Megan Washington Talks Insomnia, Death And A Top Secret New Project

Megan Washington has been exceedingly busy. On the eve of unveiling her latest creative endeavour (a super top secret “magpie’s nest”), Pedestrian caught up with the Melbourne based singer/songwriter to discuss the benefits of insomnia, the joy of mockumentaries and why she scrapped an entire album to keep things positive.

What have you been up to recently? I’ve been busy recording, writing, making short films, making film clips, writing for my friend’s cabaret show at the Malthouse and even doing press.

What do you do recreationally to get away from work? I don’t really think of it as work, that’s kind of the problem. I had some time off after Big Day Out. We finished that tour and then I was meant to have a holiday but I didn’t have a holiday I just kept writing and doing stuff. So, I mean the relationship between life and art, what influences what, is very blurry and hard to define so I don’t really have time off. Although, I have been reading a lot of books.

Can you tell us a bit about your film projects? Well we’ve been working on this new film clip ‘Holy Moses’ and that was great and a lot of fun and I had a lot to do with the behind-the-scenes. I was quite involved in the writing and the concepts. Then I made a short film, a mockumentary about the relationship between me and my producer John Castle. John is played by a sort of man who looks like a 60 year old puppet. It’s quite abstract. We had a lot of fun. I’ve just been writing for this new project but have been sworn to secrecy not allowed to tell anybody about it but ‘Holy Moses’ is a part of that.

So ‘Holy Moses’ isn’t a Washington single per say? Yeah it is but it’s not off an album it’s off this weird magpie’s nest. Look, I think that I’ve just lost my mind.

The mockumentary sounds like it could be funny. It isn’t funny. You know there’s a lot of pathos and a lot of pedestrian beauty. It’s quite ordinary but also quite surreal at the same time. It’s being edited at the moment so I haven’t actually seen the first cut so I hope it’s good. If it isn’t good then I’ll just throw it in the bin.

Just wash your hands clean. When I was born, my sister’s five years older than me and when I was born my sister was five and my mum took me home. You know how when babies are born they’re all red and shriveled up like a sun dried tomato? My sister said “She’s ugly, put her in the bin.”

I hope your sister’s attitude towards you have changed since. We’re close now but I just loved it.

I have to say, the first time I saw you was in Brisbane in like 2006. What’s been the biggest adjustment for you since those days? Your career trajectory has been pretty insane over the last couple of years. I would just really like to be able to keep a plant alive for longer than a fucking week. The constant travel and the constant touring. I don’t resent it or dislike it at all, in fact I quite enjoy it but it is a bit of an adjustment you know to never be around for birthdays, engagement parties and stuff. Having to live out of a bag is quite an adjustment. I think I’ve gotten OK at it, it was shit for the first couple of years. I’m better at it now but that was probably the biggest thing.

Are you one of those people who are forever apologizing on Facebook event walls? All the time. I’ve just given up apologizing now. I don’t think people even invite me to shit anymore.

Let’s talk about the second album since “the magpie’s nest” is all vague and embargoed at this stage. I imagine the time writing this album was much shorter than your first. Did you feel pressured to put something out quite quickly after the debut? Not at all. I went through a pretty big break-up last year and I wrote a record and recorded an entire record in December. That was the whole album, 12 songs done, I think it was good but it got to February and I didn’t want to sing these sad sack break-up songs for another year so then I started writing again. I’ve never really thought about the consumption of the music, more about the creation of it, so I don’t actually feel any pressure at all. I think that song writing is a craft and when your first record does OK there’s a kind of weird thing that it might be a bit of luck, but I would like to think that I am improving as a songwriter and that I’m getting better the same way you get better at water skiing or hacky sack. The more you do it the better you get. I’m just writing and writing and writing and writing all the time and that’s kind of as far as I think about it. I just write all the songs and some of them I hate, some of them I like, some of them I fix and some of them I don’t and then I put them in a box, wrap that box up and give it to the world. The world does whatever it wants to do. Really, we’re all going to be dead in 50 years so you can’t spend your time being scared of anything. There’s no time. We’re all going to be dead, like proper dead.

Memento mori. Exactly. Memento mori.

