Re-releasing their debut album on 4AD, Perth’s Methyl Ethel became label mates with the likes of Grimes and Purity Ring, two bands they’re sharing a bill with when we sit down for a chat at the Sydney stop of Laneway Festival.
“It’s a shock that people are coming to watch us play,” lead singer Jake states with a hint of deadpan and a heap of sincerity.
Forming around two years ago to play a fundraiser for their local community radio station, Jake had been crafting and creating songs on his own, culminating in their first EP, Teeth. “It’s always gonna be a fun idea to play songs live,” he tells me. “So it was always gonna happen. Friends are an obvious choices to come and play in the band.”
He picked two friends to help realise the recordings live, bassist Tom who towers above the rest of the band with a Mick Jagger pout, and drummer Chris, replete with curly golden locks. Live, they try to form a cover band for the album, taking in it’s glistening tones, mellow dream pop choruses, and swooning, falsetto vocals.
Initially releasing gorgeous debut Oh Inhuman Spectacle through Dot Dash/Remote Control Records last summer in Australia, and throwing a launch party in a local bar for all their friends, does it not feel weird to be doing that all over again?
“It’s good that it’s got more legs in it,” smiles Tom.
“I think that the thing with that album, it was sort of a marathon,” explains Jake, fiddling with the grass we’re sat on. “Not a marathon in that it was a gruelling, long process. It was just a collection of songs that I was working on over a period of time, where I had a lot of time to be just focussing on it. With no intention to be making a record really for any reason other than just recording a bunch of songs. And then when it became something else, a phone call and an email here and there came through, and all of a sudden there was a record to be put out, that’s when it all happened.
“So, it’s almost like now it’s being re-released, it’s almost like we can approach it as being the release of an album rather than it just being like a slow build of something. So you kind of get to look like, ‘Oh, here’s the record’.”
But having been working on the same collection of songs for two years, are the band not itching to write or play new material? “Well, you can’t really…” Jake pauses. “I don’t know, what’s the great simile? Count your chickens before they hatch? It’s like, it’s great that it’s out, and there’s loads of new songs to be finished and played, but we really haven’t been touring this album very much. It still feels like early days. I’m very happy to spend at least the next year playing these songs.”
“That’s the thing” agrees Chris. “We say we’ve been a band for two years, but we’ve done one actual tour of our own around Australia and that was a Melbourne show, a Sydney show, and a Perth show.”
Speaking of Perth, it’s the city that recently gave us both Tame Impala and Pond. With a population of under two million, it’s about half the size of Sydney and Melbourne. Surely the success of both bands has had a positive impact on the local music scene?
“Especially because you’re just going to see them at the pub.” Chris nods. “They’re living, sharing houses with friends of yours. The greatest thing really is seeing, especially when you’re from such a small place, that it can be done. And the great thing about Tame and everyone, and I guess it’s happened a lot of times, with bands like The Triffids, that Perth has been on the map. People sort of turn around and have a look at what’s happening in Perth.”
“There’s a bit of a spotlight on Perth, especially in Australia” adds Tom. “Maybe not so much now, but for a while there it sort of put it on the map I guess.”
“And just for all the other bands in Perth, it just makes the whole thing that they’re doing seem like a really reasonable, approachable, achievable thing.” Chris continues. “It’s like, alright they were playing in little pubs in the same scene a couple of years ago, so it kinda makes everything seem in reach as well.”
Jake, the band’s founding member and main songwriter expands even further, “You see the work that goes into it. I don’t know what happened but in the last five to ten years the just sheer amount of music that everyone was recording, just on their own. There was just a lot of self-produced music consistently coming out. And that’s really what made you work hard. Because you knew that everybody’s just putting out music regardless. Everyone’s working, so it’s a work ethic thing.
“Really, that’s what the Perth thing has felt like. Everybody, no matter what they’re making or working on, EPs or albums, they’re just putting it out and it kind of doesn’t matter whether anything’s attached to it. And it’s all so good too, so you just think… just work. Just work on music, record albums, and put them out. Pond - the first the world heard of them, they were on their fifth album.”
In January the band scored a track in Triple J’s Hot 100 with their track Twilight Driving. Their debut album, the gracefully beautiful Oh Inhuman Spectacle is out now, and the arresting video for single Idée Fixe hit the Internet this week. What does the rest of 2016 hold?
“We like touring” smiles Tom. “We’re going to the UK soon. We’re just looking forward to playing shows in other places. It’s a good way to experience a country, to go there and play gigs because you’d be at those venues anyway, having a drink or whatever, so it’s a really good way to explore it. There’s always stuff to look forward to.”
And for us in the UK, Methyl Ethel’s imminent arrival is just that, something to look forward to.