Poststructural Exorcism/ Jatz and Chillblanes. Up Close and Perthonal with Jake Webb, Methyl Ethel

OPTIONAL PREFACE TO INTERVIEW – fifty shades of physio.

it’s been a great day already… abc radio in the car on the way to the physio, beautiful physio putting needles in my back, his elbow into my back, strapping a mystery square of tape across my shoulders and body, me thinking ‘stereo tape delay’ as i felt it pulling against my skin, big thick heat pads on my back, looking at his shoes, his soft voice, him revealing his body’s in trouble too… then going to matt’s and him showing the ‘eggopoly’ pieces he’s been making out of fimo [perth/egg-themed monopoly sets, handmade], explaining how in the game if you buy enough street food vans you can then buy a street festival, etc. cooking up fruit toast from the soup kitchen for breakfast, coffee from matt, giggling, spinning my shirt round my head while showing the physio taped wings across the body… then the big drive back to freo, hearing the voice of The Big say ‘stop the car NOW, john’s gonna be there, round the corner, go see him’.

john was there, he lives on the street, nick copied a bunch of albums onto my computer at john’s request so i can put them on his ipod – “‘another brick in the wall’, you know who that is?” john asked me, “pink floyd”, i said, “yes! bizo music, that’s what i need.” john said etc. so i have pink floyd for him, and some arthur russell etc. we’re meeting tomorrow to make the exchange.


and now, we present to you an interview with jake webb, singer, guitarist, creator of methyl ethel. top memories of jake – 1. sitting under big mulberry trees in bayswater, alongside a stream and weeping willows in this secret green wonderland you have to jump big fences to get to, talking about how good camp doogs was, drawing with mulberries and grass on the pages of the diary. 2. playing at doogs together, him me and sam, planning the show down by the blackwood river before we played, sitting in a little triangle in the long grasses of the riverbank, planning without instruments because that’s the best way. 3. driving with jake out to the pinnacles, white salt and sand rises growing out of the desert landscapes on the way, the heat nearly sucking all life from one’s body out among the ancient yellow pinnacle phalanges, all their sandy veins in delicate ancient impermanency, lasting forever.

anyway. jake made a great album more or less recently, as was always going to happen. his two eps as methyl ethel before were beautiful – not as beautiful as him singing the songs in front of you in a warm dim loungeroom, coloured paper lights and orange heater making it all perfect – but, beautiful. they get played more than anything else in my car, to and from everywhere, i sing along when i’m alone. nick and i listened to ‘oh inhuman spectacle’ all the way through together in that kind of silence that a true thing of beauty can create, just breaking the quiet once in a while only to say how good it was, etc. etc. anyway, whatever, here is an interview, conducted on the slate of chris wright (methyl ethel drummer)‘s studio room. thom, methyl ethel bass player, and i made up a game a few weeks ago where one person draws some ‘thing’ some small thing that’s not meant to be anything in particular, and the other person has to come up with five things it might be… “it’s the beak of a bird, piercing water”, “it’s a heart on a string” “it’s a shakespearean fence separating lovers” etc. then you make up a system to order the answers and ask the person to pick a number between 1 and 5, and whichever answer your system means it lands on, that’s what you owe them. [i just wanted to mention the other players in the band, done.]

so yeah, here’s jake webb, of methyl ethel, talking about some of his feelings, french deconstructionist/poststructuralist theory, storm troopers walking long distances, jatz crackers etc, sitting on the slate floor in the dark with yours truly.

~the sound of two people taking thin slices of cheese, jatz crackers, and their own bodies into a small dark studio room ~

amber dictates to her iphone: “we’re in chris wright’s room. jake just went to put on his dressing gown.”

jake: coughs sorry i was cough cough i have very bad cat allergies apparently. so my bronchioles, broncosauruses are swollen, so i may cough throughout.

amber: that’s alright, it’s gonna be typed up, and i know how to spell ‘cough.’

j + a: ~ brief talk of asthma puffers, steroids. cheese and crackers, cupie mayonnaise etc ~

j: yesterday i had cupie mayonnaise on jatz.

a: that’s pretty disgusting.

j: give that a try, maybe some peanut butter on jatz…

a: that’s not crazy. just mayonnaise though, that’s crazy.

j: what can i say, i like condiments.

j + a: ~ crunching sounds

a: um. what shall i ask you about?

j: i dunno, that’s your job.

a: what are you reading at the moment?

j: kim gordon’s book.

a: oh yeah, what’s it like.

j: it’s good.

a: oh yeah. what’s it about?

j: kim gordon.

a: REALLY, what’s it about?

j: it’s about her life. you know who she is, right?

a: yeah.

