From bedroom productions to a sound that has significantly influenced electronic composition over the last few years, Ernest Greene's Washed Out has become synonymous with the so-called "Chillwave" sound. However while his 2011 debut Within And Without was a dark, skilfully processed affair, his forthcoming second record looks towards different horizons. Called Paracosm - a word for a highly detailed, imaginary world - the album (out 12 August) is warmer, more organic take on the Greene's dreamy sounds. He spoke to Q about the record's creation, life as the Chillwave's inadvertent godfather, Paracosm-flavoured ice cream (!) and much more.
How the devil are you? "Pretty good, thanks."
Is it strange this time around? You've named the new album Paracosm which implies you were in your own world making it and now you have to share it with the outside world "Oh yeah! I very much had this idyllic situation back in Georgia where I live. After I finished touring last fall my wife and I moved from the urban environment of Atlanta out into the country. I started making the record immediately we got there. It was a really different environment for us. Being away allowed me to focus a bit more and lot of those feelings seeped naturally into the record, so it's very much our little paracosm that unfortunately has to come to an end and we have to start travelling again. I personally love the record-making more than the actually performing and travelling. It's funny, the drastic shift in lifestyle that comes with it. It certainly satisfies my more adventurous side but it leaves little time for contemplation and all of that."
It sounds like you're going from one extreme to another. You've been away from the outside world, now you're going to see most of it... [laughs] "Ironically yes, you're exactly right. It is a very extreme shift, but all-in-all it's pretty good."
The first Washed Out album felt a bit like a "two turn tables and a microphone affair", it sounds like this one was a bit more involved? "Definitely. That had a lot to do with touring. We toured Within And Without for two years and it was a very synth heavy record so I was stuck behind a keyboard for the live performance. I got a little bored with that so I knew from the very beginning I wanted to bring in some new instruments. I wasn't planning on bringing in as many instruments as I did in the end, but I knew I wanted a change. The other important thing was the first couple of Washed Out records used very simple equipment, it was a bedroom recording project. The nature of the band now has shifted. There's a five-piece touring band. It was a challenge with the early stuff to make it interesting live, so I knew it would make more sense with this record to write for some of the musicians and the instruments we use. That's been a big step. There's more groove oriented beats on the record, not the stiff sequenced stuff that I used early on. There's definitely a bit more swing."
For good or for ill you were seen as the "Godfather Of Chillwave" with the first album, was there a sense of wanting to embrace or move on from that? [laughs] "I tried not to think too much about it. I never want to make a complete, 180 reactional record, I wanted a connection to what I've done in the past but still move forward and evolve. I feel like I did a pretty good job of that. If I'd made this record without any synth textures at all, that would have been a pretty bold statement against chillwave, but a lot of those chillwavey sounds are still there, they're subtly placed in a mix with a lot of other stuff happening which means a slight shift. It's evolution, hopefully for the better."
We seem to live in a golden age of making-up genres. What was your reaction when you were first called Chillwave? "I felt really lucky to be honest. I'd been making this kind of music, or been on the path to making this kind of music, for quite a long time so it felt fated. It was being in the right place at the right time. It just so happened that the trendy shift into the more electronic type of thing happened when it did. It's pretty funny thinking back."
You were lucky in a way, someone could have come up with a much worse genre name. "You're right. Shoegaze started with people poking fun at it at first, and I think a similar thing happened with Chillwave. It was a joke that stuck."
For Paracosm the spectrum has broadened though? "Oh yes. There's a lot more of a human feel and in that way it's less of an electronic record, but there's still synths and samples, so it's ended up as a weird mix of acoustic and electric stuff. As far as my disography so far goes, it definitely leans a bit more toward the rock world, I guess. It just felt fresh, interesting and worth exploring. I'm already starting on some new stuff that's quite different! I get very bored easily, I'm a child of the internet or whatever, I want more and more of new and interesting things."
