Australian trio Methyl Ethel have released one of 2016's finest debuts in the shape of Oh Inhuman Spectacle, their first release since signing to esteemed independent 4AD.
Initially conceived as an outlet for his songs by Jake Webb (vocals/guitar) in his Perth bedroom some three years ago, he recorded a couple of EPs which elicited a spate of interest from several labels while recruiting Chris Wright (drums) and Thom Stewart (bass) in the process. Last year saw them sign to 4AD and since putting out the album in May, the band have been on a seemingly never ending tour ever since.
DiS caught up with them inbetween festivals, prior to their show at Nottingham's Chameleon Arts Cafe.
DiS: You've been on the road for most of the summer. How's the tour been so far?
Jake Webb: It's been really good fun actually.
Chris Wright: We went home for a couple of weeks in between but apart from that we've been playing around Europe all summer.
JW: We've had an amazing time so far. It's been such an enjoyable experience.
What's been your highlight of the tour so far?
JW: Some of the shows catch you by surprise. Last night in Leeds was really good, as was Nijmegen in the Netherlands. I guess bigger venues are more professional in the way things are set up, so its good to get a chance to play some of those, but smaller rooms like this one seem to generate the best atmosphere. We're lucky to be able to play bigger stages but we still enjoy intimate venues too. Plus, it gives us an opportunity to see what the local music scene is like in every place we play. Which is nice.
What's the reception been like from European audiences compared to back home? Have any been more receptive than others?
CW: That's difficult to gauge, because sometimes the quietest and most intense audiences are the ones that are paying the most attention to what we're doing on stage.
JW: It has varied from show to show. Brighton the other night was really silent, but as Chris said, they seemed to be one of the most attentive crowds we've ever played to. I think they enjoyed it. We heard some Australians in the crowd at our London show who were being a little boisterous, so I think that might have had an effect on the crowd's receptiveness towards us that evening. It certainly felt a lot colder than other places we've played, but I think that may have been down to the Australians being a bit loud.
The band have only been playing together for a couple of years, yet already you're signed to 4AD and extensively touring Europe and the UK. Was it always your intention to get Methyl Ethel's music out to a wider audience as soon as possible?
JW: It was for me. I'd been recording all this music in my bedroom for a long time so it was time to put it out there, if only to see if people were as into it as I was. It became something of a challenge, because I'm really proud of the music we've been making. Secondly, while it's nice playing shows back home, we didn't really want to be focusing on Australia alone. Plus I really like travelling so it made sense to take myself and my music abroad.
What's the scene like in Perth? Is there much happening there at present?
JW: There's a lot happening in Perth at the minute, but in terms of what that means in relation to anywhere else depends on how you look at it I guess. There are a few bands that are desperate to get out, get on the road, and hopefully make a name for themselves. At the same time, there's a load of bands who are just as prolific in their songwriting yet also quite happy to remain where they are in Perth. Musicians who just have no interest in playing the odd show here and there.
CW: The main reason being it's just not financially viable for most people to be able to tour. If Perth is your home, it's so expensive to go anywhere, even other parts of Australia. It's not really on anyone's radar which is maybe what's so good about the scene; people aren't looking that far ahead. They're just concentrating on making their music and playing shows around town.
How did you first get involved with 4AD?
JW: I haven't spoken to many people about this but years and years ago I sent a bunch of demos to 4AD. Then we played CMJ Festival last year and a few label people came down, so we were talking to several labels at that time. Once 4AD intimated they wanted to sign us, they were the only label we were really interested in signing for. We're such big fans of the label, so it was really exciting that they wanted us to join their roster. It feels like a lot has happened in the twelve months since CMJ.
Have the label set any targets or put any pressure on you to release a follow-up to Oh Inhuman Spectacle any time soon?
JW: No, not at all.
Thom Stewart: They've been very accommodating. It actually feels like we're among friends rather than signed to a label.
CW: They've been really helpful when it comes to arranging shows as well. It's quite a family vibe.
JW: The album was already done when they came on board. They believed in what we were doing and wanted to release it around the rest of the world. Subsequently, we've almost finished the next album, so I guess if there ever was any pressure that should alleviate it.
The album reminds me of a lot of UK bands from the early 1990s, mainly shoegaze type bands from the Creation and 4AD rosters as it happens. Are you big fans of that kind of thing? Did it influence the record at all?
JW: Personally, I'd say it had a big influence on the record. At the time when I was thinking about how the songs would work when played with a band, that was how I wanted it to sound. Those bands did their own thing without ever compromising and it's good to see so many new bands - particularly in the psych scene - using them as a blueprint. I like the idea of a psych sound but at the same time, I also like that we're coming at it from a less obvious angle by referencing shoegaze.