j: well, yeah, it’s just about her. [this is the sound of an interview not going well up to this point, just wait though, he’ll warm up]

i’ve done that thing again where i’ve just read four or five chapters of a lot of books and stopped. i’m also reading the three stigmata of palmer eldridge by pkd [Phillip K Dick]
which is really good but i’ve just stopped again, you know?

a: ok so… the songs on your album. um. what are they about? [both laughing]

j: [laughs more at shit question] hmm. heaps of different things.

a: are there any books in any of them?

j: yeah, i guess so.

a: what books?

j: there’s a reference to nietzsche in a song, slightly.

a: like to an idea of his, or a specific …?

j: the title, but also to the whole book itself.

a: what is ‘oh inhuman spectacle’?

j: it’s a – this won’t surprise you at all amber – but it’s from a lecture on derrida.

a: yeah, by who?

j: i can’t remember what his name was. he was talking about… … it was either derrida or baudrillard… it was probably baudrillard cos i think it was a reference to reality television. he called it the great inhuman spectacle. because it’s supposed to be a direct representation of life but it’s kind of completely the opposite.

a: hm

j: so, i guess as far as the whole album goes, it’s like… the side of your life that’s not private. that you live, kind of before everybody else. how your business just happens to be everybody’s business. so, it’s funny when people ask me what the songs are about directly… i mean, a lot of what i talk about in the album is how i don’t like to talk about what is my own private business, because it’s not for anybody else, it’s for me to know.

a: yeah… i know you’re quite private, but is that something you feel like is a good thing? or do you want to be more open to people?

j: i’m getting better, but… i don’t think it’s a good thing. i think it probably does more damage than it does good. but i’m getting better… at it. [being more open]

a: how come?

j: how am i getting better?

a: how has that happened?

j: instead of assuming that people are thinking things, i’m just going to them and saying ‘hey look, what’s going on, what’s happening?’ you know ‘this is what i think, is this right?’ generally i’m wrong, and it fixes things. who would have thought?! who would have thought that talking about stuff can generally heal things.

a: me

j: [both laughing] i’m learning. but…

a: what did that lecture have to do with nietzsche? or is that a separate topic

j: it wasn’t nietzsche, it was derrida and baudrillard. he was just explaining their theories. don’t ask me to explain them. i feel like i’ve got a rudimentary grasp on it all…

a: my brain’s not good for philosophy. i feel like that’s a ridiculous thing to say, but it’s true.
… you know ella harwood who did that picture of your face, do you still talk to her sometimes? [ella is a teenager in england who drew this beautiful and melancholy portrait jake used to use as his band photo]
j: no, i don’t.

a: how come?

j: well, i’m lucky if i even talk to my own sister.

a: oh ok.

j: you know, i’m not a very good communicator.

a: ohh yeah! [both laughing, this is true]

j: it sounds a bit strange – but i do think about her often, just in a … i feel like i want to do something nice for her.

a: maybe we should go and visit her one day.

j: she’s a supremely talented young girl.

a: yep. what was it about her art that you liked?

j: i dunno. nothing specific.

a: was that a dumb question.

j: yeah.

a: so is ‘what are your songs about’, but that’s ok.

j: she drew those crayon drawings of herself. self-portraits… jean cocteau did these single line drawings, a whole range of them, and i loved them so much. there’s actually a guy who sells them online and i contacted him once asking him how much they were. and they were very expensive as you could assume. however, i love those.

a: you would have to sell a lot of lemonade at your lemonade stand. do you look at art every day? i mean – obviously we don’t have a million spectacular galleries here – but do you go searching down different rabbit holes of art on the interwebs? or not really, you just have people who you love already…?

j: i do, yeah. everyday. i always feel like i’m searching for new things. it all seems… … one reason i don’t really like talking about things is because it’s nice having my thoughts up in my head and as soon as i put them into words i automatically start to hate them. i put it into words and i think ‘oh… i don’t like the way that sounds!’

the word ‘inspiration’, i don’t like it. because it seems like when you say ‘i’m always looking for inspiration’ it’s like inspiration is something you can just pick off a tree. or it’s like filling up your purse full of…

a: raspberries?

j: [chuckles] yeah.

a: i wasn’t thinking about art as in for inspiration, just for like, pleasure, looking up artists… um… when you are singing, do you feel free, then? like is any of it about expressing things that wouldn’t be expressed otherwise? or not?

j: yep, you got it.

a: well, i feel that way. you know, i say things in songs that i, to certain people, wouldn’t say.

j: yep. it’s all that. which is a bit unfair.

a: why?

j: because… if it is instead of having a conversation with someone, i would put it into a song, and i get a release from it, every time, it’s like a catharsis for me but it’s not for anybody else. and it’s only recently that i’ve realised that… there are things locked in those songs that every time i play them … it’s another exorcism you know? or that i play those songs sometimes and i have to put things out of my mind otherwise it’s just too much.

