Purple Noon

Purple Noon

Ernest Greene has no issue with being called an escapist. “When I write,” he tells Apple Music, “I'm very much someone that's scoring a film or something: I like to have a picture in my head as I'm putting the music together. Oftentimes, they're idealized situations or romanticized versions of reality. But that's what I love about music: The stuff that I keep coming back to just has a way of taking me somewhere else, for better or for worse.” For Purple Noon, his fourth LP under the Washed Out alias, Greene traveled to Greece for inspiration—images and atmosphere he could evoke once he returned home to Atlanta and began writing. (That’s him on the cover, photographed by his wife on the island of Santorini.) Sonically, it’s his most direct work to date, influenced in large part by writing sessions with LA R&B artist Sudan Archives in 2018. “The real eye-opening thing was just stepping outside of the Washed Out world,” he says. “I feel like I pretty much have a sound and a certain palette, but if I'm writing for someone else, I can try new things. I had never really written with 808s and more modern pop elements. Early in my career, I was really influenced by a lot of older recordings and I wanted my records to have a warmer sound that might sound slightly vintage. With this one, it was very much just trying to sound as bright and as powerful as possible.” Here, he takes us through the album, track by track. Too Late “It's one of the more modern-sounding productions I've done. I felt like when I was starting out, 10 years ago, the traditional approach was to have your chorus be the busiest, most euphoric moment in the song. And nowadays, I think it's really interesting: In so many pop songs, the chorus is a moment where oftentimes things are really stripped back and intimate, but maybe there's a big payoff at the very end. I’ve never really tried that with a song, and I felt like it worked fairly well with ‘Too Late.’” Face Up “It's like when you've reached that point in a relationship where you're not sure whether you should just try harder or sort of cut your losses. I'm very happily married, but I've been in relationships like that in the past, and I'd say probably 90% of the stories from the record are from my own past, stories that are 10 or 15 years old now. There was definitely a period of my time where my love life was a little bit more all over the place. I was so sick of doing the sample thing, and with this whole record in general, I wrote pretty much all of it when I was just sitting down at a piano or a keyboard. And because of that, not only did I move much faster, but the focus was a lot more on traditional songcraft and has to do with experimenting with sound. It was like there was a song from the very beginning, with a melody and lyrics, and then the production was sort of figured out after the fact, which is the first time I've ever really done that.” Time to Walk Away “I didn't think that as I was writing it, but a few people have mentioned that it reminds them of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game.’ And it's not a surprise—I'm a huge fan of that song. I think its melody shares a lot sensibility-wise with what comes most naturally to me: It’s quite sad, but there's also this kind of weirdly uplifting quality about it too. One of my earliest influences was the photographer Herb Ritts, who was a pretty famous fashion photographer in the early ’90s and then kind of graduated into making music videos. He made the video for ‘Wicked Game,’ the black-and-white video where he and the model are rolling around in the sand and stuff. I literally had Herb Ritts' photos all over my studio, hung up. Maybe that seeped into my unconscious.” Paralyzed “The melody and the lyrics that I came up with, for me at least, felt like the closest thing I'd ever really done to an R&B-style song. Believe me, I don't kid myself into thinking that I could ever really sing R&B, but I kind of took that approach with just the instrumentation and just the production in general. It has kind of a natural swing to the rhythm that I rarely really do in my records, but it just sort of felt right, so I kept following it. I think this song has taken on a new meaning in our current pandemic situation. It’s about a long-distance relationship and missing someone, and when I was writing it, I was thinking more about me going on tour, being gone for a couple of weeks or a month. For so many people right now, I imagine, they might be a long way away from their loved ones.” Reckless Desires “There's this song called ‘Why’ by Carly Simon, a song I’ve really loved for a while now. It's produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. And not only is it just a great pop song, but I feel like it's quite interesting. It has this sort of reggae bounce to it, but it doesn't feel like a traditional reggae song. There's a lot happening with the bass and the drums that are a little bit more funky than what a reggae song would be. I've always wanted to write a song like that, and this is the one. That sound was particularly relevant with the coastal kind of vibe I was going for.” Game of Chance “If you would've told me five or ten years ago that I was going to put an acoustic guitar ballad on my album, I would have said, ‘Definitely not.’ I'm not a very good guitar player, but I happened to be just doodling around one day, and just started playing the chords and it sort of happened naturally. And one of the components is the style of music called Balearic music, which has loose ties with the Mediterranean and Ibiza. So much of that music has this very resonant sort of acoustic guitar element that I've always really liked. I knew I wanted to include that acoustic guitar vibe somewhere on the record, but I didn't realize it was going to be probably the most stripped-down song I've ever done. At times, it's just an acoustic guitar, vocal, and maybe a little bit of percussion. It’s actually one of my favorite songs, surprisingly. It’s just so different than anything I've really done before.” Leave You Behind “The producer I was working with [Ben H. Allen] was like, ‘You know, your sense of melody is quite similar to Sade’s.’ And I’d never made that connection before, so I dove into some of her records, and sonically it was really inspiring. The music is so lush and it makes me think of some really posh European beach resort or something. I mean that in the best possible way. This is very much a song where I was hoping to channel a little bit of Sade’s influence. I never would have thought that I would use a steel drum sound in my work—that just seemed too obvious—but there's a little musical motif in the intro and a few other times, and it’s an actual steel drum sound. One of those things where if it didn't happen so easily and just fit so well, I never would have considered it really. But it totally worked.” Don’t Go “I did most of the instrumentation on the computer, with virtual instruments and this software called Omnisphere. It’s really, really popular with film composers like Hans Zimmer. There’s some sounds that are over the top, like the war drums that you hear in every fight sequence of a big-budget Hollywood movie. I try to stay away from anything like that, but the texture that opens the song sounds like a Middle Eastern stringed instrument or something. I thought it sounded unique, and immediately for me it kind of conjured up these images right off the bat—and that's where the song started from. The melody came naturally; it just needed that huge support around it. In times past, I might have held back a little bit, but so much I was trying to do with this album was really make it as powerful sonically as I could.” Hide “I think this was the last song that I wrote for the album, and at that point, I had a rough sort of track sequence and I was thinking a little bit more strategically about what was missing. I felt like deeper into the record, after some slower ballads, it would make sense to have something a little bit more rhythmic. I think the synth bassline is the one thing that kind of keeps the song kind of driving forward. I kind of shaped the song around that. The guy that was mixing the record [Ben H. Allen] compared it to Kate Bush's ‘Running Up That Hill.’” Haunt “It shares some similarities with ‘Don't Go’ in that sonically it gets quite dramatic at times. I think it's probably the emotional climax of the record, so why not end that way? That was one of the most challenging songs I've ever sung. I mean, not only is it just a dense arrangement, but the emotion really had to be in the performance for it to work. I actually had to do it a couple of different times to get it right. And it was frustrating. I record my own vocals, and it's just incredibly frustrating process because I'm not a very good singer. But to do that and have the emotion right was really tough.”

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