The Drums

Fource Entertainment Presents

The Drums

Methyl Ethel

Sat · November 11, 2017

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 6:00 pm (event ends at 10:00 pm)

This event is all ages

The Drums
The Drums
With The Drums' new 'Abysmal Thoughts,' band founder Jonny Pierce is making the exact album he's always held in his heart. Of course, this is The Drums, so that heart is broken -- but there's beauty and even bliss in this kind of heartbreak, as well as that special kind of glorious delirium that comes from taking everything life can throw at you and still walking away triumphant. If 'Abysmal Thoughts' doesn't sound at all abysmal -- really, Pierce has rarely been this irresistibly pop -- that's because this is a story about how to figure out what happiness means once the worst has already happened. "Happiness can be confusing to me," says Pierce. "It shows up out of nowhere, and before you can even get used to it, it's vanished. But 'Abysmal Thoughts?' I can rely on them -- and with the political chaos that is raining down, who knows when these dark feelings will subside?"

As the last album cycle for the Drums finished and his long-term relationship with his former partner dissolved, Pierce took some time away from music altogether in hopes to reconnect with himself and find future inspiration. Determined to make a change, he ended up leaving his longtime home in New York and found himself isolated in a large empty apartment in Los Angeles, all his plans for life and love suddenly in shambles: "I said I wanted to let life happen?" he says. "Well, the universe listened and life began to fuck me real good! But honestly, I make the worst art when I'm comfortable. The stuff that resonates with me the longest -- and that resonates with others -- is always the stuff that comes out of my hardships and confusion."

That hardship and confusion -- and the clarity of personality and purpose it inspired -- became 'Abysmal Thoughts,' an unflinching autobiography with Pierce back in full control of the band. He's back to not just writing all the songs by himself but playing every instrument, too, this time realizing exactly his own personal vision for the band. Not coincidentally, it's some of the most revelatory work he's ever done. The key was opener "Mirror," and from there, 'Thoughts' simply flowed: "It very much felt like I was releasing," Pierce says. "I had this visual of turning a handle and watching steam just pour out of the valve, relieving a lot of my artistic and personal anxiety. I was dealing with so much loss and feeling unsure and scared -- and if there's one thing I can rely on it's the healing power of being an artist. I'm falling back in love with music. Creating this album on my own was a full-on long-running therapy session."

Across a year and three months of home recording -- with the same guitar, synthesizer, drum machine and reverb unit he's played since the beginning of The Drums -- Pierce put together 'Thoughts,' first in that apartment in Los Angeles and then later in his cabin in upstate New York. With help from engineer Jonathan Schenke (Parquet Courts, Mannequin Pussy and more) he gave 'Thoughts' a pop sensibility that added color and contrast to an already vivid self-portrait alive with the hyperdramatic emotional potency of the Smiths, the arch literary pop moves of New Zealanders like the Verlaines and the Clean, and the riotous clatter-punk power of the UK DIY bands of 1979. And this time around he's introduced an slight influence from early drum and bass as well, drawn from his adoration of Roni Size and other electronic artists from the UK in the 1990s.

Now the highs are higher than ever, and the lows absolutely bottomless, and it's the last song -- the title track -- that makes everything clear. The Drums are back, and while there's a heavy sadness here, Pierce is stronger for fighting through it. On possibly the loveliest and catchiest song he's got, Pierce takes his listeners to the edge of the cliff, and then drops everything but his voice, singing "Abysmal, abysmal, abysmal ..." Some albums might offer a happy ending -- even some albums by The Drums -- but here Pierce just offers an ending. Because that's more honest, isn't it?

"There's something in me that mostly prefers a sad ending," he says. "The other potential title I had was 'A Blip Of Joy,' the opposite of 'Abysmal Thoughts' -- if those two things don't sum up the emotional chaos that I feel every day, then nothing will! But 'Abysmal Thoughts' wins because ... doesn't it always?"
Methyl Ethel
Methyl Ethel
“To make this music, you put all your influences into this giant collage, and when it’s done, you think, what is this monster you’ve created? That’s why I try for things to be as interpretative as possible, it lets me off the hook.”

The monster that is the new Methyl Ethel album Everything Is Forgotten is a vivid, compelling and mysterious creature, all sinewy, curvaceous pop nuggets and enigmatic currents. But ask its leader Jake Webb to explore those enigmas is met with a little resistance. “Ideally, I want the music to speak for itself, rather to present myself,” he explains. “When I was making music alone, before I had the band, it was genderless and without a paper trail of information about my past.”

That paper trail leads back to Perth, the capital of Western Australia, where Webb imbibed the cassettes that he’d hear in his parents’ car - “doo-wop, the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, Del
Shannon, the Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson,” he lists his favourites. “All my knowledge of songwriting is the old way. But I play with the form, to try and push the boundaries.”

