Methyl Ethel's Jake Webb: "I Hate People Who Sing Nicely"
Methyl Ethel are in hot demand. So much so that Australian audiences won’t be the first to hear their shining new album, Everything Is Forgotten, post-release.
Europe, Canada and the US will be treated before the trio return to play Groovin The Moo 2017. However, frontman Jake Webb says their performances at Groovin will be treated the same as their own shows.
“I guess it’s easier in ways to play in front of a shitload of people. A lot of them probably wouldn’t even care what you were playing. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you play well. As long as we keep ourselves honest and keep working towards delivering high-calibre musical performances,” he says half-mockingly, “then I think we’ll be alright. ’Cause then it doesn’t really matter – I could come and play in your living room and it would have, for me, the same amount of importance, you know? We’re lucky that people want to listen to us do it, so [we] just make sure that we balance it out.”
Balance filters into Webb’s downtime as well, with productivity abundant after a cruisy summer playing a handful of festivals. With Everything Is Forgotten having been all but finished more than a year ago, the band’s sole songwriter happily spends a fair amount of his spare time writing new music.
“I love it all. Until once the song’s finished – the song will get to the point when there’s no more that can really be done, and that’s even like mixing and that, and then it’s dead,” he says. “And then I don’t need it any more and it’s not for me. The satisfaction is in the environment that it kind of comes together. You know, it’s that idea of potential. The potential is what is exciting, and then once it’s complete and it’s a thing, it’s dead to me, and I will go and try and improve upon it by making something better.”
Webb is aware our conversation is taking place during his last slice of respite for months, but he’s confident Methyl Ethel’s next album is on the right track.“Yeah, get working, get cracking!” he says. “Well, it’s kind of changed, it’s taken a change ’cause this week I’ve written a couple of songs that I really like, so they’ve edged out… I’ve stripped a couple. Well, I shouldn’t say – I feel like it’s bad to, and it’s kind of a bit pig-headed, butlike I said about enjoying the process, I am excited about what I’m working on right now ’cause it has this potential to be [great], and I get excited about it.”
Much like Webb’s next project, Everything Is Forgotten was conceived long before its release. Taking shape at home and wherever Webb found himself between tours, the album was completed after a trip to London to work with producer James Ford. The Arctic Monkeys collaborator might be prominent in the credits, but he left Webb’s music largely untouched.
“I think he wanted to preserve as much of what I’d already done as possible, and I think the result was good,” says Webb. “I’ve since learnt some little tricks from him, but yeah, he’s a bit of a wizard in certain areas, and that definitely, I thought, helped the final result. I was kind of thinking that there would maybe be more push-pull, but it turns out we have the same kind of tastes.”
Across the record, Webb experiments with the delivery of his lyrics and voice to unexpected and delightful effect. “I think it’s good to [experiment] as far as in context of a song,” he says. “It can be difficult balancing a vocal in a song, and I think taking on certain characters in certain songs can be helpful. But I guess I’m more thinking of the melodies – it’s anything that will benefit the song, you know, rather than putting myself in there. It’s more what delivers the message better.
“I hate singers. I hate people who sing nicely. Vocal chops may as well be the same as like fucking shredding guitar solos. I want to try to hold back from that as much as possible. If I was to indulge with my vocal delivery, I would take on a kind of a Whitney Houston vibe, you know?
“Like a female diva. I don’t like pretty-sounding voices.”
Instead, Webb takes inspiration from more obscure sources. Case in point: Everything Is Forgotten’s second single, ‘Ubu’, which cites Ubu Roi, a surrealist 20th century play by Frenchman Alfred Jarry. Much like on the band’s debut, Oh Inhuman Spectacle, literary references are scattered across the new record.
“It’s fun for me to do,” says Webb. “I mean, I like to appropriate and reference things and it adds to the overall reading of it all. Just being generally open to learning about things, which is probably a good thing for people to do, is it not? I’m a bit of a Francophile, but at the same time, I just have a vague interest in other cultures, and also, why not marry it all together? You know, one world. One world, man. Respect.”