How Washed Out became the poster boy of electro's chillwave movement 

From the peach trees of Perry, Ga., Ernest Greene reaches blog star status

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For Greene, going to high school in Perry meant that there wasn't a local music scene to explore or learn from. Instead, he discovered his father's collection of jazz and rock LPs from the '60s and '70s. "Stuff like the Grateful Dead, you know? I just ate that shit up in high school," he says. "I was the only kid listening to John Coltrane records at home." As Greene was finishing high school, the sounds of Atlanta's burgeoning rap scene began trickling into Perry. "It wasn't like today. I guess we had the Internet then, but it wasn't like it is now, with people trading everything you want to hear."

Moving to Athens for college and, five years later, to Columbia, S.C., for graduate school, exposed Greene to thriving music scenes that were foreign to Perry. "I move through phases," he says, explaining how he'd obsess over a particular genre — indie rock, shoegaze, ambient — for a year or two and then move onto the next. "For the past couple years, it's been dance music."

While studying for his graduate degree in Columbia, Greene fell in with a small scene of musicians, including Chaz Budnick of Toro y Moi. Budnick and Greene started playing music together, but there wasn't a large enough scene to play to. "Our scene can't get bigger because bands don't come here," Budnick explained over the phone from Colombia. "But bands don't come here because it isn't big enough." Instead of playing shows or forming a band together, Budnick says, "we just jammed at each other's houses."

Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life tells the story of a few bands that bridged the gap between punk and indie rock in the 1980s. While explaining the rise of such acts as Hüsker Dü or Dinosaur Jr., Azerrad writes about long drives to play for five people, local scenes so tight-knit everyone knows everyone in the room, and bands formed by a sheet of paper tacked to a wall. That network of culture persisted long after most of those groups broke up and, in many ways, is the same scene that Washed Out belongs to today. Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü is even reported to be a big fan.

That similarity exists, of course, with one great difference. The story of Washed Out is impossible without the Internet. Instead of gravitating around a single geographic scene such as Minneapolis, Minn., in the '80s, Washed Out's chillwave peers — Neon Indian, Nite Jewel, Memory Cassette — have gravitated to spaces on the web (MySpace, No Pain In Pop, Gorilla vs. Bear) from such distant places as Denton, Texas, and rural New Jersey. The act of recording massive, layered songs in a bedroom for free gives a new, unexpected context to the "econo" ethic that the Minutemen championed so many years ago.

There is a certain perversity in comparing Washed Out's story to the punks of that era. Those days of local scenes, long drives, and paper fliers seem completely foreign when a band can get a record deal based on a MySpace profile. Keith Abrahamsson of Mexican Summer, the record label that issued Life of Leisure, "became obsessed with the tunes on [Washed Out's] MySpace page," he says. "I was literally going back to the songs two to three times a day. It was at that point that I decided to write him and ask about releasing some material."

Greene didn't drive hours through the night to play for a few lonely people. He was met in Brooklyn by a sold-out show and a reporter from the New York Times. That said, it doesn't take much of a logical jump to realize that blogs and MP3s are functioning in the same ways that fanzines and cassette demos worked 25 years ago. Washed Out's tunes certainly don't sound like Hüsker Dü's thrashing guitars, but they're governed by the same do-it-yourself aesthetic.

Now that he's finally (and no longer reluctantly) on the road, Greene is facing those more traditional concerns. Getting his mix to sound right in a new venue every night isn't easy. His schedule at SXSW — seven performances and one DJ set in four days — was overpacked with the same breakneck lineup of showcases and parties that new artists typically prove themselves with.

But he's still conflicted about the future. He'll probably have the resources to make a produced, studio record next time, but he's not sure if that's what he wants. He might just make another record on his laptop. After thinking about it for a moment, Greene says, "I really don't know what the hell I'm doing."


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