Thursday, October 6, 2011
There aren’t many places like Big Sur. Or reasons as good as this to call in sick.
The mini Fernwood festival on Monday and Tuesday nights, featuring otherworldly music, headlines Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, on Tuesday. He grew up in the Allman Brothers’ stomping grounds, the Macon, Georgia area. As different as the Allmans’ sound is compared to the electro-trance of Washed Out, their brand of seminal southern rock seems to be forever ingrained in Greene.
“[The Allman Brothers] had to be an influence because my dad always claimed that his high school was down the street from their rehearsal space,” he says from a tour stop Miami Beach, Florida. “I can’t remember a time not hearing their music from super early on.”
The 28-year-old started out making his own music about 10 years ago. It has since earned him comparisons to established notables within the same genre, including Toro y Moi and Panda Bear.
For his part, Greene describes his style as a reaction to the blues-based, guitar-driven music the Allmans are known for.
“I was more rebellious then and looking for my own thing,” he says. “That might have been the push for me to do more electronic stuff.”
That’s one element that has remained constant since Greene began making music is his process, which he describes as “mindless, naïve and therapeutic.”
“At this point, I sit down and four hours later, I come out of the fog and there’s a song,” he says. “I really enjoy that aspect of making music. It’s very rare that I have a strong idea of where I want to take things; it’s more about closing my eyes and walking into the dark and not really knowing where I’ll end up.”
Aside from a few piano lessons as a kid, Greene is self-taught and believes that works to his advantage.
“My best songs happen by mistake,” he says. “They end up in places I never would have imagined. It’s important that I’ve done things in non-traditional ways because that’s a big part of my sound and why it’s different from everyone else’s.”
Ben Allen, known for his work on Animal Collective’s beloved Merriweather Post Pavilion, produced Washed Out’s full-length debut, Within and Without, released on Sub Pop Records last June.
“Amor Fati,” one of the album’s highlights, is an infectiously re-imagined artifact that sounds like it was dug out from somewhere in the 80s. The tune is a perfect balance of that adolescent experimentation Greene embraces, top-notch production and layers upon layers of different influences.
“It’s really easy when you’re working with computers and software to make things too perfect,” Greene says. “[Allen] was able to come in with fresh ears and help make the dynamics so much bigger and better; he was able to breathe real life into the mix.”
Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson’s Prince Rama (named after an old Bollywood film they used to reenact as kids) gets the energy going in the redwoods on Monday, with music cut from an electro-cloth similar to Washed Out’s. The hype surrounding them has been substantial: Pitchfork said, “If there’s such a thing as cred in psychedelic music, Prince Rama have got it.”
But it’s the sisters’ upbringing, which inspires a lot of their work, that gives them additional originality.
“Our parents were Hare Krishnas,” says Taraka from a truck stop somewhere in rural Alabama. “We grew up in an isolated area in Texas. After 9-11, our parents got an apocalyptic feeling and moved us to a spiritual farm in Florida when we were in high school.”
Taraka explains that growing up within that culture has given their music, some inspired by Sanskrit chants, both an inner and outer dimension.
“I like the [Krishna] idea of call-and-response participation and chanting, which eventually becomes an inner-dialogue for everyone involved,” she says.
Shadow Temple, released last October on Paw Tracks (an Animal Collective imprint), is part acid trip, part mind-f*. Each of the album’s eight tracks takes the listener on a different journey – some are frightening, some are contemplative and others are quirky and fun.
Taraka admits that she and her sister have their share of creative differences but says they know each other so well that it doesn’t take much effort to work out solutions.
“It’s amazing to be in a band with my sister,” she says. “I can’t imagine making music with anyone else because we have such a psychic bond.”
In addition to touring, Prince Rama has been working on tunes for its fifth full-length album with Ariel Pink bassist Tim Koh. Taraka says the new tunes will take listeners to places they’ve never been.
The likeminded Manhattan-based outfit Gang Gang Dance – featuring the bombastic voice of Lizzi Bougatsos – also performs Monday. The group has been gaining recognition for about a decade with its trance-flavored jams like “Mindkilla.”
With its Tuesday appearance, regular Big Sur visitors The Entrance Band rounds out the two nights of weekday psychedelia with an ethereal and skull-rattling brand of the blues. Guy Blakeslee’s guitar riffs on “Grim Reaper Blues” are as transcendent as the magnificent Big Sur wilderness.
Just thinking about taking in that music and nature together makes taking a day off significantly easier.
THE MINI FERNWOOD FESTIVAL happens 6pm, Monday, Oct. 10 and 7pm, Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Fernwood, 47200 Highway 1, Big Sur. $30 Monday; $27.50 Tuesday (ticket/camping combo packages available at 667-2422). www.folkyeah.com