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Washington

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

by Jerry Nunn
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
 
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