In a post-truth era, Methyl Ethel and Stella Donnelly fictionalise the unstoppable nonsense in their new single Proof.
Ahead of Methyl Ethel’s forthcoming album Are You Haunted?, the band has released their first single to feature an additional artist.
Western Australia’s alt-pop extraordinaire, Methyl Ethel have enlisted another incredible talent from the region, Stella Donnelly and the two of them are telling the all-too-familiar story of criticising the truth and the unbelievable in their new single Proof.
The mind behind the band, Jake Webb explained that Proof is “a song about truth and movies,” and said that as one of the most truthful artists he has heard, Stella Donnelly was the perfect person for the collaboration.
We spoke with the pair about what honestly, proof and the truth even looks like these days as well as the playful yet poignant music video directed by Jake himself.
HAPPY: Okay, so let’s chat about Proof. What a fantastic song, what a fantastic video. It’s so great guys – I think you should be really proud of yourselves. Jake, first of all, I just wanted to ask you, you said that Proof is about truth and movies, and I imagine you mean that in more of a figurative sense, in regard to movies… are you talking about more people’s imaginations?
JAKE: Nah, actually the opposite, it’s quite literal. I took a bunch of quotes from movies that I was watching at the time and then the chorus is also literally, just sort of, like around that time of US elections and whatnot, and all the kind of ubiquitous appearance of the fake news and sort of like, people living post-truth eras. I just quite literally you know, sprinkled all those ideas into the lyrics of the song and it works in that way, I think.
HAPPY: Yeah, definitely. Do you know off the top of your head which movies you were quoting?
JAKE: I think there was a film called The Passenger, it was the first… I was just watching it late one night and started writing down… there’s this great scene at the end, the climax of the film. There is the character who is just literally asking what can you see and they’re describing it and I just wrote it down. And that sort of served as the, I guess, the idea for the song from then on, and then I just started writing down interesting parts of films, there was another film, a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, I think, that I was watching, and because I would be watching these films late at night, with the sound on mute and just reading the subtitles, so I suppose, sort of a lot of them, without the sound, it was kind of like … I guess the text or the dialogue took on a whole new kind of dimension and I suppose then it sort of bleeds into your own dreams that you have in that… I don’t know, I was just sort of taking it pretty straight up in that way.
HAPPY: Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s a very interesting way to experience what is normally a lot of different mediums. It’s cool. Because you are talking about this public discourse that we’ve all had in our ears over the last few years, have either of you been faced with a lot of that in person?
JAKE: I’ll let Stella have something to say on this one I think, but you might…maybe rephrase the question for us, I’m not quite sure I understand what you…
HAPPY: I’m so sorry. Stella, I’ll ask you, this kind of public discourse that is going on where I guess it feels like the world is really arguing a lot at the moment – I wanted to know if that’s something you have been faced with in your life, like faced with in person, or if it’s something that you’ve been fortunate enough that it’s mainly just online and it’s just exhausting you through that alone.
STELLA: Yeah, I think it’s quite interesting. I feel like in person, I’ve been lucky enough to always experience quite a kind discourse, when I just find, you know, say you’re with certain family members that have differing opinions to you, I find that just having someone in front of you with their smiles and all of their expressions and stuff, makes it a lot easier to have difficult conversations, because you’re much more… your empathy gland, I guess, is there and is working and so… yeah I find that it’s never as bad in person than when someone’s hiding behind a screen and I feel like I become more… I’m guilty of that myself is just kind of, going full attack on someone because I haven’t quite pictured their face and they are a human, you know, that’s existing in a world other than this online, kind of, realm.
HAPPY: Yeah, of course.
JAKE: I think what Stella’s saying too is that like the real key here is empathy because it feels… Like even all this talk about truth and post-truth and what really is, what is truth, is sort of assuming that we are able to, sort of, dial things down to brute fact, like as if we’re arguing over something that can be proven when really it is, sort of, just… we do require just more empathy because these are just versions of a truth, you know, and if we kind of can’t see it from all sides, like, then you’re going to get nowhere anyway.
JAKE: Really, you did need to kind of blur all these versions of these truths in order to kind of dial down it and sometimes they don’t necessarily… all of these things kind of run parallel, you know…
JAKE: …it’s not like we can just like layer one like… we just say this… there is only one way to do things, for example. So really the question there is, is that like a… we have numbers, we have physics, we have some things like, you know, the speed of light, some things that can be, kind of… we can get as close to fact and brute fact as possible, but for the rest of everything, you know, it really is all just about listening to one another and being able to be flexible and really hear what each other’s saying.
HAPPY: Yeah. I think it’s a really important message, I think that a lot of people could do well to learn a bit more about, like being generous with assumptions of others, so it’s really cool that you are writing about this. I also wanted to ask you, Jake, did you choose to have another artist, to have Stella, feature on the song to kind of give that symbolism of two sides of a story?
JAKE: Oh, 100 per cent, yeah. It’s also like, a lot of these decisions are… it kind of feels right at the time and then after it comes together it sort of starts to make more sense. It’s more instinctual, you know? Yeah… I’ve been so pleased with… and you know when it comes down to it, we just have … Stella’s a friend, you know, and a great person and someone who’s played in the band before as well, which was just a really fun time. But it has been really nice too, kind of… yeah it was great reaching out, we had such a fun day recording and actually, we’ve been doing some work together since then.
HAPPY: Okay, cool.
JAKE: I don’t know, it’s just been really…it’s been a really good experience doing some work together. I don’t know, it’s been a blast.
