined “chillwave” moniker.
However, none of that matters much to Greene. His only goal remains deeply entrenched in the idea of consistently building better songs.
Holding a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science, it was the inability to land a full-time job that allowed him to really indulge in his love of '80s synth-pop on a regular basis. He used the time to construct bedroom recordings -- using only a laptop, some samples and a microphone -- which would become the Life of Leisure EP that started it all.
Last year, Greene released his highly anticipated first full-length, Within and Without, on Sub Pop Records to critical acclaim.
And after all the touring he’s doing lately, he’s planning on going back to the drawing board and starting the process over again.
I spoke with Greene recently in preparation for his appearance at Porter’s Pub on Monday night.
Scott McDonald: How are you doing?
Earnest Greene: Great, thanks. Just sitting in a studio in Atlanta and working on stuff for the live show. Rehearsing and tweaking things.
SM: Nice. How does the live show work these days?
EG: When I started out, I performed by myself. I used a sampler and some drum machines. Because of that, it was more repetitive and loop-based. I just felt it didn’t make for a very entertaining show. Especially when compared to what we’re doing now. I’ve been playing with a band, and it’s more of a traditional rock setup -- bass, drums and then I play a keyboard and my wife plays a couple of keyboards and also uses a sampler.
SM: Your wife is in the band? That’s definitely one way to solve the "away from home" thing as a musician.
EG: Yup, she is. And we’ve known each other for a long time. Really, she’s our Jedi on the keyboards. And we’ve been lucky. Even when she wasn’t playing in the band, she was tour managing. She’s been along the whole way. I think it would be pretty hard if I was on the road and she was back here.
SM: When you’re armed with a Master’s Degree, how did you get into writing songs?
EG: I’ve been making music for a long time. I was recording on a laptop when I first started college, but it wasn’t really more than a hobby. But once I graduated, I was working at the university library, but I was obsessively working on music. It was almost to the point of being irrational. When my girlfriend would ask me, “Why are you doing this so much when it doesn’t have a future?” I really didn’t have an answer. But because of spending all that time, I learned how to do what I do, and developed a style.
EG: Yeah. I feel lucky. I caught a break. I just put the music up online. I was lucky enough that people heard it, were into it, and spread it around.
SM: What do you think of the term “chillwave?”
EG: I think it’s a bit silly. But I believe it’s become a real thing. And I’ve heard far worse names for other sub-genres.
SM: Is it weird to make music with expectations other than your own now?
EG: Thinking back to when I started work on Within and Without, I felt a lot more pressure than I do now. But now that that’s out of the way, and having that much more experience, I really care a lot less about what people are going to think of the next one. If I make the same record again, people are going to hate on that. If I do something drastically different, people are going to hate on that. At first, it was a huge challenge and it felt like I was walking a tightrope. But I imagine the more records I make, it’s going to be that much less of a worry. First and foremost, I have to be passionate about it, and I just have to hope that others are as well. I mean, I never thought that the music I make would appeal to a large section of people. I’ve been quite surprised.
SM: What’s next?
EG: Well, we still have quite a bit of touring. We’ll be traveling through August. And I’ve also done a few remixes lately. That always gets the juices flowing. But it’s always challenging to work by myself. I’m always coming up with crazy arrangements that we could never pull off live. But I try to keep all of it in mind when I work. I want to make the best songs I can, and I always want to keep moving forward.