Jake from Methyl Ethel takes a deep dive into the power of everyday humdrum, winging it and the process behind latest single, and music video, Matters.
Matters, the latest single from art-rock band Methyl Ethel, is a synth sizzling track that packages bubbling anxiety into an irresistible and energetic dance tune.
Happy spoke with Jake about the everyday influences behind Matters and how mundanity can be the secret ingredient to a sonically delicious track.
HAPPY: Hi Jake, how’re you doing?
JAKE: Yeah not too bad, yourself?
HAPPY: Yeah I’m good! It’s been a nice chill day. How about you?
JAKE: Yeah it’s been a good day, got some progress and stuff.
HAPPY: Progress, that’s always good.
JAKE: Nah just working on a cover slash remix thing.
HAPPY: Oh cool! Can you say with who or is it secretive?
JAKE: Um, I dunno. I dunno but it’s going to be with Harriet from Hatchie and someone else
HAPPY: Nice, very nice, and how have things been for you lately with recording and making music during this pandemic?
JAKE: Um, it’s been…well there’s a lot that’s got done I suppose. It’s funny cos I’ve finished a whole lot of work and also being in one place and being able to set up a bit more permanently has meant that I’ve been able to really upskill and spend lots of time learning new things and working a lot on process.
HAPPY: Oh that’s cool! So exploring new way to make music or create sound? Sounds like it’s been a good time to hone in on those things and experimentation
JAKE: Yeah I suppose the way my kind of projects go these days, because I do more and more myself, it’s hard to focus in on one particular thing at a time. So it sort of was a blessing, being forced to be in one place and work on music that I can do. I just tried to make the most of that.
HAPPY: That’s good! And you said that you’re working more on your own. What’s been the hardest bit about refocusing and tying it all together into one piece of work?
JAKE: Hmm… that’s kind of it! The nice thing is that in a way …I’ve been working this way the whole time, on my own. I do enjoy doing it but also I can sort of just get going whenever an idea hits or lands. But I’ve been trying to explain working on my own to people for over the last few years but now that people have experienced it, I don’t really have to explain it anymore because it’s all exactly the same. The challenges are not too dissimilar from someone who is trying to work remotely and get things done, there is no body who’s going to crack the whip but also throughout the day each task can drag out if you don’t have a bit of a plan and yeah. I dunno, its sort of just being productive is kind of the most challenging part and trying to put all the different hats on.
HAPPY: I guess that would be the most challenging thing, compartmentalising all the bits that you like but it would be difficult because it’s all you in that. In saying not having someone to crack the whip, it’s good but I guess it makes it harder to narrow all your ideas down to one thing when you’re working in your own realm without those pressures.
JAKE: No, I think that’s so spot on! Do you know the songwriter Burt Bacharach?
HAPPY: No actually.
JAKE: He wrote a lot of old, classic pop hits back in the ‘60s? I wanna say? I read somewhere that when he was producing these songs, with the strings and all of the people there, and he got lost he would go to the bathroom, into one of the stalls away from everything and just go back to thinking about it in his head. I think that is for me what I’ve been trying to come back to and just get away from all of the equipment and overthinking and just remember that the ideas come from inside my brain and not from just using a calculator or something.
HAPPY: Yeah, you sort of have to trust in yourself that you know what is right. It’s that instinct.
JAKE: Yeah, yeah.
HAPPY: Um, I did want to talk about your newest song Matters, which is really cool – I love it! You’ve mentioned that the fact you were living in LA at the time and you didn’t really know much about the earthquake situation there, that’s what sort of led you to writing Matters. When I read that I thought, ‘That’s a really interesting source to draw inspiration from’, so I wanted to know I guess, how that made you think of writing a song?
JAKE: Well to be clear about it, I was working for a long time trying to get lyrics for this track and the angle of the song I suppose – what the feeling was. That idea of tension and all this sort of stuff was the feeling I got from the song. Um, and it’s kind of a good counterpoint for something that’s pretty, it’s also a bit feel good at the same time while being quite intense. But yeah, I love how people can turn anything into a song or take ideas from really anything. I think that’s what I’m interested in at the moment… there’s a skill to it in a way – to make something interesting from something that potentially is a bit arbitrary.
