Where The Wild Things Are: Pop Saviour Jack Tatum Interviewed

Jack Tatum, lead singer of American Dream-Pop outfit, Wild Nothing, reveals his literary tastes and talks about his experiences on tour...
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Jack Tatum, lead singer of American Dream-Pop outfit, Wild Nothing, reveals his literary tastes and talks about his experiences on tour...

If there was ever a hospital for injured musical genres, Pop music would be on life support taking up a whole wing in accident and emergency, opposite hip-hop and down the corridor from Dubstep. But unlike the two recently arrived patients fighting for survival, pop music has become accustomed to its deteriorating state; in fact it has officially embraced it.

A genre that was once a hotbed for uninhibited cultural expression and a breeding ground for musical talent of the highest calibre has become a smouldering wasteland of regurgitated banal subject matter and artificially manufactured singers backed up by their team of stylists, songwriters, producers and brand strategists.

Out of the smoggy ruins of the old world enter the elusive Jack Tatum aka distinguished dreampop powerhouse Wild Nothing who writes, produces and controls every facet of his music, who, for me, has come to represent an almost messiah like figure in pop music, minus the whole slowly dying on a cross for our sins thing, a figure who has officially laid down his musical manifesto in the form of his mesmerizing sophomore album, Nocturne.

With that in mind I decided I needed to find out more about Wild Nothings rich musical universe straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, so I gave Jack a call and we talked about his creative process, the perils of a life on the road and his penchant for poetry and
short fiction.

How are you?

I’m good thanks

What have you been up to?

We just did a tour in July with beach house which was good; we did about three weeks with them doing a lot of off market cities in the U.S.

Nice, what’s your preferred format for a gig, where do you feel the most comfortable?

I definitely prefer club shows I think, we just did a show in New York they have a concert series in the summer, its on the Westside of Manhattan I dunno I like it, it was fun, but playing outdoors always throws me off, its an entirely different sound and
setting, especially during the day, it throws me off so much, I guess I prefer playing club shows

Yeah I guess you can control your sound a lot better in that environment

Yeah you totally can, which is important for us

Has your musical exploits taken you to Beijing or anywhere yet?

No we haven’t gone to Asia, I really want to, I think we might go in January, I think were gonna go Australia and Japan, we have done a handful of European tours but that’s the furthest we have gone.

When you perform live do you have a constant set of musicians that you bring with you or are you fluid with who you perform with?

Well, it’s a five piece, two of the other members have been there since the beginning then we have a drummer and a keyboard player that are relatively new, a few members come and go, but for the most part its been the same selection of guys.

In terms of making the music, you’re in the driving seat, having said that, do you literally control every aspect of your music?

Yeah, I was definitely like that with the Gemini, recording mixing and stuff, I still wrote all of the songs for the new album but I recorded it with a producer and got him to do the drum parts because I kind of suck at drums to be honest

I kind of suck at drums to be honest

You have a really distinct sound, did it happen naturally or did you always want to make music like that?

I mean I think in some ways I’ve always had a certain style and inclination, I think I write songs that are really melody orientated and pop orientated, I think of my music as pop music, its very much based around hooks and classic pop song structures, but I think stylistically in terms of how the music sounds its something I didn’t necessarily start with. It something I found along the way by recording on my own and seeing what works, people talk about how its based in old British music from the eighties production wise and that’s a really big thing for me, but I don’t know, especially with this album its not something I thought about, it just feels really natural.

When did you start getting into music?

I started learning how to record when I was pretty young, fifteen or sixteen I would say, but it took me a long time to know exactly what I was doing, I had an idea but it was definitely a learning process, as a teenager I would record all the time, I literally still have hundred of recordings, but there awful and I don’t want anybody to hear them, I think it wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 that I found exactly what I wanted to do, since then I’ve got a lot better at production

Did you start with instruments or did you go straight into production?

I started with guitar, I started playing when I was ten, I would learn songs and try and learn terrible hook songs, but production wise I started working with electronic music because it was easy and could all be done on a computer, but in terms of a broader
range of production ranging from instrumentation and mics and that stuff, it wasn’t till I was 18 or so that I got more interested in that

Do you remember what your first project was that you decided you wanted to make a tangible musical project?

