Meg Washington is an artist in every possible sense of the word. Witty, effervescent, and a chameleonic visionary, her limitless creativity is enough to inspire generations of creatives to come. But, creativity isn’t only the Brisbane local’s forte, it serves as the landing pad for her entire artistic output. Wrapped in boundless imagination, with a drive and attention to detail that could craft universes, her fusion of pop and avant-garde never fails to sweep a listener off their feet.
Her latest record speaks directly to that. Comfortingly grand, glazed in rich textures and tones, Batflowers is Washington pressed onto vinyl. It bursts with all shades of life, leaving you richer for being in its presence. In the years since her debut, the songwriter has scored the faces of art and music with heart, merging both into an endless chorus of possibilities. I would even argue that she is Bowie’s closest rival if it reducing her brilliance to a comparison didn’t feel so criminal.
When you think of artistic genius, humanity, and uniqueness, you think of Meg Washington.
HAPPY: I caught your performance on The Sound, which was so amazing! It looked like so much fun too.
MEGAN: Oh thank you! I made a big effort to make it fun because I thought it might be the only chance I had to do anything for this record. I’m really happy that you liked it because those balloons didn’t blow themselves up, let me tell you [laughs]!
HAPPY: [Laughs] You’ve got a few shows booked now though, hey?
MEGAN: Yeah, yeah! I’ve got two that just sold out and we’re going to put a few more on hopefully!
HAPPY: That’s so exciting!
MEGAN: Yeah, I mean it’s crazy, crazy bananas to even say that because, you know, that’s not even plausible everywhere in this country, let alone in the world. So, I feel super lucky but I also feel a great amount of responsibility to make it very good. I find it weird to use the word escapist because that implies some sort of avoidance energy, which is not at all what I identify with. But I want to be able to provide an experience to however-many-people end up coming to those shows, something different than coronavirus life. Like, I don’t want to see a zoom screen [laughs]. I just want to be really transportive, I guess, rather than escapist.
HAPPY: [Laughs] The day I never have to see a zoom screen again may be the best day of my life.
MEGAN: [Sighs] I feel like it’s actually not a crazy thing to want either because, fundamentally, I reckon that we need variety, we need to see more than ourselves. I mean, again, it’s the reason why people travel around the world because, when you can experience reality from another person’s perspective, it actually expands you. But that’s no longer going to be as much of an option I think. So, the job is really on the artist, on the writers, the creatives, and on all of us now. And, you know, luckily that’s a service that I’m happy to provide because I believe really passionately that music can affect real change, art can affect real change, despite the way that it’s considered by our government and the climate in which we’re attempting to do this in. Be that as it may, what are my choices? If my choices are well, this is the way it is, you can either just sit around and smoke weed all day and do nothing, or try and make a record. My answer is both.
HAPPY: And is that how Batflowers came to be?
MEGAN: Well, it’s like this, right: I tried to make this record, I assembled this record at the end of 2018, at the beginning of 2019. I had a version of this album that was called Achilleas Heart and it was about half the same songs, they were all different versions. I just kept trying but I couldn’t figure it out and somebody said to me once, maybe the thing you love isn’t always the thing you’re best at. I was like, “oh, brutal!” Like, maybe I’m not good at this. If it’s a bit hard, maybe it’s because I haven’t put out a record since There There, it’s been a long time. And I was like, other people seem to just be releasing album after album, they seem to be able to do it fine, why can’t I do that? So, after that I was like okay; maybe I’ll just make music for myself and I’ll stop thinking about making it for other people. So I did and I started to just work with my friends and people that I have social relationships with. And then, once I had a taste of that, it was so easy to finish it. Well, it was easy to find the motivation at least.
HAPPY: Yeah, for sure. Well, you definitely proved yourself wrong, it’s such a great record!
MEGAN: Thank you! None of the reviews come out yet, so I don’t know what anybody thinks really. But I like it, I think it’s good.
HAPPY: Yeah. Well that’s all you need, as long as it’s making you happy and it’s something that you’re proud of.
MEGAN: Yeah, I mean I would also like glory and fame and all that other fun stuff. But yeah, I’m happy with where it is.
HAPPY: Was there any particular concept behind the album or was it just a bit of a release for you when you came to writing it?
MEGAN: Hmm, it’s kind of a weird one because I feel like the concept is in the record. But now that you say that I’m like, what is actually about? But basically, I was in LA, I spent a lot of last year writing with screen and I composed the score for Warrick Thornton’s The Beach, which is an SBS show, and I had done all this work and was thinking, “oh, why is it this hard?” So, when I was in L.A., I did a songwriting session with my friend Jason, just for fun. And we got what became the bed of that Batflowers track, I couldn’t nail the top line and then I brought it home and worked on it over the summer. Then in February of this year, we went to the Berlinale in Berlin because Nick (partner) had a short film in the programme. We went via L.A. because, at the time, Asia was a hotspot. When we landed in L.A., we had missed our connecting flight, so the airline put us up in a hotel in L.A. for twelve hours or something. So I was just randomly in L.A. and rang my friend and said, “Hey, I’m in LA, I’m at the airport. I can’t leave until 1 o’clock tomorrow afternoon, do you want to get in the studio now and finish this track?” When I came home from Berlin, I really wanted to finish the song, so I went to Mario, my friend who produced it, and then the song was finished. I was feeling super inspired and it kind of just magically happened, like this magical song, and then the world shut down. Then I was like, “okay, well, I’ve got this song and in the song I literally wrote; keep going.” Like, I literally wrote that. So, should I?
HAPPY: Mmm yeah.