HAPPY: Or so every day.
JAKE: Yeah exactly, but the thing I always say about this is that growing up in Western Australia, learning how to deal with snakes in primary school and it just being a second nature thing. I find that so interesting – that all over the world people would have, whether it be earthquakes or landslides, or these really earth-shattering things. A snake is but a humble creature in comparison, but it’s just wild, we’re all the same in one way but people can have these background experiences that they have their whole lives… I just find that really interesting.
HAPPY: Yeah it’s not a big deal to them, but to someone across the world it’s crazy
JAKE: It speaks to being able to conquer any sort of mental blockage or any of the anxieties that the world presents you and questioning, ‘How am I supposed to deal with this thing?’ At that time it was just before the election in the US, and you know the tensions are still high but there is a lot of that running through a lot of this stuff that I’m putting together and I suppose everyone would have a bit of that in what they’re working on.
HAPPY: Yeah, but the good thing about Matters is that even though it has that quality to it, it makes you wanna dance and move and get out. I feel like that is such a good remedy for shaking off those anxieties. So was the earthquake a metaphor for human nature in times of uncertainty.
JAKE: It sort of was what I was aiming for. The bigger metaphor is the background anxieties, and do you deal with it or do you just push it to the back of your mind – but it’s gonna happen at some point. So it’s your choice what you do about it.
HAPPY: Yeah, so the music video I wanted to talk about aswell because it is awesome, I thought it was such an original way to tell a story. It really connects with the meaning of Matters. You did mention that each band member filmed it from their perspective. It was an unconventional way of filming but how did you come up with the idea to stick your camera phones to your chest to create that shaky look? Because it did it so well.
JAKE: Yeah it worked out well. I think when Duncan Wright, who I made it together with… sometimes thinking of technique and the way in which you’re physically going to shoot something, is a good way to spark ideas. Over the last year or so, I’ve filmed quite a bit of stuff on my phone *laughs* and it’s good quality.
HAPPY: Oh really?
JAKE: Yeah, you sort of flick it onto 24 frames per second, horizontal it has a nice film-esque quality to it, but it looks really nice. Just using the tools that you have, we have such great cameras in our pockets and well ‘Why don’t we try and do something with our phones’, and have the idea be a little bit like ‘Who’s watching who’. It was a very loose idea with that behind it. But it ended up just being a bit of a rave with phones in the end. It was really fun and it happened really quickly, Duncan did a killer job editing and putting it all together. Sometimes that’s the best stuff, you know just going in and making it happen.
HAPPY: Did you guys plan it out much or was it just that, like you just went with the flow of things?
JAKE: We winged it for sure.
HAPPY: I like that.
JAKE: I just bought a bunch of stuff on the day and thought ‘We’ll just play around with this’. It’s all very off the cuff and we’re lucky because it could’ve been completely terrible.
JAKE: When I watched it back the first time I thought, ‘Wow, we’ve dodged a bullet here’.
HAPPY: Yeah it came out really nice!
JAKE: *laughs* Yeah, they’re hard to do! Music videos are one of the hardest things I think to do.
HAPPY: Why do you think that?
JAKE: I think as the years go on and I spend more time in a darkened room, I feel uncomfortable performing in that way – in front of a camera and doing things over and over. That’s what I think the hardest thing about being a film or television actor would be – having to do multiple takes. I like things being one time only sometimes.
HAPPY: Well it’s hard to keep it natural the more you’ve got to repeat it. Especially if you want things to come off genuine and be a true representation of you as an artist, I feel like the more you’re asked, ‘Can we shoot that again?’ the way you may come across might not be a true reflection of how you feel you are.
JAKE: I don’t think of Methyl Ethel as being a representative of me as well so it’s hard to know how do I represent the music and the voice of the music but not necessarily me. It’s probably just a real musician’s cliché, but I don’t really think of it as being a vessel for me to pour my heart out.