Taking a musical alias from father’s work in fibre glass - made using methyl ethyl ketone peroxide, before Webb changed ‘ethyl’ to ‘ethel’ “in order to create an identity, a personality with
a name,” he explains – the early Methyl Ethel bedroom recordings realised two EPs – Teeth and Guts – released in quick succession in 2014. A standalone single ‘Rogues’ won Pop Song of 2014 at the WAM (Western Australia Music) Awards, likewise ‘Twilight Driving’ in 2015, both of which were part of the debut Methyl Ethel album Oh Inhuman Spectacle, self-recorded in a remote coastal town south of Perth.

Something of a workaholic - in a ritualistic fashion, Webb rises every day at 8am, and works away (he reveals that 75 per cent of the next album is already demoed), writing and recording without outside assistance, conceiving and shaping every fibre of what makes Ethel so compelling. But Perth, the most isolated city on the planet, was never was never going to contain a driven soul like Webb, who admits, “it’s so easy to get pigeonholed as a ‘Perth artist.’ I wanted to break out... it’s that small-town thing.”

So Methyl Ethel became a touring band, a separate entity to the studio version, with bassist Thom Stewart and drummer Chris Wright. It was Wright, who also works as a sound engineer, who helped Webb get Oh Inhuman Spectacle across the finishing line; for the new album, Webb called on producer and rhythm king James Ford (Artic Monkeys, Foals, Jessie Ware). That’s
also Ford’s drums – alongside Thom Stewart’s keyboards (otherwise, every other sound on the album is Webb) - on the album intro ‘Drink Wine’, which establishes the album’s simultaneously simple and complex weave of polyrhythms, all sublimely melodic and eminently hummable, with contrasting dark clouds of guitar and dancing bass parts, topped by Webb’s gorgeous, keening and gender-fluid vocals, and searing poetry.

The new sound slips alongside other adventurous synth/dance alumni such as LCD Soundsystem, rather than the shoegaze-adjacent dream-pop guitars that defined the debut album and which still underpins the trio’s foreboding live sound. “Everything Is Forgotten sounds that way for the sake of the song, I don’t want to make the sound fit the band,” says Webb. “For me, the studio is the best instrument to be able to play. I like to think we’re just the cover band for the artist that makes the album.”.

The album title – “it’s a classic cliché” – came to Webb in a dream. “Someone misquoted the saying, ‘come back, all is forgiven.’ It just felt right for the record. One aspect was my manic
oscillating between two states - when it’s good, it’s good, and when it’s bad, you know it will be good again, so things balance out – it doesn’t matter either way. It’s also the idea that everything I say is deeply importnt, but it doesn’t matter either, because it will be forgotten!”

Suitably, for a record with irresistible danceable properties and yet deep undertows that reveal states of anxiety and enigma (‘See gold is cold all over / a symphony in a very beautiful car
accident,” goes ‘No. 28’), a palpable sense of duality permeates Everything Is Forgotten, heaviness and lightness combined. In a musical capacity, there’s ‘Femme Maison/One Man House’, “saccharine pop that tears itself apart in the end,” Webb reckons. “The approach for the live show is the same - creation and destruction all in one.”

Among the lyrical aspects, the lithe, slippery intro ‘Drink Wine’ was inspired by the way alcohol, “opens you up a bit, so you’re more able to speak the truth, but too much wine is not so good.”
The gorgeous, simmering finale ‘Schlager’ has a fearful lyric (“A fire in the gut, I will not sleep at all tonight”) yet the track is named after the German term for “terrible pop music, so it’s like my joke. I’m trying to be serious, but it’s just a pop song, so don’t think too hard about it.”

To further illustrate his point, ‘Ubu’ (inspired by Alfred Jarre’s absurdist/ surrealist play Ubu Roi) is a self- portrait of “self-flagellation and guilt, which sets things up to have a serious, cutting point.” Yet the track ends in the giddy mantra “why’d you have to go and cut your hair?”

“Perhaps that’s all the song’s really about, being riled,” he says. “So it’s a little silly too. But let’s not reveal too much. It’s just as relevant to say what you think about the words.” Echoing Webb’s view is the late Japanese legend Ohno Kazuo, master of Butoh, a very precise, ritualistic, gender-free form of dance theatre that has inspired the white body paint and sunken eyes of the new press shots for Everything Is Forgotten. “It is not important to understand what I am doing,” Kazuo said. “Perhaps it is better if [the audience] doesn't understand, but just respond to the dance.”

To explore Methyl Ethel’s charismatic and compelling dance on stage, the trio will be augmented by keyboard player and guitarist Hamish Rahn, to better replicate the album’s palate: “We’ll have become a new band by the time you next see us,” Webb promises.

Everything is forgotten? Not for something as unforgettable as this.
Venue Information:
Mod Club Theatre
722 College St. W
Toronto, Ontario, M6G 1C5