Turning 30 is not like turning 21. The nine years between hold what can feel like a lifetime of defining choices and should-have-starteds. That is, if you buy into that kind of thing – which Methyl Ethel’s Jake Webb doesn’t. “Well, I find myself actively trying to avoid the clichés around what it means to come of age, or it’s something I think about a lot ... It looms, but from other people, not from myself … and trying to get away from those things is a smart way to be.”
Still, there is a serendipity (to use his word) to the fact that Methyl Ethel’s third album, entitled Triage, was completed around the time of Webb’s 30th birthday. “I think the age thing, with reference to the album, it was sort of a nice coincidence that it all happened,” he muses. “It means everything that you could assume, but also its nothing different. I’ve noticed that it’s something that people care about, this age, and they put things on, and I’m interested in why that is. I find it kind of bizarre ... It’s all just about learning, and experience is something you do have to earn, you know.”
"I think artists are liable to carry some extra baggage from the world, in regards to what it is they do ... The majority of my family and friends have no idea what I do with myself every day."
“It’s the same feeling I got when I was hiding from my parents, or only playing music in the house when everyone was out … when it’s just for me.”
In the art of song, Webb has certainly earned his expertise. The Perth-based musician has been making it since his childhood, and much of what motivated him back then remains. “I think the goal is the same, the emotional response to making music is the same, I think the addiction to doing it and what I want to get out of it is the same.” That is: “Pure serotonin. Having eureka moments by myself here, when I know no one is listening but I’m sort of playing and writing and singing my own song.”
“It’s all sort of, it bleeds into life and life bleeds into it.”
As Methyl Ethel’s primary songwriter, Webb maintains a daily practice. (The band is a Tame Impala-esque iteration, if you will – with Webb working in the conceptive stages and members Thom Stewart, Chris Wright, Jacob Diamond and Lyndon Blue bringing the songs to life on tour.) “I get up in the morning, I sit at a keyboard and just write in a traditional sense, potentially, as far as composing goes ... After about one or two o’clock in the afternoon, I sort of use my brain a lot, and decide that I hate everything I’ve done all day and do something reactively for fun, and that ... ends up being the success of the day,” he tells. “It’s like I’m surrounded by the songs I’m working on so much that sometimes it takes listening to the demos or bits and pieces that I’ve worked on and doing the washing or going in for a run to unlock ideas about their direction. Once I’m in it, it’s something I think about 24/7.”
“The greatest joy is not having to put a label on it, I think: having everything be thought of as a side project, or making it for the joy of it.”
As Webb writes in his raw footnotes to the latest record, Triage is Methyl Ethel’s first “album to be heard”. He explains: “Methyl Ethel began as a personal challenge. I wanted to see if I could write, record and release some music before the band I was in at the time finished doing the same. I did and subsequently withdrew from some close friends. ... My first album Oh Inhuman Spectacle became the ‘why me? / fuck you / sorry’ album that I wrote as a confused coping mechanism ... I continued the introspective journaling with the follow-up, Everything is Forgotten.”
This time round, he’s letting people back in – or at least considering it. “Everyone is older, people have moved on. I receive text messages from old friends looking to reconnect. I have a masochistic social complex in so far as I enjoy the company of others, but self-imposed solitude and exile are exciting and useful to me.”
If Webb’s creative process is intrinsic and self-contained, then Methyl Ethel’s live shows are the wild card. “The challenge of building the live show is also the fun part, the way we approach it all is thinking of the live project as its own thing. The band and I, we get together and build it all up from scratch.”
In the case of Triage, Webb found further shared fulfilment in the mixing process; he travelled to London to work with Italian producer, mixer and recording engineer Marta Salogni – whose credits list includes the likes of Frank Ocean, the xx, Björk, Sampha and MIA. It was an experience that left Webb open to more collaborative creative encounters – under the Methyl Ethel alias or otherwise. “To share in it and in the end both be proud of it, that’s what’s nice,” he explains. “That’s what I miss about collaborating with people more, early on. You share the wins with other people. Working with [Martha] was really great, and she’s a really great person and friend now – so that kind of was a beautiful thing to come out of it. Fuck the album; made a new friend.”
Methyl Ethel play Forum Melbourne June 20 and 21, Enmore Theatre, Newtown, on June 22, The Gov, Hindmarsh, on June 27 and The Triffid, Brisbane, on June 28.