If you’re going to mix up a flavor that somehow blends escapism, electronic music and a whole bunch of sonic melancholy into a palatable ice cream, you’d go with some unexpected ingredients, some unpredictable fusions between elements you wouldn’t necessarily merge together until you had a milieu of fruits and spices and plants laid out before you. The concoction that Williamsburg’s OddFellows Ice Cream Co. made to mirror Washed Out’s sophomore effort, Paracosm, is really, really pink–raspberry, pink peppercorn and rose petals are all in the mix for the limited batch–and its head-scratchingly perfect combination is perfect, as Paracosm, which drops via Sub Pop on August 12, is the product of an artistic escape that banks on experimentation and unlikely chemistry.
Ernest Greene–aka Washed Out–is a big fan of the dessert version of his latest release, but it’s the breakthrough he threw himself into headfirst with Paracosm‘s 40-odd minutes and 50-instrument entourage that truly excites him. He put a handful of different vintage keyboards to the test, along with guitars, assorted strings and numerous splashes of inventive percussion, and he did so after retreating to the rural corners of Athens, Georgia, from the distracting bustle of East Atlanta. The result is a body of work that marks a new epoch for the electronic soundscape pioneer–and, apparently, a tasty, tailored treat to savor over the course of the record’s sunny, expansive breakdowns.
When was the last time you guys were here?
It was the last tour, we played a couple of shows here: one at the Highline Ballroom and one at Music Hall Of Williamsburg. That was late spring of last year, maybe. It’s been awhile.
So in between now and then, you wrote and put out your second record. Do you write on the road?
No. I do a lot of conceptual thinking about the records and listen to a lot of music, but it’s just hard. I do a lot of work at home on the laptop, but it’s just different being in a van. It’s hard to focus and get anything done.
Which is intriguing, because escapism and getting out is such an intrinsic theme to Paracosm. Instead of traveling or getting out of dodge as your lyrical content would suggest, you wrote the record while stationary and at home. I like that.
It’s funny how the lifestyle shift of being a touring musician versus being home and making a record … maybe if I lived here it wouldn’t be such a crazy shift. The house that I live in Athens, Georgia with my wife is actually outside of Athens, in a rural area. We’re pretty much out there on our own, which is great for me–it helps for me to kind of shut off and really focus that way. But it’s quite a drastic shift.
Is that the ideal setting to write a song for you? Out in the middle of nowhere?
I don’t think Paracosm would’ve come out the same if I hadn’t have written it in a rural environment. There’s a flower garden in front of my work space, so just seeing that every day–my desk is situated right at this big window. There are animals. It seeped naturally into the stuff I was working on. The ideal space definitely has to be away from everything, otherwise I can’t focus the way I need to. We lived in East Atlanta, and it was a stone’s throw to all the venues, and I just never got anything done because there was always something going on. it helps being somewhere that’s beautiful. I’d love to get away for a month and go to an exotic beach location and see what happens.
Write the next one in Bali!
[Laughs] That’d be great.
I was reading about the multitude of instruments you employed on Paracosm. You used pretty much everything but the kitchen sink for this record. What was the biggest challenge when it came to incorporating all these sounds here?
I didn’t set out to use that much stuff. I know I wanted to use some real, live, acoustic instruments. After touring with Within and Without, it’s such a synth-heavy record that the entire live show, I’m stuck behind a keyboard doing the same thing for the entire 90-minutes of a live show. That was the first thought: coming up with some things to mix up the visual side of the live show. This upcoming tour, I play guitar, piano, do some percussion–that’s where the idea started from, but with some of the themes on the record, including escapism, there was this rough idea to write a daytime-sounding record, and to me that meant stuff that sounded really warm, so the acoustic instruments became the main focus and it slowly got out of control with the list. I did a lot of research online and read about these really obscure-sounding things and figure out a way to get a plug-in of it or actually buy it on eBay. I don’t know how we’re going to play a lot of these songs! (laughs) We’re actually not going to play a lot of songs on the record, because we can’t travel with a string section or whatever.
As you’re a performer entrenched in a very electronic place, how does that work out for you, to retain Washed Out’s musical identity while working with a completely different sonic palette this time around?
There are a ton of acoustic instruments on the record, but they’re all being recorded on a computer and manipulated just like an electronic musician would do it. I do think this record leans more towards a kind of rock vibe, more than anything I’ve ever done, but it’s rooted in electronic. It was made with Ableton Live, which is the electronic producer software. The way we perform the stuff live, I had a crazy midi set up, where the computer is sort of the brain that houses all of the sounds. We use a ton of samplers, so it’s very, very electronic. The attempt was to bring the two worlds together, but I never wanted to rebel against my roots as an electronic musician. It was just kind of adding some different colors into the mix.
When you got the final mixes back, did this evolve into a different work than what you initially expected with the finished product?
It was close to what I had in my mind, which is way different than any other record I’ve done. The process before Paracosm was trial and error and experimenting. I would stumble upon a sound and write a song around it, whereas with this, I had a pretty strong idea for the vibe I wanted. That said, I never anticipated having as many instruments involved as I did on the record, and I like that. One of my biggest influences is DJ Shadow, and I think he’s the king of sampling weird, exotic sounds and re-contextualizing them, and making them work in a hip-hop environment. Ultimately, that’s still what I want to do. Every other traditional musician sits down at the piano and writes a song and figures out a way to arrange it with other instruments.
Do you think that electronic music is a genre that’s particularly suited for fleshing out escapism on a song-by-song basis?
Yeah! That’s the stuff that I’ve always really loved has that quality of taking you somewhere. Electronic stuff, there are no boundaries in place: if anything it’s about with coming up with really new and interesting sounds. If I sit down at a piano and try to write a song, it comes out pretty much just like any other ballad-y, piano-y thing, whereas sitting down at the computer, there are limitless ways and directions in which you can potentially go. And I love that.
Now, what exactly is this crazy concoction here?
We were trying to come up with different ideas with promoting the record, so we brainstormed about what would make sense, and I feel like ice cream screams summer and being outside. Oddfellows specializes in exotic flavors, so they sent over a few options that were pretty out there. This is a raspberry base with pink peppercorns and rose petals.
This is about as pink as pink ice cream can get.
And it works! With the artwork for Paracosm we have this floral motif happening and a lot of bright colors, so it makes sense.
Did you ever think that you’d have an ice cream flavor created for a sound you made? Did you ever want that, even?
Never. They’re actually keeping the flavor for the next month or something.