Methyl Ethel on isolation, embarrassment and lazy comparisons
Initially, Perth indie outfit Methyl Ethel was meant to be no more than an amorphous vessel for surreal, dream pop, but as the band’s tunes took on a life of their own, punters clamoured to see them played live.
Jake Webb, Methyl Ethel’s mastermind, realised that he needed a band to be the arms and limbs of the songs onstage and recruited Chris Wright (drums) and Thom Stewart (bass) for the purpose. Since then, the trio’s hit high-profile stages worldwide, including SXSW, the CMJ showcase and St Jerome’s Laneway and is about to step back into the fray in support of their second album, Everything is Forgotten.
It’s obvious, at least conceptually, that Webb’s a reluctant frontman and is in two minds since being urged to put a face to the band’s name. “Someone says to you, ‘I like what you do, would you like other people to hear what you make,’ and my answer is, ‘Yeah, I’d love to,’ ” he says. “Because once I make the music and it’s completed, it’s not for me anymore. It doesn't really belong to me. It’s kind of dead or doesn’t exist for me to experience.
“The purpose for it existing is for it to be heard by other people. In order for the most amount of people to come across and listen to it, the face and the shows, apparently, are very integral to that. It’s a little out of my hands. It’s a compromise that I’m willing to make and it’s not so bad, but I don’t think any of us are really comfortable with our images out there in the world. Maybe we’ll have to learn how to be more comfortable with that.”
Webb goes the full Dave Grohl and writes and records all of the band’s songs by his lonesome. He did it on the band’s stellar debut, Oh Inhuman Spectacle and has repeated the feat for the follow up, Everything is Forgotten. Webb is adamant that he works best in isolation, but it also feeds back into that idea that he’s not yet entirely comfortable as a frontman. Plus, maybe he's just a wee bit misanthropic? “Yes,” he admits. “And also, I’m a little bit maybe embarrassed. I can't be totally free and make pure choices and noises if people around. If someone’s in that next room, I can’t really play anything. Maybe I’m embarrassed of my own skills. Also, when I’m alone I can go crazy a little bit more.”
Given that Methyl Ethel is really his baby, Webb could take an autocratic approach to the songs, but he holds fast to the notion that the band’s just a conduit for the tunes. “The dictator is the song and we are its subjects,” Webb says. So then, how does he go about getting other people on board with what he wants to do? “Oh, just simply asking them,” Webb says. “They could’ve said no and now they’re stuck. Stuck with me. Sucked in.”
Methyl Ethyl draws inevitable (Webb says “lazy”) comparisons with State mate Kevin Parker, and routinely gets pegged as ‘eccentric’ and ‘oddball’. Webb’s self-deprecating in considering whether it’s a fair call.
“Maybe to the extent that people who write those things don’t have enough eccentric and oddball friends. It’s a pretty straight down the line, wanky-art student thing – it’s not exactly oddball. I like to think of myself as eccentric, but I’m pretty boring really.”
By Meg Crawford
Methyl Ethel play Howler on Thursday February 23. Everything Is Forgotten is out Friday March 3 via Dot Dash/Remote Control.