Yeah I honestly think it was until this project, Wild Nothing that I really started to take it seriously, up until then I took it as a hobby, I never took it seriously coz I did it all the time, I never thought of it going anywhere, but I started working on a lot of songs that ended up on the first record, and the label Captured Tracks got in touch about making a record and that’s when I decided to start taking it seriously, I started thinking about it as a record.

Did knowing you were going to be making an official record for a wide audience change your attitude making the record?

Definitely, I had been working in a lot of different styles and just knowing that thelabel is interested in putting out a record based on a few songs really influenced the direction I took it in, I had this core of three or four songs that ended up on Gemini that shaped the way the rest of the album ended up

Yeah it’s that continuity that makes a truly solid album, which you have mastered pretty well...

That was definitely crucial with the new one too, I think in some ways the new one is even more cohesive album because I think with the first album there were a few tracks that stood out, but we have come to realise that there are not many tracks that stick out on the new album, but not in a bad way, it works as a whole

Sure, its like you’re reading a book, you can tear a page out and hope it makes sense on its own, that’s what is so good about the new album, so good job on that man

Thank you, haha

So when you want to make an album do you have an idea of what you want the final product to be, with Nocturne did you know what you wanted or did it just organically happen in the studio?

I think its something that just has to form without thinking about it, I think if I thought to hard about how the album should be or how it should turn out, it wouldn’t havebecome what it did. When I was writing I did have lots of ideas for the direction I wanted to take the album in, I thought back and forth into making it a pop record or indulging in these weirder aspects of songs I was working on, and in the end I decided to go in a more pop direction and I tried to polish up all the ideas I was working on to make it a more cohesive thing, in my mind it’s a streamlined album compared to the first one, so it wasn’t a thing of me necessarily knowing where I was going, it was
until maybe until 2 weeks in the studio that I was able to step back and look at it and realise where it was going, I found where the strengths were and I just focused on pushing those.

It sounds like a very efficient way of making an album, getting a core selection of tracks and just working round those.

Yeah, yeah exactly

So how do you go about making a tune, where does the process start and finish?

There will be specific songs where a melody will pop into my head which I will then play on guitar because that’s where I feel the most comfortable and there’s a lot of songs that happened really quickly like that, I just got these ideas and one thing would lead to the next and it happened really quickly all the parts would fall into place and other times I would have no idea so I would pick up a guitar, but probably all the songs except one started on the guitar, and that’s usually how it starts with that core progression and then i'll build on that, a lot of my songs are pretty structured because that’s what I’m interested in, a structured pop song that has its parts and everything is where it should be and lyrics usually come last.

A structured pop song that has its parts and everything is where it should be and lyrics usually come last.

A lot of your lyrics seem romantically charged, is that a big thing to you or is it just the easiest thing to write about?

Haha It is the easiest thing, in a way its like the go to thing to talk about, that’s why I save lyrics for last because a lot of the time I don’t always feel like I have something to say, so ill have a song the feeling is there the mood is there but I will leave it to the end before I write the lyrics, for me it always comes back to relationship and romance because it’s the easiest thing to talk about and the most relatable thing, I look at the album now and wish I wrote some other stuff, some other topics and stuff I wish I had been a bit more vague or creative, but at the end of the day its not really my mission to say anything or tell people anything.

With Nocturne it seems like there is a lot of themes mainly, darkness there arereferences to midnight shadow and the album itself, where as the tracks are quite sunny and happy was that a contrast you wanted to achieve or am I reading to deep into it?

Yeah I think so, I think of it as a night time album but I guess in my sense of what that means its not necessarily night time as a sinister thing, as a juxtaposition of light and dark, it’s a certain feeling, a deliriousness in a way, because a lot of the songs were born of ideas I would have late at night, you know how it is, you stay up really late at night and you think of things differently, its not like I was trying to counterbalance the lighter moments of the record with this dark imposing thing I don’t think of night time as ominous all the time I think there is a certain hazy beauty to it.

