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Methyl Ethel on How an Andrei Tarkovsky Quote, ‘The Waste Land’, the Golden Ratio, and Extra Impressed His New Album ‘Are You Haunted?’


On his fourth album, Jake Webb comes at you with a query that sounds heavy and even just a little bit ridiculous: Are You Haunted? When you consider it, it is smart that the genesis of the album dates again to ‘Castigat Ridendo Mores’, a music named after a Latin phrase that basically suggests the one approach to get via the craziest, most tough occasions – which is what some could describe the previous two years throughout which Webb crafted his most solitary venture so far – is to level out their absurdity. The Western Australian singer-songwriter and producer, who has been honing his eclectic model of psychedelic dream pop since he adopted the moniker again in 2013, is much less fascinated about providing straightforward solutions than attempting to seize the essence of a query, the issues – each horrifying and humorous – that creep across the edges and evade you. It’s a becoming title for an album that’s moved by summary concepts however finds daring and intriguing methods of exploring them.

Out at present through Future Basic, Are You Haunted? – Methyl Ethel’s first for the label – is his most unrestrained and experimental effort so far. There are sections of solo piano, an instrument featured closely on the album, weaved alongside dissonant strings, dramatic melodies, and heady electronics, like on ‘One and the Beat’, which stretches out to 6 minutes. However for each second that feels brooding and introspective, there are others which can be groovy and danceable, just like the propulsive ‘Issues’ or the Stella Donnelly-assisted ‘Proof’, his first music with a featured artist. It’s a surprisingly evocative album that issues itself with severe topics – local weather change, politics, the tradition at giant – however by no means takes itself too critically. As a result of what it’s actually haunted by – in a poetic sense, at the very least, however nonetheless fairly visceral –  is the precise house that made it potential, the studio the place Methyl Ethel recorded their earliest materials and the place Webb returned to throughout the pandemic, following the passing of a detailed good friend who owned it. You possibly can spend your time pondering the that means of that query, however on the finish of the day, you simply should really feel it. 

We caught up with Jake Webb to speak about how an Andrei Tarkovsky quote, The Waste Land, the golden ratio, and extra impressed his new album.


An Andrei Tarkovsky Quote

Had we been talking in my studio, which I usually can be for a lot of the interviews, you’d have seen it behind me, but it surely’s simply three phrases. I’m paraphrasing, however I feel he was basically saying that these are the core components of what he considers to be his artwork or his artistic course of, and it’s “Luck, lies, and witchcraft.” That felt actually apt, and it form of resonated all through the making of the report. To today, I feel these are completely three core components in any artistic pursuit of creating one thing that’s particular.

Do you see considered one of them as being in any far more necessary with regards to your work?

In no way, as a result of I feel what it additionally does signify is that you simply form of should be within the room, doing the work, for any of them to really manifest. You want to actually be there to to get fortunate in any manner, however after toiling for thus lengthy you possibly can completely make that occur. The lies is de facto form of like that showbiz factor the place it’s all smoke and mirrors, attempting to trick folks into feeling sure feelings.  I feel that’s the driving power in some ways for the alternatives that you simply make, it’s simply, “How do I fabricate an emotional response out of one thing?” That’s the place that witchcraft is available in – there’s kind of an unknown issue the place the whole lot goes proper, I suppose the magic, if you’ll. It’s one thing that’s open sufficient to be an awesome supply of inspiration.

I truly famous down one other Tarkovsky quote from Stalker that I assumed was attention-grabbing and needed to ask you about. It goes, “A person writes as a result of he’s tormented, as a result of he doubts. He must continually show to himself and the others that he’s value one thing.” Do you consider that’s true?

I really feel like that’s only a fairly human perspective. In a great deal of pursuits, there’s a lot of proving oneself – in an individual’s life, too, to a sure diploma. So definitely, I feel it does resonate. However the torment is simply too dramatic for me. I perceive and I can empathise with the thought, but it surely’s far too dramatic of a perspective for me. I don’t really feel tormented a lot – solely as tormented as anyone else. I imply, life has its torments, , and it may be learn and skilled as nothing however infinite torment. However the reverse can be true.

I additionally assume this concept of self-doubt being a motivator is attention-grabbing, that a part of creating one thing is placing your self in a weak place.

