Insightful, quirky, irreverent and with a surprising sense of calm, singer/songwriter Megan Washington chats about the release her second full-length album There There.
A collection of 14 songs, all written about real life events and people that have proliferated the singer’s life at some point, the focus here is on authenticity and truthfulness. And Washington has fearlessly stepped into the light and shade of her past and shares it via song.
Discussing an exercise at a happiness workshop where everyone was encouraged to skip during the coffee break, the conclusion was that doing something different to everyone else around you is scary, even when it’s only skipping rather than walking. Megan likens the songwriting style on her new album to this experience.
“It goes back to the skipping story. When you’re writing with someone who doesn’t bat an eyelid when you write honest, raw direct lyrics; you don’t realise it’s particularly honest or direct until you get out of that environment and you’re around non-skippers. And then those people start saying things like ‘This is pretty skippy’. And you’re like ‘Is it?’ And they point out that everyone is walking right now and you’re like ‘shit, I didn’t even know’ and you’re almost surprised that you’re skipping and they’re not. When I wrote this record, I didn’t think it was unusual, to be honest. It’s only since I’ve come back and started to do press for the record that I’ve been struck with the realisation that it’s actually unusually honest.”
She pauses for a breath. Does this change how she relates to the music, seeing how people have responded? “No, I honestly have no real feelings towards this music. For a start, those recordings of my voice are over a year old. And I think that once you’ve written a song, that’s it. Every time you perform it, you’re not reliving the emotion you felt when you were writing it. And often, even when you’re writing it, the emotion isn’t that prevalent. It was just the truth for you at that time, like ‘I am angry’ or ‘I am sad’. You don’t have to feel livid to say you’re angry, otherwise you’d be a hysterical person all the time, constantly feeling intense emotions.”
Her voice softens as she goes on. “Once the record was made and the vocals were done, you just sort of hand it over to the universe and say ‘next thing’, and that’s very much how I feel about this record. Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely proud of it, but it just doesn’t serve me or anyone for me to be emotionally concerned about performing a song.
I think it was Andy Warhol that said ‘Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.’ And that’s kind of how I feel about making records. Just make it and then make another one.”
Between making records, what does a day in the life of Megan Washington look like? Her typical day is anything but typical, but between the manic episodes of touring and promoting, Washington spends her time in myriad ways.
“I read a lot, I listen to a lot of music, I run a lot. I recently started getting really into raw food and raw eating, so learning how to make all that stuff takes ages and that’s been fun. I’ve got heaps of emails to answer, things to organise and people to get back to. It’s not particularly taxing when it’s calm but when it’s busy, it’s insane. When it’s not busy it’s actually quite relaxing,” she laughs.
Her discography is small but packs a punch. Her first album, the ARIA Award-winning, anthem-filled platinum debut I Believe You Liar, which came out in 2010, was the start of Washington’s journey as a musical artist. This was followed by fan-favourite mini-album Insomnia (2011). There There (2014) is the next instalment. As Megan explains in the album bio, every song on it is a real story, and every lyric is about someone real. “In my mind, every single one of these songs has a name in brackets afterwards,” she says. “The people in the songs know who they are. I certainly do.”
The life of a musician is full of challenges, not least trying to somehow satisfy the universal human desire for stability, security and comfort, but Megan actually has an entirely different outlook. “I just have a need for change. And yeah, pain can be a great catalyst for creativity but I think at the end of the day, the only thing that pain encourages and facilitates is self-examination. And if you just have an interest in self-examination then you don’t really need pain to do that, you just self-examine.”
A restless mind, constantly seeking answers, Washington is aware of her insatiable curiosity. Rather than fight it, she has learned to embrace this aspect of herself. “I’m really motivated by questions. I feel like there is an answer but I don’t have it — an answer for who I am and what I’m here for or why I exist. And I don’t have the answer. And maybe there’s not even an answer but I don’t know that for certain either. I just like learning and growing.”
The analogy she uses to describe her attitude to music is completely unexpected, but absolutely works.
“The one thing about music is that being a musician is like playing this epic video game with infinity levels that you’ll never finish. And every time you get to a new level, you realise again how much you don’t know.
I could live a 100 lives and I would still never have the nuanced understanding of music a classical cellist has. I’d never have the knowledge of harmony that a bebop saxophonist has. I just won’t. There’s just so many things to learn. There are so many levels in this video game of music that I still have to do.”
Embracing her path, Megan is open-minded and grateful. “It’s fun, and the path or the evolution of what I do, it just sort of happens. I’m not waking up and saying ‘Right, I have to learn the tuba today’. My understanding of lyric writing and honesty and directness came from an organic, natural evolutionary place. I went to go write this album and realised none of my songs were about anything. And so then [songwriter/bassist/producer] Sam Dixon said ‘Well, that’s OK, why don’t you just write about things that were actually real?’ And so we did.”
When asked what she wants people to say about her album, the singer pauses and considers before answering. “Albums are like Rorschachs, like ink blots, it’s something that everybody sees their own meaning in. I feel like there is a lot of meaningless music in the world and I hope that this record isn’t part of that. What I would like them to say is that it means something.”
Megan Washington’s album There There is out September 12. You can see her perform her new songs this Saturday August 30 at The Zoo. For more info, visit our event guide.