We chat with the Brisbane pop stalwart about making her first record in six years
For any artist to be so prolific during one of the most creatively neutering times in recent memory is quite a commendable feat – for Washington, of course, it’s just another day at the office.
“When lockdown happened I was like ‘what the fuck am I going to do?’,” she confesses. “I don’t know about you, but every person I know who’s a legitimate artist started creating the minute we all went into lockdown. All the people who are entertainers were like ‘oh no, we can’t play shows anymore!’ and the artists were like ‘who cares?’ Because we’ll just make more shit.
“As one of those people, I was like ‘oh my god, I have to make stuff’, because for people who really enjoy music and find solace and joy in it, this is their portal to their happy place. I need to fucking do my job and make music for them, because they’re in lockdown in JobKeeper, and it’s shit.”
From the pulsating opening title track through to the jaunty closer ‘Kiss Me Like We’re Gonna Die’, Batflowers is an astonishing product of unbridled inspiration. Each song is connected to one another by a series of dense thematic threads, with Washington’s distinctive voice soaring atop of a bedrock of intricate productions.
“I really thought about layers with the songwriting for this album because obviously there were a few key tracks, but it was more just a key concept that I wanted to explore,” Washington says, pinpointing the lyrical themes that underpin album opener ‘Batflowers’ and penultimate highlight ‘Achilles Heart.’
“They’re the things you just hear in the lyrics returning over and over again. You can see that in the titles of some songs buried as lyrics in other songs. It’s all kind of cross-contaminated on purpose – it’s not like I could only think of five ideas!”
The intricate and interconnected nature of Batflowers is only bolstered further through Washington’s eagle eye for detail, with the Brisbane-based artist taking on an executive role in the creative direction, engineering and rollout of the record. Washington draws comparisons with her executive process to artists like Kanye West, Caroline Polacheck and The 1975, with each going out of their way to create the most immersive and theatrical listening experience as possible by commandeering all creative aspects of their album rollout.
“When people say theatrical, all they really mean is ‘you made an effort’,” she muses. “What they mean is you did the bare fucking minimum, and thought about ‘what will we wear, what will we say, how will we say it’.
“For me, it comes from watching the rollout of albums from people like Moses Sumney and even Dua Lipa in her own way, but also people like Caroline Polacheck and Sia. The 1975 have a really similar relationship to music as me, which is basically whatever it is, they have to be the boss of all of it. I really relate to that.”
A large chunk of Batflowers’ charm comes down to its atmospheric sound palate – itself a clear indicator of Washington’s creative direction. The album features contributions from a number of contemporary heavy-hitters, including John Congleton (Moses Sumney, Angel Olsen), Dave Hammer (Jess Kent, Genesis Owusu) and Japanese Wallpaper, whose trademark twinkling synths work in tandem with Washington’s stellar voice on ‘Lazarus Drug’ to take the album to dizzying heights.
Other collaborators include Sam Fischer and Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, who recorded the drums for standout single ‘Dark Parts’ – a murky pop number recorded in the unconventional meter of 7/8 – from her Joshua Tree studio. Despite the diverse background of each collaborator on Batflowers, Washington puts her executive decisions behind forming the sound of the record down to one prime motivator.
“When we went into lockdown, I just kind of thought of all these people and was like hypothetically, if it was the end of the world and you wanted to make an album, who would you call? So I just called all my favourite people and people that I wanted to make music with.”
Pieced together from all corners of the world via email, Batflowers is by all means a testament to the power of modern communications, with Washington extolling the virtues of remote collaboration through digital networks as an incredibly liberating creative tool. She reveals that through learning to engineer her own vocals, she’s become increasingly independent in the studio, which has in itself has presented her with an exciting new way to approach her songwriting – so much so, in fact, that she’s even working on her next album right now.
“I no longer need to write with the engineers in the room. I can just engineer my shit myself, and just send it to people like Sam Dixon or John Congleton, who then like actually produce it,” she says. “I don’t have to do any of that shit now, which is great, because it’s so much more freeing. Now, I don’t have to sit at the piano or the guitar, I can literally just sit at my computer and dream it up.”
From her ascension to local pop stardom in the early 2010s through to her work with ABC TV’s Bluey and Warwick Thornton’s documentary series The Beach, it’s fair to say that Washington is a creative powerhouse in every sense of the word, and her frustration with the media’s malignment of her medium is strikingly evident. To her, art has emerged as the saving grace of our new reality – isolated from the world around us, it’s really all we can do to keep mattering as a whole.
“Like Nietzsche said, ‘we have art in order not to die of the truth’, and I think it’s really funny that all those newspapers are saying that the number one most redundant or non-essential worker are artists,” Washington scoffs. “What a pile of shit! Everyone’s just watching Netflix all day, or listening to the radio or the news or whatever. We need the media, but the media aren’t artists; they’re journalists and that’s a different thing.
“People need us, they’re bored sideways. The last time the world needed art so much, it was the fucking war. I just felt like there was this absolute galvanising energy with a lot of my friends when this happened and we felt like we just had to do what we do more urgently, because otherwise what are people going to listen to? TikTok songs?”
Batflowers is out now via Island Records Australia.