Earlier in the year Rolling Stone magazine sent me on a super sweet assignment to interview award-winning Australian musician-songwriter Megan Washington [you can find it in Issue 726 May 2012]. She was kickin’ back for a weeklong stay at a beautiful studio/house (literally) by the seaside, you could walk straight out the studio door and right onto the beach. Seriously paradise. Peep the photos below.
As with a lot of the interviews I do for mainstream publications, there’s never enough room to publish the whole interview so rather than it be lost forever, I’ve decided to post a little here. Megan talks about writing a musical about The Witch of Kings Cross, of her relationship to the music industry and on creating.
What’s the highlight of your week been so far?
MEGAN WASHINGTON: To be honest, it’s just been great. It may sound so awful and lazy but just to be near the beach and be able to not really have any chronological parameters. You can write at four in the morning or four in the afternoon. The freedom of having the studio close has been really liberating. I stood up on a surfboard too. Oh yeah! The scrawny white-girl stood up on a surfboard!
Have you tried anything else for the first time while here?
MW: I smoked Mugwort [for lucid dreaming and astral travel]. We went to Happy High Herbs because I’m trying to quit smoking. The lady suggested I try Mugwort—it just made me really stupid [laughs]. It was fun though.
What’s your focus at the moment?
MW: I’ve been doing heaps of yoga. Discipline has been something that I’ve really been embracing: having a really good diet, eating really well, doing lots of sport and also having discipline when it comes to the practice of songwriting. Rather than just sitting at the piano when I am pissed off or mad and writing a song that’s all passive aggressive, I’m actually sitting down and going, right, I’m not really feeling much today but I’m going to attempt to write a song from the perspective of that guy on the beach who is wearing a mermaids tail and who has nine kids; I’m going to get into his world for a second. Having a more scholarly, academic approach to writing rather than writing on a whim when I’m really seething, I’m trying to avoid that.
I was recently reading Henry Miller’s writing tips and he was saying to the effect of, a writer writes other than just on a whim, they always write because that’s what they do.
MW: I read something like that too. My mum sent me an email with a quote that said: when you can’t create, you can write. Often, I guess it just comes with being young and not knowing what you’re doing so you do stuff when you feel it but, at some point in time it turns into the way that you engage with the world. There’s got to be some checks and balances there. I’ve just been trying to write because that’s what I do.
What feeling do you get from singing?
MW: It depends on the day and where the moon is in conjunction with Pluto [laughs]. Some days I feel really great about singing and other days I really hate the sound of my own voice. That comes with the turf when you do things a lot.
You’ve had a lot of success since you’ve released your debut record; do you feel a pressure with this new album?
MW: Not really. If I can be a little esoteric for a second, if you feel pressure to make another record or about your second record it’s because you are including in your thinking the consumption of the art, you’re thinking about how people will receive it. When you write music from that place it is always going to be shitty. Unless you want to write some crazy Katy Perry or Ke$ha massive pop hit. I am that sort of artist that is never going to have a #1 record and play the Acer Arena —that’s not really my bag and that’s fine.
I learnt a really valuable lesson when I released Insomnia which was, the music was just music that I had written and I truly didn’t think I was ever going to release it when I was writing it. It was very, very personal and cathartic… I hadn’t sweated over it and slaved over it, I just wrote the songs and recorded them in a week and released it. I listened to the record when it came out and was like, fuck! I really like this, it’s nothing like my first release but it is really truthful. I think it was really strong because it was so truthful.
I know you’ve toured with Sia. Recently she decided to step away from touring and recording and just release music in her own time when she feels like it on her own terms; have you ever felt like doing that?
MW: People have really weird relationships with the industry. I’m quite fortunate. You hear so many fucking horror stories about labels and the things they do to musicians. This isn’t a kiss arse thing but, I have nothing bad to say about Universal Australia. I do a lot of crazy shit to them like, hi, I’m going to release this 8-track mini album that’s full of classical songs and there’s no radio songs on there, sorry! And I’m going to release it on clear vinyl. They say, ok. They put up with a lot of shit from me. I think it can become dangerous to become too close to your label. You can get too sucked in to the commercial aspect of music making. I don’t feel any pressure but maybe I will. I don’t fear any label based demons at the moment.
I just like doing stuff. Psychologically for me, when music is not released, I can’t really move one. It’s kind of like a breakup; you need closure before you can move on. I wrestle with songwriting and I wrestle with the songs and grapple with them in the studio, I punch them and they punch me in the face, we have a massive fight and we get them recorded and then we just put them out. I don’t really want to subscribe to that whole record cycle, disappearing for two years and then getting a new haircut thing, that’s not for me. I don’t think that there are any rules to subscribe to, if I don’t write a song for ten years I won’t release a song for ten years, if it’s coming it should just come.
Is there anywhere you’ve travelled that has had a big impact on you?
MW: I like New York and I try to go there at least once a year. It really injects me with some kind of adrenalin—the city is just so electric. I love London and adore Paris. Have you been to Edinburgh? It’s bad arse. It’s a great town. New York on a creative level is a place that I usually write in when I am there. It really depends where I am at.
What else can you tell me about your week here?
MW: It’s been an interesting week. I’ve been remembering things (you know how you have ideas and you forget about them). I remembered that I’ve started on this project with a theatre director form Melbourne as well as writing the record. I want to write a musical about Rosaleen Norton, she was a woman around in the 40s, 50s and 60s in Sydney who was called The Witch of Kings Cross. We’re in the early stages of getting that together. It’s fucking really exciting! I want to write a musical, I feel like a lot of the contemporary musicals that get written aren’t that catchy, they’re like modern operas and quite atonal and sophisticated in their use of harmony. I want to write a finger clicking ‘do-wak-a-do’ 40s musical about this chick. She is amazing!
For more Washington.