Three albums in—the latest being 2019’s Triage—and Methyl Ethel still feel like a well-intentioned mystery with no plausible answer to “what is it?” Of the three albums Methyl Ethel has released, only one, 2017’s Everything is Forgotten, was produced and performed by someone other than Jake Webb. The question then becomes: where does Jake Webb end, and Methyl Ethel begin?
“The whole thing [Methyl Ethel] was initially supposed to be just music and not have a name attached to it,” Webb says. “The original idea was just to put music out into the world through Soundcloud or Bandcamp.”
Speaking with Webb before Methyl Ethel’s recent performance at Washington D.C.’s DC9 Nightclub, a strong sense of wonder and a chase for the “next thing” resounded through every whim. Methyl Ethel is not so much a band, as it is an idea, an environment created for Webb, by Webb that lends freedom to creative urges running through art, film, and music. Loribelle Spirovski’s painting on the cover of Triage is one example of the artistic intersection happening in Webb’s mind.
“I’m always thinking about my music …and I really feel like I’m in a zone where I’m really thinking about what my next move will be,” Webb says carefully. “I feel I have an opportunity to be patient and try different things; something like production and imagining how I would do it in my own way.”
Much of what caught my attention the first time I saw Methyl Ethel live in 2018 at Washington, D.C.’s Black Cat was Jake Webb’s voice; creaking between pleasure and agony, elongated between grooves and hedonistic bass lines. That voice is an extension of the band he has created, pulsing with the freedom to wear out tried-and-true equations of alt-pop-rock. In person, Webb is thoughtful and reserved. With each answer and each quiet ponder, the answer to “what is Methyl Ethel?” becomes clear: it is a 31-year-old guy enjoying the now, but honestly intrigued on what he can achieve in a boundless creative future.
Methyl Ethel’s latest album Triage is out now, and they will begin touring Europe and Australia in May 2019
Brightest Young Things: Methyl Ethel has released a new album every year since 2016’s Oh Inhuman Spectacle, and I’ve read that you work on albums while you’re on the road. Is there anything you’re working on right now?
Jake Webb: Yea, I’ve got a bunch of demos that I want to finish, and I’ve been talking with Marta [Salogni] (Marta Salogni mixed Methyl Ethel’s most recent album, Triage) about making some music together but doing it earlier in the process. I think at this point, the work with Marta will focus more on the demo form.
BYT: Of the three albums you’ve released, the first (Oh Inhuman Spectacle) and the most recent (Triage) were produced and performed by you. Your second album (Everything is Forgotten) moved away from that and had production by James Ford. Why did you decide to go back and do it all yourself on Triage?
J.W.: I think going forward my thought process is that if I do it myself, I’ll learn so much more and gain more skill as far as production goes. [Doing it myself] helps me understand more about what I like. I also wanted to trust my own senses more.
BYT: It seems to me that Methyl Ethel is much more than just a band. It feels more like a collective of creative expression you’ve incorporated into your three albums. I imagine if you just went by your name the freedom to explore different artist expressions wouldn’t be there and giving yourself the name Methyl Ethel gives you room to experiment.
J.W.: The whole thing was initially supposed to be just music and not have a name attached to it. The original idea was just to put music out into the world through Soundcloud or Bandcamp. I would make EPs off CDs I’d burn and they would be accompanied with some cover art I made in Photoshop. I’d send these EPs to local radio stations with notes that looked like ransom notes [haha].
BYT: Like the Zodiac?
J.W.: Yea! Kind of like that. I’d just write something like “this is tremendous” and not put a name down. I’d do that to see if I could bypass the way the music industry wants to focus on an individual. It worked for a while but it became a necessary evil to attach a name to my music if I wanted to carry on [with my career].
BYT: But when people interview Methyl Ethel, they really only interview you.
J.W.: Yea, that’s definitely true. It [Methyl Ethel] is my way of experimenting within one single thing.
BYT: In one of your previous interviews, you said that you preferred music with a little bit of hedonism in it. As an individual who makes and performs all of his own music, where do you find that hedonism?
J.W.: I think it’s about making music for yourself, almost in a selfish way. In a way, you almost can’t feel disappointed if you make the music that you like and then, as part of the process, put it out there for others. Even if people hate a piece of music I put out, if I make it for myself then I’m OK with it. I personally love a good grove or a good bass line. I’d say those two things bring out my hedonistic side.
BYT: I’m glad you mentioned the connection with instrumentals. I was recently watching Layer Cake and that soundtrack reminded me a lot of what you’re doing with Methyl Ethel. There is a lot of alt-pop rock spliced with piano melodies in that movie, and it made me wonder where your own fascination with piano stems from.
J.W.: Honestly, I could give every instrument away just for the piano. I just think it’s the ultimate. The piano is progressive and melodic. I also grew up with an older sister who played it. I remember growing up, there was a rule to never touch the piano unless you were playing it. I imagine that probably added to the fascination with it.
BYT: Outside of making music, what is next for Methyl Ethel? Are there other artistic avenues or ideas you want to pursue?
J.W..: I’d like to direct some short films and work with other people on their music. I’m always thinking about my own music so it’s kind of hard to accept that. I really feel like I’m in a zone where I’m really thinking about what my next move will be. I feel I have an opportunity to be patient and try different things; something like [music] production and imagining how I would do it in my own way.
BYT: How old are you?
BYT: I’m 32 and what you described is basically what I’m going through so it feels like it’s only natural at this age to think about the next step.
J.W.: Yea, absolutely. I hope regardless of age I’m always questioning what the next thing is that I can explore through my records. I have a tendency to very quickly look back and criticize what I’ve done and think what I could do better…but in a constructive positive way.
BYT: It seems like you’re always chasing something more, which is definitely good and bad in a way.
J.W.: Yea, agreed. But even with that, the joys of where I’m at is in the in-between moments. To be making this music and to be performing live with this group, it’s just been really fun.