You did the Lunar Calendar too, that was pretty cool what did you want to achieve out of that?

Yeah it’s a visual thing, its just a reminder of what the album is about, you know you have to try and explain it in a way, say it’s a symbol of what the album represents or blah blah blah, the truth of it is, its just something that I thought was interesting and I thought it related to the album its like an add on more then a meaningful thing.

Did you actively want to stay away from things you did in Gemini with this, you said earlier that you didn’t want individual tracks to stand out much in this record, but was there anything else you wanted to avoid or did you think let me go with the flow?

I definitely went with the flow. I tried to make the record as natural as it could be, I tried not to think too much about what I had done before, and rather just focus more on the songs that were coming to me at the time, and I think because I did that, it isn’t very far from the first record but it is noticeably different in a lot of ways, I think its all very subtle stuff the first thing people notice about this is the production value of the new record, it’s a lot better because I got help with this one, I think the songs are stronger.

It’s essentially Gemini refined to the point of almost perfection.

Exactly, and I think a lot of people might argue that it might lose some of the charm of the first album, I’ve talked to a lot of people and that record tends to be there favourite thing, I think about some songs and how I wouldn’t spend much time at all, I would feel like this was a sketched song, but I guess that’s what a lot of people like about it, so in that sense I hope it doesn’t alienate anybody, but I did try to be more conscious of that, I tried to be better in terms of my performance on the record.

How long did it take to record?

I mean I had been working on songs for quite a while but the recording process itself only took like three weeks, which isn’t actually all that long, toward the end we were worried I wouldn’t be able to finish it. There were a couple of other songs that were supposed to be on the album, but we cut them and I’m glad we did, I think it was for the best.

Where did the album cover come from? It’s really nice

Thank you, It’s a series of marbled paper patterns, which is something you would see a lot in old book covers on the inside sleeve.

Did you make them?

Haha no I didn’t make them, I get the feeling it’s a very complex process, a lot of them are very old like from the 1800s I thought it was very simple but striking, and original is was going to be one of them. I kept sending them around seeing which ones were the best, but then I think it was Mike at Captured Tracks who said lets just do all of them, so we ended up doing that, its pretty cool the album has a bunch of different inserts and you can change the cover to which ones you want or whatever

Cool, what would you say is your biggest creative charge?

Um I don’t know I think everybody needs something in order to be creative, I think you need to be feeling something, you have to be upset or happy or angry, its hard to make music when your content, I mean you can and I have, but I think I do get a lot of creative energy by being by myself. I’m quite like that socially and creatively, I enjoy being by myself I get better ideas that way and that differs, some people get inspired by being around people, I get more inspiration by looking inward rather then looking outward and that was a big thing for me on this record too.

You have to be upset or happy or angry its hard to make music when your content.

Are there any artists you feel or on the same wavelength as you that you would like to collaborate with?

Um I don’t know I think I would like to find a collaborator who can pull me out of what we were just talking about, I really enjoy the way that I make music, its almost cathartic to me in a sense, its really been the only way I know how to make music, I think it would be good for someone to pull me out of my ways and I haven’t necessarily found anybody who can do that yet, I’m also interested in different styles of music too, it would be fun to jump out of what I’m doing know and do something a little less serious, not that I think what I’m doing is very serious, I don’t want more music to be this sombre thing, I’ll just say that its very sincere, and I would rather do something that is more fun more dance based, I think that would be cool.

So electronic music would be your next project?

Yeah either that or something that would go against my natural inclination, I’ve talked about starting a band that sounds like Sonic Youth that goes against my need for structure. I think that would help me grow if I could do that.

What do you do when you’re not making music?

Mostly stuff that’s still in the same realm, I do some writing here and there

What kind of writing?

Mostly poetry but I dabble in short fiction and stuff mostly this was a few years ago before music took off for me, I’m also interested in graphic design I have been really involved with all my record sleeves and that’s been something that’s been fun for me.

It sounds like you have been involved with every aspect of your project which is refreshing because a lot of musicians outsource other creative areas of their work and I think that’s why you have such an appeal because you have your hand in everything, you're essentially your own creative director which is important.