it doesn’t seem real, to talk about it. it seems like ‘oh that’s too romanticised’, but it’s the truth. it can be pretty difficult. and i know that for you it’s a … it’s completely [laughing]… it’s even more so.

a: hm. do you ever feel like your songs get reinterpreted back to you in a different way when you’re playing them? you know, that like you write it about one thing but then you find more things that it’s about that you didn’t know?

j: yeah.

a: hm

j: but also, i feel like a lot of them are just for me they’re stuck in the moment of when they came into existence, which is nice.

a: it is nice.

j: and i’ve got that for the rest of my life. i feel like the reinterpretation, the reinterpretation of the songs is the majority of the reason why i like to make music. for people to interpret things themselves.

a: you know how me and nathalie and caitlyn used to play with you, and then we didn’t anymore.

j: mm hmm…

a: how did that happen?

j: i guess, out of necessity.

a: i mean, how did you decide for that to happen?

j: it was as simple as nathalie and caitlyn, supremely talented musicians, much as yourself, had other commitments. and so, yourself as well, being a committed person… and sam went trekking..

a: but why have you decided to go for three instead of bigger?

j: it’s cheaper to travel with.

it’s cheaper and streamline. i mean, not to say that you guys aren’t all my close, good friends…

a: well, i can hardly even play guitar.

j: neither can we! it’s never been about playing ability. it’s been about being able to enjoy each other’s company. yeah, that’s the priority.

a: did thom and chris play on the album at all, or what it all your own…

j: thom played organ in a song and chris did some percussion.

a: but you did the rest of the drums?

j: mmhm.

a: mm… mmm

j: was that sounding like a ‘mmm i thought so, i would have done some things differently’? [laughing]

a: as if! was there any point at which you realised you had a special singing voice?

j: no. [pause] i don’t really like my voice.

a: awww. well everyone else does! really!? do you not like it at all? or you just don’t like when it’s so special?

j: what i like about it is that it is versatile. and that… i’m not constrained by gender in my voice. that’s what i like about it, that i can hear other people in it.

a: you mean just in your range, or in other parts.

j: i guess other parts.

a: what else, apart from range, do you mean you’re not constricted by the gendered voice in?

j: i’m lucky that i can sing the melodies that i want for the songs.

a: yeah, that’s so cool!

j: i feel very lucky about that. and i guess i write everything from my being able to sing it, you know. i’m super lucky i can sing all the harmonies… that’s the easy part.

a: that’s so cool. i often think about – like i imagine – being able to sing the notes that i could imagine, but then i’m like, ‘well, other people have that as their gift to everyone else.’ you, my friend sheryn. you know sheryn who used to sing with me sometimes? i might have played you her music… anyway

j: oh, yes! you have played me her music. it was…

a: like, nice pop music.

j: yeah, you played it for me in your car once driving somewhere.

a: yeah, she made one album, and she sold heaps of copies.

j: and she has a baby?

a: yeah, she has a baby.

j: and she just has a baby she doesn’t

j + a: do music anymore!

a: yeah, and many people were contacting her about making it big because she could have. [end of segue about people who can sing all the notes they can imagine]

so… what don’t you like about your voice.

j: i don’t like me in it. that’s what i don’t like. it’s like when you become aware of yourself speaking, it’s that feeling.

a: so. is there some other place in life where you don’t feel… like when you’re playing shows or whatever, well, you might be looking at what you’re doing but you’re still free, of that ~thing~… are there any other outlets that are in that way where you just feel free, or places in life where you just feel free to let yourself –

j: walking. walking long distances. going running somewhere. running around lake monger or something. there’s something about walking isn’t there.

a: yep.

j: seriously, that’s it. i guess if anyone ever wanted to know how it was to play music, they’re very similar aren’t they.

a: yep.

j: i was thinking about this yesterday as well.

a: yeah?

j: and i guess because it’s the one thing that every body, well, pretty much every body has experienced, when you’re a kid it’s like your first independence. first part of independence. i remember walking down to point walter as a kid from my house, a fourty five minute walk, and people would think you were crazy. but i loved it. where you have your cd walkman or tape cassette walkman which runs out of batteries half way through the walk, yeah, i dunno, i love it.

do you remember when i got on that big – i walked to fremantle and back –

a: yeah, i remember.

j: that’s right, we walked –

a: you walked to my house [20ks or something]

j: yeah, that’s freedom. for a couple of hours or something.

a: what were you thinking about yesterday, to do with walking?

j: this whole conversation. that anecdote about as a kid. it’s the great centering act.

