Perth gets hot. Scorching hot. The sort of heat that melts your brain like butter. They say cold places are ideal for making music – London, New York, Paris – all the usual suspects. But heat makes artists do weird things too, and that’s the space where Methyl Ethel live and thrive.
Jake Webb started Methyl Ethel in 2013 as a way of getting his bedroom recordings out there and into ears and minds. The gentle-eyed polymath got his start playing with underground bands in Perth, Western Australia. Webb’s playing was textural and moody, less about look-at-me riffs, more close-your-eyes-and-let-this-wash-over-you-like-a-curling-Margaret-River-wave.
Webb wrote, recorded and released a two EP diptych of Guts and Teeth under the Methyl Ethel moniker, taking the name from where he punches the clock with his father. “My dad works in fibre glass. Literally to make the product it’s methyl ethyl ketone peroxide,” he says, clarifying, “I spell it Methyl Eth(E)l as a play on words in order to create an identity, a personality with the name ETHEL.” Webb also teaches kids how to play instruments: guitar, piano and drums. He picked up his first guitar aged 12 and started figuring out songs, endlessly fascinated by their structure. These days he works out Ravel and Debussy pieces on piano, just for fun.
For Methyl Ethel’s crepuscular and reverb-laden debut album, Oh Inhuman Spectacle, Webb wrote, played and recorded everything before bringing the album to Chris Wright, an introverted sound engineer at Perth music venue The Bird. “I mix songs in an unorthodox fashion. Chris would say ‘This isn’t right…but it sounds good’,” Webb enthuses. Wright preserved the spatial sound of the record while making Webb go back and tinker away to get the songs to where they needed to be. “He showed me work-arounds,” he says.
By late 2014, the local buzz around Methyl Ethel was warming up and Webb needed a proper band. Thom Stewart – a good friend – came on board on bass and it made sense for Wright to join the lineup as the drummer just as the single ‘Rogues’ started cutting through on all–important local radio with the line, “In the summer, it was 40 degrees outside, inside it’s 43.” That’s where the Dot Dash / Remote Control label discovered them, signed them, releasing Oh Inhuman Spectaclenationally.
Unexpectedly, ‘Rogues’ won Pop Song of the Year 2014 at the WAM (Western Australia) Awards. As Methyl Ethel played more shows and a fanbase grew, another song from Oh Inhuman Spectacle, ‘Twilight Driving’, took Best Single at the WAM Awards a year later. This time, they also won Best Pop Act. A standout from the album, ‘Twilight Driving’ contains the unlikely earworm: “Twilight driving better watch out for the ‘roos, well it’s the early morning baby I say why don’t you hit the snooze.”
Recently, Methyl Ethel drew the attention of tastemakers from the northern hemisphere after debut US shows at New York’s CMJ conference. Their electric live performances impressed Rolling Stone, NME, The Guardian and 4AD, the latter will give Oh Inhuman Spectacle its worldwide release in 2016. Closer to home, Methyl Ethel were voted into the Triple J Hottest 100 and Oh Inhuman Spectacle has been shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize, up against Courtney Barnett and fellow Perth act Tame Impala.
Jake Webb is a one-man band in the studio with endless sonic ideas for pop songs. Now, having gained so many plaudits from pundits in their home country, Methyl Ethel are ready to leave Perth for the rest of the world. And the heat is on.