Megan Washington has just released her new album, There There, and is set to perform alongside Neil Finn and Gurrumul on Saturday, November 22, at Sandalford Estate, Margaret River. CHRIS MARTIN reports.
It’s a gloomy Tuesday morning at the Universal Music offices in Surry Hills, but Megan Washington is in a determined mood.
Her second album, There There, is out in a matter of days, and the Port Moresby-born songwriter says it’s time to start a new chapter in her career.
“This whole record is a consolation,” she says. “And the very idea of a consolation implies a tacit acknowledgement of the conflicts before there can be the consolation, you know what I mean? And I had to deal with a lot of shit from my past – well, I wanted to deal with it, and I think subconsciously that’s probably why I made this record.
“I think a lot of those narratives and a lot of those dramas are finished and can be written about from a finite, ‘And therefore, here is the song, thanks for your time, and let’s all go to the pub’.”
If this is Washington’s closure, it has been a long time in the works. She released her debut studio album, I Believe You Liar, in 2010 – a collection of keys-infused alt-pop that saw her win ARIA Awards for Best Female Artist and Breakthrough Artist that year – then followed it up with the mini-album Insomnia, a dark and troubled portrait of a musician in turmoil. It wasn’t the triumphant, radio-friendly second release designed to capitalise on the goodwill of the first (“I just fucking wrote Insomnia, so I put it out,” she says). There There has taken as long as it needed to take.
“I felt ever since about 2011 that I was sort of looking for something, but I didn’t know what I was looking for,” says Washington. “Just quite a Lynchian sort of idea. And I was just looking for someone to work with. I went across to London in 2012, and wrote with a whole bunch of people there, and I went back again at the beginning of 2013 and it was only then when I met Sam (Dixon, producer) that I kind of went, ‘A-ha, now I have all the bits’, and he was hugely influential in this record and quite influential to me, artistically, and in my personal life as well as musically. I didn’t really have the interest in doing it before I did it, because I didn’t have anything to write about, and there was a lot of natural resolution that came as part of writing this album, and I probably wasn’t ready for that either.”
In truth, this has been a year of new starts for Washington, who continues to split her time between Australia and the UK. In May, she delivered a TEDx talk at the Sydney Opera House revealing her lifelong battle with stuttering. That sprouted an episode of Australian Story, profiling a singer who’d grown to prominence in the Australian contemporary music sphere while managing to conceal her debilitating condition from all but those close to her. At the start of 2014, did Washington envisage making all this public?
“Even at the start of the day that I did it, I didn’t envisage myself doing it,” she says. “I still can’t really believe that I did it, actually – I’m still a bit like, ‘Fuck!’ If someone asked me again to do that right now, I’d be like, ‘No fucking way’. At the time, I’d just split up with my old manager and I was feeling really raw. And so I just thought, ‘I’ll do it,’ because… like, you do weird shit after a break up, you go skydiving or cut all your hair off, and splitting up with him was very much like a break up, so I did some crazy shit. I kinda wanted to push the boat out a bit and see. Weirdly, since I did that, my speech has gotten much worse. I hoped it would be this sort of holistic balm … dunno.”
The new-look Washington is evident in name, as well: There There will be her first release under her full name, Megan Washington, as opposed to the surname-only moniker applied to her earlier work. She wanted to draw a line between the Dixon-produced material, recorded in London, and that which she’d written with Australian producer, John Castle.
“Up until I made this record, every single thing that I released with John Castle was just me and him. So in my head, that’s kind of a band; me and him. And I would like to make more work with him in the future, and that will be Washington also, because he has such a sound and such a style and such a unique voice that what I was very much made up of parts of him. So it just didn’t seem energetically or karmically accurate to call this music Washington as well. And Sam and I, I don’t know; it was just a different… Sam felt less like a bandmate and more like a midwife. He really helped me bring this thing into the world, but he didn’t flavour it very heavily in anything particularly. He was very helpful in helping me to decipher what I wanted.”
For now, There There continues a pattern of growth in Washington’s career that she’s sure isn’t over just yet. On tracks such as Limitless, My Heart Is A Wheel and One For Sorrow, she’s learnt the ability to write whenever and wherever she feels like it, rather than waiting for the muse to strike – and that’s bound to bring us a different Washington from here on in.
“Remember when you were a teenager and it didn’t matter where you were?” she asks. “You were sort of consumed with the rage and the fury of your existence, and everything was really meaningful, and everything that everybody said was profound – it didn’t matter where you were, it’s just who you were, and then you grow out of it. So I think this record is quite literally a historical record of who I was at the time that I was writing it, but I’m certainly not that person anymore.
“I think after this I’m done with putting my heart out there. I think I’d like to make a party record, I really would. I’d like to make a disco record.”