We recently had a chance to catch up with Australian songstress Washington amid her US tour with OMD. We chatted about her forthcoming Insomnia LP, Bosendorfers, British weather and more! Also peep “Holy Moses” previewed from her Insomnia LP below.
Is there a particular inspiration that you attribute to the exploration of jazz early in your career?
I grew up being fascinated by old Hollywood musicals. Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller, Ruby Keeler, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron; I suppose you could say they were my idols. When I got a little older, I think I was naturally drawn toward old jazz standards because they were already familiar, they were the songs from all those old films. Irving Berlin and Cole Porter and Lerner and Loewe basically educated me in everything until I discovered rock and roll at about 20 years old. After that my tastes certainly expanded, but the core of my understanding of music is definitely rooted in show tunes and all that’s razzly and dazzly.
Reflecting back, is there anything that you take away from earlier experiences as a keyboardist and back-up vocalist for artists like Ben Lee that’s prepared you for the spotlight as Washington?
I learned a lot in those years playing in other people’s bands. I learned how to tour, (which is a skill you don’t realise you need until you need it), I learned how to structure set lists according to the venue size and crowd size, I learned how to rearrange the recorded songs for a live band… I learned a lot. I wish I’d learned to play guitar better but I’m still working on that. It also afforded me the opportunity to travel the world and play at lots of festivals and see a lot of music that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see.
Can you compare being a singer/songwiter in Australia to that of the United States, UK or elsewhere? Is there anything particular about the culture or landscape from your point of view?
I don’t know whether I can really answer that question faithfully… I think that the experience of being a songwriter is different every day, with every song, and every city. Certainly Australian crowds are generally a little more boisterous compared to, say, a typical German audience, where I guess culturally there’s a little more of a ‘recital’ spirit to the show, but that’s an awfully strong generalisation and I can think of plenty of instances where that hasn’t been the case. Touring in America is very similar to touring in Australia; the drives between shows are long because the countries are so vast. My thoughts about the UK are simply that it’s always FREEZING because I’ve only ever been there mid-winter. So now I know how to drag my keyboard through snow!
When is your favorite time to write? Is there something that inspires you… favorite instrument of any sort?
I really can’t go past a Steinway grand piano. I also love Bosendorfers but they’re terribly hard to come across. I generally write quite late at night, usually around midnight, although there’s also this strange thing that happens when I’m running late to leave the house I have this odd compulsion to sit down and write for 10 minutes or so and make myself even later. I don’t know what kind of psychological connotations that has. I’m usually inspired by relationships, stories. Tales of woe. Edgar Allen Poe. Bukowski. Heartbroken maidens wrecked on the shores of romance.
Is there anything that the world should expect from ‘Insomnia’?
It’s a funny record, Insomnia. It’s very different to ‘Liar’, in that it’s quite dark with a lot more space than anything that came before it. Obviously it was written in the dark, so it makes sense that it’d be dark, right? Also Cello. The world can expect Cello!
What makes a song timeless in your opinion?
Washington – Holy Moses
Truth and restraint.
[VAULT] Washington – Welcome Stranger