Interview | Methyl Ethel

Created entirely in a home studio in West Perth, Jake Webb aka idiosyncratic pop project Methyl Ethel releases his third LP, Triage today. Written, performed and produced entirely by Webb over months of self-imposed isolation, Triage is, unsurprisingly, his most introspective yet. Coinciding with Webb’s thirtieth year around the sun, the coming of age record also sees his repertoire reach three LPs and three EPs. Recently expanding to a five-piece live band, Methyl Ethel have just announced a five-date national tour this June in support of Triage. We spoke to Jake Webb about the new record over the phone as he assembled some new shelving for his home studio before he set off for a tour with Laneway Festival with his new band in tow.

Hey Jake, how’s your day been so far?
Very well thank you. Actually pretty productive, I’ve been building some shelving that I bought for my studio so I’ve been talking to people while screwing things together. It focuses the mind.

Triage is out next month, how are you feeling about it coming out?
Yeah, excited. I guess that next phase of having it out there and listened to by people is a great thing.

Have you had the chance to play much of the album live yet?
We have actually. Our set at the moment is almost half new songs and I think it will be more so at Laneway. It’s been good fun.

How have you found the initial reactions?
We actually had a few friends come with us to Splendour ’cause it was the first time playing with the new five-piece band and reports from said people were that during the show there seemed to people singing along to songs that they couldn’t possibly have ever heard before. It was pretty interesting to hear that. That was a pretty wild crowd to play to, I must say.

You wrote the album alone, as usual, and recorded the album in your home studio but you also produced the record yourself alone this time. Was that a deliberate choice for you to work in isolation during the process from start to finish?
Yeah, I just wanted to grow in confidence and support myself in being able to do it. Rather than relying on others, I wanted to see it through from beginning to end.

Was there anything new you learned during the process?
Yeah, I’m always trying to find what it is that I do and then maybe try to do things differently. It’s all a continual learning process. So there was plenty that I learned and plenty that I’m already thinking about changing up or doing differently next time. All in all, it’s always enjoyable.

You also wrote the majority on keys this time right? Did you notice any changes in the process of how your songs come together writing Triage from past albums? Do you have any kind of processes that you’re aware of?
It’s always around 80 percent that I write on piano. It’s just such a powerful tool when it comes to composing stuff, it’s all sort of right there and I find it to be the most handy. Going forward, it’s just going to happen more and more. I think especially as my piano practice gets better as well.

What was your introduction to making music? What was the first instrument you picked up?
Well I guess piano was my first instrument but I was only a young kid and quit not long after I started. I had an older sister who played piano all the way through high school and into university so it was around all the time. Her strict practice regime is something I didn’t have the attention span to take on at the time but as I get older, I’m trying to be more regimented about my approach to it all.

There are so many moving parts and dynamics throughout the album that are, as always, refreshing and familiar at once. ‘Hip Horror’ for instance has these beautiful, sort of eerie keys laid against these completely danceable beats. I think these unexpected elements are so synonymous with you music, to me at least. What drives these dichotomies?
Well that’s sort of my weapon of choice. The idea is to have this, I guess, cognitive dissonance going on throughout because it’s just how I feel about most things. It’s not strictly one way or the other. Everything sort of contains a little bit of everything. Having that run through the music seems to be the obvious approach.

I get a sense of that from your lyricism as well, a line doesn’t mean one particular thing, it’s a really interesting way of storytelling. Are there any other storytellers or musicians whose practice stood out to you in that way?
Everything that I enjoy seems to have an element of interpretation in it. In that regard, I sort of see it in everything. I don’t really feel like my opinions… I never want to say something directly, it’s more opening up the conversation.

Your music videos and artwork are always incredible. How involved are you in the concepts behind the visual accompaniments to your music?
I have been (laughs). With Matt Sav (PAVLOVA), I’ve known him for quite some time and I sort of handed over the reigns to him on the last couple of things. He’s got a specific taste but he definitely doesn’t just steamroll the process. It’s collaborative in that he leans toward the song or what he feels the song needs to accompany it. I have sort of a hobbyist’s interest in films and film-making so I would love to direct something for somebody else, not necessarily me. In that respect, I’m interested in it.

Laneway precedes the album, so I guess you’ll get huge hit of reactions, then UK and US tour dates coming up in March. Once these wrap up is it looking like this is going to be a year of heavy touring ahead?
At this stage, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be ridiculously heavy as far as touring goes. We’ll certainly be trying to get to as many places as possible.

Methyl Ethel’s third LP Triage is out Friday 15th February via Dot Dash / Remote Control.

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