Clash goes sample-hunting with Washed Out...

Washed Out has always been a project propelled by the internet. The producer – real name Ernest Greene – hails from Georgia, hardly a state known for its electronic innovation, but the world wide web suddenly afforded a slew of connections, influences, and outlets that hitherto didn’t exist.

Indeed, for a while there, it seemed as though Washed Out has simply disappeared into the web. After all, how else do you explain the four year wait for new album ‘Mister Mellow’?

Well, it seems the producer was watching YouTube. “I don’t even watch Cable TV any more!” he grins, giving Clash a few tips on channels and uploads to keep an eye open for. I’ve been really into obscure art documentaries. As a general rule, there’s just so many. An 18 year old kid nowadays could completely forego college and do their own teaching.”

Of course, that’s not all he’s been doing. Focussing on family – married for a while now, they recently welcomed their first child – Greene indulged in a handful of projects while he entered his 30s. “I worked on a few projects – one was a soundtrack for a documentary,” he says. “But in the meantime, when I was working on these other projects I was sort of also working on the songs for this new record.”

“I never really viewed them as Washed Out songs, it was more like something I was doing for fun. They felt really casual. I slowly started to realise that they could be Washed Out songs and they were tied together in an interesting way.”

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Sparked by fears in his own life of technology’s intrusive role, this new material would forego the gently worked, superbly chilled styles of previous records for something a little more jagged, defined by contrast and dissonance. “That’s always been an important part of the process,” he tells Clash, “but it’s been downplayed in the finished product over the previous records.”

“Like, a lot of the time I would start with a sampled element but again with these old records there would be all kinds of overdubs on top of it to the point where the sampling thing doesn’t really come through as much,” he says. “But with this record it’s mostly found sounds layered on top of one another. So that naturally gives it a chaotic craziness to everything”.

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There definitely appears to be a trend of minimalism right now...

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Ruthlessly melding together contrary elements, ‘Mister Mellow' is a heady, ever-contradictory trip. “There’s so much coming at you at all times,” he grins. “There definitely appears to be a trend of minimalism right now, the simplest of formulas – like an 808, some sub-bass... This is the opposite of that… it’s like, how much shit can we throw into the pot and layer up together?”

The answer is: quite a lot. ‘Mister Mellow’ is fantastically broad, perhaps the most diverse statement Washed Out has yet completed. Samples come from all across the web, driven by continually evaporating algorithms that delve from documentaries to Vloggers to long-discarded lectures. “It’s all just random and some of it is pulled completely out of context,” he insists. “To me, this little interlude moments between the songs probably do a better job of explaining my take on the rough narrative of everything than the actual lyrics do. The lyrics can speak and use metaphors but the voiceover stuff is pretty much right on the money with what I wanted to discuss and put out there.”

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Sample searching, it seems, is a form of pot luck. “You just go down that rabbithole. It’s funny, the sampling thing… a lot of the time you’re going through 100s or even 1000s of songs – terrible songs! - looking for that one little brief moment of gold. And on a more frustrating level with the Vlogs, as you can imagine, it’s these amateur Vloggers just talking to the camera. But there’s also this naive spontaneous vibe that’s happening too, which is interesting.”

One of the recurring themes of ‘Mister Mellow’ is this idea of information overload, of internet use leading to burn out. Some tracks has the dimmed vision of tired eyes, fuelled by late night browsing; others, are born from the stresses and strains of family life, the dimming of youthful energy and the beginning of adult restraint.

“I’ve actually recently had a child and in keeping with the stereotype that immediately puts things into perspective,” he states. “You immediately start thinking about more long-term stuff. It’s a little scary working in a creative field that celebrates new ideas and generally younger, more beautiful people. It’s the reality of ‘what am I going to be doing ten years from now?’ Those feelings too, definitely start to seep in.”

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Everyone’s going through it at some point...

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“And in the end it’s funny because you’re so focussed on yourself a lot of the time it’s totally like a shared experience. Everyone’s going through it at some point, and so hopefully people can identity with it and kind of laugh at it a little bit because that’s the way that I’ve learned to deal with those feelings.”

Slowly, patiently constructed over endless hours, ‘Mister Mellow’ is like an enormous, four dimensional jigsaw puzzle. “It’s a very frustrating process,” he admits, looking back on those writing sessions. “It can take quite a bit of time to find the right pieces. But it’s such a different process. I’ve never been very good at sitting down at a piano and writing a song, it’s always been the production and the songwriting happening simultaneously.”

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“I guess that’s the way I’ve always done it, so it just feels natural now. Through the process of putting the music together, like a melody will appear. I’m certainly jealous of songwriters who can just sit down and knock it out.”

“It also leads to interesting directions the song could take,” he continues. “None of those are really willed into existence. And that’s why I can never have a formula to stick to, because it just changes according to the pieces that I find. That’s another thing that’s a little bit frustrating – looking at artists that tend to stick to a formula and it really benefits them. I’m not even capable of that, I think. You’re just starting over again with every song.”

An act of continual revolution, Washed Out’s state of flux has a curiously visual quality. Appropriately, ‘Mister Mellow’ is a visual album, with a series of short films acting as a cinematic counterpoint to the producer’s music. “It was definitely a collaboration. Luckily, each of the animators have a very distinct style. It was really just fine-tuning the message or whatever the narrative of the video portion would be. I would give them my take on what the song meant to me, or maybe a few rough visual clues, but otherwise they could kinda do their thing.”

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The sensory overload thing can’t be overstated...

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“Where it’s ended up with the visuals just amplifies the wonkiness of the sounds. It’s the best possible scenario for experiencing the music. The sensory overload thing can’t be overstated. The album’s short, I think, for a full length, but if it was any longer it would be too much to handle in a single sitting. On the visual side, especially, as there’s so much coming at you at one time. A normal day on your phone you’re being bombarded in the same way, probably.”

Currently working on a fresh live set up, Ernest Greene has been occupied with attempting to create a series of image sensor programming to link the music with live visuals. It’s pretty tricky, he admits, but – somewhat typically – there are online tutorials to aid him. It’s a curious to imagine, at times, what Washed Out would sound like if the producer had these tools available to him at a more formative age.

“Just on a production level I’m absolutely blown away,” he says. “If YouTube was available when I was 18 like, where would I be now... There’s actually a charm in teaching yourself in your own wonky way. I think that’s very much why Washed Out sounds the way it does. There’s so many frustrations.”

Even after a decade in music he’s still picking apart unresolved frustrations – something even YouTube can’t help him with.

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'Mister Mellow' is out now.

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