A few weeks ago I got an e-mail about a possible interview with an artist named Washington, an already Platinum selling artist in her home base of Australia. On doing some pre-interview research I found Washington’s website to provide the most cleverly written and entertaining biography I’ve read on an artist page in years. An excerpt reveals a sarcastic and witty revelation about her music, which is put more accurately than I ever could: “They’re all pop songs but not like you think. They are really, REALLY wordy twisty complicated key changing sons of bitches that you’d have to go to music school for 6 years to play (she did) but after they’re done you can remember every chorus and every hook, and on the second listen you may be able to sing back most of the words. They are mostly about love and how love can make you feel any other emotion. She calls them sonic polaroids. That’s a little pretentious but you know what she means” (washingtonmusic.com.au).
This hilarious writing could have (and might have) been written by Washington herself, as we spent some time this morning chatting about her thoughts on musical inspirations, touring, and she made me laugh several times per answer to my question. After those years of music school that gave her the base for her current success, “Washington moved away from jazz and began performing in Old Man River, as the keyboardist and backing vocalist. The band released their debut EP, Clementine, in 2008. In November 2008 they were announced as Triple J’s Unearthed winners. This was followed by the release of a second EP, How To Tame Lions in September 2009. Washington won two 2010 ARIA Music Awards,” (the Australian equivalent of a Grammy), for ‘”Best Female Artist” and “Breakthrough Artist”, and received a further three nominations: “Album of the Year”, “Best Adult Alternative Album” for I Believe You Liar and “Single of the Year” (“How To Tame Lions”).” It’s pretty clear that this young woman is on her way to the top, so I was beyond excited that Thrillcall had the chance to speak with her…
Thrillcall: Hello! Great to speak with you, Washington.
Washington: Hi! So, I’m talking into a speaker thing that looks like Darth Vader’s helmet right now.
Thrillcall: [Laughs] Yes, I think I know what you’re talking about. And I’m talking to you on the phone as you’re currently in New York right now… Is that where you’re living these days?
Washington: Actually, I don’t really live anywhere at the moment, but I am here to do some mixing for some tracks that we’ve been working on. After all of the mixing we on go to Canada to do North by North East (NXNE).
Thrillcall: I was looking at your photographs, and I must say I love your style and your photography taste. Do you have a special interest in fashion, or art, outside of your music career?
Washington: For me, a lot of my aesthetic taste comes from old musicals I grew up watching. I’m from Papua New Guinea and I would spend a lot of time watching those old MGM musicals from America. You know, like Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn movies like Roman Holiday, stuff like that. So I guess that’s where most of my aesthetic taste was formed, and I do have strong opinions on what things should look like.
Thrillcall: Who are some of your biggest influences? Either within the music industry or otherwise?
Washington: Rufus Wainwright was huge for me. I had been mainly listening to and playing a lot of jazz up until I heard him. Hearing his music really turned me on to songwriting. Also, I really love Edgar Allen Poe and of course the grand singers like Judy Garland and Billy Holiday. Oh, and I love Bob Fossee.
Thrillcall: Besides some of the influences you’ve just listed, in your opinion, what are other contemporary bands should people be listening to?
Washington: Um, I really enjoy the new James Blake record, really. Also, I’ve been obsessed with Monsters of Grace, the new Philip Glass opera. If you love contemporary orchestral work, you should check it out. I guess I don’t really have one single genre that I always listen to, I don’t say “Oh I like Country, or I like this, or that…” I’m really a bit schizophrenic as a music listener.
Thrillcall: How do you prepare for a big show? Do you have any rituals or ways you like to prepare?
Washington: I’m usually playing a smaller show somewhere the night before a show [laughs]. I don’t really have rituals, but our band became a band through doing lots of touring and playing. So yeah, I never have the fortune or misfortune to have a certain way or specific way that I have to do things. What I would say though is that I try to find some time before I go on stage just to be alone. I mean, try to consider what it’s like to be on tour. The atmosphere is always crazy, and there are people screaming and dancing, it’s just peripatetic. It’s always stressful trying to get the lipstick off the teeth, and warm up and “where is the other shoe?” [laughs]… Not to sound too Dr. Phil-ish, but I think it’s important to find a quiet place to be alone and breathe.
Thrillcall: Do you have favorite places to go on tour? Any stories you want to share?
Washington: [Laughs] How long have you got? There have been, shit I dunno, so many stories and things that have happened. I think one I will tell is when I was recently on tour with Kaki King all along the West Coast of America. They said they were treating me and taking me to a day spa, but it actually turned out to be some sort of a nudist ashram! Seriously, no smoking, no internet, no cell phone reception… and those are basically the four things I do that make up the corners of my life! And you know, in the larger sense, touring is like one of those things, similar to when people come back from holiday and they always have crazy travel stories. I mean this is the kind of stuff people write books about. But I’m really not wild when I’m on tour or anything, I’m really not Keith Richards.
Thrillcall: So, What’s next for you, what are you working on now?
Washington: Now, i’m just concentrating on putting out my record in October and trying to play shows here and there. So that’s my “thing.” I’ve been quite fortunate that I’ve had some time to do some more writing, and I’m just really excited about putting this thing into the world, letting it live it’s life. Setting it free!