METHYL ETHEL The X-Press Interview

One of Perth’s great hopes on the international stage, 4AD signed WA band Methyl Ethel have just announced an album tour taking in the Astor Theatre on Saturday, June 15. Ahead of the release of their third and latest album, Triage (out on Dot Dash in Australia), LARA FOX sat down with the man behind the band, Jake Webb, at his home in West Perth to discuss the making of the album, the themes behind it, an artist’s social responsibility and what drives him to make music. 

Can you tell us a bit about how Triage came together?

I always knew I was going to put out another record, I knew that as soon as I finished the last one. I had about a 12 or 15 song demo list that I started working from. I brought them to the label and they said keep going, keep writing.

That brought us to the beginning of this year (2018) and I moved into (my house) and set up this room as a studio. It was just writing a record, it wasn’t anything mystical, I wasn’t struck by creative lightning. It was very much back to business really.

Is the process and the allocated time you had to create Triage similar to the creation of Oh Inhuman Spectacle and Everything is Forgotten?

Kind of… the first one was a little different. Being the first record and before a label was involved, that one was spread out over a long period of time. The second one was the opposite; I was trying to fit everything in in-between touring off the first record. So in a way this one was kind of a return to the way I used to do things (have a set piece of time to work on things).

Triage is the first record that you completely produced, what was the reasoning behind that?

Well, I thought, I could continue to work with other people, but in that, there is a part of it that remains someone else’s job. Getting a producer, in a way is kind of like me not backing myself in to complete it on my own. Some people at 4AD gave me the confidence to go and do it myself, so there was that as well. But there is also that I have just grown in confidence through putting music out and I wanted a personal challenge. I can build my skills if I do it myself. I will process a lot more and start to develop.

Triage really sounds like a well thought out, at times meticulous album, does it feel that way to you?

It’s good to hear that it sounds like that, because that is the way I approached it. It sounds meticulous, because it is meticulous.

What were the inspirations behind Triage?

There was nothing specific. In the first album I made, I was definitely watching a lot of certain type of film or delving into certain things. But this one was more inspired by the actual process and paying attention to what I was doing, rather than taking in from outside.

Have you noticed in retrospect any kind of thematic thread?

I had the album title pretty early on in the piece, in my head. However abstract the link, I was trying to keep that at least as a kind of heading or topic sentence to stick to. And you can bend it as far as you want, but I tried to have that as an overarching theme. But nothing that was really explicit. I have talked about what it kind of means to me, and for people it kind of means other things, even at this early stage of talking to people, and they are all applicable, you know? It is supposed to be as transparent as it needs to be.

I know in the past you have made comments about wanting your music to be accessible, was that the case with Triage also?

I think generally, as a musician and as a songwriter, you want everyone to be able to connect on some level. For me personally, when I listen to music, it happens in different ways every time, it could be in a foreign language. It doesn’t have to necessarily be about things or themes in the song, but over time it grows to be an amalgamation of all of what it is – if it’s good. And that is the ultimate goal for me, is for things to stick around, to continue to evolve and to become part of someone’s life.

I think that Triage is full of really great writing, there is some beautiful, concise and poetic lyrical work, is that something that you focused on more?

I am glad that you say that because I did set myself a challenge of really working on and re-writing the lyrics this time. Originally, the position of writing music was so instant and I would write in a stream of conscience, free-write kind of, then I would go back and re-work it little bit, but after performing those songs live so many times, that is when you get stuck with the lyrics. So from that side of things, I could see what mistakes I made in the first two albums and with Triage I really wanted the writing to be something that I could be proud of and read and enjoy for a long time.

Triage seems like such a strong ‘album’ and in a world that is turning more and more toward singles, it is really nice to listen to an ‘album’ that is so cohesive and blended – was this something you set out to achieve?

Yeah, I am always setting out to make an album. It’s kind of a strange practice really, why do we set out to make an album? Which has 30 songs on it or something? But I like listening to albums, and have each song build and be part of a bigger dramatic structure, or have a flow, or have a message. That is the great challenge for me.

There is an argument to say that artists have a social responsibility to promote change, ask questions and make statements in their work – would you agree with that?

I mean, everyone is involved by being alive, and existing in the world. I don’t think that artists have particularly any more of a responsibility, they are just fortunate to have a platform. For me, there are things that I do and choices that I make, that mean more than me as ‘Jake Webb’ talking and saying things. Sometimes I prefer to let the people that know what they are talking about to really speak.

I feel that my music asks questions too. Which is definitely a part of it. It is super complex, and I think that when I have something to say, I’ll say it. At the same time though – I am not hiding away from anything.

What do you enjoy most about making music?

I enjoy all of it. But I think the most enjoyable part is the birth of the song – when things start to really come together. When the tinkering or sketching out of a song becomes a melody and it starts to form. That birth. That is the most exciting part. And then you work it to make sure it sees its full potential. And when it’s finished – it’s DEAD (laughs). It’s kind of like finishing a really delicious meal but you kind of eat too much and you cannot even be in the restaurant any longer, you just need to get out of there. And you don’t want to think about it anymore (laughs).

What was the most integral part of creating Triage?

For me the most integral part of songwriting and producing is paying attention to what the magic moments are in the song, or what the core elements are; what is special about a particular song. And at the same time, I feel like that is why I do what I do, for those moments in a song that really grab you. I think learning how to isolate those things and build a base around it so those things can soar and don’t fall flat.

What are your plans once Triage is released?

We have a couple of tours booked. We (played) Laneway Festival nationally … around when the record comes out. Then we will go and play some shows overseas, then come back and do that here and go back and forth a few times. It will be really nice.

Do you enjoy touring?

Well I love travelling, so that’s a positive for me. The only drag is the long hours and driving. Playing the shows is always fun, it’s just another kind of little challenge. We are so lucky to have had the opportunity to play already in so many places, you sort of return to these places and hope there will be a couple more people at the shows – you kind of grow and meet new people and friends. There is a lot to like about touring.

Do you get lots of time to get out and see the sights when touring?

Yeah. I mean some people might drink too many beers at night and sleep in.  But there is always time to do the things you want to do. And even from a car window, you can see a damn lot of things. Being from Western Australia you are used to driving a hell of a lot anyway, so it’s fine.

Will you have the same people in the band on the tours in 2019?

It’s changed up again. We changed for Splendour (2018). There are five of us now. Jacob Diamond is playing with us at the moment as well as Lyndon Blue. And of course – Tom and Chris.

Why are there more people in Methyl Ethel now?

It’s the way I would have had it to begin with. Originally there were five or six of us, in the first carnation. And then the touring just was so expensive so we couldn’t have everyone. So yeah, sadly that’s the answer! And you know… who knows what it will become in the future? It’s cool to kind of have it open like that, but at the same time it’s pretty stressful because you never know if everyone is going to be available to play the shows.

Lastly… have there been any bands or musicians that you have been loving at the moment?

AH! I have an answer for you! Kirkis. This guy from Melbourne.

Any from Perth?

Well… Lyndon Blue and Jacob Diamond (laughs).