SEPTEMBER 29, 2010 | THE NEWPORT | COLUMBUS, OH
PHOTOS BY JOHN DANNER
Washed Out was in town. WASHED OUT. The countless hours I had spent in my apartment relaxing to his mysteriously mellow reverb laced tunes, pondering what this man was like in real life… well, I was about to find out. I had worked out the interview after scouring the internet for his press contacts and ended up corresponding with his wife, who set everything up for me. I met up with Jacob Corbin of Collective Crowd Records before the show; he had driven down from Akron, OH. Ever faithful photographer, John Danner, was by my side once again, this time with a photo pass for The Newport, which gave him access to the space in-front of the stage to take some amazing photos during the live set. I found Ernest’s wife, Blair, a beautiful, petite woman with sweet southern charm, working the merch table. I introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes.
I was surprised when Ernest walked out on stage with a full band behind him, and also impressed by how tall he was. I didn’t get a sense of his stature at Pitchfork Music Festival a few months earlier.
After the set, I met Ernest and his wife out front by the merch table. I was immediately charmed by his Southern drawl and ease. He and Blair make such a cute couple. We all chatted for a minute, and then John and I followed Ernest backstage. We shimmied behind the heavy black curtain behind the crazy looking honeycombs that were set up for the Yeasayer show, using my phone as a makeshift flashlight. Then, it was up a winding metal staircase held together by balls of electrical and duct tape. Ah yes, this was the same greenroom where I interviewed Bear in Heaven. Curved black walls, one light, one worn in couch, parts of it also held together by duct tape. As we set everything up I learned that all of the new band members of Washed Out had just met each other the Friday before this show. This was only their second time playing live together. Pretty impressive, if you ask me. Their set was tight, and sounded energetic and fuller than Ernest’s solo set in Chicago.
KP: So you’re from Perry, GA. How did you create Washed Out?
Ernest Greene: Yes, I grew up in Perry. When I created Washed Out, I was living in Columbia SC; I had graduated college and moved there. I had been working on music for a couple years in my bedroom, and never really had any intentions of playing in a band or putting music out. It was more of just a hobby. The stuff I was working on at that time was really different than it is now but it has kind of progressed into the Washed Out Sound. So I guess, early last year (2009) was when I kind of started really working on the style. It was just time, right situation… I met Chaz Budnik of Toro Y Moi and we had similar interest, and started playing music together. It was kind of his success that kind of led to me breaking out. He got signed to Carpark records and got blog buzz and through that… He had me as one of his top friends on Myspace, so people just randomly stumbled across my page. I only had one or two songs up…
EG: This is Ray!
EG: And so anyway, a couple blogs emailed me about posting stuff.
KP: Who were some of the first blogs, do you remember?
EG: No Pain in Pop was the first one, yeah. So I was just, so psyched that someone was interested. They are based in London and that was even more fantastic to me. So as soon as it got posted the ball started rolling and the songs were passed around pretty quickly. To the point where I was getting emailed from blogs asking for more songs. I didn’t have any more songs at that time! So for three days, all I did was record, the majority of which is on my EP.
KP: From the blogging, it seemed like everything took off really fast.
EG: Super fast!
KP: And from my understanding -
EG: This is Phil!
EG: Phil has a really cool project called Dog Bite.
[At this point my hearing abilities decide to get up and walk out the door so I asked Ernest about 5 times, “What’s it called? What?” To a point where I got embarrassed just listening to myself during transcription.]
EG: I heard his music online and was really into the fact that he’s from Atlanta because I spend a lot of time there, so I emailed him and that’s how we got in touch. So he’s part of the band now. I want to produce his stuff, because it’s really cool.
KP: I’ll definitely have to check it out.
EG: Yeah, it’s great!
KP: Let’s talk about the first show you played as Washed Out, in New York. It was sold out…
EG: Yes, yes. It was at Santo’s Party House… it was really bad. I had done a show, two or three days before in Atlanta. I had no idea what I was doing. It was generally a pretty positive experience; it was my first taste of what was to come. I flew in on Sunday the show was the next night. It was the first time I met most of the guys from Mexican Summer. They’re the record label that put out the EP. That was mostly done via email; I had talked to them on the phone a couple times. So that first night, we got absolutely wasted. And the next day, they had scheduled press stuff from 10 in the morning until 6 in the afternoon; the show was shortly after that. I was really hung-over and really late and it was just the worst experience, I was so tired.
EG: Oh! One by one! This is Cameron.
KP: Hiya! We were watching you on stage, well, me and my friend Jacob who [Ernest] met downstairs. We were saying you look like John from Bear in Heaven.
EG: It’s the mustache!
Cameron: I get that a lot! That and Steve from Prefontaine, Tom Selleck.
EG: Cameron grew up with Chaz. They played together in a band together growing up.
KP: He’s a nice guy. I interviewed him at the Grog Shop when he was on tour with Caribou.
EG: So it’s kind of a weird, close connection to those guys.
KP: Also Small Black!
EG: They played as my backing band for a while.
KP: Just posted that interview yesterday.
EG: Cool! I’ll check it out! They’re pretty good on Twitter about posting interviews and stuff.
[Yeasayer starts blasting in the background from the show downstairs]
KP: It’s about to get really loud.
EG: It only gets louder too! They’re super pro. Really good playing with them.
KP: This is your second show playing with them?
EG: Yeah, yeah. We’re playing with them for about two weeks. Going to Miami, then New Orleans. Then they’re playing Austin City Limits.
KP: When you play big shows like this with bands like Yeasayer, do you have a certain goal for the show or… how do you approach your live show?
