Pastel Pop

Photo Shae DeTar

The man behind Washed Out is not the hipster stereotype you’d expect.

He’s married and a homeowner, and has lived his whole life in Georgia. He speaks with a slight southern drawl, made indistinguishable in his reverb-laced vocals.

His name is Ernest Greene, Jr.

Greene made it big in the blogosphere at the beginning of the decade—the immediately-recognizable “Feel it All Around” is a blueprint for the lo-fi-synth-paired-with-reverb-drowned-vocals setup that almost every bedroom artist has giddily employed in the last few years.

You probably know it from Drive and Portlandia.

Washed Out was a pioneer of the now almost clichéd sound, the aesthetic a product of necessity—allowing the solo artist to put out music without the recording know-how (let alone a studio), while rejecting the guitar-driven sound the South is known for.

When he first took this approach, there was nothing trendy about it. Now his lush, chilled-out pop is bigger than ever—with live percussion and professional production.

“Session people tend to want to overplay a lot of the time, and that’s not really my style,” said Greene a few days before embarking on a fall tour of North America and Europe in support of his sophomore LP Paracosm. “But we ended up re-cutting everything.”

Despite his early reservations, the record is far more organic than anything Greene’s done before—all the better for his five-piece live band to flesh out onstage. Washed Out started as a bedroom hobby, with live performances the furthest thing from Greene’s mind.

But he’s since grown into his success, and its effect is abundantly clear on Paracosm.

“We don’t have to use drum machines or sequenced stuff that we had to on Within and Without,” said Greene. “To get that you have to play along with a computer, which isn’t very fun.”

Fellow Georgian Ben H. Allen gets production credits here, which explains Greene’s higher vocal range hinting images of Panda Bear. Allen has worked with the likes of Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Cee Lo Green, and his engineering prowess has resulted in the high-end transformation of Greene’s solo work.

Allen and Greene first worked together on the latter’s sub pop debut—2011’s Within and Without.

“For both of these records, it was like going to school,” Greene said. “I was just watching everything [Allen] does.”

The two learned to speak the same language, with Greene explaining his desired sounds in abstract terms to a well-versed producer with extensive engineering credits.

Once Greene had made demos of the Paracosm tracks in his home in Athens, Georgia, Allen and Greene rebuilt them in a studio in Atlanta.

“It was like hanging out, making a record for 12 hours a day,” said Greene.

While the new record is much more built for acoustic instruments, his writing style is still very much based on home demos. He works with MIDI as much as he can, adding and removing layers on his sonic canvas. It’s just the palette that’s different now—acid-wash replaced with floral pastel.

“I had so much built-up creative energy just over the last couple years travelling and playing shows,” Greene said. “I wanted to shut myself off and get as much done as I could in a short amount of time.”

His schedule doesn’t allow for the kind of infinite scrutiny that a bedroom artist enjoys. But his live setup, now more guitar-centric, does allow him to re-imagine his old stuff.

“I enjoy revisiting the songs. I’ve tried to alter them in a way that brings them closer to the Paracosm world,” said Greene. “It can make for a lot of work, but ultimately it makes things much more interesting for us.”

It’s also a near necessity, with today’s Washed Out being a totally different animal than in 2009.

“In some ways I miss working on the old stuff, the fact that it was really naive and simple. I think it’s great for a record, but if you’re playing in front of a lot of people for an hour and a half, which is what we’re expected to do these days, you have to have a lot more happening to keep it interesting for that long,” he said.

“All of that played into the new record and I definitely think this project is completely different than what it started from,” he added.

“It is just as much a live band now as what I do on the record, you try to honour that as best you can.”

Originally published by The Link Newspaper.