What makes Methyl Ethel’s Jake Webb tick?
A lot of things, actually, but aside from a myriad of musical influences, it’s film that Webb often turns to for a bit of ‘magical elevation’. In writing the nine tracks for his recently released fourth album, Are You Haunted? Webb found himself returning to the same handful of classic films, from the minds of iconic directors like Agnes Varda and Andrei Tarkovsky. We asked Jake to jot down the films that had the deepest influence on the album, and how their visuals helped him form the otherwordly sonics of Are You Haunted? Take it away, Jake.
I have a quote—well, three words—attributed to the director Andrei Tarkovsky written on a large piece of paper, stuck to the wall of my studio. The words are: Luck, Lies and Witchcraft. According to the director, these are the three key ingredients in his work, an oeuvre which I have returned to over and over when working on music. They are certainly reflective of the process, but also very much what an experience of his films can entail, and what I strive to integrate myself.
I think it’s the way certain films can elevate banality to that of the sublime that grabs me the most. My favourite directors all have different ways of achieving the same result. My favourite films have balance and rhythm, they have no excess and nothing is ever wasted. Every move is executed with precision without ever seeming overcooked. The best ideas are always simple, straightforward and to the point. These, so often, have the deepest complexities beating within.
I’m always trying to create some sort of journey, a wandering down some path untrodden. I want to lead the listener toward some event, some ecstatic moment. Not a ‘surprise’ moment like someone jumping out from a cake, but the cake itself and all the jumping outs contained within.
Music is space for me. It’s three dimensional, has a pulse, and operates on a timescale; therefore, kind of has a birth and death every time I listen through. It’s escapism—you travel all the hills and swamps the same as a film does. It’s how I make sense of what I do, it’s visual. When I watch films, I’m also interested in how the camera is moving. When I watch how someone like Agnes Varda uses a camera, I can see how you can fix an audience’s attention, draw them along, disarm them until… pow! That moment I was talking about, the magical elevation.
All of the movies that inspire me, for the most part, are slow and spacious. I really believe, and have learned from film, that it’s all about creating and sustaining some form of tension. There isn’t one way to do it either and so many of my favourites do it completely differently. There is flow, real flow, and the films that take time have the most well-sustained tension, in my opinion.
Did I mention balance? Harmony is the thing we’re all striving for. What I’ve learned from the movies I love is that harmonious work doesn’t necessarily have mathematical precision. Natural balance is rough and unpredictable and this is a very important thing I always try to remember when working.
This brings me to the list of films that helped shapeAre You Haunted? Some are always screening in my studio or at my house. A few of them were watched late, late at night with the sound very low or even on mute, with subtitles on. It’s helpful to trick the senses at times. Also, it can be very bland to just stare at waveforms in Protools all day. Closing your eyes and listening is one approach, having a film playing is stimulating and sends my mind wandering to places it wouldn’t have ventured on its own.
Nostalghia, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Le Bonheur directed by Agnes Varda
Beau Travail directed by Claire Denis
Teorema directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors directed by Sergei Parajanov
Listen to Are You Haunted? on Spotify or wherever you get your music.