Inspiration through Experimental Pop | Interview with Jake Webb of Methyl Ethel

Methyl Ethel, consisting of Jake Webb, Chris Wright and Thom Stewart, began their journey in 2013, surging through Perth’s most popular venues and festivals with their incredibly catchy lyrical chords and infectious pop sensibilities. By 2016, their signatures had reached Remote Control Record’s books – home to successful musicians such as Grimes, FKA Twigs, Mac DeMarco and Thom Yorke. Before proceeding with the questions, we had a brief chat on the culture clash between Australian and American culture, Webb and I soon arriving on the topics of the inner consciousness of anxiety and its relation to inspiration, to the purpose of experimental pop’s projection towards the audience.

Psychologist Nachmonson quotes ‘The true artist belongs to those who possess a rich inner consciousness [dreaming state];” due to the external and internal stimuli stored in our unconsciousness, it is suppressed, resulting in tension, then later inspiration. How has experiencing this state led to the upcoming release of Everything Is Forgotten?
I think it’s a really good way of describing the experience. When I set out to conceptualise a song I try to use and speak to raw emotions, which is like that of a dream state. It’s like a little hodgepodge, kind of Jackson Pollock thinking – of experience and emotion – and it comes out. The only way to make it linear is by giving it a narrative or making it conversational.

Anxiety and disillusionment appears to be a prevalent condition for many creatives, and a theme explored in the EPs Guts and Teeth. The condition is not only considered a personal curse but, as T.S. Eliot would put it, “the handmaiden of creativity.” In what way has anxiety and disillusionment help progress your musical disposition?
It’s kind of contradictory because it’s usually the one thing that would pull you in the opposite direction and make you not want to do anything or leave the house. It’s what I was saying earlier, that raw emotion. It’s from experience so it’s personal and raw. I feel like I can draw from it in an honest way – and it’s also a frustrating thing. The frustration is basically what I would draw on when conceptualising the songs.

The condition is really like a push-pull.
Yeah exactly and that push-pull is the main thing the record is trying to explore. It’s the fluctuation between states, no matter what it is. And all these things everybody experiences on a spectrum, everyone is a little bit manic, but some experience it greater than others. I don’t think I can make music or anything that’s really honest unless I am completely alone in a house or alone in a space. It exaggerates all of your emotions in a good and bad way. So we share this experience.

You’ve stated before how it was easy to be pigeonholed as a ‘Perth artist’, until after a couple of festival shows later you were approached by a Melbourne music label, Remote Control Records, home to Adele, Grimes and all the way to Thom Yorke. How has the new venture with the record label given you the fulfilment you felt the industry in Perth couldn’t?
I think it’s probably just the business side of things. The Perth fulfilment for me has always just been making the music, and little goals like getting it [the album] pressed to vinyl and listening to it on a nice big disk. I have always loved playing small intimate shows as well. I can fulfil myself within Perth.

How does experimental pop allow your vision to extend itself to a wider audience?
It probably does the opposite. It helps me to be proud of making pop music, just like the two sides of it. If I can twist it slightly then it’s gonna make it mostly straightforward, because everything from the texture of the recording can distance listeners. I want to challenge people as much as I want people to listen. It’s like the pop side of the experimental pop is what appeals to a larger audience. I kind of want to keep myself honest and in doing things differently. Basically, if you give a shit and have an intimate connection, it’s not too deep for anyone to delve into and get the reference. I don’t want to give away too much either.

What makes you feel it is important for the audience to respond to your work, such as physically dancing or feeling euphoria, rather than understanding it?
I think it’s shaking yourself out of being a passive person, like [living] life in a passive experience. It’s totally wanky, and we’re going down the rabbit hole here, but I always loved the Antonin Theatre of Cruelty approach. If you can get a physiological or guttural reaction from art, whatever it may be, I think that’s a good thing. There are people in this fun city who are doing it to such a bigger degree, but I think in ‘Femme Maison/One Man House’ [single off of Everything is Forgottenis to push and try to get the song to actually tear itself apart, and perhaps cause someone to maybe turn the volume down or at least wake us up a bit.

When searching for the purpose of your inspiration – whether it’s in Alfred Jarry’s controversial and satirical plays, for example the track ‘Ubu’ to the press shots for Everything is Forgotten emulating the characteristics of Kazuo Ohno’s Butoh theatre – do you focus more on what will challenge the expectations of society or how society can find an escape from everyday life?
It’s a bit of both. It will be a little presumptuous to say that I’m challenging people by borrowing things. I think those people who are being referenced are the pioneers and who were really the ones challenging. It’s not hard to challenge the status quo of the music industry. I mean, it’s a cliché, like, I’m cliché by doing things differently but it’s a bit of a struggle ’cause there isn’t much you can do that hasn’t been done. You’re either a stereotypical band shot against the brick wall with graffiti on it or trying to do something ‘different’. If I can have a pure reference at least then I can kind of say ‘this is what is sung, so be interested in THAT’. I’m not trying to own it too much. Just trying to not have our personal selves to be the face of it. Just become part of the concept.

So it’s more like advertising the concept?
The awareness of the product is the byproduct and that’s a good thing. It’s necessary that there are photos of us in the world to advertise so that’s an opportunity to give something.

Kazuo Ohno and Buto Theatre

Is it a direction you want to continue being experimental with?
It’s something that I’ve done before. As far as the image goes, it’s just like with everything – it’s something I’m interested in. It’s just kind of like a bunch of reference points to tie it in. Kazuo Ohno’s work is something that would be referenced because I like his approach to his overarching theory of the dance but at the same time it’s trying to be as blank as possible – without gender, without personality; just to be able to be a vessel.

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About Zaerën Safi-Momand

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Founder of Avenoir Magazine