MEGAN: I was like, okay, I should. So I kept going.
HAPPY: Wow, what a story!
MEGAN: Yeah, well, that’s just what happened. I kept going and then the world went into lockdown and I kept going and then there was a pandemic. And, like I said, I already had a lot of the songs, but I just didn’t really trust myself enough. Normally what happens is; I write the demo and then I take it to professionals, they help me to do it. But in this instance, I was like, well, what if I was a professional musician? I mean, I am apparently, according to my tax return. What if I started acting like it a little bit more? And I expanded and I grew and I realised that I’m able to do all this shit that I wasn’t able to do before. Like, I can now engineer my own shit and track my own vocals and do my stuff and I can draw my own animations. I don’t know what professional is anymore I guess. Like, what is professional in a pandemic? If professional is because I really mean it, then I’m the pro-est pro in town. Am I good, is it good? That’s not my job to know, you know?
HAPPY: Do you feel like that’s given you a bit more confidence in going out and trying new things with your music?
MEGAN: Well, you know what they say; no brains, no fear. So, I don’t know, I’m not really thinking about it. This is the thing, because my whole artistic expression is based on this idea of: what if you took everything that you were really afraid that people would find out about you and just told them all the time? [Laughs] Like, what if you had a stutter and you did a TED talk about how you hate public speaking because you have a stutter. Leaning all the way into that fear and then the ridiculousness of what you’re doing just sort of cancels itself out. I feel like that’s really in this record. You know, I didn’t say, “oh, I have to choose which Meg I’m going to be.” I can either be the pop Meg, who writes pop songs and dances around and does choreography. Or there’s the showtunes Meg who loves Hoagy Carmichael and uses 47 million chords in a song because that’s how Hoagy Carmichael did it. I just didn’t really choose or I just don’t really believe in genre anymore. There’s enough people on Instagram who are doing funny animations of stuff that why can’t I just try it? At the very least, I could just try instead of what I used to do, which is to decide before I even do something whether or not that’s something for me. Like, at least if I’m going to do that, I just need to try it once so that I can… here’s an example, right? Like I drove in the celebrity race at the Grand Prix in the Mazda Celebrity Race.
MEGAN: Right? In 2013.
HAPPY: That’s hectic!
MEGAN: With a whole bunch of ex-Olympians and ex-newsreaders or whatever. My old manager was like, “it’ll be a great idea. You should totally do it.” And I was like, “I feel like it’s not my thing.” And he was like, “you’ll love it, give it go.” And so I did it and I had a panic attack inside the car because I don’t like to go fast and I don’t like competitions like that. Like, nearly flipping my car? I don’t get any exhilaration from that. I find it very scary and noisy and hectic. I learnt through trying it that that stuff is not for me and that’s great! Now I know that and I won’t ever do any more celebrity races at the Grand Prix [laughs]. But I know for sure that that’s not my bag. There’s other shit that I thought wasn’t my bag like, I don’t know, animation or engineering or having opinions about everything in the world and actually, that really is my bag.
HAPPY: You released your debut over a decade ago, what changes have you noticed in music and creativity since then?
MEGAN: Well, I mean, streaming didn’t exist. But I actually feel like, weirdly, there is sort of a return to the personal that is coming up to symmetry in the zeitgeist. Which, if you think about it back then, alternative artists like me were all super kooky and there were musicians and then there were pop acts. It was not cool to be a pop singer with 45 writers on your song or whatever, that wasn’t cool when I put out my first record. Then I feel like we went through a massive period where that was cool because of what artists like Lana Del Rey and Charli (XCX) were doing. When I look at Billie Eilish and how her thing works, I just think it’s so badass because it’s just her and her brother. I think that’s more rock’n’roll than anything and the fact that she’s hugely successful and popular is only just more proof that what audiences are really craving right now is authenticity, in the same way that we used to crave it.
Stuff that sounds weird is attractive. I need to think that because I am the weirdest artist I know. Like, I don’t even have a genre, what the fuck is my genre? I don’t know, sound? Filling time with sounds is essentially my job and that’s kind of way too broad a brief to ever really belong anywhere, so I just have to hope that we are moving to a place where artists like me can poke our little heads out. I made this record and I mean, like I said before, I just want the fame and glory, I need the glory!
HAPPY: [Laughs] Is there anything else that you’ve got in the works at the moment?
MEGAN: Well, at the moment, I’m in the middle of writing a country record.
HAPPY: Oh, cool!
MEGAN: I mean, I say country but it’s all my guitar songs, of which there are many, that I have already released and it’s not under the country banner. But, in my head, it’s country because I need to break up with America.
HAPPY: How so?
MEGAN: I had so much of my own life’s dreams intertwined with America and living in L.A., just being a hectic hippie up in the woods [laughs]. Just having legal weed and all this cool shit. I know I fully dreamt that would be an option but, at the moment, it feels like that won’t be as viable an option and so I need to fall in love with my own country. And the way to fall in love with anybody is to write songs about them, I find. So, I am just writing a country record about my country, about this place that I view: the east coast of Australia. I’m doing that which is pretty fun and really nice because I get to do heaps of dreamy harmonies which I’m really into.
HAPPY: Ooh, I’m so excited for it.
HAPPY: Fuck yes, I’m really looking forward to that.
MEGAN: I’ve nearly finished it. It shouldn’t be very long actually.
HAPPY: Well, thank you so much for the chat. It was lovely talking to you.
MEGAN: Oh, you too! It was really nice talking to you.
Grab your copy of Batflowers here.
Illustration by Megan Washington.