For someone who studied to be a librarian and had no intention of pursuing a career in music, it took a while for Greene to enjoy himself. “I guess the thing starting out is just that I’ve never played in bands or done any performances at all so I was a little bit intimidated by that.” Fortunately, with a couple of years of experience and the addition of four band members, he’s learned a few things – the importance of alcohol being one of them.
Discovered in 2009 after friend Chaz Bundick of Toro Y Moi posted a Washed Out track on his Myspace, Ernest is often grouped in as part of the ‘chillwave’ movement. Greene, however, believes the Washed Out sound is more difficult to define. “I don’t think we fit squarely in any category which is good because I think we can reach a lot of different people. But we’re not like a die hard electronic band or a die hard indie-rock band so I think it takes a person to be open minded to really embrace it.”
Despite having grown into an accomplished live performer since those early days in 2009, Greene admits he still feels most at home in the studio. “If I could get away with staying home and making records I would do that,” he says. In fact, he still has aspirations to be a librarian. “I definitely could go back to that world. It’s kind of a lot like my everyday life when I’m back from tour. The last thing I want to do when I’m back is to go out to clubs. It’s my nice, quiet space and that was very much why I enjoyed working in libraries.”
Greene will return to Australia in 2012 for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival after winning hearts and fans with his performance at Meredith last year. Given the atmospheric nature of Washed Out, the music hasn’t always translated in a festival setting.
“When I started I was playing by myself and it was a very ethereal atmosphere. I did a handful of big festivals and it was really hard because there was sound bleeding in from other stages and there were just so many people out there,” he remembers.
Recognising that the performances weren’t working, Greene added a backing band. “Part of the band thing was to try and strengthen the sound of the set. It definitely helps having people behind you. Our set up is almost like a traditional rock set up so we can play loud if we need to.”
The band (which consists of a drummer, a bass player, a keyboardist and Greene’s wife Blair who also plays the keyboard) have made some adjustments to songs as the earlier Washed Out material was never intended to be played live. “The way that we’ve approached it is that we’ll still play the songs from the record or the older songs. The live version might be quite different so we hope that the audience is open to that. I guess it keeps it fresh for us too,” says Greene.
He admits that it can be a challenge to keep people interested at festivals so they’ve developed a couple of different sets to cater for different situations. One such situation was supporting Cut Copy as they toured around the U.S. in the latter half of 2011. Knowing the core audience would be looking for something a bit more up-tempo, the front man says they adapted the show to give it a more upbeat vibe. As a long time Cut Copy fan who had never seen them live, Greene found the tour an “eye opening experience.” The shows encouraged him to think about the different elements of a performance, which led to the realization that, “It’s not just about the songs. There are so many other factors that are really important. So as an inspiration I’ve been thinking much bigger about the visual side of our performances.”
Will the elaborate arm movements that Cut Copy lead singer Dan Whitford is known for also become part of the Washed Out repertoire?
“[Dan Whitford] can pull it off. I don’t know if I can pull it off. I think the more intoxicated I am, the more the arm movements happen. Maybe if I get drunk out there then I’ll have more dance movements,” Greene laughs.
Greene’s music has been the subject of critical acclaim and after a string of EPs, he finally released his first full album Within Or Without in July this year to rave reviews – but fans provide the best insight into the impact of his music.
“It’s quite odd meeting people after shows and hearing stories about these big moments in their lives and they’re listening to the record or just how much the music means to them. It’s really inspiring for me personally to just take a step back and it makes me try that much harder to do what I do and never half arse anything.”
His shows will be anything but half arse by the sound of it. Currently in between tours, Greene admits that he came home with a long list of things he wanted to work on and has been making adjustments to the show in preparation for more touring next year. I suspect that his preference for recording over playing live has more to do with his perfectionist streak and less to do with the performing itself. After less than a month home he’s telling me, “I already feel refreshed and ready to get out there.”