Are You Haunted? is out now!
Image: Xan Thorrhoea.
Western Australian alt-pop act Methyl Ethel recently unveiled his hotly-anticipated fourth album, Are You Haunted?. The musical project of Western Australian alt-pop eccentrist Jake Webb, we caught up with the musician to unpack the record.
Featuring the previously released singles Neon Cheap, Matters and Proof, creating Are You Haunted? marked Webb's return to the studio where Methyl Ethel was born. Early on in his career, the musician worked out of the studio owned by his friend, who recently passed away.
Across the body of work, Webb continues his examination and dissection of mortality and the lingering presence of memories and the past, offering up introspective and poignant lyricism that capture what it means to feel haunted. Haunted by past actions, by those who came before you, by mourning, by past love.
Beguiling and atmospheric soundscapes flow beneath the musicians transfixing vocal performance, as hopeful sonics juxtapose the melancholic lyrical nature. When paired together, the result is a hypnotic and thought provoking collection of songs.
To celebrate the release, Webb and his band will be hitting the road. Having recently performed at Perth Festival and Meadow Festival, Methyl Ethel will take to the stage for a run of shows in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne next month, before taking to the stage at Splendour In The Grass this July. The musician and his band also recently performed the album in its entirety, offering fans an intimate glimpse into the musicians magnetic live performance. Watch the performance here!
Congratulations on another superb body of work with Are You Haunted?! This is your fourth full length album. Looking back, how do you think the way you approach creating an album has evolved?
Thanks! Evolution is a good way to describe it. I feel like production and songwriting are skills that take time to hone and refine. I’ve gained a lot more technical skill but I’m always trying to do things in different ways and see what happens. Basically I think the approach, in many ways, has stayed the same.
For this album you returned to the studio where Methyl Ethel was born. How do you think being back in that space influenced and shaped the body of work we hear today?
I think it definitely did. I feel that Are You Haunted? was a return to the feeling of me just making music that felt right for me, creating my own worlds without any outside influence. That is what it felt like, years ago, starting to make METHYL ETHEL songs in that room.
Conceptually, Are You Haunted? explores our mortality and the lingering presence of memories and the past. Could you unpack the themes explored on the album and the importance of documenting them on this body of work?
I think themes of mortality and the lingering presence of memory is something that actually permeates all of my writing. What is particularly interesting is the idea that we are constantly writing, reading, re-reading and re-writing our lives through our own experience. The ghosts of our past selves, past actions dictate how we frame our futures. Our behaviour is in constant flux, as are our personalities. It all feeds on another. I don’t know that it’s necessarily ‘important to document’ but these are the themes that I find very interesting.
These more introspective and thought provoking themes are soundtracked by textural and dynamic soundscapes that weave together more bright and hopeful sonics with more melancholic moments. How do you think that marriage of tones and juxtaposing sonics work with the album's lyrical exploration to create one unified body of work?
I really feel that counterpoint makes for more exciting work. To have opposing forces rub against one another is just something I choose to do. More so than on other records, the lyrical world and the sonic world, for me, are quite harmonious. It was all pretty carefully considered.
What were your initial thoughts when listening to the album upon its completion, and do they differ from your thoughts on the collection of songs now?
Not entirely, I thought it was good, I was proud of all the work I put into it. The more I listen it actually just gets better, something about the distance from all the gritty detail.
If Are You Haunted? was a piece of pre-existing visual art, which artwork would it be?
Geeeeez, this is hard and I’m too much of a prude to want to ever compare it directly to anything. It’d probably be some art school wannabe’s portfolio that was graded C+, resulting in an existential crisis and much brow-furrowing by aforementioned wannabe due to said portfolio not being completely understood by professors, or something else trite. Or perhaps one of the masterpieces that Francis Bacon had incinerated.
Which three songs off the record would you pick to play to someone who had never heard your music, to make them an instant fan and why?
I’d play Castigat Ridendo Mores, Something to Worry About and Proof. Don’t know if they’d become an instant fan, but I think they’d get a good sense of the record.
Is there a particular line or lyric from the album you’re most proud of, or one that you return to more often than the rest?
I couldn’t really say, I’m yet to cringe whenever I hear an older song, or any song for that matter! I consider myself lucky in that regard. So to answer your question, no, none that I’m most proud of but I’m surprised sometimes at some lyrics, I sort of say, “wow that’s pretty good” hahah.
You’ll be hitting the road on a national tour over the coming months. What can audiences expect from this particular run of shows?
I think we’ll play Are You Haunted? in full at all the shows. It’s great to really go out and play the whole damn thing, give the record it’s time to shine. We’ll play some other songs too, but the tone will certainly be set by the latest album. I’m thrilled at being able to share the live band with the rest of the country, finally. There are 6 of us currently, who knows maybe some guests will swing by too!
What impact do you think live music has had on your career and how important is it to you in terms of making that in person connection with audiences who relate to your music?
The performance element of the whole musical experience is very important. It’s really the living, breathing side to it all, something that not every format has a match for. Playing my songs live is another thing too, it allows for such a direct connection. I always use performance as both an exploration of my inner musical self as well as a conduit of connection with an audience. The smaller the show, the better, sometimes.
Brian Eno, Beethoven and Bacon.
Album that has had the most impact on you?
Too many to mention.
How do you define your musical style in 3 words?
Change what works.
Best song of 2021 so far?
Some of the triple j Unearthed artists I’ve been working with, probably one of those songs.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
Something that hasn’t been made already, so some future film.
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
What was the first song you loved to sing?
I don’t know that I’ve ever ‘loved to sing’ any song. Though maybe Runaway by Del Shannon.
A song you would love to cover on tour?
We might get a Caribou cover going.
Album you would listen to on repeat on a road trip?
Music for 18 Musicians - Steve Reich.
First concert you went to?
Big Day Out, RIP.
Best concert you have been to?
All Tomorrow’s Parties curated by Deerhunter in the UK.
First album you ever bought?
Batman Forever OST.
Would you rather be a Spice Girl or a Backstreet Boy?
If you were a Spice Girl, what would your spice nickname be?
Most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
They’re all memorable. As in, they’re all burned into my memory like all good traumatic experiences.
Guilty music pleasure?
Abba, Chopin and The Beatles.
If you could support any artist on tour, who would it be?
Any that needed the support.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
Adele, The Beatles but really I don’t know.
What advice would your current self give your future self, for a year from now?
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
Maybe seeing The Sleepy Jackson play the first set of the Big Day Out back in ze day. Righteous.
METHYL ETHEL TOUR DATES
Thur 21 April – Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD
Fri 22 April – Roundhouse, Sydney, NSW
Wed 27 April – The Night Cat, Melbourne, VIC
Thur 28 April - The Night Cat, Melbourne, VIC
Fri 29 April - The Night Cat, Melbourne, VIC
Sat 23 July – Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay, NSW