Washed Out's Ernest Greene explains how imperfect art and the influence of Jean-Michel Basquiat helped him create his latest album Mister Mellow.
I am obsessed with style and form when it comes to music. So much so that the actual songwriting sometimes becomes an afterthought. Unlike a “classic” songwriter sitting in front of a piano (with paper and pen in hand), I worked more like a visual collagist on my new record Mister Mellow. I spent tons of time on Youtube and other websites - collecting and sampling interesting source material and then would later reassemble these bits and pieces into a much larger sound-collage. Because of the nature of this process, the songwriting and production of the songs happen simultaneously and what often happens is that they feed each other in very interesting ways.
I am most interested in discovering “happy accidents” while I’m working - those unplanned moments that often make for accidental breakthroughs. I’ve found that the unpredictable nature of sampling - with all of the randomness and chance at play - is one of the best methods for procuring these moments. The hard part is actually building a “song” around these sometimes very experimental ideas - while all-the-while making it catchy and exciting for a listener. This is where I tend to struggle the most and where the core song-elements can suffer. However, I’ve found that I’m ultimately more interested in the way an album feels rather than a clever lyric or interesting songwriting trick. I value the idiosyncrasies of the work as a whole and ideally want it to feel like a very skewed and impressionistic self-portrait of myself as an artist. Maybe even a caricature.
I spent a lot of time looking at visual art and animation while working on the album and the stuff I gravitated towards had this beautiful sense of chaos at play. My favorite works were messy and tattered - where the lines were sloppy, torn or smudged. I wanted my songs to sound the way a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting looks. There is a rawness and spontaneity in his work that is really exciting for me. Seeing it in person recently at the Barbican was a revelation. He literally would place the canvas on the ground and walk all over it as he painted - leaving behind trails of boot marks and footprints. Most artist would consider these glaring mistakes - but it is these imperfections that are precisely what I love about his work. The paintings ooze with personality and they feel like an impressionistic mirror into the workings of his fast-paced and curious mind.
Making digital art in the modern era means that there are innumerable ways of editing-out and fixing mistakes. Even the most minute detail can be moved, stretched or reconfigured and perfection is entirely possible. It is my opinion that perfection is the enemy of personal art and I did my best to embrace imperfection as much as I could on Mister Mellow. While I’ll never achieve the creative heights of an artist like Basquiat, I do think I succeeded in creating a portrait that was unique of my own sensibilities and views of the world. It isn’t perfect, but that’s exactly what I love about it.