One of Australia’s premiere indie darlings, Megan Washington is a two-time ARIA award winner and multiplatinum album seller. In her music, you can hear the confidence and raw emotion she exudes.
But appearances can be deceiving, and beyond musical form she is quite the opposite. The confidence she exudes in song is not shown when she speaks. There is a sense of awkwardness that is not present on your iPod or Spotify.
It wasn’t until last year that Washington had the chance to speak about something that had gone almost undetected by fans. Conquering her fear of public speaking as she presented a TED talk in the lead up to her second album, Washington revealed the crippling stutter that she had lived with since she was five years old.
Reflecting on her experience, Washington said she had no regrets.
“It was horrible… I didn’t like it,” Washington chuckled. “But everything that’s good for you is kind of uncomfortable, right? Like exercise is uncomfortable but it’s good for you; learning is uncomfortable but it’s good for you… so it was not pleasant, but I did it anyway.”
However, her speech impediment had given her the opportunity to explore something that would ultimately define her.
“I’ve had a lot of therapy, and a common form of treatment is to use this technique called ‘smooth speech’, which is where you almost sing everything you say… That’s not actually me… [but] singing to me is sweet relief… it’s the only time I feel fluent… the only time when what comes out of my mouth is… exactly what I intended.”
Washington has made a habit of rejecting societal roles and labels and this rejection of the norm influenced a lot of the writing for her critically acclaimed second album There There, released in September 2014. Washington was in London in 2013, recording what would be her second album, when the idea to break out from her traditional form of songwriting was introduced to her by Adelaide-born producer/collaborator Sam Dixon.
“It just came that I wanted to write something personal and diarised and literal. The last album [2010’s I Believe You Liar] was a great record, but it didn’t have a point… I really wanted to make something that had a point.”
Dixon sent her home to write about an experience that meant something to her, and had affected her greatly.
Thus, the song “Marry Me” was born, and introduced a new art form of songwriting for Washington.
“I wanted to make the rest of the writing of the record a meaningful experience.”
Set against jaunty nu-wave disco beats and indie ballads, There There became Washington’s personal manifesto; outlining the transgressions that had passed in the four years between albums. Nothing was off limits; her anxiety, her nervous breakdowns and the end of a serious relationship which saw her “being engaged, and then unengaged.”
It provided an avenue for expression that had not been available to her before, and inspired her to further break out from the mould that she had carved for herself.
“[There There] changed the way I think about everything. I kind of became addicted and compelled to do things that are really scary… The things that used to frighten me and that I would have said no to, I am now doing.”
Regarding her reinvention, Washington provides a frank and direct view on what people expect from her, and other musicians.
“I think there’s a lot of cool shit like that happening at the moment. Like, I’ve been watching 360 with a lot of interest ‘cause I think that’s another person that breaks out of his role all the time. Even though he’s a rapper, he doesn’t pretend to be a tough guy and I think that’s really healthy and balanced… and I think he’s a great role model in that regard.”
Washington is set to take her album on the road when she tours Australia next month, starting in Melbourne on 13 February.