Interview: Jack Tatum of Wild Nothing @ Black Cat, 5/11/16

Jack Tatum
Jack Tatum of Wild Nothing (Photo by Shawn Brackbill)

In February, Wild Nothing released a new album via Captured Tracks — Life of Pause, the band’s third after Nocturne in 2012. Wild Nothing is the brainchild of Jack Tatum, a Virginia native who now lives in Los Angeles, and he took inspiration from some fresh sources on the new album. Although Wild Nothing is still very much a dreampop act, Jack was very influenced by Philadelphia soul music when crafting the record.

Critics hailed the album as a shift in sound for Wild Nothing, with NME calling it a “significant step.” Jack and Wild Nothing are touring in support of the album, and they visit the Black Cat in DC on Wednesday, May 11. (I am excited to report that their opener is Charlie Hilton of Blouse, touring solo without her own dreampop bandmates!) Tickets are available online.

Parklife DC chatted with Jack about his inspirations, his touring process, and being true to yourself. Me being me, we also chatted a little about David Bowie.

Mickey McCarter: The new album is a little bit different for Wild Nothing! Tell me how it came together?

Jack Tatum: I started working on this record in early 2014. It ended up being a pretty lengthy process, but I wasn’t holed up in a studio every day, toiling away. It was nothing like that. I was slowly writing songs that year. There are a lot of things that went into this record like influences that hadn’t showed up in my music before.

It’s still very much a Wild Nothing record. It’s not a shock to the senses or anything like that — and that certainly wasn’t the point. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten interested in different things. I want to expand the context of my music a little bit. I think there was some fear after my second record that I didn’t want to box myself into something or take the easy route.

I was concerned after that record [Nocturne] that if I did another similar record that I wouldn’t be honest with myself. There were other things I wanted to try, slight changes that I wanted to make to see how it would feel. There are a lot of different nods to different genres and different kinds of music on this record. There’s a literal nod to Steve Reich [the famed minimal composer who started out in the ’60s], and there’s some soul in there and nods to guys like David Bowie and David Byrne.

I think of this record as a pop record with a twist.

Listen to “TV Queen” from Life of Pause by Wild Nothing on Soundcloud:

MM: Some of the music press has pointed out that you were inspired by Philly soul in particular on this album. Since you mention him, I’m a big admirer of David Bowie, and when I think of him and Philly soul, I think of his album Young Americans.

JT: Absolutely! I’m always interested in viewing things in larger frameworks, and I love viewing music from a historian’s viewpoint. I’m a big collector, and I love connecting all of these dots. For me, I was really influenced by soul music and in particular there are a lot of Philly soul artists that I love like The Delfonics and The Manhattans and there’s this band called Blue Magic that I really love from Philly.

But I also love the context of it and I love seeing what someone like David Bowie did with Young Americans. He was very directly influenced by a lot of that same stuff, but he did it in such a way that couldn’t help but be his. It’s the same reason that I love someone like Todd Rundgren, who is involved in constant reinterpretation of different kinds of music.

I’ve never shied away from being very open about the things that I love and the things that I was influenced by. That’s just the natural order of things. It’s foolish to act like you have original ideas, in a way. That’s what creativity is. That’s part of making music — redressing certain things. You are bound to have your own ideas in there. But I’ve never felt shy talking about the things that I love and the things that I’ve been influenced by.

Listen to “To Know You” from Life of Pause by Wild Nothing on Soundcloud:

MM: Is it fair to say the new album is a happier album than the others? Observers have said it’s a bit more uplifting. Is that fair?

JT: Totally! I find it hard to dismiss any interpretation that anyone has of my music. I’m not going to view it the same way as anyone else.

But I do think that’s true. Personally, I would describe it more as being more even-keeled than being happy. A lot of it was that there were elements in my first two records that were intentionally moody. And I still think there is a lot of attention paid to atmosphere on this record, but it’s different. With this record, I gave the instruments a bit more space and let things be a bit more clear than they have in the past. There was a very moody tone and moody atmosphere to a lot of my older music.

And it’s true that things change in your life. And I am in a more stable position in a lot of aspects. I’ve had some success; I feel comfortable making music; I’m in a steady relationship; and things are different. I guess it is a happier record! But I didn’t sit down and say I want this to be a cheerier record or I want this record to be lighter. It just happened.

MM: I want to ask you about your process. I understand you record your music solo and then take some musicians on the road with you when you tour. How is touring different for you than recording? Does that change anything for you? Is it a different animal?

JT: Yes, it is. The fact that I did my first record all by myself set the tone for the band from the beginning. Right from the get-go, when I was putting a band together, it was about learning these songs that already exist. It wasn’t a gradual building of a sound or something. It was hard at first to figure out the best way to do that.

But it’s cool. I’m really excited about playing these shows and going on tour again. We are in a position now where there are a couple of guys in the band that I’ve been playing with for years now — since 2009. So there is more of an unspoken thing of me taking the songs to them, and they come together fairly quickly now.

I grew up in Virginia, and I went to school at Virginia Tech, and there a couple of people I went to school with, Jeff [Haley (bass)] and Nate [Goodman (guitar)], who are in the band and have been for a long time. The live version of the band started in Virginia and then spread all over.

I don’t think this is totally a unique situation. None of us live in the same city. It’s weird, and it’s just how it turned out. Between tours over the past six years or so, we have gone off and done our own things and have our separate lives. So it’s great. It always feels like a reunion when we get together to learn and rehearse songs.

Listen to the title track of Life of Pause by Wild Nothing on Soundcloud:


MM: We look forward to seeing the results when you are here at the Black Cat on May 11.

JT: Thanks, I’m excited to come back to DC. It’s going to be crazy for us. We have so many people that we know in DC and Virginia. So we are looking forward to seeing a ton of familiar faces. It’s been a while!

Wild Nothing
w/ Charlie Hilton
Black Cat
Wednesday, May 11
Doors @7:30pm
$18
All ages

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