In Arts + Entertainment

Megan Washington On Playing With Stutters And Symphony Orchestras

Ahead of her national symphony orchestra tour, Megan Washington talks about her evolution as an artist and overcoming her life-long stutter.

Megan Washington is part-way through a trip around Australia playing with symphony orchestras in most major cities. It’s a tour of an album that won’t be out until next year – an album that doesn’t yet have a name – but that marks a new chapter in Washington’s sound and life. Newly married and performing pregnant (the baby is due in February) she has delightful things to say about how much love there is in her life.

The invitation to play with orchestral accompaniment is an impressive feat for a musician of only 30, and Washington speaks as though she’s somehow come through to the other side of her younger self. Read on and hear about how perhaps the horn and string sections fit her now better than the indie pop she started with.

megan washington singer stutter symphony orchestra tour

Megan Washington. Photo: Megan Washington

You’re playing with full orchestras – how did that start? Was it something you always wanted to do?

It’s something that’s in every musician’s absolute bucket list. I guess for me I thought it would happen a bit later in life. There’s sort of an unspoken – how do I explain this – an unwritten assumption I always had was that you get these opportunities when you’re a bit further on in your career and you’ve got like a zillion albums. Because playing with an orchestra is normally like a “Best Of” you know what I mean? And that’s kind of the reason why I chose not to do a a retrospective because I just feel it’s a bit premature for that. I’m only up to album four. [Laughter]

And I don’t mean to say that in a disparaging way. As far as I can see all the other artists that I know who’ve done it have a much more extensive catalogue than I do. That’s kind of why I chose to only perform new repertoire from my album that isn’t released yet. It’s the record that I’ve been working on all year. I recorded it in LA earlier in the year and it’ll be out next year. I guess in a way these shows are like a pretty sexy, extremely elaborate album preview.

In your TED talk in 2014 you spoke about struggling with a stutter since childhood, and that when you sing you don’t stutter. Since the TED talk you’ve mentioned that you don’t worry so much about the stutter anymore – that now it’s all out in the open – and you’re over it. Is that the case?

I mean, I wish I was over it. Having a stutter is like having that constant thought in your head, like when someone says, “do not think of a pink elephant” and then that’s all you can think about. It’s that mental arithmetic all the time. “Do not think about stuttering, you will stutter, now you are thinking about stuttering, do not stutter, and now you will stutter, don’t think about it, you’re stuttering now and you’re thinking about it.”

Since I did that talk I guess I have not been using “the voice”. The voice I’m using to talk to you now is “the voice” – my husband calls it the bullshit voice – I have not been using that as much. I guess in a sense I did such a good job of hiding it, and I felt a lot of shame about it for a long time but I don’t feel shame about it anymore. I just kind of let it be what it wants to be.

megan washington singer stutter symphony orchestra tour
Megan Washington. Photo: Megan Washington

Around that same time a few years ago you told an interviewer that your music didn’t need to be your therapy anymore. Is that true for this music you’re making now?

I feel like when I was in my early twenties and when I was writing my first record, like a lot of artists in their early twenties I kind of had this laughable, faux nihilism. I thought my problems were really big and intense and needed to be examined in music and needed to be discussed with the world. I guess the fact that my art no longer functions as therapy is largely due to the fact that I’m not as much of a narcissistic teenager anymore. [Laughter]

Whenever I hear interviews with people who are 19 or 20 I just sort of go, “Oh, babe, I was there.” You think that everything is so life-and-death and everything is just so important, and its really not.

The function of music has really changed for me internally. I think less about what I will receive for writing a song, and I think more about what I will give when writing a song. And I think that’s just something that’s come with maturity and some perspective. So, no, I don’t think I need to use my art as therapy. I still love to write, but it’s much more fun.

megan washington singer stutter symphony orchestra tour

Megan Washington. Photo: Megan Washington

What can you tell us about the new album?

Well, it’s love songs. I was living in Berlin in 2015 and I fell in love with this record called 10 Love Songs by Susanne Sundfør who’s a Norwegian singer and I got really obsessed with the record because it was love songs but it wasn’t “baby I want you, baby I need you” and all that nonsense.

The last chapter of my life has been very love-dense. There’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows and I kind of slowly realised that I’d never written any capital-L capital-S “Love Songs” so I wrote some. But of course, me being who I am, they came out a bit sick, and a bit melted. They have titles like “Kiss Me Like We’re Going To Die”. The whole thing is very grand, yes.

(Lead image: Megan Washington’s Saint Lo album artwork) 

Published 10 October, 2017