I feel there’s something in that. I feel you do know that the solutions that you simply search for via doing this sort of stuff, they’re unattainable to seek out. Even striving for some form of perfection is an unattainable quest, but it surely’s that striving for it that’s so seductive, that’s so pleasurable, to really feel such as you’re actually attempting to seize onto one thing.

Nam June Paik with Charlotte Moorman, Guadalcanal Requiem

It’s one thing I got here throughout years in the past, and there was simply part of it that resonated with me, that basically was one thing I’d have written down in a journal that has turn into the title of the album and simply lots of ideas about it. There’s this title that comes on the display, and it’s talking about displaced spirits of troopers who’ve died whereas at battle on an island away from their dwelling. From my reminiscence, that’s what it form of is. I feel it says, “Are we haunted by homeless ghosts?” I assumed that was a extremely stunning sentence. Even simply that query, “Are you haunted?” was one thing that felt actually evocative for me. It’s one thing that I noticed years earlier than this report was one thing I used to be engaged on, and I feel this actually illustrates how I’m utilizing my antenna to form of choose up on issues that get saved away for later time.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Final 12 months and the 12 months earlier than, they had been the most important two years of readings for me. I’ve learn extra books than I ever have. I checked out my bookshelf on the time, at the start, I simply thought it’s shameful what number of of my very own books I haven’t truly completed or learn. So it was a extremely feverish time of studying, as a result of I used to be additionally – that is considered one of my inspirations, but it surely ties into catching the prepare. I used to be catching the prepare and the bus to my studio, which was a extremely peaceable 45-minute journey simply to myself that I’d learn all these books whereas doing it. I used to be so engrossed I’d stroll and browse on the identical time – our streets aren’t significantly busy, so it’s very straightforward to do this, however you simply go straight out the door, straight onto the web page.

I feel David Foster Wallace has been essentially the most thrilling writer that I’ve learn for thus lengthy. The inspiration is extra of a rule-breaking factor. It’s virtually like: don’t be afraid to cram all of your concepts into one thing. Don’t be afraid to talk in your personal voice. Don’t be afraid to mash all the codecs and bits and items of issues that you’re fascinated about into the work. That’s the primary time I’d ever learn it, and I can’t wait to learn it once more. However it’s simply difficult in all the correct methods, humorous as hell, which can be so necessary. It’s one thing that I’ve tried to place into this report as effectively. There must be a wholesome dose of tongue-in-cheek. As a result of I additionally learn Ulysses not lengthy after that, simply because I’m a pretentious wanker, primarily, and for me, a lot of these works – there’s a lot piss-taking in it. And there’s a lot that it wasn’t meant for us to grasp. We will strive so arduous to determine issues out, but it surely’s identical to a sensible joke on the reader just a little bit.

In relation to catching public transport, was there something you needed so as to add on level?

It truly is that point of quiet contemplation, and desirous to look out the window as a lot as potential when not studying. It’s only a reminder that typically that’s the place the expertise of music is completely suited, while you give your self the chance to decelerate a bit, not have something to do proper at that second.

A Very Good, in Tune, Yamaha Upright Piano / Piano Works by Sibelius and Scriabin

I can hear the piano being extra distinguished on the album, however how did these issues particularly encourage you?

The piano is on the studio house that I lease, it’s not my piano. However coincidentally, the primary piano that I’ve ever owned arrived at present and is upstairs and able to tune tomorrow, in order that’s fairly particular. Future inspiration, maybe. I haven’t had entry constantly to an precise acoustic piano, as a result of I write on keys wherever I’m just about for a lot of the information. Greater than what the piano signifies, that specific piano was simply all the time there, one thing that I spent hours at arranging. And I needed to report it rather well and have or not it’s the way it sounded to me within the room, as a result of that’s how particular it was. And you must watch out, with the piano, as a result of it says one thing that’s so acquainted to folks. It’s virtually too emotional, it may be very melancholic. However that was okay, as a result of it kind of helped me to inform the story that I needed to in a musical sense.

And people pianists, Scriabin and Sibelius, and there have been most likely a few others, but it surely was simply the music that I used to be listening to more often than not. As a result of I do I revert to classical music – and I nonetheless hearken to principally classical music, however once I’m making my very own music, I attempt to push away most different music apart from classical music.

