TIME OUT, 2014
“All songs are Rorschach tests, aren’t they?” Megan Washington asks rhetorically, when I wonder if ‘Begin Again’, on her second album, is a letter to her mother. “That’s the wonderful thing about being a songwriter. You find that your songs have access points to other people’s lives that you couldn’t even imagine. And if I was a shrink I’d ask you about your mum, but I won’t.”
It’s this sharp humour that has long made Washington a favourite with journalists, so it’s a surprise to hear Time Out is the first interviewer to have heard the album – particularly with its release riding the tails of her TEDx talk. Washington had come clean, to an audience at the Opera House, about the stutter she’d long kept a secret (as an interviewer, I’d never heard it, thanks to a sing-song technique of talking she’d been taught), and with a subsequent Australian Story aired about overcoming her tribulation, you might assume she’d be besieged by journalists after a feel-good hit.
That’s the funny thing about There There though – while its aerobic pop numbers suggest good times – “because hooks and choruses are my default trope” – scratch the surface and there’s almost a concept album of agony.
Washington’s lyrical style has previously been impressionistic pairings of phrasings that sound good together, but this time around – at the behest of co-writer and producer Sam Dixon (Sia, Adele) – she plumbed the depths, beginning with ‘Marry Me’, about “being engaged, then not engaged”.
“I was always afraid that in the process of writing a three-and-a-half minute pop song about that situation, I would somehow cartoonise it and diminish the complexity,” she says. “But it was a breakthrough – or something inside me broke. I realised that while it’s corny, the truth will set you free and from then on everything we wrote was true – and the truth of it was that I had a real shitty year.”
The bonus of songwriting, of course, is that it allows one to have the last word.
“It does give you the opportunity to rewrite history,” she agrees. “If there’s an event in which you’re the protagonist and I’m the antagonist, and I write a song about it, then the creative liberty that I have might slip our roles around. That will also be how I remember it, because I will sing that song again and again, and it will come to define me. That song will be an avatar for who I am and what I’ve lived.”
There There is out on Fri Sep 12.
“Pretty much all my songs are about dudes,” says Washington. Here are three of them
1. ‘Yellow and Blue’
“There was one guy was the subject of my first album, I Believe You Liar. When I moved to London, having not thought about him for a while, all of a sudden he was all up in my shit because we have the same friends. It was actually really nice, because he wrote a song about me and sent it to me, and I sent him ‘Yellow and Blue’ and it was all happy days. This is the last song I will write about him.”
2. ‘Who Are You’
“I was in this relationship with this guy who was spectacularly evasive – the most unknowable dude I have ever met. Even though all of the hallmarks of intimacy were there, it’s a funny truth that the person who cares the least about a relationship has the most power. I had spent almost the whole duration of my time in London in this weird back and forth with this character. It was so destructive.”
3. ‘Begin Again’
“All my songs feed into each other like a snake eating its own tail. I’d written ‘Marry Me’ about my ex-fiancée. I sent him it and he said, ‘We need to have a fight. I want to know how much of a dickhead you were being when we split up.’ So I wrote ‘Begin Again’: ‘I don’t want to say what happened those nights, I don’t want to shock you’. The postscript was that he wanted nothing to do with me, but you know…”