On the eve of the release of her band Washington’s debut album I Believe You, Liar, Megan Washington seems disarmingly honest, excited and just a little baffled.
Equal parts music nerd and sweetheart, she confides that the previous interviewer had actually asked how to spell her name before declaring “I believe in the power of the song” and giving due diligence to a few questions hopefully a little more attuned to her art.
While crammed with stand alone heavenly pop hits, I Believe You, Liar is also effectively a twelve song suite with a narrative arc that hinges on its track sequence. Having previously released three EPs and apparently culled close to thirty other songs, I queried how this process worked.
“I guess it’s all connected. I really wanted to be ready and I wanted the album to have an identity of its own, so each of the EPs was like an experiment; the first was quite folky, the second was very much inspired by classical harmony and listening to Bach and Motown, and the last one really tried to focus on truth and candor from a lyrical perspective. Once I’d made them, I knew what I wanted to do next and that what I wanted to write about was tension and conflict on a personal level, using my own life as a basis.
“I didn’t want it to just be a bunch of tunes, so the songs are like plot points. Maybe that springs from my love of show tunes and musicals or maybe it’s just because I’m a pedant but, you know, I’m a singer/songwriter and we’re all incredible narcissists and we just write about ourselves!”
As a classically trained pianist, the keyboard is as central as Megan’s voice on a lot of the songs, playing out like the album’s heartbeat; similarly, the album deals with contradictions and contradictory impulses as much in the way the orchestration plays against the lyrics as in the lyrics themselves.
“The pain in something like the keyboard drone on How to Tame Lions that just doesn’t end has an energy and power that’s kind of anthemic, but at the same time I really wanted there to be tension. I wanted there to be almost a musical representation of the dissonance of the situation because it was about something so painful. People say that making a record is like giving birth but for me it was like having something amputated, and now I‘ve got this phantom limb!”
When I ask if she’d describe the record as romantic and whether selling the phantom limb by constantly rehashing its formation is difficult, she counters: “You write an album semi-consciously and then you almost have to psychoanalyze it. I find it quite interesting that in doing all the press, I’ve kind of realized what it’s about, and now I do think it’s kind of pessimistic and romantic. A lot of the songs were based on or inspired by a particular relationship that was going south but… I still had this belief or faith in it even when that seemed naïve and hopeless, so I guess it’s more like a hopeless hope!”
As well as speaking to the relatable heart of the album, this reminded me that I’d heard she has a long standing fondness for the grand dame of gay icons, Judy Garland. “I totally think she’s awesome!” she enthuses. “I mean that whole world of show business and the beauty and power of just performing without gimmicks or trading on sexuality; she just had a fuck-load of killer tunes and a great band and a great way on stage.”
It’s a killer M.O. that brings to mind her own line about having “a mouthful of dynamite” on her track Lover/Soldier. While thoroughly modern in her constant engagement with fans and criticism via social media, she also freely discusses her disdain for what she refers to as “the art of selling as an art in its own right” and her hope that she lands somewhere closer to her other musical heroes Rufus Wainwright and Tim Finn.
Circling back on hope, she finally cites Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago as the record that reaffirmed that “just the purity and beauty of songwriting was enough. You know, I’ve been asked by interviewers if my glasses were a conscious decision and who came up with the idea of a chick wearing glasses and playing the piano, and I’m like ‘It’s so I can see my piano!’ I mean, I’ve tried contact lenses, but have you ever tried to change contact lenses in a Portaloo at Bluesfest?
“Logistics aside, I really can’t quite understand that stuff, it’s all irrelevant. All that matters when I wake up in the morning is that I’m a songwriter and a musician.”
Washington’s album I Believe You, Liar is out on Mercury Records/Universal on July 30.