Washed Out in residence
By Lisa Mayfield Spence
Photography by Jave Bjorkman
As a small-town, starry-eyed couple from Perry looking toward their collective future, high school sweethearts Blair and Ernest Greene didn’t plan for music to be a part of their future. It was always part of their younger lives – piano lessons, guitar-playing, church choir and school chorus – but both Blair and Ernest never dreamed of musical careers. In fact, the pair went off to University of Georgia and studied subjects completely unrelated to music.
“I never considered music more than just a hobby,” Ernest recalled, who was on a career track to be a librarian. “I would jam with my friends some in high school, but it wasn’t until college at UGA that I started writing my own songs.”
That’s when Ernest got his first “real” computer and began using software to make music with a more electronic vibe. “The great thing about software recording is that you can do everything completely on your own. With multi-tracking, I could play each part and start to layer fully realized songs,” he said.
Though Ernest spent “tons of time” making songs, it was still just a pastime. “It wasn’t until I was in graduate school years later that I became friends with another musician who was just starting to get a lot of media attention,” he recalled. “That friend eventually passed my music along to some people in the industry, which led to my first record release.”
The couple were married around this time, said Blair, and concurrently Ernest’s musical moniker – “Washed Out” – was being picked up by notable alternative music websites, blogs, and the newest form of social media: MySpace. The same week in 2009 they were married, Ernest’s first Washed Out show was a sell-out in New York City and subsequently covered by the New York Times.
“Things really took off after that show,” said Blair. “The rest is history – and we’ve never looked back.” In 2010, Washed Out went on tour, and a career in music was set in stone.
At first, Blair recalled, Ernest was a one-man show. “He did everything on the music side by himself, and I handled bookings, scheduling, merchandise sales and more,” she said. “We were both so busy, we could barely keep our heads above water.”
Ernest signed with a booking agent and a small record label, soon realizing the importance of having a manager, business manager and the many other key players in the music industry. Blair remembered the euphoria the couple experienced as big names in the industry started contacting them directly.
“Would you believe Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork emailed Ernest directly asking to post one of his songs on his website? And Fred Armisen emailed him to pitch using ‘Feel it All Around’ as the theme song for Portlandia, a television comedy that aired for eight seasons from 2011 – 2018,” she said. “We had a hard time believing these people were actually who they said they were when we received their emails.”
Quite accidentally, industry giants were hailing Ernest as a pioneer of a new musical genre, “Chillwave.”
“This definitely wasn’t planned,” Ernest said about being named a musical innovator. “I wasn’t trying to please anyone but myself when I started on this musical journey. In fact, because I was largely self-taught, many idiosyncrasies in my work ultimately made me stand out,” he admitted.
It was probably the marriage of these circumstances that led to the musical innovations for which he is now known. Critics and the music industry as a whole have raved about Washed Out’s signature style, calling Ernest’s music “plush” and “an immersion in introspective sonic bliss.”
Ernest, now frontman for Washed Out, assembled a full band for the first time as he began touring, asking Blair to play keyboards with the group, a role she took on for several years. Those were heady days, she recalled. “We saw the world, with tired eyes, but full hearts. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Though it was hard for Blair to step back from Washed Out, she did so in 2015 when the couple decided to start a family. Their sons Miles and Sid are now six and three. “They love their dad’s music and know the songs well,” Blair said.
Ernest isn’t resting on his laurels, though. Even with live shows and outdoor festivals throughout the country planned for the upcoming months, he still is most focused on writing and recording a new album, currently in its initial stages.
The couple has always lived in Georgia – from Atlanta to Athens to Decatur – but when looking for somewhere to land and have their “forever home,” they chose Macon.
“We both have a deep love for Georgia,” explained Blair. In Macon, they were able to find a home with more land – 20 acres to be exact – and a small cabin where Ernest can work. Not far from family in Perry, and not far from the airport when traveling, Macon is now home.
Though he considers himself still relatively new to Macon, Ernest said he is starting to get to know the city and the general arts culture at large. “I’ve met with the folks at the Otis Redding Foundation, and I’m very interested in the outreach they do, particularly with music education and songwriting,” Ernest opined, suggesting he aspires to engage in Macon’s music scene in a similar way.
“I think you can help grow local talent by having strong music education at a young age, as the Otis Redding Foundation is doing,” he continued. Having good music venues and places for musicians to get together is important, too, he said. “We’ve been lucky to play in Europe a number of times and there is a strong tradition of government subsidized community art spaces that put on really amazing shows,” he explained. With less emphasis on the bottom line, there is more opportunity to take creative risks with the bookings and outreach, according to Ernest. “Here in the United States, our next best step is somehow cultivating interest in music within the community.”
Reflecting on Washed Out’s place among the musical giants who have hailed from this area, Ernest humbly admits that in establishing his definitive style, he stepped away from the tradition. “To be honest, my interest in electronic music was partly a youthful rebellion against the music that was around me and what my parents were listening to,” he admitted. “I love southern rock like the Allman Brothers, but I was very consciously trying to go in the opposite direction with my music. There is obviously only one Allman Brothers Band, so I was just trying to make stuff that was unique to me.”
His musical style is definitely a product of his southern roots, he said. Though his music might sound quite different from some of the notable artists who hailed from the region, Ernest admitted his sensibility was significantly shaped by the small towns and slower pace in which he was raised.
“After visiting some of the biggest cities in the world, it is an exhale of sorts to be coming back home,” Blair said. “Maybe it’s the deeply-planted roots we have here, but we are loving more space and a slower pace – especially for our boys. It’s a beautiful life, and in the words of Washed Out, ‘It All Feels Right.’”