Foundations: Washed Out

From Boards Of Canada to Beach Boys...

Clash sits down with Washed Out (real name Ernest Greene) to chat about his Foundation(al) albums: five recordings which shaped his musical outlook.

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Washed Out, 'Don't Give Up', from 'Paracosm'

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DJ Shadow – 'Endtroducing' (1996)

I think the first record is DJ Shadow’s 'Endtroducing'. It was a pretty important record for me. I guess I kind of discovered it around the time I started writing songs, when I was 18- or 19-years-old and I got my first laptop when I went off to school. I had downloaded a couple of software programmes and started making music with these multi-tracking programs, completely by myself. Before that I had messed around with garage, rock bands – a bunch of guys in a basement. It wasn’t until I had a computer and could do everything myself that it really started to take off, and I’ve never really turned back since.

Anyway, that DJ Shadow record, I was obsessed with it. I was listening to hip-hop but I guess I’d never heard anything quite as heavy as the DJ Shadow stuff. It’s really psychedelic and probably the most important thing is his use of sampling: it seems as if he’s looking for the craziest, most exotic sounds he could find, and squeeze them into a hip-hop track. That’s kind of how the first few Washed Out recordings were made: very much in that style, and very much influenced by sampling and DJ Shadow.

Thinking about the technology back then, I believe the MPC sampler he was using, he completely took it to another place. It didn’t have much sample memory at all, just a drum. I think the drums in particular are what stand out. He almost created his own style of drumming via cutting up these sample drum breaks, or whatever.

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Caribou (recorded as Manitoba) – 'Up In Flames' (2006)

Taking the sampling thing a step further. The problem with the DJ Shadow-style hip-hop stuff, for me, was that I guess there’s a lot of clichés; if you think about that style of hip-hop, a lot of people were sampling from the same era, like '70s funk records. I wanted to try something different with it, and this Caribou record was kind of a step in that direction. He’s still doing the sampling thing, but doing it in a very different way, in an indie-rock context. I think it’s an amazing record. The songs are great and I’m very much a producer first before a songwriter, like I just love sounds, really interesting sounds which I have never heard before. ‘Up In Flames’ is just crammed full of crazy noises. I also love the kind of pastoral vibe that the record has: there’s a lot of acoustic instruments alongside some really programmed-sounding electronic bits. It’s just an interesting mix of stuff. He’s also great at cutting up drum breaks as well.

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Boards Of Canada – 'Geogaddi' (2002)

I feel like this happens less and less these days, but I’d never heard Boards Of Canada, then walked into a record store, saw the cover, picked it out, put it on and I didn’t know what the f*ck it was at all. I was completely blown away. So much so that I think I played it back again – I simply didn’t understand it on first listen. I didn’t even really like it that much either, but for some strange reason I kept listening to it and then it really started to grow on me. That record’s funny in that I tend to like the lighter side of Boards Of Canada, and there are not a lot of those songs in their discography: it’s like equally balanced against dark, f*cked-up psychedelia. Which is great, but I guess for my development I liked the sweet, melodic stuff which they sometimes do. The record’s amazing, it’s definitely an experimental record, some songs are just like 30 second interludes. You can definitely draw connections [from my recordings] to some of the production techniques: I loved electronic music, but this had a real kind of life to it. A lot of the stuff is programmed or whatever, but there’s definitely something different about it to your average kind of dance music. I definitely pulled some ideas [from this] for the first few Washed Out records, about the audio fidelity kind of thing, playing around with nostalgia, dated recording techniques, I guess.

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Beach Boys – 'Pet Sounds' (1966)

So the next record is Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’, which is quite different from Boards Of Canada. It’s a classic record; I’m sure it’s up there, probably, as one of the classics. I’ve heard the songs since I was a little kid, just on the radio and stuff. The amazing thing about ‘Pet Sounds’ is that a little kid can understand the melodies: they’re catchy in the way pop songs of that era are catchy. I’m 30-years-old now, music is my life, and I try to soak up as much as I can. My 30-year-old self, listening to it now, is just blown away by the complexity under the surface of what’s happening. It’s absolutely amazing. You can tell that Brian Wilson had this picture in his mind of what the tracks were. I think the really cool thing he was doing was layering instruments. An organ with some kind of accordion, for example. A lot of crazy combinations which created this wall of sound. That was really inspiring. Some of the stuff on my new album was influenced by that. I wasn’t trying to write a Brian Wilson record, but again I wanted to use exotic instruments.

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Van Morrison – 'Astral Weeks' (1968)

Then I guess the last one is another record which was a pretty big influence on ‘Paracosm’: Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’. Again, it's pretty different from the electronic stuff I mentioned before, but I love everything about it. I love the conceptual stuff, and I think I was blown away by the album cover before even listening to the record. It had this really cool '60s psych thing. Just the sounds on the album, like there’s a tonne of upright bass on ‘Astral Weeks’, and that was a big inspiration for using the upright on ‘Paracosm’. It has this kind of a natural warmth to it, which made a lot of sense on this record. It’s another classic record and a lot has been written about how it was very spontaneous, and I love that aspect as well, but the playing has this really warm quality. All the sounds are like acoustic guitars and stuff. Little things kind of played into some of the stuff we’re doing on this record, for sure.

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Adds Ernest: "For the most part, looking through this list, it's solo producer types. I tend to really gravitate toward that type, just kind of relating to being a solo musician, or a producer. Also, those are all very much studio records, and I think that makes a lot of sense. I definitely consider myself a kind of producer, first and foremost. The performance thing came a lot later, and has definitely changed my approach to writing music. But I’m still trying to make the best records I can."

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Washed Out's new album, 'Paracosm', is out now and reviewed HERE.

Previous Foundations interviews, with Jimmy Eat World, White Lies, Thundercat and Sinden, can be found HERE.

Find Washed Out online HERE.

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