EG: At this point it’s more like, not fucking up and just getting through the songs. Luckily these guys are really good musicians. I mean, I know the songs backwards and forwards because, you know, I did all the songs myself. I’m not that experienced playing with other people and being the person who is in charge. So that’s like… that’s been a little tough. I think it takes playing a couple shows before you’re really comfortable playing together. So I could definitely feel that tonight. I guess my main thing is, once they’re all comfortable and I’m comfortable together, I can be more open to being entertaining and speaking with the audience. Last night was weird, because we were all just standing there doing our thing and didn’t say anything. I can tell from here on out it’s only going to get better.
KP: What would you say is the biggest challenge playing solo vs. playing with a full band?
EG: That’s tough. I enjoy playing by myself.
KP: It seemed like you had a lot of fun at Pitchfork!
EG: It’s kind of a weird thing, especially at PF. It’s an outdoor show… At festivals the stages are so close together, if you’re doing more mellow material, you’ll have sound bleeding in from whoever is at the opposite stage. When I play shows by myself its more ambient, I extend songs, really get in the zone of zoning out which is really cool. Most of the stuff is completely improv with the vocals and everything which is super fun. But I can tell, with the large crowd and it being outdoors in the middle of the day, people just want to have fun and have an upbeat set. That’s kind of the tradeoff, like, with the band it’s much easier to go to that place and have it be more of a party vibe. The entertaining factor is a little bit harder.
KP: How did you end up touring with Small Black?
EG: The relationship started with email and instant messaging, the same way it did with Phil and a lot of things have happened. They emailed me to say they were into my stuff and asked if I would be into doing a remix for them. I heard the song probably a couple weeks before and was really into it and I’m not THAT into remixing at all unless it’s something that just works like, in my world. Most of the stuff I’ve done, I’ll just cover the song and just kind of do it in my style. Their song just worked perfectly, verse, chorus, verse, chorus. So I did that for them, and then it was their idea to do the tour and it worked perfectly. I’m really not good a planning things and at the time, I wasn’t planning on touring at all. I hadn’t done it before, and then I realized there were huge crowds that were going to be interested I thought it would be really bad. The little push I got from them was, “We already have this planned, you can ride with us, we’ll rehearse the songs before and it will be really easy.” So I flew up to NY and we rehearsed for three days straight. As soon as we started playing it was instant good vibes all around. We’ve probably done, 60 shows together now. It’s kind of sad, we did a tour in Europe together in June and they were just wrapping up a record, which is about to come out on Jagjaguar. I guess we both realized… you know this is the end of the road because they have the record coming out and they kinda wanted to do their own thing. But yeah, they’re definitely some of my best friends now. They’re a little more experienced upfront than I was, but it was all still really new for both of us. So it was a really special experience for the both of us.
KP: They are some of the nicest people I have ever met.
EG: They’re so funny! So fun! You met my wife, Blair. She’s always the only girl on the road. I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky. I mean, the guys I play with now are so cool with her. It was such a fun tour with Small Black. They have a really good mindset going on the road. They totally embrace randomly crashing at people’s houses which always leads to totally unpredictable situations. (Interviewer’s note: Is the foreshadowing I hear? See concluding paragraph.) I’m kind of a shy guy. I’m not really comfortable just going around talking to people. But they’re so into that. Within five minutes they would have found a crazy party to go to. Some couch to sleep on, it was that easy.
KP: We took them out for pizza with one of my friends who is friends with Travis of Pictureplane, and they ended up staying a t her house.
EG: Ah yeah! Travis! You know him? Travis is THE MAN. Talking about the right attitude on tour. He is the most intriguing person I’ve ever met. You should friend him on Facebook. He in his life is just, I mean, he could have a reality show about his life and just totally kill. He’s really good about posting about stuff he’s doing. It’s really cool. He is amazing and I feel like you have to experience his set at some really shitty club. That’s where he and his stuff really comes out. The tour I did with him was really small clubs which was perfect. I know he’s working on new material too. Could be a new direction for Pictureplane.
KP: My last question for you was what was your high school experience like?
EG: I went to a small private school, so it was pretty positive. I would say at least half of the people I graduated with, I grew up with. It was such a small school, I played sports, I sang in the chorus. Just pretty positive. I went to a pretty big college, University of Georgia. About 40,000/50,000 students and high school was a little bubble. Going off to Georgia was pretty weird experience. I was definitely the weird kid [in High School] listening to all the weird shit. I was really into jazz music which was not the norm for a kid.
KP: What sports did you play?
EG: I played football and basketball. I still play basketball all the time.
Joel: A stand out in all sports!
[Conversation turns to Yeasayer and their insane light show with honeycombs]
After the show, I had one of the absolute best, and worst nights of my life. Everyone from Yeasayer and Washed Out and I went to a small hipster dive bar on the East side of Columbus, Carabar. Many games of Pirate Madness were played, to the point where we achieved the high score. To the best of my knowledge that high score still stands to this day. I offered Blair, Ernest and their crew a place to crash that night, so I left a little early to drop my friends off at their house just north of downtown. I didn’t think much of the RIIIIIIIIPPPPP CRUUUNCH that sounded as I pulled my car out of the unpaved lot across the street from the bar. Then my oil light turned on… then, one block away from my house, my car sputtered out and died. Turns out, my oil pan had been ripped open and the oil gushed out of my car, which scorched and seized my engine. I had to get towed back to my house (at 4 a.m.) But the night… er, should I say morning, turned out pretty great. Washed Out and crew were great guests, and awesome to talk to. (I wasn’t geeking out at all… (lies)) Most traumatic/laid back night.