A GoPride Interview


Washington: I grew up listening to Motown, which is funny because I grew up in Papua, New Guinea.

Wed. November 2, 2011  by Jerry Nunn

I grew up listening to Motown, which is funny because I grew up in Papua, New Guinea.

Jerry Nunn caught up with Australian musician and songwriter Megan Washington

Australian musician and songwriter Megan Washington has released her new album, which is already made a big splash overseas with a mix of strong vocals, pop and rock. Like Madonna and Cher, Washington performs under a single moniker. Recently the trained and talented singer talked shop with Jerry Nunn backstage at the Vic before opening for the group Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Washington, great to have you in town.

W: (Washington) We arrived at two in the morning. We went to a few rad antique shops then came to sound check.

JN: I listened to the new album. You describe yourself as "passive aggressive pop." Where did that come from?

W: It is very difficult to describe your own music ever.

JN: And everyone asks you to…

W: And that is not my job. That is your job. I think I said passive aggressive grim pop. It is really hard to describe your own music. What it sounds like to you in something else entirely. That was an arbitrary response to a ridiculous question.

JN: People always ask what your influences are.

W: Well, your influences may not influence your sound. The people that I listen to when I have time are Rufus Wainwright and I really like pre-war jazz, Gene Green and the Bozwell Sisters or Cab Calloway. My music doesn't sound like any of them. There is a jazzy kind of twist to it I suppose because I studied jazz. A lot of people that hear it say it sounds like Elvis Costello but chic and now. I don' listen to Elvis Costello really at all. It is a very inexact science.

JN: I hear a retro sound to it.

W: I grew up listening to Motown, which is funny because I grew up in Papua, New Guinea. There is nothing to do with Motown there culturally. They are very treacherous waters to delve into.

JN: Have you ever seen Rufus Wainwright n concert?

W: I saw him at the Opera House in Sydney and I died a thousand times. I caught his last tour and it was in two acts. He didn't allow any talking for the first act.

JN: I went to that show when he performed here in Chicago.

W: It was riveting. I actually met him at a party in New York a few months ago. You get a place when you don't get star struck. Martha Graham says, "You are not your art." That is something that I really hold onto. I have met people that I love their music and they were creepy. Then I have met people that were so lovely that I wound up loving their music. I met Rufus and freaked out. He was very gracious. He extracted himself from my gushing by saying, "I have to go pee out of my penis."

JN: (laughs) He's a character. Is your life like your song a "Plastic Bag" since you are on tour?

W: Yes. Do you know what that song is about? Touring! At the moment I am living out of a suitcase because it is a long tour. I still have bags of stuff. Some people can tour more efficiently but I am like this weird cat lady. I should have a shopping trolley!

JN: What is your song "The Hardest Part" about?

W: When I was writing it, again I don't really know what things are about when I am writing them, I am not entirely sure. I have a lot of friends that are songwriters. It is about the undocumented struggle between writing truthfully and faithfully to yourself. Also, writing things that other people will like. I had a friend who I was living with at the time and writing a record. He wanted to write a hit record. That didn't sit very well with me. That was not a good idea artistically. That song is about the relationship between truth and fiction. How much you fictionalize truth on a songwriting level to make it appeal to other people.

JN: Are you a Marilyn Monroe fan because that is a lyric on your song.

W: Massive. One thing people may not know is that she had a stutter as do I. There are many techniques to dealing with a stutter but one of them is to speak with an accent or a voice. So that thing she did with that voice (mimics soft Marilyn voice) was her way of overcoming her stutter. That is how I started to sing because it was really good therapy. I really connected with her when I found that out.

JN: I love the video for "Holy Moses." When the label sent that to me I said, "I have to talk to her!"

W: Great. I have a longstanding love of musicals. For that video I had always wanted to be in a musical so let's just make one! I wanted a Bob Fosse musical, fuck it!

JN: Do you have a favorite musical?

W: I love Sweet Charity, also Easter Parade and 42nd Street.

JN: You were tap dancing downstairs when I arrived! Did you take dance classes in the past?

W: That is where I came from. I just wanted to be the illegitimate daughter of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire that they had on set at Easter Parade. Then I wanted to be frozen in a cryogenic fridge for 60 years then show up at Liza Minelli's doorstep.

JN: Heyyy! I read you performed with Keith Urban.

W: It was so surreal. He just called me up and said, "Hi, this is Keith Urban."

It was like Eddie Murphy just called me. I didn't believe it. He was coming to Australia to play on a tour. He was picking one artist from every stop to perform with him. Somehow he had one of my early EPs. I wasn't familiar with Keith's repetiore so I asked to do a cover. We wound up doing a cover of "You May Be Right" by Billy Joel. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life. I walked into the stadium and it was packed. He was so lovely and generous. It was really bizarre but really fun.

JN: Do you get stage fright?

W: I did that day. It was 25,000 people and none of them knew who I was. In other cities he picked up established Australian artists and in Melbourne he got me. "Here is Megan Washington!"

I started singing and couldn't believe it happened.

JN: They don't have gay marriage in Australia do they?

W: Not yet, give it time.

JN: I just talked to a group called An Horse about gay marriage and Australia.

W: I know Kate. She is a friend of mine.

JN: We just talked at Lollapalooza and I saw them play here this week.

W: She is in a great crew of babes. Her, Kathy King, Tegan and Sara, they are all amazing. They are taking over the world really quietly.

JN: When are you coming back to Chicago?

W: ASAP. After this run with OMD, my record will be out and then we have to go to Europe. After that it is Christmas but hopefully in the New Year. I definitely want to come back here.

JN: Congrats on your Aria Awards. I hope many more awards will come to you.

W: Thanks. I hope so too, maybe some good shows or at least a cheese steak in Philly!

Check out Washington on her website washingtonmusic.com.au

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.


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