Megan Washington's advice to young musicians? "Be as different as you can; when they zig, zag." Our interview ahead of her national orchestra tour here
Megan Washington has an artistic portfolio to be envied. Her unique viewpoint and environment make for some wonderful music. Growing up in Papua New Guinea, Megan learned the national anthem at the age of five, and indulged in watching musicals. Moving to Australia at the age of ten, Megan ended up studying a Bachelor of Composition at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and famously started out as a jazz artist. This gave Megan a foundation for a life in music that is both disciplined and boundless, although she has previously said she needed to unlearn some of the complicated ideas and habitual perfect placement that a student of jazz absorbs. However, it is undeniable that her studies coupled with her fascinating imagination have resulted in the ground-breaking artist many know as simply Washington. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Eventually moving into the world of indie pop and alternative music, Megan landed a record deal, and her debut album I Believe You Liar ended up soaring the charts and landing the singer/songwriter an ARIA for Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2010.. From there, Megan has gone on to release more critically acclaimed albums, garner more awards, and explore a wide musical landscape. And now, her next venture is a national tour with Australia's best orchestras including the Sydney, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia Symphony Orchestras.
Her accomplishments to date have been nothing short of remarkable and a great influence on the Australian music scene. All of this despite a lifetime dealing with a fear of public speaking due to a stutter of which music has helped her greatly. Her now famous TEDxSydney talk delivered in 2014 provides a glimpse into how she has lived with and overcome this obstacle.
Megan has such a warm and inviting voice, with glorious grain and delivers each and every song with precision and heart in equal measure. From the jazz standards, to rock songs, glorious ballads and her original pop music (how good is her dreamy track Saint Lo?), Megan's chops are malleable, keeping us guessing what's coming up next, and after the orchestra tour, get ready for a brand new album in 2018.
Megan generously gave of her time to Music Love to discuss her musical pathway so far, the themes of her new album, her upcoming tour, and some advice for those starting out in their music careers.
What does music mean to you?
This is quite difficult to answer because music is the way I receive the world and the language I use to communicate with it. I find that my relationship to music is constantly changing; at times I am comforted by it, at times I find it embarrassing, at times I find it quite threatening and I avoid it.
You are without a doubt one of the greats when it comes to Australian artists – you are all class. What do you think has instilled this sense of excellence in your work?
If that very flattering assessment is true it may be due to the fact that I have a reasonably obsessive personality. I've always been quite scholastic about my work and I'm always partially unsatisfied by everything I do. I think this is the reason I'm always trying to breakthrough and find the ever elusive 'thing' that will best fit what I'm trying to express; I have not yet found it.
We are happily anticipating your new album set for release next year – what can you tell us about it? Is there a theme?
I can tell you that there is a theme, two themes actually. The album is largely an examination of love, mostly love in its least popular forms. I'd never really written any love songs until now so it was something I wanted to explore. It sounds a bit like melted candy.
You will be fronting the SSO this month – who do you arrange your work with in this context?
I've worked with three very talented arrangers; Joe Twist, Iain Graindage and Paul Hankinson.
In a songwriting context, is it more likely to find you working in solitude or working with others?
Good question. For this record I predominantly co-wrote, mostly out of utility because I've been quite transient and lacking a space of my own. I am however looking forward to spending more time by myself working in the future as I find that's when I have my strangest ideas.
How do you look after your voice?
Well, for a long time I didn't but vocal hygiene (sounds gross but that's what we call it) has become quite a passion now that I'm no longer 24. I take lessons for technique, I warm up and I've finally learnt that vocal rest is actually the best thing you can do for your voice.
Will we see you acting on the big screen again?
I love acting, no one has been game to put me in anything since that film but I'm totally open to it.
What was the last thing you saw that blew your mind?
I saw Mr Burns when it opened in Adelaide in April and I'm still talking about it.
Who are your favourite women in music?
Barbra Streisand, Mica Levi, Julia Michaels, Caroline Polachek, Ainslie Wills, Esperanza Spalding, Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori, Andra Keller.
You’ve been doing the music thing for a while – what advice would you offer our young, aspiring, music-creating readers?
Be as different as you can; when they zig, zag. Also don't get lazy. Practice and never stop learning or being interested.
Megan Washington plays with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Thu 21 Sep, 6.30pm
Fri 22 Sep, 8pm
Sat 23 Sep, 8pm
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
A selection of new material and favourites from I Believe You Liar, Insomnia and There There Conductor: Benjamin Northey
Megan Washington national tour dates:
Sydney Symphony Orchestra – 21-23 September
Queensland Symphony Orchestra – 28 September
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra – 24 October
West Australian Symphony Orchestra – 27 October
Inland Sea of Sound 2017 feat. Bernard Fanning, Meg Mac, Dan Sultan, Megan Washington, Mia Dyson and more – 3 November
The Impossible Orchestra – 10 November