Is it true you used 50 different types of instrument on this record? "Yeah! I had a vague sound pallet, one of the first sounds on the record is a harp crescendo which for me represented dreaming which is an important idea for the record. I did some research around the harp and then you fall down the rabbit hole, if you will, and discover all these other sounds. Ultimately what interests me is using exotic sounds in my songs. The harp let to an instrument call the Dulcitone, an early keyboard with bell-like tones. I could go on forever! [laughs] There's a few instruments like the mellotron and some early samplers that account for half the sounds on the record. They have a special quality about them. They were designed to replace orchestral instruments but in the end they sound somewhere in between. I love that stuff."
Rather than have a sound in your head you were after, with a title like Paracosm were you more trying to invoke visuals and ideas? "I had a pretty strong idea at the beginning of the process. It was a rough, pastoral idea I was going for. To me it meant using a lot of warm sounding instruments, there's a lot of upright bass which to me is the warmest sounding instrument. Then I knew I wanted to make the record very optimistic, which meant writing in major keys so that pushed it to a certain place. I had some rough ideas of daydreaming and it sounding like a very daytime record. All of that together made it pretty easy to jump straight into the process, which is a lot different from everything else I've done. With my other record there was a lot more trial and error."
Was there any particular imagery you were focused on? "The album artwork and all the videos we've done are very colourful and have floral ideas. That was there from the very beginning. From moving to the country and being surrounded by nature, that was really inspiring. The flowers really worked with wanting it to sound daytime. In some ways I felt like I was soundtracking what it would feel like to walk through a beautiful garden on a sunny day, or something like that. I had lots of ideas like that."
It sounds like a similar approach to the Romantic movement? "I have a strong connection to the Romantics, I think. I'm certainly very romantic at heart, for better for worse. What's most inspiring for me is that sense of optimism. I studied literature at college and read quite a lot of romantic poetry. I feel like nowadays, especially within the indie world, it feels like a more revolutionary thing to make positive, happy music. You don't see much of that, there's a lot of posturing and over-intellectualising of things. I was worried a little bit about that with Within And Without, whereas with this record I didn't care so much. I wanted to make this record, regardless of what anyone would think about it and it definitely came from a very sincere, optimistic place."
Both your records have a strong, dreamy quality, is it the romanticism that drawns you to that sound? Why aren't you making thrash records? [laughs] "I love dreamy sounding stuff. That's what I loved about art and music from the beginning, how it can take you to places in your mind and that's definitely what I was attempting to do with this record. Most of the themes are about drifting off to another place and the freedom your imagination gives you to do whatever and go where you want."
Were there any existing paracosms that inspired those thoughts? "Around the beginning of making the record I saw a film about this artist Henry Darger who lived this very reclusive life. He worked as a janitor, but after he passed away it was discovered that he had this amazing collection of drawing and stories he'd created. It was really inspiring how unique he was because he didn't have any training. He had a unique way of making his art. I drew connections with that and his personal life. In some ways I'm a reclusive person when it comes to making records. I tend to close myself off and live vicariously through the ideas I have for the album, which seems similar to what he was doing. His work is amazing."
In complete contrast, your record has inspired an ice cream flavour. What does Paracosm taste like? "Yes! That's what I'm doing later today. There's a shop in Brooklyn who have created a Paracosm flavour. I believe it has a raspberry base but is very colourful like the artwork We're giving it away all day today so we'll see if it's any good, I haven't tasted it yet!"
Are you looking forward to touring the album? You said you didn't like being stuck behind the synths, have you got a new role this time? "Yeah, for sure. It's a very playable record. I'm playing guitar and bit of percussion this time. From track to track I feel like I'm doing something different. It's definitely fun for me but we'll see if the audience like it."
You didn't fancy the keytar then? "That would be very practical! [laughs] I don't know if I can pull that off... yet."
Finally, is there any scope to perform Paracosm in the future as it was recorded, with every the instrument? "That would be very interesting... and stressful! It would sound amazing. I was going to do a performance in LA with a lot of the old instruments but it didn't work out because a lot of the stuff is so rare people weren't willing to lend them for one performance. That would be a dream come true, it would be more orchestral sounding." Paul Stokes @Stokesie