Washed Out

By Lindsay Hilton

You may not recognize Ernest Greene by name alone, although his band Washed Out’s music inspires a civic sense of pride in the hearts and minds of many Pacific Northwesterners. Greene’s hit song “Feel It All Around” can be heard in the opening sequence of Oregon-based “Portlandia,” IFC’s hit sketch comedy show. Greene was a relative unknown when the song — included in his 2009 EP Life of Leisure — was selected as the theme music for “Portlandia.” Since that time, however, Greene’s music has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity and renown, both for the clever promotion of his band online and his solid live performances.

Born in Perry, Atlanta, Greene’s musical success was somewhat rooted in his failure. After boomeranging back home to his parents as a 26-year-old with a Master of Library and Information Science with no career prospects, he began recording songs in his bedroom. A few hit songs and some good fortune later, Greene was able to upgrade from his parents’ home to a bedroom in his own home and, finally, to the spacious basement where he now records. His pursuit in the library sciences wasn’t all for naught — he credits his time working in libraries where he would conduct in-depth research with improving the technical aspects of his music. “I’m definitely a geek when it comes to researching technology,” he said.
Greene likens his music to hip hop in the way that his songs are assembled with looping and sampling, though that’s where the similarity ends. His latest album, Paracosm, was released last August on Sub Pop Records and channels several genres, including 1970s psychedelic (think French crooner Serge Gainsbourg) with a pinch of Beck. The eponymous track summons the otherworldly, synthesized vibe often heard in electronica.
In all of his music, Greene draws influence from dance and indie rock and tends to view his own creations as a meeting in the middle of those genres. In listening to Washed Out’s songs, one conjures a wide variety of musical ancestry — some intended and some perhaps not — from DJ Shadow and Pink Floyd to Air, the French band known for its score in the film Virgin Suicides. Greene’s music falls into that elusive category of music that bears many names, most notably “chillwave,” “glo-fi,” and “dream pop.”  Sampling, synthesizing, and effects processing feature heavily in chillwave and Greene’s music is along the lines of other groups such as Neon Indian and Memory Cassette.
The band’s latest music video, produced by Urban Outfitters, is a coming-of-age story about a young man experiencing the heartache of love lost, and the subsequent life-changing journey upon which he embarks with a pal. Greene, who had is own fair share of similar adventures, wrote the song a few years ago and feels a nostalgic connection to it. “I have always felt a sense of adventure about that song,” he said. “What I love about it is how authentic it feels.”
The band’s name derives from the process in photography when an image is overexposed, giving it a washed out or dull appearance. An avid amateur photographer, Greene compares his music to this effect. While he has backed off recently from shooting image s— “It gets to a point that you’re not ever in the moment when you’re thinking about capturing the moment” — he did get a new camera from his wife for Christmas and plans to get back into the art.
Washed Out is playing Feb. 2 at Viking Union. Fans can expect a solid show with an eclectic performance. Greene has been busy touring for several months since the release of his new album but is devoting January to writing new material. He hints at some surprises for the show including new music, both off the new album and never-before-heard material. But most of all he promises a damn good show. “We are at a nice sweet spot with the material and the band.”
For more information, visit washedout.net or follow Washed Out’s Facebook page.