STELLA: Yeah absolutely, and it’s been such a, you know, been such a silver lining in a situation where we are not able to play live as much or tour as much, you know, for both of us to be in WA and be here with some more time of our hands, has been really… this has been such a joy for me to work on this song with Jake and on other things, it’s just been so fantastic and it’s really kept the light on for me.
HAPPY: Oh that’s so nice.
JAKE: Amen. Amen. And you know like, we kind of, we hadn’t… it’s not like we are old buddies that have gone back years and years but over the last few months and you know, since kind of, this being the, you know, spark of something fresh, it’s … we kind of have very similar approaches and it’s been nice to share ideas, and kind of come together and really explore the ins and outs of what it is we do when making music and kind of drill down on some of the like, sort of, deeper bits and pieces, you know. That’s been great.
HAPPY: That’s great, that’s excellent. Jake when you were discussing the collaboration as well, you mentioned that Stella was, you know, the perfect person to sing about the truth with because she’s such an honest artist and I think you both are seemingly so uncompromised in your music and I guess I wanted to ask both of you, I’ll ask you first Jake and then Stella, but has it been easy for you to do that in the Australia music industry or have you found yourself having to work harder to maintain your own voice and, you know, your messaging?
JAKE: I think I will let Stella answer that straight away because I feel like my voice is hidden behind certain things. Like I’ve been learning a lot from, you know, working with Stella and discussing things, and bits and pieces, with her and, so yeah, Stella, I’ll leave this one for you.
STELLA: Well it’s so funny because I… it’s a funny thing but I played in a cover band for so long, called Proof actually…
JAKE: Oh my god, really?
STELLA: *Laughing* Yes, and you know, so essentially I made money from music by faking it and lying, and you know, pretending to be other people and singing other people’s lyrics, and you know, just kind of, it’s this really kind of other side, and not saying it’s the dark side of the music industry, or anything like that, people, you know… we need all sorts of music like that, but yeah, I did that for a long time and I think doing that led me to a breaking point where I knew that whatever I did next had to be my voice and had to be honest and you know, I guess and that’s just… I was very fortunate to have received, you know, work, and had, I guess, opportunities come from my first EP, which is the most honest, you know, shitty-sounding tape, you know, that I’ve ever made and I guess so, that kind of gave me that confidence to carry on with that, whereas not everyone gets that luxury to kind of have their demo tape be made successful, so I’ve definitely made that something I’ve wanted to keep as part of myself and I don’t think I would be able to… I don’t think I’d do very well in myself performing songs that weren’t honest every night. I think, yeah.
JAKE: To add on to that, I think for me, and I’m sure that Stella would agree, in another way of looking at it is that, for me, I have to be not conscious of my own voice, as you say, as in the me who is delivering a message, it’s almost like spontaneity it’s kind of… voice that I had, kind of thing, so often I find myself, sort of, trying to trick myself into being able to be completely honest with whatever idea or, if it’s a lyric or if it’s anything like that, you know, because I feel like if I overthink things, they do become super contrived and that obfuscates my actual voice, in the most direct sense so really it’s kind of just like all of these mind games into allowing… I feel like I’m always trying to trick myself to be more direct and in saying things and it’s kind of a long… it’s still you know, something that I’m trying to achieve, you know, trying to say what is true… the things that I don’t even know are in there, you know, sort of like a subconscious truth or something.
HAPPY: Yeah, trying to capture that stream of consciousness, it’s very cool. Now, you mentioned before that you guys are working on some other stuff together or continuing to collaborate – I know that Jake you have a tour coming up, a huge tour to promote the new album. Stella, do you plan on going along to sing Proof, what’s the plan for the single here?
STELLA: Oh, I would absolutely love to get up and sing where I can, yeah, that would be fantastic if the opportunities were there and our schedules kind of lined up. Jake’s been producing two of my songs and that’s been just an absolute joy, like he’s unlocked a bunch of, as you said, subconscious truths that are, you know, that are part of me, so it’s been fantastic there. But yes, I would absolutely love to be singing on Proof live, I think that would just elevate the whole experience really.
JAKE: Yeah I’m sure it’ll happen, we’ll just see what the future holds really and just let it kind of manifest, if it does, I think. I feel like it may but it’s nice, we’ll leave it… we’ll keep it a bit open-ended, there’s always a spot there for Stella to come and she knows that and join us wherever possible, so that’s a… it’s nice to look forward to that possibility.
HAPPY: I guess to wrap up I just wanted to touch on the music video as well, which is incredible. It’s so much fun to watch, because, you know, it’s a pretty serious message but it looks cool, it’s very… I get the German expressionism influences, but it looks fun – was that shot in a studio or did you manage to get someone to let you cover their walls in paint?
JAKE: We filmed it in a friend’s Jay Staples’- who is an artist, shoutout to Jay, check out his art, he’s very good – in his studio and yeah, we did just kind of go wild with it all and it was very fun. We were so blessed to have Stella be involved as well because she just delivered her one-take wonder abilities, you know. It was fun, we had fun, didn’t we?
STELLA: It was so much fun and so freeing and yeah, it was just like a very small team of us, it was just like four of us in the space and it was fantastic to just, kind of, watch Jake go wild on that wall, yeah, there were tears in some of our eyes as he was doing that, along with the music, it was fantastic, so yeah we loved it, and it wasn’t just from the paint fumes, so yeah, we had a great time.
HAPPY: Awesome, it looked cathartic.
JAKE: Yes, we’re all pretty proud of it actually… we’re definitely, kind of, we’re our own biggest fans after we finished it. I’m totally fine with that as well.
Proof is available on all streaming services now.
Methyl Ethel’s new album Are You Haunted? will be released on February 18.
Interviewed by Chloe Maddren.