Back in the late 2000s, Georgia native Ernest Greene was one of the main chilled-out men responsible for giving birth to the chillwave sub-genre. But after his swaying electro-psychedelia blew up and the Washed Out project signed to seminal rock label Sub Pop for 2013’s Paracosm, Greene decided to take a step back and reassess his career. The auditory result, last month’s Mister Mellow, injects a bit more zonked-out soul, jazz and disco into Washed Out’s sound while cruising down a similar lane. It arrives courtesy of a new patron, zonked-out hip-hop specialists Stones Throw Records, and with a far more fleshed-out aesthetic accompaniment: trippy visuals for each song, a yellow color palette sonically imbuing every second of the album’s 29-minute run time, and a fresh perspective on the malaise that accompanies the long, winding journey from childhood to adulthood. “It’s a shared experience of accepting your fate as an adult,” Greene tells Folio Weekly. “And it’s quite funny the way we overdramatize our lives. A lot of the stress comes from a place that isn’t even warranted.”
Folio Weekly: Tell us more about Mister Mellow, Ernest.
Ernest Greene: This record is the first that I’ve had time to see all the way through—I’m excited about every little piece of the puzzle, from the artwork to the visuals to the music to the live show. I live in Atlanta, so these first few Southeast tour dates in Georgia and Florida will allow me to fine-tune everything without venturing too far from home. There are quite a few moving pieces with motion sensors that take the movements of the real-time performers and project them using crazy wild effects.
What motivated you to put that kind of time and effort into the album?
I haven’t put out a record or played many shows for three or four years, which I didn’t intend to happen. Taking a step back, I realized that I could put my … I wouldn’t call them mistakes, but my past experiences into doing the best I could and seeing everything through to the end. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and compulsive about wanting to connect the dots. It was really important that everything make sense together for once. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole, though, so I’m not sure if I’ll have the time and energy to ever do something quite this complicated again.
The visual accompaniments by collaborators like Winston Hacking, RuffMercy, Jonathan Hodgson and Jason Miller add a lot to the feeling of the music.
I spent a year going really hard on the music, so by the time I finished it, I was a bit burnt out. That made it really refreshing to shift to the visuals for each song. They were all challenging in their own way—a lot of stuff was actually done by hand, which takes a ton of time and can be problematic. In the digital realm, there are opportunities to change things after the fact. So I had to accept that once things ended, you had to be OK with it. My favorite clip is by Harvey Benschoter for “Get Lost”—he’s done similar videos with images cut out from magazines, but he took it a step further and printed his own collages on fabric. So what you’re seeing is an actual fabric moving around on screen. It’s wild the time and energy that he put into it.
Do you think the marriage between music and visuals will translate well to the live stage?
I feel like this is the best representation of the Washed Out aesthetic. The problem in the past is that it felt like we were the best Washed Out cover band out there. We were playing the songs, but they didn’t sound as close to the album as I would have liked.
Let’s talk more about the album’s philosophy. Were you going through feelings of “Oh, shit, I’m an adult now” while you were writing?
Definitely. I’m really envious of songwriters who can step outside themselves and write from other perspectives. For me, what I’m feeling naturally seeps into the music. Which is quite a bit of pressure to put on myself. Getting older and having more responsibilities is the struggle I’ve been going through, and that fed into the material. But I also wanted to play with the idea—there’s humor in the fact that everyone at some point in their lives goes through this, yet we stress ourselves out about it so much. That’s where the title Mister Mellow comes from. I wanted it to be Mister Mellow, but my lawyer said that was probably not a good idea. [Laughs.]
Why Stones Throw Records, especially after working with Sub Pop for the last record?
Stones Throw is probably my favorite label of all time, so it’s a dream come true. They have impeccable taste. It’s a great home for the album from a purely aesthetic perspective, too.
Finally, Florida. Have you played a lot down here?
Most often in Miami. I went to the University of Georgia, so I probably spent more time in Jacksonville going to football games than doing shows.