Front man Jake Webb discusses life on the road & learning tricks of the trade while recording a new album of indie spirit
Hailing from Perth, Australia, Methyl Ethel broke out into the global market less than a year ago. Their album Oh Inhuman Spectacle garnered the indie rock band a level of praise that begged the question “How do they follow that?!” Well, the answer arrived quickly in the shape of their new album Everything Is Forgotten. The ambition and infectious qualities of Oh Inhuman Spectacle remain, but now, with the polish of stellar producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys) the sonic scope of the tunes have broadened – and as front man Jake Webb says “Things are definitely bigger”.
Demands on the band have extended beyond the recording process and super-prolific will to create. They’ve also been on the road, almost endlessly it seems. With a world tour about to take shape, with dates in Australia, Europe and Northern America on the horizon, ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Jake Webb during a soundcheck ahead of his London show. Time was brief, but mood was good and talk was all about forward motion, and the best way to learn new tricks.
Christopher Friedmann: So you’re about to release a new album and head out on tour. There’s plenty of electricity around the band at the moment, but how’s the mood in camp?
Jake Webb: It’s good, really good.
CF: Everything is Forgotten is your second release in just under a year, oftentimes a second album can be much more difficult than the first. So, what did you learn from creating the first LP that changed your approach this time round?
JW: It’s hard to put into a short thought. There’s so much that I learned all the way along, y’know… I’m constantly trying to improve in my production of music. It’s just naturally, I don’t want to repeat myself. I do realize that actually the process is more or less the same but I just want to hone my skills and get them down.
CF: Speaking of production you worked with James Ford on the album. James has worked with some pretty big names in the past, like the Arctic Monkeys – what about his previous work inspired you to bring him on as a producer?
JW: I chose him because I thought that what he’d previously worked on was very different to what I was trying to do. So, I thought that may have been a good push-and-pull there, and that we’d make something good. He’s a lovely guy, and that really helps!
CF: He’s all about the strings sometimes, and I felt like there was a bigger sense about this album to your previous release – more ‘production’ in it…
JW: Yes, we definitely… well, he definitely helped achieve a bigness.
CF: Does a producer like that teach you any tricks in the studio that you’ll carry with you into other projects?
JW: Yes, I observed some things that I”ll carry. I probably already have already used some of his tips in the writing of the next album, so… it’s only natural, I think for that to happen. I’ve always learned by looking over people’s shoulders. [Laughs] I haven’t been studying or anything structured, but I just find I learn as I go. [Laughs]
CF: Can you speak a little about your choice of lead single “Ubu”, and why you felt that was the best foot forward from the album?
JW: I don’t really choose it. The label chose it. I probably wouldn’t have chosen that for the single, but I think they probably made the right choice by the looks of things.
CF: Let’s talk about that song for a moment. It ends with the repetition of a little pop nugget: “Why d’you have to go and cut your hair?” It’s a phrase that could have been sugary and cotton candy-like or it can be taken with more depth. What was your intention when you initially wrote the lyric?
JW: I think… I think, we were talking about some pretty heavy subject matter there, and I think the chorus just came like a package deal with the rest of the verses. For me, from memory, it came first as part of the overall picture. It’s kind of a reference to cutting yourself off from everything and everyone. I’m trying to talk about a big change.
CF: Let’s talk about lyrical meaning in general. Does a line or sentiment change ever, as it’s adopted to live shows, or over time?
JW: Yes, they do. The meaning of that line [“cut your hair”] is still changing. And they’ll hopefully keep changing for a while.
CF: We mentioned that you’re about to head out on tour, Australia, Europe and North America are all on the schedule. This isn’t your first time on the road, but can you tell us what your first few times out on stage taught you that you’ll incorporate this time round?
JW: Well, those tours are always a pleasure; to get out of Australia and play. This time round though, we’ve grown into a four-piece band and the shows are a little bigger, and the shows are a little bigger because of the nature of the new album. But, yes it’s always a good challenge to build a new show.
CF: What is that challenge like; adapting to the size of a band?
JW: The first iteration of the band was actually a five-piece! But we were a three-piece for a long time, and touring a three-piece was a good way to be able to afford to do it. So, it’s nice to be able to flesh out the sound again with all four members.
CF: Touring life can be a pretty hard ride – the alternating pressures between boring airports and then taking the stage. How do you remain centered and and sane through all that?
JW: I guess boredom is as boredom does. There’s plenty of things to occupy yourself with… especially in this day and age. The hardest thing about touring is being away from family, friends and loved ones… all that sort of thing. But there’s always songs to be worked on, and films to be watched and books to be read.
CF: How do you maintain those relationships with families when you’re away from home for so long?
JW: The internet! [Laughs]
CF: Over the course of your blossoming career you’d have had a number of pretty exciting experiences. I was wondering if you could share your most grounding moment so far?
JW: Every show is like that – at least we try and make it be. I think I do most of my shows with my eyes closed, so that’s what it’s all about for me.
CF: So, after touring – and it’s a really long tour – do you have any idea what’s next?
JW: More touring! [Laughs]
CF: Any stops on the tour that you’re particularly excited for?
JW: Going to Germany. We’ve played there once before, but we’re going to Berlin which will be good, actually all of Europe will be good. And getting back to the States will be great, if they let us in!