On There There, Megan Washington’s second full-length album and the followup to her ARIA-award-winning platinum debut I Believe You Liar (2010) Washington flexes her songwriter muscle, diving headfirst into themes centred on anxiety, bad sex, being unfaithful, being reckless and selfish, losing a best friend, and of course heart-cracking sadness.
It was producer Sam Dixon whom Washington credits with helping to crack her songwriting wide open.
‘The writing and recording process was about four months long. If you can imagine spending eight hours a day every day in a room the size of your bathroom speaking about ideas and emotions, very quickly your measure of normal and the culture of that space rapidly becomes a safe haven where anything can be shared. All I did for four months was confide in Sam. We did so much talking. So by the time he got around to saying you have these habits I can identify, like when he said, ‘You don’t write about things that are really important to you. You just [write about] things that affect you moderately. You will never write a hit song because, let’s face it, if it’s bullshit then why would anyone care about it. It made perfect sense, although the process of breaking those habits was extremely painful.’
At one stage, Sam gave Megan homework. ‘He told me, “Go home and think about something in your life – something that’s actually happened, but you’ve never written about. Something you believe to be songworthy. Tomorrow we’re going to write about that.”’ Megan remembered she had once been engaged. ‘I’d never really written about it, because I always had held the belief that it was too complex a situation to be contained in three and a half minutes.’ That evening though, between glasses of wine and bed, she wrote about having her engagement ring resized. The song became a key track titled Marry Me.
‘I always cringe when creative people talk about breakthrough moments,’ she says. ‘There’s something so clichéd about pretending ‘eureka moments’ happen all the time. In my experience, they don’t. But something about this song – about being connected to the subject, and the terror you’ll get it wrong – was a breakthrough.
‘Part of the difficulty of writing that song was the process of identifying what sort of song it should be. Is it a “we were together and broke up and I hate you” or “I regret it” or “fuck you”?
‘What actually was it? It took me a while and I reached a point where I could find something reasonable. In the end I went for “I can’t believe you would have done that because I’m so fucked up”. Which is the truth… so I was comfortable with that.’
Washington has a disarming honesty, something she laughingly refers to as a bit of a setback in the world of celebrity, which often calls for a more duplicitous approach.
‘I am a terrible celebrity. I do that celebrity thing really badly because I just want to feel connected – I am a bit of a sucker.’
Anxiety is also a constant companion for this talented singer/songwriter.
‘When it’s really active I just wake up with this impending sense of doom – and that’s something I have experienced on and off since I was a teenager. I’ve come to find some easy safeguards against that; for example I am a vegan now and that is extremely effective, my levels of anxiety almost halved when I stopped eating meat. I think it’s like an energetic transfer; when you eat meat you are eating little slabs of fear… I don’t know any creative person or any slightly intelligent person who doesn’t have some sort of anxiety about something – they say ignorance is bliss – I feel like anxiety is really really normal.’
Refreshingly frank, it’s perhaps Washington’s penchant for critical self-examination that is the most charming.
As for the new album, Washington’s creative thirst is sated, at least for now.
‘I wrote all the songs I was afraid to write… I told the truth, as best I remember.’
Megan Washington is one of the many featured performers at Falls Festival. There are still New Years Eve (31st day and night $99) tickets available for Byron Shire and south Tweed Shire residents through byron.fallsfestival.com.au/locals.
Multi-day passes have sold out.
Car passes are now on sale through the website too. Camping is free and included in ticket prices but punters will need to purchase the appropriate car pass (fully refunded if three or more festivalgoers in the car).