Her new album Batflowers says more about her than we ever could.
Megan Washington doesn’t like small talk. That’s what I gather, at least. When I had the pleasure of chatting to her, rarely did she give me an answer that wasn’t packed with poise, nuance and insight.
Papua New Guinea-born and Brisbane-based, Washington’s career can be signposted by three exceptionally-received studio albums. It can also be signposted by a number of widely illustrious milestones. One was her performance at the 2012 ARIA awards, where she gleefully sang show tunes to an enchanted crowd and bevy of backup dancers.
Another – potentially the most well-recognised – was when she stood solo on stage at the Sydney Opera House to deliver a TED Talk in 2014. Vulnerable, frank and raw, Washington took the opportunity to discuss her speech impediment; a stutter. The video has been viewed more than 400,000 times, establishing her as one of Australia’s most memorably outspoken musicians.
It’s been six years since she delivered that speech; years busily spent releasing a number of stand-alone singles, birthing a human being, voice acting on beloved children’s show Bluey, and hosting two podcasts. Years also spent creatively simmering over her upcoming album.
Batflowers is an intimate foray into Washington’s mature musicality, showcasing a seemingly never-ending stream of lyrical prowess. Pop mastermind Sam Dixon returns as co-writer and co-producer on the project, amplifying the rich sound design and audio-cinema that accompanies the vocals.
Over the past few months, fans have been drip-fed singles like ‘Switches’ and ‘Kiss Me Like We’re Gonna Die’, each foreshadowing the worthy bravado of the album to come.
Because it’s 2020, I caught up with Washington over Zoom. The talk was anything but small.
Eliza: Hello Hello! How has your pandemic been going?
Washington: It’s kind of been two things at exactly the same time. One is the fact that I am living in 2020 and it’s a global pandemic. There’s a lot of really intense change that’s happening in my life and the lives of everyone around me.
But on the other hand, I’ve been having the most creatively liberated year of my life. I think that speaks to the idea that when this pandemic happened, lots of creatives just started making copious amounts of stuff. For me, all the reasons I had for not doing things no longer existed.
Because of that, it has become really easy to see – from an artistic perspective – who was really ‘in it’ before and for what reason. Artists that are passionate about the music are just making more music. For others, the music was just a content stream, and they were really out to sell concert tickets or hamburgers or anything, really. That’s totally a credible thing, because it’s all art in itself. But for me, I’m a songwriter, I just care about the music.
Eliza: Can you think of anyone specific?
Washington: Well, even bloody Taylor Swift. I’ll give it to her! She annoys me a lot of the time, but every now and again she does something amazing. You either get one or the other. I would love to talk to her about some of her choices but when she’s good, she’s great. Because she is an artist.
I think a lot of artists think that being famous means you have to put a lot of ‘effort’ into your act, by way of high production or lots of crazy shit happening. Yes, you can have that, but you also need to be telling the actual fucking truth. You need to have your guts on the line, because otherwise it’s just entertainment. Entertainment is amazing, but please don’t call it art. Just don’t. I don’t pretend its art when I’m being entertaining. When I do make art, I know it, because it’s always when I’m giving something of myself.
Eliza: Did you have different plans for the album before 2020 got in the way?
Washington: Well, it didn’t exist. I have been trying and failing to make this record since 2015, assembling it twice. The first time I just didn’t feel like it was right, or me at all. It was beautiful, but the vibe of me just wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun at all.
Eliza: So it took a pandemic to bring out the fun?
Washington: Kind of! Friedrich Nietzsche says, “We have art not to die of the truth” and when the world is crazy, art has to be really crazy to match. If it’s completely serious, then where will everyone go in their brains? People connect to escapism as if it’s some sort of avoidance, with a negative connotation. But actually, we all have to sleep. Even our conscious brain has to rest half the time. You can’t be in reality 100 per cent of the time, because that’s what gives perspective. The reason we are good as humans is because we can understand multiple perspectives at the same time. I think it’s super psychologically necessary for art to exist in the most bonkers way because of this year. If the art is not batshit crazy then what are we all going to watch or listen to? More Zoom concerts?
Eliza: Because so much has changed by way of creative output this year, has extra attention been paid to the visual elements on this album?
Washington: The most current and relevant discovery for me has actually been the aesthetic values of this project, because for a long time, I really struggled with the way that I present myself. I don’t really think of gender in my songwriting. I’m just the narrator, you’re in the show. It’s always been really hard for me to land visually on an image that could encapsulate that truth for all of the things the songs cover and how I want to be perceived out in the world.
I have this big piece of paper that has all the stuff that I like on it. I stole the idea from RuPaul, who suggests it for someone that wants to be a Drag Queen. RuPaul is doing the Lord’s work. In her song, she says, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag”, which is how I approach writing. Everybody has both genders inside them. So much good would come if both male and female humans felt like they could express both energies equally.
Eliza: You’ve been described as the ultimate open book, is there anything you don’t speak about?
Washington: I would speak about anything as long as I wasn’t exploiting anyone, or saying anything about a group of people that had less opportunities than me. I just don’t think that’s a vibe. So I better get really famous really quickly because I’ve got a lot of opinions! And a lot of tea that I’m just dying to spill…
Eliza: Has age changed anything about this mentality?
Washington: What’s amazing is that so many artists are their best in their mid-thirties. Pharrell, Sia, Robyn, Beyoncé, Kylie, Prince, Björk, Fiona Apple, Mark Ronson, David Bowie – these are all people who really started to find their groove after surviving their twenties. In your thirties, you know how to do everything, you know how to make music from a real place, and you know how to entertain.
In saying that, I don’t think that anybody should be in charge of what sort of an artist I can be, except for myself. That’s not really about how old I am, it’s just about how much life I have had to live. Some people never realise what I’ve worked out.
Eliza: What do you feel optimistic about?
Washington: I know it sounds upside down but to be a good singer, or a good writer, you have to be a really good listener. You have to pay a lot of attention to what people say and observe what they do. But in order to pay that much attention to anyone, you have to love them. Even in a small way, like I love my bus driver, you still have to find love in the world. If you can’t find love in the world, it’s because you don’t have it in yourself.
To be a good artist, you have to start there. That is something that I was never told, because all the books that I read told me that I have to suffer, and be a human sacrifice, and be tortured. I don’t want to be tortured. Don’t torture me. I do not consent to it. I want to be stupid and happy.
Washington’s third studio album, Batflowers, is out now via Island/Universal. Give it a spin here.
This story originally appeared in Fashion Journal.