Wait, did you just say that you scrapped an entire album? Yeah. Well I went through a really big break-up, I got all sad, I wrote a whole bunch of poor me I’m so sad, I hate my life, I hate you how dare you break up with me, I’m still in love with you so on and so forth songs. I recorded all of those, I documented that and then conceptually I decided a month later that I didn’t want to live that life. When you release an album you relive the life of the record. So if you write a disco album you’re pretty much going to spend the next year at a disco every night cause you have to play the fucking songs. And I didn’t want to keep living and re-living and going through that pain, and that heartache and all that bullshit so I just fucked it off. And I wrote something else. And you know maybe those songs will turn up again at some stage but I just can’t spend four years singing songs about the same boy. It’s just inefficient is what it is.

What headspace are you in now? I’ve gone completely bananas. I’ve been an insomniac now for about a year and it’s actually quite extreme. It makes you crazy. It’s fucked up. So the interesting thing is, and I think it’s true for a lot of creatives, writers, painters even, that when you are creating you are in this semi-conscious dream like, meditative state. People talk about the muse of whatever but you’re not really completely conscious. It isn’t a conversation but more like a stream of subconsciousness almost, that’s how I experience writing. And because I’m constantly under slept I feel like that all the time. I feel like that right now. I’m talking to you but I really don’t know what I’m saying to you. What that means is that I’ve been hugely creative because I’m just sort of living in this weird state of hallucination. And I crave sleep so badly, I crave it so much but I can’t get it. I just spend all this time living like that and it means no choice but to create crazy short films, and do crazy stuff and write terrible poetry. It’s actually been a really interesting thing. So I think I’ve just gone nuts, I think I’ve just gone totally bananas.

I think that span between midnight and 3am is the perfect time to work because everything is still. For me that’s when I feel most productive. That’s also because you’re in that place. When sleep is close it’s almost like the sunset of all your mind. Sleep is close, night is coming, consciousness is just on its way out but you’re still coherent enough to make it make sense but you are also tapped into this dreamy, surreal subconsciousness. I reckon that’s true for a lot of creative people. I was talking to Clare Bowditch and she said she had a lot of her ideas for songs when she had her children and when her children were little babies and she was breastfeeding them at 4am in the morning. You’re awake and you’re functional but you’re also not completely switched on like pay the bills, put petrol in the car, indicate right, but the brakes on, you’re kind of in this weird head space.

How does that headspace correlate to songwriting for you, especially for the new songs you’ve been writing and the world you have created for yourself? Because I have had insomnia now for a long time, I’ve just been living with that spirit. I haven’t seen anybody, or done anything, or gone anywhere, I’ve just been living in that rat cave. But, I’ve been really creative, maybe the most creative I’ve ever been.

Could you describe a typical day for yourself? Well I usually try to go to bed at about 11pm and then I generally wake up at about 1am. And then before it got cold I would go for a walk in Melbourne and look around my neighbourhood and look at stuff and think. I might read a little bit. Just sort of generally waiting for the sun to come up. I text my friends saying meet me for coffee when you get up and then I probably just go to the piano and start writing and then I write until the sun comes up and then I go meet people for coffee and have conversations and then I generally will go to the studio and record something until about 6 or 7pm. Go home, eat something, see my housemate, go to bed at 11pm and repeat. It’s actually been really cool cause the past couple of months I’ve been living alone and that’s been really interesting because when there’s no one around to show you when it’s dinner time, show you when it’s breakfast time, you can live in this way that is completely, it’s hugely indulgent and not sustainable at all, but it would be great cause I could write a song and spend four hours in the morning writing a song until the sun comes up and then go into the studio and record it during the day and then it would be done. And then I never have to think about it ever again.

Do you ever re-visit old songs that you’ve done? Nup. In the bin.

Tell us about your new babies then. My new babies, they’re sleepy.

Is there a favourite child emerging yet? There are a few. This thing that I’m sworn to secrecy about, there’s a lot of music that will come as part of this magpie’s nest. And the first cab off the rank is “Holy Moses”.

So when can we expect a sophomore LP? Well I’m going on tour with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark through the States through September-October and then in November I’m going to Europe and then I’ll be back. The magpie’s nest could be counted as a sophomore LP but I’m not considering it a record, just a collection of ideas. But I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and than you’d never get one.

Memento mori. Exactly. Memento mori, it’s beautiful.