True authenticity is difficult to define and even harder to fake but however you choose to characterise it, it’s something Washington has had in spades since she first embarked on a career in music.
As she was readying for today’s release of her third solo album – her first full-length collection of new material since There, There in September 2014 – Washington was disarmingly honest about her intentions.
“All that anybody really wants from people who are calling themselves artists – which I think is probably too many people if you ask me – is some f—ing real shit,” she said.
“Trying to be cool, or look cool, or act cool, whatever the f— that is, is actually a real social trap because what I want to be is hot, I want to be passionate, I want to be exploding with ideas and totally excited about everything but I don’t want to be cool, that’s f—ing lame.”
It’s no surprise that Washington rails against the concept of being cool and after more than a decade in the public spotlight, she no longer has any room in her life for superficiality.
She is a fan of musicals from Hollywood’s golden era, which she said influenced her compositions for Batflowers, and bemoaned the fact her “incessant love of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly is something that I never really get to talk about because they’re not, quote unquote, ‘cool’ anymore”.
“But I think they are,” she said, “and if you like this record, you have been directly influenced by the work of MGM movie musicals in the 1930s and ’40s.
“I feel like there’s all this shit about me that I always just thought I had to kind of minimise in order to appear a certain way but now I can’t be f—ed with any of that.”
After completing a Bachelor of Music at Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium, where she majored in jazz voice with a minor in composition, Washington collaborated with a range of acclaimed jazz musicians including Sean Foran, Chris Pickering, Sam Vincent and Paul Grabowsky, before shifting her sonic palette to art-pop and alternative influences.
The results were immediately fruitful, with Clementine, her first EP released under the moniker “Washington”, helping her secure a spot on the Melbourne leg of the Big Day Out tour and her follow-up How to Tame Lions earning her the top gong at the inaugural Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition the following year.
When it came time to perform at Splendour in the Grass in 2010, just before the release of her debut full-length album I Believe You, Liar, it was impossible for anyone who hadn’t arrived early to get inside the GW McLennan tent to get a glimpse of Washington, whose set was one of the most-talked-about of that year’s festival.
“Wow, thanks for remembering that brief five-minute period when I was really popular,” said Washington, happily overlooking the fact There There debuted at a more-than-respectable No.5 on the ARIA charts. “What a lovely trip down memory lane.”
Around the same time, Washington was sought out to collaborate with two of her idols.
“I had this amazing thing that happened sort of out of the gate of my songwriting career, which was that I started writing songs, two of the greatest living songwriters – Paul Kelly and Tim Finn – heard my songs and rang me up and said, ‘do you want to do stuff with me?’
“I don’t say it lightly but I love both of those songwriters because they’re just real artists … there are artists who are like, kinda entertainers and, you know, singers, but then there are artists who are actually making the world a better place – actual artists.
“The kindnesses that were extended to me at the beginning of my career – and may I add the kindnesses that are being extended to me now – are kindnesses that I do not take lightly and I won’t forget,” she said, before hastening to add: “But I need to say that I also remember everyone who’s ever gotten in my way – and I will remember them forever and ever”.
Washington has described the title track to Batflowers, which incidentally has already earned favourable comparisons to Split Enz, as “about coming out of the worst place into the sunshine again, and a reminder especially when the current situation feels dire and impossible to come back from, that this too will pass if you just keep going.”
For this album, Washington worked with a range of collaborators and co-producers, including Konstantin Kersting, Sam Dixon, John Congleton, Dave Hammer, Japanese Wallpaper, Sam Fischer and Stella Mozgawa.
When asked to sum up what fans could expect from the album, Washington answered succinctly: “Wear headphones. Bring tissues. That’s what I would say.
“RuPaul says, ‘vulnerability is strength’, and so much of being able to put this record together and so much of the psychological work that I had to do to get to this point, involved basically doing what RuPaul says to do, which is to take everything that you thought was wrong with you, and claiming it as who you are and inverting it and making it into your drag character.
“Washington is my drag – I don’t wear that much f—ing eye makeup in my day-to-day life, Washington is my drag [persona] and to be able to really crystallise who she is involved, really looking at the shadow side of who I am and what I’m afraid of about myself and what I’m ashamed of.”
Washington is also scheduled to perform three shows at the Tivoli as part of this year’s Brisbane Festival and said she was still trying to “figure out the show, because, as you can imagine, I’ve like massively over-delivered, as usual … which I call the bare minimum”.
“I’m putting a lot of effort into the production of the show and I’ve asked the audience to dress up in black and white fancy because, f— your pyjamas, actually, I’m so done with seeing everyone in their pyjamas, and if I see another bookshelf, I’m going to vomit,” she said, before spotting a bookshelf in the corner of this scribe’s room. “No offence.”
Batflowers (Universal) is out now. Megan Washington plays the Tivoli for Brisbane Festival on September 12,13 and 15. Visit the Brisbane Festival website for tickets.
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