Australian singer-songwriter Megan Washington reached the top five of Australia’s albums chart with her 2010 debut, I Believe You Liar, and her 2014 album There There, described in the Herald as “a huge leap in songwriting, production and depth”. The ARIA Award winner, 30, is also an ambassador for the Spectrum Now Festival presented by ANZ, which is on until March 16. She talked to me about her ambitions to be an actress, her love-hate relationship with fear, and what writing her new album involves.
What are you up to at the moment?
I am writing for my new record. I was meant to make it last year but I didn’t write any songs. It feels great to be learning again as I’m scoring a short film and a feature film.
How did you get into that?
The short film happened because a friend of mine is a new director. Another friend of mine was making a feature so I figured I had already said yes to the short, so why not!
Tell me about your involvements in the Spectrum Now Festival.
It’s very exciting to be part of one that’s starting up, especially in this climate, where lots of festivals are shutting down. It has a really good energy about it and I can’t wait to go and see all the stuff. My friend Les Rice has a pop-up tattoo studio, which I think is really awesome idea.
Is there something you’re most looking forward to?
Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein and Augie March.
When you were younger, did you always want to be a singer?
I always wanted to be a performer. I wanted to be an actress more than I wanted to be a singer. However, I audition for things and don’t get them so I’m probably just not that amazing at acting [laughs].
What have you auditioned for where you didn’t get the part?
I’ve been to so many auditions, especially for musicals. I don’t want to tell you which ones, because you’ll be like ‘Well, that’s a lot of stuff’ [laughs].
What would be your dream role?
I’d love to be in Chicago – in musical theatre especially, or cabaret. I love that feeling of turning up and feeling like, ‘I have no idea how I’m going to do this’, and then at the end of the day going, ‘Wow, I did it.’
What are you fearful of?
I have a love-hate relationship with fear. If the thought of doing something fills me with a lot of dread and anxiety, I need to do it. I hate it while I’m doing it but I love the exhilaration afterwards.
How do you measure the success of an album?
Making an album is such a huge endeavour and such a difficult process. Just the fact that it gets released feels like a great success. Each of my albums has been a success in its own way. For example, Insomnia was an outlet for dark feelings. I made that record and sort of never listened to it and don’t really sing any of the songs from it.
You’ve had so much success in such a short time. What is your career highlight so far?
Giving my TED talk was a really big milestone for me and a big personal achievement.
You spoke about your fluency difficulty at a TED-X conference. Were you surprised by the support you had?
Yes I was. I didn’t even really think about the fact it was being filmed because I couldn’t see any of the cameras or anything. It was at the Opera House and I was on it, like 5 o’clock, so I went on stage and gave a speech and walked out to my friend’s birthday party. I wasn’t a part of the day or I wasn’t a part of the whole sort of thing. I just didn’t even think about it and I wasn’t really thinking about anybody else.
What was it like growing up with a stutter?
I remember when I started to have a career and a musical profile; I would not sleep the night before [an interview]. Singing is something that I did to escape having a fluency problem. So the irony of singing then was bringing me into a space where I had to do interviews. I do have a kind of weird abusive relationship with fear. I find singing and song writing quite difficult and quite scary. But I feel quite compelled to do it, nonetheless. I feel like I have a lot to say and I have lots of opinions. But I don’t want to actually say them.
You must have impacted a lot of people and helped them to overcome their own fears.
There was a really overwhelming response from the community when the Australian story went to air. More specifically, older people, who have been disguising their fluency problem for most of their lives and also parents of young children, who are struggling with things. The most frustrating thing is that people either think that I’m really nervous, dumb or shy, which I’m not. Eloquence and articulation often goes hand-in-hand with a certain level of social intelligence.
Since finding success, what are the pros and cons of stardom?
The pros are that I don’t have to have a job. The cons are that I have to be really self-determined. If I don’t do it, it’s not going to get done. I have to keep finding ways to interest myself in things. I think that song writing is essentially a process of self-interrogation.
What would be your dream job?
A yoga teacher.
Is there a misconception about you?
Everybody always says, “I thought you were way taller.”
What’s next for you?
I’m going to LA in March. And then I just have to press on with this record, really. I want it to happen.
What’s the process for you when you’re writing an album?
Usually the music and words happen at the same time, except at the moment what I’m writing is quite verbally dense. I’m doing lyric writing and linguistic construction outside of the musical space and then I’m kind of like bringing that into the studio, which is a really new process for me.
When you write a song, do you have a feeling whether it will be a hit or not?
I know when a song is good. If it’s not, or if there’s something that’s a bit iffy or missing, it makes me feel really itchy. I just get annoyed when I hear it. But when I hear a song that sounds right, it’s like a deeply satisfying sensation.
Who do you admire?
Hugh Jackman because if I could do anything or have anyone’s life, I would have Hugh Jackman’s life. He gets to be in really fun things like blockbuster X-Men: Wolverine. But then he also does musical theatre. I would love to be him and the only thing I would add to his life would be to have a songwriting career.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Wherever I am, and whatever I’m doing, I’m probably going to have about three rescue dogs.
What do you do in your spare time?
I do a lot of exercise as I really enjoy training and being active. I read, watch Netflix and go to the theatre a lot. I’m just a normal person, just do normal stuff.
WE WENT TO Bills, Surry Hills
WE ATE Korean fried chicken with iceberg lettuce, spring onion and chili sesame; Bills chicken sandwich.
WE DRANK green juice and sparkling water.
I WORE a Talulah dress.