HAPPY: Ahh, that’s interesting.
JAKE: Yeah, I more feel like a painter or something that’s just …I’m kind of … I’m putting things together, things that are pleasing to me, things that I like to hear, stories that I like to hear. That’s what it is for me – I’m making music that’s pleasing to me and then also thinking, ‘Well I hope that it’s pleasing to others’. But yeah I try to put myself in the listener’s perspective.
HAPPY: That’s really cool. I guess the way I can relate to that is I like to make art and when I make it, it’s not necessarily who I am as a person it’s just things I like or what I want to make visually. But I don’t always think about it as a visual portrait of myself. And that’s cool and I definitely understand that from your perspective. I just never thought about it in that way so, thank you!
JAKE: I’ve learned sometimes it’s really hard to start working on anything because I’m worried it will come together and feel really contrived if I’ve thought about myself in the music too much.
HAPPY: I definitely get that.
JAKE: Deep, we’re going deep *laughs*
HAPPY: *laughs* We’re going deep. This is the mind of the artist!
JAKE: I just think, sometimes on certain days, especially when I speak to people about music I think, ‘Fuck, this must be the most boring… how is anyone gonna wanna read this!?’
HAPPY: *laughs* Not at all! I think it’s interesting and I think a lot of people can relate to it who are creatives. I don’t think what you’re saying is boring – I find it very refreshing. So, moving on, you mentioned that the music video for Matters draws this connection between seeing something catastrophic and then just filming it. Was there ever a particular incident that made you aware of how relevant this kind of behaviour is today?
JAKE: All you have to do is watch the news, but really good that there’s all that content.
HAPPY: You also mentioned that the video clip was shot in a cellar. What was the location hunting process like and what was it about the cellar that made you choose it for Matters?
JAKE: Duncan was friends with the people whose wine store it is and we just had a brainstorm and thought ‘What would work?’ and found it. It worked out perfectly. It was just one of those events where things all happened and it worked out – serendipity.
HAPPY: Nice. I wanted to say congratulations on your upcoming shows in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane selling out. Unfortunately, they have been postponed because …COVID. But until then, what can your fans expect when they finally get to see you live?
JAKE: Well every time the shows got postponed – I think it was four times – we just worked more on the show so hopefully by the time it happens it should be pretty amazing because I have so much time to work on it, there no excuse. I’ve gotta just make it better and better. Being at home, I asked a few extra people to come on board and luckily they said yes. So we’re a seven-piece band now with two drummers.
JAKE: Hopefully it’ll be a really cool event, got a lot of love for everybody on the east coast. I think by the time that it happens it’ll definitely be time to party and I think it will be a good vibe.
HAPPY: Oh my god I’m so excited, even just hearing that makes me so happy.
JAKE: That’s what we want.
HAPPY: That is all the questions I have for you Jake! Thank you so much for your time, was there anything else that I didn’t mention that you wanted to talk about?
JAKE: I’m not sure, I never really know what I can and can’t say. I don’t pay enough attention.
HAPPY: *laughs* No worries that’s fine!
JAKE: No it’s more about the causal conversation, reaching out, two strangers from the other side of the country – that’s the future, that’s how you know we’re living in the future.
HAPPY: I know, well I really enjoyed our conversation. I do really consider what you say and I love to hear what you say. So thank you for everything. It’s been really nice!
JAKE: Oh, my pleasure. I will say though, if anyone ever interviewed me halfway through working on things, that would be the most interesting point because that’s when all the ideas are very fresh and things are super, super exciting. It’s a little harder once the job is complete to travel back in time to sort of think about it and be in it.
JAKE: And it’s definitely not as honest! You know, as at the moment. So, that’s food for thought right there.
HAPPY: That’s interesting. Well thank you Jake, I hope wherever you are you enjoy the rest of your day or evening and yeah it’s been lovely to chat.
JAKE: Thanks a lot!
HAPPY: Have a good one, I’ll see you later!
JAKE: You too, bye.
Matters is available on all streaming services – Check it out!
Interview by Alex Stefanovic.