CW: We all have similar tastes in music too, which helped the direction the album went in.
JW: That's not to say it's predominantly a shoegaze record. I think the album contains lots of different elements to it, but ultimately that's the one which stands out I guess.
How far back do the songs date for Oh Inhuman Spectacle?
JW 'Artificial Limb' is the oldest one. I was playing in a band with Thom and wasn't really enjoying it. Thom was actually my last saviour of enjoyment in the band! After the band split, I went away and started writing on my own with a little tape machine I had set up in my bedroom. That dates back to then. They were all written round about two years ago, all in a very short space of time. They feel pretty old but they're rooted in a certain time of emotion. It's like looking back through a photograph album or something. It's not like an unenjoyable experience; it's always nice to look back and reminisce about older things.
How long was the whole writing and recording process?
JW: Pretty short. We did it all in one summer. A couple of songs got added, 'Twilight Drive' being one of them. Mainly because I was writing things a lot quicker and a lot better. Then Chris and I mixed it and an Australian label (Dot Dash) came on board. So it all came together very quickly.
CW: I'd say within about six months.
Which songs are you most proud of?
JW: I really like 'Idee Fixee', probably because a lot of work went into the technical side of making that song. I put a lot of hours into it to the point where trying to better it became something of an Everest. All the songs have a different memory for me, but that one in particular gives me the most satisfaction.
Is there anything you'd change about the record or do differently if you had the benefit of hindsight?
JW: I'd change things with the next record. So for example, if there's something I want to differently, that will be the time to do it. There's always something I wished I'd done differently, but there's no point thinking about it now. It's too late.
How many songs do you have ready for the next record?
JW: It's just waiting to get mixed. I think there's twelve in total, with maybe ten ending up on the final album.
Are any of them likely to appear in the live set this year?
JW: One of them is in there now. It kind of just crept in, probably because the tempo is a little faster than the rest of the new ones.
When are you hoping to release the album?
JW: Hopefully in the early part of next year.
The first record was predominantly Jake's record in terms of the songwriting. Are all three of you involved in the writing process on the new one?
CW: No, not on the second one. Jake writes the songs and brings them to us.
TS: We're not like a band as such that goes out and jams until a new song appears. I don't think we'd ever get anything done if we did that.
CW: Personally, I love the idea of being the drummer where they tell me exactly what to play and when. I actually like that angle.
JW: Maybe there'll be a little cross pollination when we get to the third album, but while this way works for us we'll continue to do it. We've been spending a lot of time in the studio on our days off - just the three of us - recording a bunch of songs for the second record, and it's been a lot of fun. I think just doing things slightly differently all the time is good, so there's every chance we could write together in the future. I just don't see us ever sitting down having writing sessions.
What would you normally be doing back home if you weren't touring? Do you have day jobs?
JW: Chris has the most stable day job.
CW: I'm a sound engineer at a venue called The Bird in Perth. I put on a lot of gigs thee as well which keeps me up to date with the music scene there.
Do you see the band as a vocation or a career?
CW: I don't know to be honest. It's really grown over the last two years, and seeing how much time it's occupied I guess it is getting to the stage where it might be a long term thing. Personally, I want to hold off addressing that question for as long as I can. I don't want to think of it as a job because that does invite pressure.
TS: It does feel weird filling out immigration cards and putting "musician" under the occupation title.
CW: We don't really approach playing in a band with the idea of it being a job.
You mentioned earlier that you enjoyed travelling. Would you ever consider relocating?
JW: Totally. I'm not sure where to but it makes sense to be in the northern hemisphere. Maybe somewhere like here or Leeds or Manchester, rather than London, because we're smalltown boys at heart.
What are your plans for the rest of the year after the European tour is over?
CW: We're playing some festivals in the States and Australia, then back here in September for End Of The Road and Liverpool Psych Fest. October we're touring North America for two weeks, so hopefully we'll have some downtime in November and December to start working on stuff in the studio.
What advice would you give to new bands that are just starting out?
JW: Love writing your songs and love playing your music. Be proud of what your're doing. I've always said that. As long as I love it I don't really care what anyone else thinks - there's always someone who'll rip it to shreds anyway.
CW: Learn how to speak sound engineer! Or at least get to know who the sound engineer is before you play.
Are there any new bands you'd recommend to Drowned In Sound and its readers?
TS: There's a guy called Harriet Brown, I think he's based in LA. We saw him play at South By Southwest and he was really cool.
For more information on Methyl Ethel visit their official website.
Photo by Mia Mala McDonald