METHYL ETHEL Haunting season

Since beginning as a humble bedroom recording project back in 2014, Perth’s own Methyl Ethel and the art-pop auteur behind the moniker, Jake Webb, have continued to grow before our eyes into one of the most innovative and consistent bands in Australia, if not the world. Now, following the release of popular singles Neon Cheap, Matters and Proof (ft Stella Donnelly), Methyl Ethel are gearing up for the release of the highly anticipated fourth album they’ve been lifted from, Are You Haunted? when it comes out this Friday, February 18 on their new label home Future Classic. Ahead of bringing the new tunes to the stage at European Foods Warehouse on Friday, February 25 as part of Perth Festival 2022, MICHAEL HOLLICK spoke to Jake Webb about developing his craft in Perth, the role of artists in society and how it culminated in this new release.

Congrats on the release of your new album! We’ve been fans for a long time…do you have memories of X-Press Mag growing up?

Starting out, playing music, you would flip straight to the back and see if anyone wrote a review of it. It was totally a thing. And I just remember, it was either clearly someone who was just at the bar while you were playing, and would say played this song and this song; and you hadn’t played either of those songs. And I have no problem with that, that’s just part of it (laughs). Or just being ripped into, which is also really good.

Looking backwards again, who were the local Perth artists that you looked up to as you were staring out?

The local artists who gave me that first real inspiration were the sort of pre-psych rock bands. There were loads of more experimental-pushing groups like These Shipwrecks, Apricot Rail and Taco Leg. All these musicians and groups were trying something different, sitting on floors, like in a gallery, not a traditional venue. Real art student kind of shows. They really made me feel like I could have been anywhere in the world, be it London or Berlin or New York. And straight out of high school, all of a sudden it was right there and I didn’t need to leave Perth. That was an important part of what I loved about the music and those bands.

Methyl Ethel didn’t have the traditional start that many Perth bands do playing gigs to get their name out there. Why was that?

Part of the genesis of this project (Methyl Ethel) was that I didn’t want to play any shows. I was over just playing every weekend and playing in a band was just a bit like hanging out with mates. And no disrespect to those mates or those days, but the beginning of this project was very much about me not giving a shit about what others thought. I’m just going to make stuff that I like, put it out there, for me, as an outlet, and that’s it. And then people were interested and I was convinced to do more. And then it slowly started growing and it just keeps on living. Which is really good. And now I am here. And I am doing it full-time. And I love making things.

Did you think, particularly growing up in Perth, that being a full-time musician or artist was an option?

Whether it’s from our parents’ generation, or maybe it’s a West Australian thing, or whatever it is, I grew up feeling that being an artist of any kind is viewed as something that you have to do on the side, especially financially. At this point I’ve been lucky enough to treat music like it’s my 9 to 5, and that’s made me realise how important it is to have people thinking full-time like this, just like how we value full-time academics for example. For art, especially visual art, there is a contribution to society at large that can be made by people thinking in these ways that is just super important. And it’s important in a way that is beyond selling records or paintings or tickets to films or whatever. It’s important for people really to value this kind of stuff and for it to be done. And to be supported enough so that it can always be done.

Your next show is part of the Perth Festival. What does Perth Festival mean to you?

I just love this time of year, and so it was super exciting to be offered our own show. I’m a Perth Festival tragic. I did some work for the Festival at the State Theatre one year babysitting the live closed captioning for William Pentridge’s version of the Alfred Jarry play Ubu Roi, (Ubu and The Truth Commision, Perth Festival 2015) and that was totally the inspiration to start that song (Ubu).

You have a newer member in your band, Julia Wallace, who will be a part of the Perth Festival show. What can you tell me about her?

Lyndon Blue asked me to play in a band that he was putting together and that’s how we met. Julia is a great player, a killer horn player, and a beautiful pianist with a lovely, lovely voice. And then I heard her EP (2021’s Place In Mind) which is great, mostly moody keys and flugelhorn. She is a very exciting musician to have around and full of great ideas.

And finally, I recently heard you talking about your song creation process for the new Methyl Ethel record as being one where “the music plays itself.” You were saying that you record the songs and then pull them together at the console and produce the song into life. Can you expand upon that?

I really like the approach of things like Animal Collective and Panda Bear which are of bits and pieces. And also things like My Life In The Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. But this was also about finding a fresh approach for myself. When making this record, I thought of writing a song everyday but to use that idiom, I realised that I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when making music.

And no one needs another person sitting down at a piano or with a guitar and writing a song in that traditional way. I wanted to make something fresh everyday, but I needed it to kind of have a birth of its own. And by grabbing disparate pieces and using a junk shop approach, like if I hear something on the radio and I take a sound from YouTube, it’s really like stitching shit together, and it’s this demo that that is an idea of a thing that I will hear and then I will write the song to. It’s like trying to do a cover version of something.

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