Interview: Washed Out (Ernest Greene) talks new album Mister Mellow & recovering from burning out

Following the release of his latest LP, Mister Mellow, Ernest Greene opens up about being overwhelmed in the internet-age, the inspiration behind crafting a visual-album companion piece and future Australian tour plans.

Hi Ernest, thanks so much for your time. How are you going?

Doing well, doing well. I’m sitting on a tour bus in Charleston, South Carolina. We have show happening here tonight and we are about to do a soundcheck.

How has the tour been going so far? This must be the start of it?

Yeah, I think this is the third show tonight. We are just getting started and I haven’t really performed for a few years so I’m getting back into the swing of it, but it’s coming together nicely though.

Has been a hard thing to get back into the swing of it?

Yeah, I think the first show was a little weird but I get the feeling that it will get easier and easier as we keep playing. It’s quite a complicated setup – we are incorporating a lot of video projections. It’s not so much about performing, it’s about whether everything is going to work right but it seems like we have fine-tuned it pretty well over the last few days.

So, what was the inspiration behind Mister Mellow? The album cover has a large Xanax pill, the song titles hint that you’re trying to find peace or wake up from daydreaming.

Yeah, a lot of that was supposed to be tongue in cheek, the music is a little bit exaggerated and more silly than more of the Washed Out stuff I’ve done. The artwork is hopefully a queue for the listener to put that together. It’s meant to be ironic in that way. Where it all stemmed from is that I feel like a lot of people have this idea about my reputation where I just sit around and smoke weed all day and stuff like that. It’s quite the opposite. Especially working on this project, it has so many moving pieces and I found myself stressed out all the time. It also has a lot to do with getting older and having more responsibility. Also, where we are currently, with the internet constant streams of information I just got to the point where I was completely burnt out and it was hard to unplug, you know. All of that was filtered in and making fun of myself.

How did you come back from being burnt out? Did you find yourself having to hide from social media and the internet and those sorts of stresses?

Yeah! I think the record was honestly a way for me dealing with it. Now that I’ve finished it, I have a lot more free time, but I certainly made a conscious effort to actively unplug from time to time. It was a big step for me get a computer that just stays in the studio, whereas in the past I would just carry it with me all the time – into my bedroom or when I went out and I could never really get away. Music has always been like with me, whatever I’m dealing with kind of finds its way into the music and the process of making helps me sort it out. I wish I was a songwriter who could invent characters, but most of the time a Washed Out record is about what I’m dealing with that day.

What was the inspiration behind pairing the audio album with a visual album?

I hope everyone will experience the record with the visuals, they complement one another very well. Like how we were talking about with the album cover, they give clues. But I’m a big fan of visual art. It made me kind of think differently about how to put my music together, to see a human touch to it. I feel like nowadays with digital technology you can perfect any performance and edit things to such a minute layer that it’s just kind of sterile in a way. What I saw in animation was this kind of spontaneity that I wanted to incorporate with my music. That’s where the aesthetic came from. When I got deeper and deeper into the process of finishing the music, the next step was why not pair the two together.

Are these the visuals that are playing behind you in the live show?

Yeah so, all the videos and all the visuals from the new record will be projected and we have also commissioned more animation as well and there’s also an element of these motion sensor cameras that are positioned on stage where our movements in real-time are projected like on the screen with all of these really wild, psychedelic effects. It’s an extension of the album visuals that take it to a whole other level, a whole crazy place. It’s been really fun, to see peoples’ reaction to it is kind of overwhelming, it’s totally immersive.

That sounds wildly immersive, and I’m hoping Australian fans will get to see this tour at some point?

Yeah that be great. Currently there are no plans I know we’ve been over years ago, and early in the year, like January or February seems like a popular time so yeah, I’m hopeful that will happen. I love playing in Australia. We did Laneway festival a couple of years ago, and really loved it. Wed love to come back.

What other artists are you listening to at the moment?

A lot of old stuff actually. I was putting together a playlist earlier for when we are setting up. A lot of kind of house music, house music that’s kind of inspired by hip hop production with a lot of samples. Really raw stuff. I’m signed to a label called Stones Throw and there’s this guy called Mndsgn and he’s going to supporting on a tour we are doing in a month that’ll be a bit bigger and I really love his stuff.

So, it that the kind of music you listen to when you want to wind down?

It’s funny I have a playlist for before the tour, one for before we play and one for after the set. The first one is quite chill and mellow. Yeah, I love all sorts of music, depending on the vibe. There’s a band called Homeshake –

I love Homeshake, they’re very cool.

Yeah yeah, it’s really dope. I’ve even been listening to Brazilian stuff, old-school and jazzy Brazilian music. Yeah all over the place man.

Have fun on the rest of the tour and hopefully we will see you in Australia soon.

My pleasure man, thanks a lot!

Mister Mellow is out now through Inertia Music and you can read our review of the LP HERE.