You could be forgiven for thinking Washed Out's Ernest Greene is from Portland, Oregon. He gets it all the time since his song "Feel It All Around" is the theme for the TV satire of all things hipster, Portlandia. But if you have a conversation with the man, as New Times did moments after he checked into a hotel room, you will detect a Southern drawl. Greene is proud to be from the South even if the chilled-out aesthetic of Washed Out was created in direct opposition to Southern rock.
"I grew up in a small town in Georgia, which is actually where the Allman Brothers came out of, in Macon," Greene said over the phone. "That was the music my parents were into and the people around me were into. So as a 16-year-old kid really learning to love music, it was all about rebelling against that. That became making music on a computer, listening to electronic and hip-hop, stuff that was as far away from guitar music as possible."
A childhood of piano lessons and an adolescence in rock bands wasn't enough to make Greene believe he could have a career in music. "I had been doing music for a long time and had no ambition of doing it professionally. I didn't know anyone in the music business, and it didn't seem like a realistic thing to happen."
But after teaching himself how to record and produce, Greene dubbed himself Washed Out and put some of his music online, where it found an instant fan base including the admiration of a star from Saturday Night Live, Fred Armisen. "He emailed me really early on. I just put out my first single, and he said he was putting together the show [Portlandia] early in preproduction. It was a no-brainer for me. It's interesting — he was coming from a place where this was a pet project for him, and he didn't think it would go for more than a season or a couple of episodes. Now, they're getting ready for their fourth season."
Finding an audience as quickly as the show did forced Greene to learn through trial and error, a process he enjoyed. "It was through mistakes along the way that you create your own style of doing things. I've talked with a lot of engineers at venues and recording studios, and a lot of time they don't even listen to the music; it's about following various frequencies. I pride myself in following my ear more than my head."
For a man who records his albums all by his lonesome, including a new one he plans to release early next year, it took until his second album, 2013's Paracosm, to learn to keep his touring band in mind while developing it. Thus, his recorded music could easily translate to a live venue. And there's another motive in keeping the band happy since his wife, Blair Sexton Greene, plays keyboards with him.
More surprising than sharing wedded bliss on the road is that Washed Out now includes a guitar, the instrument that once symbolized everything Greene stood against. "I'm a lot more open-minded," he says. "There's still the electronic thing, but there's a new texture with the guitar that adds something different. The rebelling thing was more about when I was younger. I've always loved the South. I don't plan on living anywhere else. My wife and I live in Athens, Georgia, but I don't consider anything I do particularly Southern. I feel my generation has a different perspective on things with the music I discovered on the internet and Napster. It wasn't like a scene I was coming up in was influencing me; it was stuff from around the world."