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On Paracosm, Washed Out outlasts the digital chillwave craze by going analog

Buzz Beater

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Ernest Greene wants to be excited about touring Europe, but he just can't do it. He and his bandmates in Washed Out just returned from a hellish three-week stretch he and the band dubbed the "No Fun Tour." The trek was marred by long drives, logistical issues, and at least one stolen bottle of rye whiskey.

"The shows themselves were good, but in between the shows, man, it was just some rough scheduling," Greene says with a laugh.

Unfortunately, his respite from the road is about to end. When we speak, Washed Out is just four days away from a three-week tour of Europe. The scheduling, he groans, is even worse, the between-show distances even greater. He's trying to get psyched about it, but he just can't.

"I remember the first tour we did in Europe. We did a lot of flying," Greene says. "It sounds really glamorous, and it sounds like it'd be a lot easier, but the flights are long, and the fucking check-ins and having to get there super-early for flights, and we're traveling with a lot of gear. Man, it's way worse. It's a pain in the ass. We're just trying to get into the mindset of, 'Yeah, this is going to be rough for three weeks, but we have to get through it.' "

Greene was one of the breakout stars of the 2009 summer of chillwave that also spawned Toro Y Moi. Greene's drowsy, distorted electro pop, characterized by the gauzy Life of Leisure EP and the otherwordly single "Feel It All Around," was all the rage, and it eventually landed him a deal with Sub Pop. Not bad for a dude who'd made music in his bedroom in Columbia to pass time while finishing his library science doctoral degree. ("Feel It All Around" is still a relatively massive hit; Portlandia uses it as its opening theme.)

In the years since, Greene's chillwave peers have largely fallen by the wayside, with artists like Nite Jewel and Memory Tapes unable to escape their flavor-of-the-month status. Both Toro Y Moi's Chaz Bundick and Greene wised up and fleshed out their hazy electronic pop by augmenting laptop loops and synthesizers with live backing bands. But unlike his friend Bundick, who'd spent the majority of his teenage years leading rock bands, Greene had never ventured out of the bedroom and into the garage.

"There were some obvious growing pains, so there was a lot of learning involved," Greene says.

Washed Out's latest, Paracosm, finds Greene at the apex of that learning curve. Where his first album Within and Without was sad and monochromatic, Paracosm is a burst of bright, summery pop, a Technicolor dreamcoat that's influenced by his band.

"With Within, the record was so synth-heavy that we were all stuck behind synths the whole time," Greene says. "And I really wanted to find ways to break out of that."

With Paracosm, Greene packs his songs with more than 50 different analog instruments — drums, guitars, upright basses, even pedal steel. There are still a lot of synths, but even then, he added a flotilla of vintage synths, Mellotrons and Novatrons and Optigans, to his arsenal. The sounds the old synths produce are worn and warm like an old sample.

"The reason I love the Mellotron stuff so much is that it has really raw, imperfect sounds," Greene says. "But it's a keyboard, so you can actually play it. The early Washed Out stuff, it took forever, because when you're working with samples, you have to put the puzzle together and find pieces that will actually fit together. There's very little playing. It's more like making a collage."

Greene, for one, is glad that the days of chillwave are behind him.

"I think the hype, we're kind of past that," Greene says. "I don't feel like I really need to prove anything. We're just doing what we do. If people like it, great. And I didn't feel like that a few years back. It was a real do-or-die thing."

Now, Greene's content to enjoy the ride. "I'm married. I own a house. I'm pretty grounded," Greene says. "I take things pretty seriously. I try to take it all in stride. Obviously, I feel super lucky to be able to do what we do."

He laughs.

"I feel a little jaded, though. Like, we started talking, and I was bitching about going to Europe," he says. "I mean, it could be way worse."

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