Interview: Hi, my name is WASHED OUT

HI, MY NAME IS ist der ziemlich einfallslose Titel für eine kontinuierliche Interview-Reihe mit talentierten Fotografen, Musikern, Künstlern und inspirierenden Persönlichkeiten unserer Zeit. Pünktlich zum Release seines neuen Albums “Mister Mellow” haben wir den talentierten Producer und Sänger Washed Out aka Ernest Greene getroffen, um mit ihm über die Kunst des Samplens, die Diskrepanz zwischen musikalischen Trends und kreativem Individualismus sowie wohltuender Entschleunigung zu sprechen.
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Während ich am Flughafen sitze und mich wiederholt vom hypnotischen Sound des neuen Washed Out Albums aufsaugen lasse, begebe ich mich auf eine wahrhaft atmosphärische Klangreise. Lang haben die Fans des ambitionierten Produzenten auf ein neues Werk gewartet. Nun ist es da und wie erwartet grandios. Begleitet von der verträumt lakonischen Stimme des US-Amerikaners streifen auf der Platte psychedelische Synthiemelodien und spacige Voiceovers umher, die sanft von warmen Beats hin und her geschaukelt werden. Der Meister der Chillwave-Bewegung hat es erneut vollbracht: Die perfekte Sound-Collage. Ein bisschen Dream Pop, eine Brise Hip Hop und das ganze veredelt mit funky Rhythmen und Disco-Samples. Eklektisch, raffiniert und in jedem Fall schön “mellow”. Ernest Greene nimmt seine Fans erneut mit auf einen Trip der Extraklasse. Kein Wunder, dass Washed Out nun auch bei der Talentschmiede des legendären Hip-Hop-Labels Stones Throw gelandet ist. Und nicht nur das: Greene liefert zum Album ein visuelles Gesamtkunstwerk ab: Umgesetzt von 11 Visual Artists, die jedem Song eine eigene Video-Identität verliehen haben. Woher Washed Out seine Inspirationen nimmt, was die Magie hinter den Audio-Layern ist und warum es sich lohnt eine Platte immer von Anfang bis Ende zu hören, verrät er uns hier im Interview.

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Who is Mister Mellow?

I think it’s maybe a piece of me. There’s certainly this public facing version, or at least people, I feel like they have a conception of me that might be true in some cases, but not true in others. I think a lot of people think that all I do is sitting around and smoke weed or something like that. That kind of a stoner or a burn-out character. So a lot of this record is sort of poking fun at that because I’m quite different from that. I’m in some way too focused a lot. So that comes out in a lot of the lyrics and the visual content of the record is playing with that idea of who I actually am versus who people think I am.

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I really love the collage-style of the video for „Get Lost“. Do you know how Harvey Benschoter made this?

To be honest I’m not sure how he really did it. I know there’s definitely a part of it that’s cutout collage, and there might be elements done in stop motion, but I think that he also uses quite a bit of digital effects. For me what was so exciting about it, was that’s pretty much the way I put the music together. I’m taking for most of the songs pieces of existing audio, cutting it up, rearranging it, placing alongside with other pieces from other places, all happening in the computer. And so there’s these obvious similarities between the two and I think not only do they complement one another, but the visual exaggerates and enhances what’s happening in the music in a really interesting way.

And what’s happening in the music?

One of my favorite things about sample-based music are these unexpected mistakes that happen when you take various layers and you put them on top of one another. that’s actually what I’m looking for and I try to build the song around that. In particular for “Get Lost” there is this noise in the background, that it’s just a recording from a bar. This texture just transports you as a listener to a more specific place. And the video enhances this. It’s quite chaotic: the whole tonne of layers, the characters, the town, fits so perfect. As I mentioned I wanted the record to feel kind of tongue in cheek and playful and I think that really comes through with the visuals.

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How the idea about the album came up?

The idea popped up pretty early. I was into collecting a lot of old experimental avant-garde animations, mainly from the sixties and seventies that really inspired me in the way how they were put together. While my last records were recorded in a more traditional way: Going to a studio, with nice equipment, a great room sound and a finish product that felt like a realistic painting – my new record is more like this old style of animation, a rough five minutes sketch, that might be sloppy but with a special energy. I started the project as kind of a practice to help me to step out myself. It’s really hard sometimes being a solo producer. With a rock band you constantly bounce ideas off or you deal with another persons perspective, figuring out what works or not. So the one trick, to step out of myself, was that I could take a lot of these videos and just mute whatever audio was connected to it and put my working demo on top of it, that it would feel like a music video. That helped me to see it and hear it all in a more objective way. And then it just happened that the style of the stuff, I was collecting, worked so well with the music, that I thought: “Why not just continue down this path?” Because I already had a huge list of visual artists, I was fan of, I reached them out and luckily they were really open to the project. I quickly started placing different songs with different directors. My role was mainly kind of an art director and giving each artist the freedom to do, what they want. But also following them and making sure that it fits to the big picture at the end. I’m very much a visual thinker. Whenever I’m putting a song together, I’m picturing in my mind what the world might look like that the song’s inhabiting, and to see all of that come to life is like the ultimate fantasy.