The Unanswered Query by Charles Ives

It’s later within the checklist, however there’s additionally this modernist work, The Unanswered Query by Charles Ives, that you simply’ve cited. Are you able to speak about that as effectively?

Yeah, comparable kind of factor. I used to be actually , and I didn’t do it an excessive amount of, however I feel in different pursuits or transferring ahead, I discovered the great thing about dissonance to be actually inspiring, and particularly via listening to that Charles Ives piece. I keep in mind engaged on a few of the string elements for ‘Castigat Ridendo Mores’ – as quickly as I discovered this dissonant swell, I simply keep in mind taking part in some parallel notes collectively, some mash that was simply precisely good. It was this kind of epiphany second that unexpectedly, you realise there aren’t any guidelines, actually. The whole lot is simply there so that you can use in no matter manner. That’s a particular factor that listening to that Charles Ives piece form of unlocked just a little bit.

I’m to see how that manifests in future works. Perhaps that’s why it was additional down within the checklist, too.

I can perceive how, when you get fascinated about that kind of factor, it’s arduous to return to melodic, tonal music. Rapidly, it’s not thrilling anymore. It’d be cool to essentially see that via.

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Personally, I discover it arduous to get away from T.S. Eliot, and that is anyone that I’ve and doubtless a number of folks have studied in highschool. I discover that his poetry is simply good to me, and one thing I exploit as one thing to attempt in direction of. However for this time round, I spent lots of time on writing the lyrics for this album and rewriting them so much. I’m not anyone who’s proofread any of my schoolwork or something through the years, and that is the primary time I actually did that. The Waste Land was virtually like a exercise for me whereas I used to be writing lyrics, to simply learn it and see if it may possibly set one thing off.

The factor about The Waste Land, greater than content material, it’s simply actually sitting with one thing that’s so well-constructed. Not that I’d ever need to copy any a part of it, that’s not the purpose, the purpose can be to essentially see what anyone who’s an awesome author can do and get enthusiastic about moving into to do this. As a result of that’s the most important quantity of toil in writing songs, I suppose, is the truth that you’ve acquired to marry these two completely separate issues typically, you marry a melody to a lyric. So far as rhythm and melody goes, it’s actually arduous to do. I really feel like I’ve chanced it just a little bit extra up to now, and this time I needed to be extra exact. So, what higher inspiration than anyone who was a grasp of writing in that manner?

Wim Wenders, Wings of Want and Kings of the Street

I used to be watching lots of movies at night time, however simply with the subtitles on and the sound muted. And with all due respect to Wim Wenders, I’d go to sleep. It will actually lull me into sleep in a completely stunning manner. However these movies, the pacing of all of it was so stunning and meshed with the night, the stillness of night time. Generally you get up feeling in an analogous mode to what the movie had since you’re so lulled into that floating round. Wings of Want possibly is one which thematically did form of discover its manner in, as a result of I discover that always you possibly can really feel such as you’re kind of a silent observer of issues while you’re strolling round. And particularly while you’re listening to music, it’s very straightforward to really feel such as you’re simply watching issues happening round you. It’s completely a sense that I needed to have within the music.

Michelangelo Antonioni, The Passenger

I don’t know the way it occurred, but it surely just about gave me the concept for the opening lyrics for ‘Proof’. There’s a scene the place one of many characters is requested what they’ll see, and so they begin describing what they’ll see out the window. I began writing down the dialogue immediately as a result of there was one thing in it, and I suppose that’s the truest type of inspiration. All these items, they’ve one thing there that within the second I’m not fairly certain what it’s however finally ends up turning into one thing. That’s why I’ve a lot respect for all of the people who find themselves concerned in making these movies – they’re simply wealthy, filled with nice concepts and nice moments that may simply be mined by bullshit artists like me. [laughs]

I’m glad we talked about this as a result of out of all of the lyrics on the album, that line and that melody from ‘Proof’ is the one which simply retains coming again to me essentially the most.

That’s the witchcraft, then.

