“Paracosm” – a detailed, fleshed out imaginary world, populated by humans, animals, or strange creatures. Hallucinatory and bizarre; usually invented by children. Perhaps, like Washed Out’s latest album, it could be abstract, psychedelic, composed of textured layers of sound. Originating, years ago, from a bedroom in one tiny Georgia town.
Listening to Washed Out mastermind Ernest Greene’s latest work left me curious to find out about the imagination that could have inspired it. The album gives the feeling of a strangely futurized nostalgia; a paisley printed, synth-accompanied children’s tea party. Indeed, Greene drew inspiration from children’s masterpieces such as Alice in Wonderland, but most principally from the surreal works of Henry Darger, a janitor with no artistic training who secretly wrote and illustrated an epic, psychedelic fantasy series that wasn’t discovered until after his death. Greene, who says that visual art is as important an inspiration to him as music, rediscovered the artist partway through recording Paracosm and “drew so many connections” between both of their works and artistic background. Like Darger, Greene is, or was at the beginning of his musical career, lacking any formal training in his art form, and also like the works of Darger, Paracosm sees Greene exploring a dreamlike fantasy state, existing only in the privacy of the mind.
Growing up in small town Georgia, Greene was surrounded by “a lot of Southern rock” and says that “the music that I tended to gravitate towards…was very much rebelling against all of that.” Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as DJ Shadow and Brian Wilson’s work for the Beach Boys, Greene experimented with electronic music in his bedroom and began to define what would become the ‘Washed Out sound.’ At that point, however, “music for me was always a solitary thing, like a hobby in between whatever else was going on in my life,”
That the rest of the world could be witness to Greene’s solitary vision is very much a testament to the power of the digital age. Aside from the fact that the artist describes himself as a “child of the Internet and digital recording,” native to that system of production and drawing nearly all of his knowledge, inspiration and material from the net, we likely never would have discovered him without it either.
“Being from a tiny town, in Georgia, I had no access to that [the music industry]…I could go on and on, but basically, again, coming from a very small place and kind of being discovered is sort of amazing, and it couldn’t have happened without the Internet.”
The rise in popularity of his work has moved Greene’s life into the spotlight very fast. When I spoke to him, he had recently enjoyed a two-week stretch at home: the longest break that he’s had since the record came out in August. Perhaps as a reaction to this busy, highly structured schedule, he’s moved from the “exciting energy” of Atlanta into a spacious home outside the small town of Athens, where he says that he enjoys “nerding out on the Internet,” watching movies and playing music from a hammock by the pool.
“When we’re on a touring cycle,” Greene says, “everything’s very scheduled out. It’s months and months of being away from home and not being able to get into your own headspace.”
For someone as clearly introverted as Greene, that meant that his music took a more internal and experimental turn. “It’s always been about escaping,” he says. “It’s definitely in some ways a therapy for me because for that amount of time, whether it’s an hour or three hours, I can zone out during the process of putting stuff together… and whatever’s going on, just fades away.”
Washed Out will play at Fortune Sound Club on February 1st.
By Genevieve Michaels