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Das gesamte Visual-Album könnt ihr euch auf YouTube ansehen.

You published your last album four years ago. Do good things need some time?

Everything about this project is completely the opposite of what normally happens in the music business. Usually the music video is the last thing anyone thinks about, especially nowadays and it happens really fast. Most of my other records were recorded in three months and were out three months after that. Because it’s such a race to get everything finished in time. But there were definitely some creative decisions looking back I would have done differently. So for this project it was all about: “We’re just going to take however long it takes until it’s right.“ Luckily I had the luxury of that. I’m not sure if I ever will again because it’s quite a long time.

Do you think that nowadays albums are more and more only a collection of singles and we loose the big picture?

Yeah, I’m not sure if I’m too old-school, but the definition of the ultimate expression in music to me, is still the album. Mainly cause I’m a bit obsessive and I want to connect all of the dots. That’s pretty much the opposite of a collection of singles. All the songs should make sense together and tell a story. And obviously that takes more time to do. Also, it was another reason to do the visual transcription of the music: It’s another incentive for people to just sit down and really listen to it from the beginning to the end. It took me six months before even deciding on the direction of the project. One of my biggest heros is Stanley Kubrick. There’s just these insane stories, he researched one film for something like eight years and then didn’t even make the film. So I think, you have to make sure, that a project is worth dedicating your life to it.

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Are you an avant-gardist?

I certainly approach music in a way that I’m always trying to do something that I haven’t heard before. But I think it depends on how you define avant-gardist: is it in the approach or is it in the result? Whatever weird ideas I have, or the process is quite experimental, it’s always channelled through a four minutes pop-song. So I would say in my approach but maybe not in the end result. Figuring out the direction of the album, I was also questioning, what my place in the music world is. Tastes change, trends change and I’m doing all this since seven years. So I was wondering, if I should listening to new music and incorporating whatever the trend that’s happening right now. Or should I purposefully doing the oppositeoof what’s happening in whatever current trend is? I’m not sure if I even know the answer about this, but I think where the record ended up, is more my individual path. And I hope that the listeners follow along with that.

What would you advice to young musicians who try to produce their music independently?

My biggest piece of advice, would be: “Just work! Write as many songs as possible. And purposefully try!” It personally took me years and years of making terrible songs before I even started to stumble upon anything that was unique to me. And I would say whatever is happening with you, if that has anything to do with what is trendy at the moment or not, it’s fine. What I’ve realised and the way I was able to move forward after that kind of deep question of „What can I offer?“, is: I just only sit down, start work and whatever happens, happens.

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Three words that describe your music…

For this record in particular… Sensory overloaded collage.

Something that bores you…

I don’t really get bored very often, because I’m always on to the next thing or super curious. I would say complacency or just any mode of not moving forward or being okay with being bored…

Is it necessary to enjoy boredom sometimes in life?

Sure! That’s pretty much what the record is telling about: Not being able to put down your phone and always being stimulated.

Something that satisfies you…

I would say discovery, or just a natural curiosity. I’m just in love with waking up and the potential of discovering something brand new, whether it’s art or something different. That gives me enough motivation to get up out of bed.

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Changes vs. stability

I feel like my everyday life very structured, but it’s meant to be like that, so I can creatively be more adventurous and erratic. That’s the way I’ve figured it out, it’s a little bit best of both worlds. If I personally could have my way, it would be for changes for sure. Keep it fresh!

Solo vs. together

Probably sadly solo, because I live a pretty solitary life and I work by myself. I’ve found out that’s how I work the best and get the best results.

What comes next?

We are in the middle of the rehearsal right now with the band. The tour will start in July in the States. First a smaller one, then a bigger one in August. And I think the plan is to come over here in Europe in fall.

Last but not least: Your question

Did you listened to the whole album?

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TRACK & FILM LIST: MISTER MELLOW

Title Card (created by Eric Coleman)
Burn Out Blues (created by Winston Hacking)
Time Off (created by RuffMercy)
Floating By (created by Drew Tyndell)
I’ve Been Dreaming My Entire Life (created by Ernest Greene)
Hard to Say Goodbye (created by Jonathan Hodgson)
Down and Out (created by Daniel Brereton and Morph Animation)
Instant Calm (created by Sophia Bennett Holmes)
Zonked (created by RuffMercy)
Get Lost (created by Harvey Benschoter)
Easy Does It (created by Parallel Teeth)
Million Miles Away (created by Jason Miller)

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