INTERVIEW: Washington

Washington’s third studio album ‘Batflowers’ has gone through an array of different variations. But it’s final kaleidoscope of imagery came together over the past year and a half after she made the conscious decision to scrap the album she had originally made. Feeling like it wasn’t as characteristically her as she wanted, she got a little more DIY and experimental with her production collaborators, and dived into the truth more with her lyrics. 

Not afraid to hold back, ‘Batflowers’ is a representation of the warped humour that has always trickled through her music along with the giant heart that has won over listeners since her highly acclaimed debut ‘I Believe You Liar’ in 2010. And the lead single for this project, ‘Dark Parts’, was the perfect representation of this world she’s bringing listeners into.  It’s kooky, fun, a little chaotic, but honest.

I recently chatted to Washington about the evolution of ‘Batflowers’, the unusual creative process behind ‘Move You’, and explored a song from her back catalogue that influenced this record lyrically. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your new album ‘Batflowers’ is an experimentally charged and DIY pop affair that has a very vulnerable and honest heart to it. So what do you want listeners to take away or feel from listening to it for the first time from start to finish?

WASHINGTON: If it’s a good song, then a song should be able to be deeply truthful and personal to me, yet entirely available to you. Like whenever someone says to me, “In ‘Catherine Wheel’ Is it a firework or something else? Because I looked it up and it’s a medieval torture device”. And I’m like “The answer is both. I have my answer and you have your answer. And the fact you’ve asked probably means that you’re not satisfied with my answer, so do your own version of it”. A song needs to belong to everybody and then the stuff you say is ironically more likely to connect with more people as it allows them to put themselves in the narrative. 

So many songs on this album are songs that I’ve had for ages and have different produced variations of. And the funny thing is that the final version for most of them are actually the demos. Not even with new vocals or anything, just straight up how I sang it on the day. 

So basically what I want people to take away is whatever they want to take away. I want them to relate in anyway they can or want to. 

TB: ‘Move You’ is a song that immediately stood out to me with it’s groovy disco-pop sound. So can you tell me about the creative process behind this track? 

W: I actually recorded the vocals for ‘Move You’ in a rental car parked in a weird, dark park in our neighbourhood as I live on a peninsula with heaps of apartments. So I had no isolation in my apartment and it was lockdown so I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, so I had to drive the car down to the dark park and sing the song. It was so creepy! *laughs*. 

There was no other way to do it because there was no where else to go. I live in a crumbling, gecko filled apartment, and there’s just people everywhere in my neighbourhood, so I didn’t know what else to do but get a car and record in there. It’s really annoying because you have to take your laptop, your interface, your microphone and then somehow set it all up in the car. It was pretty funny though. 

‘Move You’ the track was made by Sam Dixon in London, and I had some old lyrics that I freshened up to put on this track. Like, this song actually used to have a different name. So that’s why I had to re-record the vocals because I had some new lyrics and a new title for it. And I had to record it last minute in the car because the song had to be sent to Mastering in a few days. I had to get it done! 

TB: I liked that you said before that some of these songs or ideas you’ve had for a few years because obviously it’s public knowledge that you recorded and scrapped an album two years ago. But a song that was intended to be on it was ‘Achilles Heart’ as I saw you perform it at Bigsound in 2017. So with this song in particular, what was its evolution? 

W: Heaps of the songs on the record are ones that I have made and remade, and remade, and remade over time. I would say that ‘The Give’ and ‘Achilles Heart’ has somewhere between four and six different variations each. Like, here is the thing, there are songs that I have always loved from a songwriting perspective like ‘Achilles Heart’, but it’s taken time to find the right way to tell it sonically. 

The piano and vocals approach you originally heard is just me writing a song, but that is only one layer of what I do because you also have the cinema of the production that you add on top. This could turn ‘Achilles Heart’ into a calypso song if you applied the right parameters, and hire the right people. You can make anything into anything. 

I never felt like I found the right articulation of the song that had the right tone, and the right sense of humour too. Like; “all the better angels of my nature” is a line from Abraham Lincoln! I can’t sing it seriously! It’s too funny to me because my name is Washington *laughs*. So that’s why I played around with the delivery and ended up taking an All Saints ‘Never Ever’ approach to the singing-talking vocal part for that line. 

I will always laugh that I now have to do that live as it’s so stupid, but it’s fun to play around with approach and genre. And thats why there are so many different versions of the songs because the thing that was crucially missing from a lot of them was humour, and that they weren’t stupid enough. Everything was so beautiful and excellent, but that’s not really my vibe *laughs*. 

TB: This album in particular felt very DIY and experimental in parts because they were intertwining different production and vocals techniques with honest lyrical ideas quite fluidly. And some of the songs are a little bit crazy sonically, but they are perfectly you.

W: I love that, thank you! I was actually going to call the album ‘Bat Poetry’ because there is a line in ‘Batflowers’ that goes “I wanna read all of your bad poetry” and my genuine fear is that all my lyrics are just bad poetry, and that I’m a bad poet and everyone laughs at me *laughs*. I would be mortified if people thought that about my work, and there are some people that probably do. But I don’t want that! 

So my thought process was that if I called the album ‘Bad Poetry’ then I’ve already made the joke for you, so you can’t really say it’s bad because I’ve already said it. But that’s not a nice vibe to put out into the world, and it actually immediately draws people to that sentiment. Like journalists like yourself would create a punny heading for interviews and reviews saying things like “Bad poetry comes good things” and it just influences what is put back in the world. I realised in that moment that words are super important. 

Once I discovered the word ‘Bat Flower’ I immediately resonated with it because it felt so familiar and warm. I saw it in a magazine and I was like “I love this word” and then the more I thought of it the more I thought it could be a useful avatar for me. The reason that it’s not a popular flower is that it’s really hard to grow. It’s not a rose or a daisy, it’s a fucking bat flower.

I loved it because poetically the word has this contrast of Bat which to me is spooky, swoopy, magical, bat cave energy, and then a flower is such a beautiful thing on this earth. Together the word felt so rich, ripe and full of potential. There was so much thematically I could explore as a writer. 

TB: Something that I’ve been talking to other artists about recently that I’ve found really interesting is portal songs, which are songs or ideas from your previous releases that have triggered the direction or emotion behind the next chapter. So looking back on your discography, what would you say was the portal song for ‘Batflowers’. 

W: The song would one hundred percent be ‘How To Tame Lions’ off ‘I Believe You Liar’. The way that I wrote that was by just playing one thing, which was b flat, and then saying shit that my was on my mind through association. I had to obviously re-jumble some of it so it would rhyme, but I really just told the truth and didn’t suffer through that process.

Through writing that song I experienced creating something unedited, without the worries of what other people would think. Like, I made it, and it made it’s own sense to me. When I read Daniel Johns’ lyrics I never have any ideas what the fuck he is talking about, but I bet he does*laughs*. And that’s the point right? The artist has their own truth and relevance for the record. 

So the best way to write a fun song easily and with minimal suffering possible to just write the truth. And that’s what I did for ‘Batflowers’. I wanted to write what I wanted to hear because at the time I didn’t feel that any of that was true. 

‘Batflowers’ is out now!