Washed Out's Ernest Greene on His New Visual Album

August 10, 2017

Earlier this year, we shared a preview video and song from Washed Out's newest album Mister Mellow. While Washed Out's distinct sound has always defined the past releases, this album enlisted the support of 12 directors (incuding Greene) to make companion videos that seamlessly tied together the album's music. The whole project is a refreshing take on the visual album, so we decided to ask Greene a few questions about this new album, the Mister Mellow show (featuring SNL's Kyle Mooney), and the animated video accompanying the whole thing.

So this new album is accompanied by a visual component for every song. Where did this idea come from, and how did you go about finding directors for each portion of the album?
The visual component wasn’t planned from the beginning.  I’ve been really into a lot of weird experimental animation for the past couple of years and that stuff first served as an aesthetic inspiration for the music I was putting together for the album.  My favorites of these videos were really busy with tons of layers of material - and I saw similarities to the music I was making which ultimately helped fuel the song’s creation. 

I was already following a lot of great video directors (in various places online like Instagram or Vimeo) - it was fairly easy placing songs with individual directors.  I feel really lucky that pretty much everyone I reached out to was open to collaborate on the project.

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How did you feel about the concept of a visual album before, which ones had you seen before that you liked?
Of course I’d seen Beyonce’s stuff - but so much of what I’d seen tagged as a “visual album” had this live-action, wide-screened cinematic look to it.  I liked the idea of doing the complete opposite.  Have the visuals be the ultimate impressionistic representation of the songs - where the themes of the album are actually demonstrated and ingrained in the visuals themselves .  That’s the beautiful thing about animation - you have the freedom to express these sometimes abstract ideas in a visual way that could never be accomplished in the “real” world.

Did you ever make visual art before you did music, and did you decide to make your own video for "I've Been Daydreaming Every Day of My Life" before or after deciding to do a visual component for each song on the album?
Washed Out has been my introduction into doing art and design.  Before WO, I actively followed a lot of visual stuff online - but it wasn’t until WO really took off that I started doing it myself.  I was really into photography around the time of the first few WO releases - so I took the photos used on my first couple of EPs (Life of Leisure and High Times).  I’ve also art directed every album release since.  Mister Mellow was the first time since the very beginning that I had my hand in every piece of the visual construction of the album campaign.  I put together the album cover and actively collaborated with a lot of great artists and designers on everything else (from videos to artwork to promo material).  Putting together the video for “I’ve Been Daydreaming My Entire Life” happened out of necessity.  The budget for the project was ballooning quite a bit - so it didn’t seem like there was enough money to pay another director.  So I just stepped in and did my thing.  I did a series of videos on Instagram a few years back (when IG had just started allowing uploads of video) called “Rough Drafts” where I’d make short little stop motion animations - so I feel like those really informed how I put together this clip.

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Were you inspired by any painters, sculptors, or illustrators growing up? If so did they ever have any quantifiable impact on your music?
There were so many creatives who influenced this project.  Sampling is a big part of my process - so I’m always collecting bits of audio.  And the same thing happened once I became obsessed with video stuff.  Older work like that of Hans Richter, Len Lye, or Oskar Fichinger. Somewhat more recent stuff like Frank Mouris or Paul Sharits.  I wanted my music to sound like what Frank Mouris’s “Frank Film” felt like.

How did you get connected with Kyle Mooney, and what was it like working with him? 
Kyle was at the top of my list of folks to collaborate with for the Mister Mellow Show bit.  I’d seen a lot of his “smoking” videos from the pre-SNL years and I thought they were really great.  That character definitely reminded me of a lot of people I went to high school and college with. Luckily, a few folks at Stones Throw knew him since he was a big fan of a lot of the releases they’ve put out - so it was quite simple putting everything together.  It was shot on a Sunday afternoon after the late night SNL taping the night before and Kyle rolled in and just did his thing - completely off the top of his head.  It was really interesting watching how his mind worked and I had to do my best not to crack-up half the time we were shooting.

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How has touring with the whole video ensemble been? has it changed your rhythm with live performance? Has it been a good change?
It feels amazing.  I think its an ideal way to experience WO songs.  I’ve definitely adapted the live performance to the new projection-focused show and it feels like a move in the right direction.  In the past, some of the aesthetic vibe of the album has been lost when the songs were channeled through what was essentially a 5-piece rock band.  The newer setup is only a 3-piece feels a lot more like an “electronic” show - which I think is a better representation of the album experience.  With the crazy visuals we have on such a massive scale, it really creates an immersive experience.

What have the last 4 years been like for you? Did you get a chance to take more time for yourself between Paracosm and Mister Mellow?
Yes and no.  I did have a lot of time to decide which direction I wanted take.  And I ultimately decided to follow inspiration wherever it took me and not worry so much about any sort of “WO sound” or what a causal fan might think.  It was simply about “is this something I’d be into if I heard it for the first time”. 

However, this project was so wide-ranging (from the music, visuals, and live show) that it was quite an intense process actually finishing it. There were periods of time where it seemed it would never get done but that also made it that much more fulfilling upon completion - knowing that I gave it all I had.

Thanks for chatting with us Ernest!