a: nick said he’s going to walk the bibblemun after tour. in kung fu shoes [laughing]

j: alone?

a: yeah, of course alone.

j: of course. i was thinking how long it would take to walk to mandurah. probably a long time.

a: i feel like we’ve talked about that before.

j: my mind tells me that you can just walk the greatest distances.

a: yeah.

j: did you read actually in the news, that a guy in america, a stormtrooper in america, walked 800 kilometres –

a: a storm trooper, off starwars?

j: yeah, to comicon.

a: oh! you DO mean a stormtrooper.

j: yeah, a stormtrooper

a: walked how many?

j: 800 kilometres. in memorial of his wife, he walked to comicon. 800 kilometres.

a: ohh that’s beautiful.

j: that’s a long way to walk in a storm trooper suit.

a: yep.

j: so there you go. great things are possible, if you believe in the force.

a: it’s true. oh yeah, so what are your current thoughts on –

j: the force?

a: yeah, the force. the big.

j: the big release.


j: i dunno if this is an analogy or if you’re actually talking about star wars…

a: i’m actually talking about the universe. so yeah, i guess star wars in a way. like, you know, the bigger things.

j + a together: uuummmmm [laughing]

a: nah, you know like, have you had any special, like –

j: you know what. you once said to me something that i repeat very often.

a: hmm?

j: that sometimes, on a clear day, heavenly bodies appear in the sky.

a: [giggling]

j: and i say it often, and i look often.

a: hmm.

j: hmm.

a: hmm. alright.

j: and take from that what you will. i feel like we approach that same that exact same thing from different angles. but it’s the same angle.

i want to stand on that moon and look back at earth.

a: well… you can.

j: i know.

a: that’s within the – you know – human experience is within that circumference.

j: i do feel like one day, that will be very possible. what a view. have you seen pluto?

a: oh you mean, how the stars are at the moment?

j: no, the pictures…. well, last night, yeah venus and jupiter are [the stars are being very intense at the moment, lined up in a special way… but this is not what jake was trying to tell me]

a: and who’s the orange one to their right? cos they’re being so intense with one another.

j: so the bright one is venus. the one below is jupiter.

a: and you don’t know who’s to the right?

j: no.

a: i’ll put ‘bracket’s ed dot’ and the planet. [ed. didn’t find out yet] um but with pluto, is the planet/not planet thing happening again?

j: no i think there was a ship –

a: new photos of it?

j: the first photos, ever.

a: really!?

j: yeah, we’ve never really seen it before. anyway.


a: but if you were asking me if i’d like to see earth.

j: ohhh my ass. put that in [more squealing]

a: what have you got a spasm or some shit?

j: i’ve just got, my ass has gone to sleep!

a: you gotta pummel it.

J: pummel it? [pummelling noises]

a: when i told jamie the name of a particular song, dr. honey’s whistle yesterday, he laughed so heartily.

j: oh did he. [whistling]. dr. honey’s [weeheww]

a: yeah i would prefer to just see everyone on earth be able to freely walk as far a distance as they like unmolested, than to see earth from the moon, you know?

j: yeah.

a: it’s not one of my desires.

j: that’s fair enough.

a: but i’m happy that it’s someone else’s desire, same as i’m happy that you can sing all the notes.

j: it’s not that i want to conquer the moon –

a: yeah.

j: [oooh] it’s just, hmm.

a: what is it?

j: you know – it’s like when you look at a view… and you sort of think ‘i want to look back here from there’?

a: hmm.

j: it’s kind of like the greatest example of that.

a: like, if where you are for music is earth, and the moon is you know, a far off destination, what is that moon? … that would be crazy to reach but you could reach it.

j: ok so, i think all it is is a just point of perspective to be able to look back… and… see the distance that you’ve travelled. and be able to have to perspective to say ‘wow, i’ve come a long way to be able to look back from here.’ and whatever happened to get here… … i guess to be able to just say, that the view’s pretty good.

[both giggling]

a: do you want some jatz with that cheese?

[more giggling]

j: or maybe get there and sort of be like ‘oh… it looks better in the pictures’.

a: it’s just the same, one’s blue and one’s white.

j: yeah [laughing]

a: cool. got any shout outs? shout outs to your crew?

j: nah. oh i guess we’re sitting in chris’s office. my first – when i was born i grew up in a house with slate.

a: yep.

j: and to the slate i have returned. i’m quite fond of slate. although my grandma used to say ‘don’t sit on the slate or you’ll get chillblanes. and i never knew – what are chillblanes?

a: it’s sort of like a soft version of frostbite, where your body’s permanently affected by the cold.

j: well, you know what grandma, i’m sitting on the slate, and i ain’t got no chillblanes!

a: cough.