The Golden Ratio and Its Flaws

That is one other a type of issues that I’ve written up on my wall. I had this realization – I assumed that what I used to be doing by constantly going and dealing on music, and simply the whole lot in that room usually, I assumed I used to be striving perfection to get the whole lot completely balanced. However the factor that I wrote and I came upon was, for me, perfection and concord – and concord not essentially in a musical manner – are form of two various things. I really feel that disparate elements being harmonious collectively, it doesn’t should be good. And I do know that imperfection is a complete cliche with regards to making music, particularly, being tough across the edges and stuff. However it goes with the factor about dissonance, too, simply to remind myself that the aim of all of it is to not try to get the whole lot to be good. Particularly once I was mixing, it’s factor to remind myself that I don’t have to tidy each little final bit up.

Taking part in drums to begin the day

That is the facet of issues that’s simply purely pleasurable. It’s simply because I like taking part in drums and it’s a completely completely different facet to all of this actual pondering of the deeper issues. Generally I simply need to get into the room and play music – shaking out a little bit of the nervous vitality of being within the room in half-hour to begin the day was simply a good way to get on with it. To go, “Okay, I’ve had my enjoyable, now it’s time to do some work.” And I’m actually happy with the drum elements that I’ve performed on the report, too. Groove is so necessary in music to me, and that serves as a counterpoint to a few of the darker, heady themes. You possibly can minimize away that or if you happen to don’t communicate English and also you’re simply listening to the music, you need to have the ability to transfer in that manner that’s actually primal.

What had you written down particularly in your wall?

I’ve the gold ratio components. I simply put a giant purple circle with a cross via it [laughs]. And I wrote one thing like, “Perfection isn’t even to concord.”

Fremantle Recording Studios

That is the place you recorded the album, proper?

Yeah. It’s a spot that, a few years in the past, that’s the place I began studying do all these items. My good friend whose studio studio it was, he kind of set it up, I went to highschool with him and I realized lots of stuff with him. A few years in the past, he handed away tragically. It simply so occurred that once I got here again to Perth, I requested what was occurring with a room within the place – the brief story is that I discovered myself again there, which is de facto particular as a result of I spent a lot time there a few years earlier than. The plan was for me to simply do a bit of labor there and I’m nonetheless figuring out of there.

When you consider what recording music in an area is, you actually are capturing the essence of the house that you simply’re in. And if you wish to take it to a poetic degree, they’re the precise ghosts on the report, the best way the whole lot’s bouncing off these partitions, all the air that you simply’re form of getting to maneuver the diaphragms, the microphones, which then transfer your headphones. There are reminiscences which can be these ghosts that I’m speaking about so far as haunting goes all through the album – whether or not they’re actual reminiscences or misremembered issues, or whether or not they’re collective reminiscences of those who we’ve been or ghosts of humanity. That’s what I take into consideration once I take into consideration this report, and that house is so tied into that as a result of that’s essentially the most literal model illustration of lots of these concepts. You possibly can hear that house on the report, so how may it not be an inspiration?

How did that concept of being haunted on this private, virtually literal manner, mix in with the theme of the ghosts of our collective previous? How did you go about merging these?

I feel it was very easy as a result of I just about all the time have the title of a report earlier than I actually begin writing the report, actually writing it. It’s not a dissertation or something, it’s only a manner for me to deliver a bunch of disparate concepts about issues in completely alternative ways collectively in a single place. So naturally, every new piece of labor that I began engaged on, I needed to come back with a unique angle. That was the intention, to do a studying of the identical concept in several methods.

Do you thoughts sharing one factor that you simply’ve realized or that you simply’re nonetheless studying out of your good friend?

I feel greater than a lesson or something like that, it’s simply that I really feel actually fortunate and it’s actually particular to be doing it. To be full-time making music. That might have been each of our – I hesitate to say desires, but it surely’s one thing that we positively needed to work in direction of and he was doing as effectively. It’s good to really feel like he would simply be loving what I’m making for the time being. I’d have a lot to speak to him about now about all these items that I’ve been doing, , underneath the identical roof. There was nice time again within the day, all these years in the past, once I was working in a single room and he was in one other and one other good friend was in one other, and we’d come out for to have a chat and have a cigarette or one thing. And we had been so enthusiastic about the whole lot that everyone was doing, and it was so superior to be feeding off all of that vitality, of individuals simply working and doing their factor of their house. I feel slightly than a lesson, it’s simply understanding, it’s simply feeling… Yeah, he’d be actually into it.


This interview has been edited and condensed for readability and size.

Methyl Ethel’s Are You Haunted? is out now through Future Basic.

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