Like a record without a cover or a veiled voice reverberating out from a car radio, Methyl Ethel emerged first as a faceless, genderless creature-of-a-thing whose spectral blend of heady dream-pop and swooping psych-rock did all the heavy lifting. “I wanted to see whether or not people would judge it based on the music alone without having a backstory or anything,” explains frontman Jake Webb of the four-track recorder project he released as a solo endeavour in 2013.
An experiment of sorts that stares today’s manicured musical landscape directly in the face – “I wanted to challenge the system in a way” – Webb’s musical output cuts a path that is entirely of his own making. For him, the songs come first, and the band, which has grown alongside the outfit’s mounting acclaim, second.
When we speak, Webb is in the midst of a seemingly endless string of shows that has taken his mellow cohort – Thom Stewart on bass, Chris Wright on drums, and new recruit Hamish Rahn on keys and guitars – everywhere from their hometown of Perth to Antwerp to Toronto and deep into the mottled belly of America. “Seeing the world is always a pleasure for me. It can be hard being away from home but it is very enjoyable to take your show to new cities,” says Webb down the line from “the middle of Iowa somewhere in a car”.
The tour comes in support of Methyl Ethel’s second album, Everything Is Forgotten – a soaring, pulsating, shadowy affair that sees its creator honing his technical dexterity amid further exploration of songwriting and producing all the while staying true to the “very specific goals and motivations” that have shaped the alt-pop project since its humble beginnings as a solo home-recording pursuit. “I was listening to, and still do listen to, a lot of Talking Heads and Brian Eno’s production and the idea of working with loops was really interesting to me,” says Webb. “It was a good process to be able to experiment and enrich my own songwriting skills.”
Judging by the band’s designation as artists to watch by NPR and Rolling Stone along with their Best Pop Act of 2016 accolade at the WAM (Western Australia) Awards (for which they beat out Tame Impala and Troye Sivan), Webb’s resolutions have not gone unnoticed, a reality the gifted multi-instrumentalist is still wrapping his head around. “Unexpected definitely because it wasn’t expected,” he says, “but I suppose I never really thought about how it all worked. In all honesty I never thought it was too far out of reach, which is to say that I had the ambition at least to try for it.” Ambition that, for a mind like Webb’s, takes on an almost ritualistic form, operating at its optimal within the self-imposed parameters of a routine setting. “What’s important to me is that when I am at home I do build myself a balanced nine-to-five workday,” he says. The driving motivation, he explains, comes first and foremost from a love of making music, and furthermore from a restless desire to produce work he feels is of true merit.
Ever grateful for the demand Methyl Ethel is commanding, Webb pledges to “push forward, work and upgrade on the live show and new records…” A mark it would not be disingenuous to assume is well within reach. “Baby steps but we’ll grow and eventually, hopefully realise the full sonic potential of our live outfit,” he says. But for now, it’s the stretch of road directly ahead that holds Webb’s attention. “What’s going through my mind right now? Just the next show: Minneapolis tonight.”
“In all honesty I never thought it was too far out of reach, which is to say that I had the ambition at least to try for it.”