Yeah but it can be frustrating at times, there’s so many times where I just want to pass it on to someone else because I don’t care, but at the end of the day I still feel very strongly that everything stylistically has to make the sense and be in the same world and the best way to do that is if I’m in that position

A lot of people have said that different cities have affected your music, do you think that’s true or do you carry that innate creative charge everywhere?

I think it depends on the person, that may be true for a lot of people but not for me, I’ve never really been someone who has ever been involved with a fixed local music scene, I grew up in small town Virginia so I never really went to shows and I never really cared about music that much, I dunno for a lot of people the place were your from really dictates the way your music sounds especially if your really involved with musicians in the area, but for me its always been such a personal thing I’ve done on my own, so I’m not necessarily concerned with what people are doing around me or what’s happening, I make the same music anywhere I think.

I grew up in small town Virginia so I never really went to shows and I never really cared about music that much.

So your music comes from your personal inner space and external factors don’t really bother it to much?

Yeah, I am inspired by my contempories to a certain degree, but for the most part my musical world is made from record collecting and older music so its definitely something I don’t need to be involved in now.

Is music going to be your main focus for the foreseeable future, because I’m also a writer and designer and stuff and I find I can only do one of those things at a time, I cant spread myself out into all of them evenly, is that a thing with you or can you do all those things at the same time?

I think I try my best to balance everything but it gets hard and especially now that I have the album coming out I wont be able to focus on the music as much as I would like, in terms of writing and recording, I feel at peace with setting my writing and touring schedule aside for the time being because I’m happy with the album and I just want to concentrate on that for the time being and I think doing anything else right now would melt my brain. I mean music is the first creative endeavour I always focus on, I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I know that I will want to work on new Wild Nothing material once I have the time, but it seems so far away from me so now, my whole world is going to be about me promoting this record, which I’m happy to do.

How has life changed since the success of Gemini and nocturne? Are you happy with the changes in your life?

I’m very happy, there has been a lot of ups and downs not in terms of emotions but in terms of how busy my life is, its been pretty strange to go immediately from school to travelling and stuff, its hectic, its crazy its something I don’t know if I will ever get used to, I’m used to it to a certain extent but I don’t have that fixed home that other people have, I live in New York now but I’m hesitant to call it my home, I’m all over the place all of the time now, its still exciting but yeah its been crazy I have less time for myself now which is funny because that’s how my music got to this point its because I had all the time to myself time to be creative and think about things and
now I don’t have that time to myself but its all been positive.

You should be ok anyway because you already have quite a distance between yourself as a person and the music.

I think that’s the best thing I can do for my music, because I don’t really want any sort of personal attention for the music I make I feel very strongly about my music and its really the only thing I can see myself doing, and I want as many people to hear it as possible, it sounds stupid to say but I don’t really want to be involved in it, I don’t want my personality to be involved, which is an unrealistic wish on my part because you have to put a part of yourself into it.

Have you settled with life on the road?

Its funny when you go on tour, because you do the same things every night you talk to people who love your music and its very weird to go back and forth from the real world and tour world, its such a different place and it plays with your mind, I don’t necessarily like a lot of things about it, after a few weeks of touring I just wanna go back to hanging round my apartment watching Netflix or whatever, yeah I dunno its strange.

After a few weeks of touring I just wanna go back to hanging round my apartment watching Netflix

So apart from the music anything extraordinary happen to you recently?

Haha, the times I do have to myself I’m doing stuff that’s not really worth telling people about, because I am a very private, relaxed person I don’t really go out much, I get enough of that when I’m on the road, like you're around people and alcohol and whatever and I get enough of that so when I’m home I read, watch movies hang out with my girlfriend, just normal domestic life. In new work you see this culture all the time I’ve seen it in London too, this culture of going to shows just to go to shows, you see that so much here and its just not something I m interested in, you see so many kids going to shows every other night just to hang out not even bother who is playing, I don’t want to say I’m disgusted by it but its not something that interests me, I go to a show because I want to see a band, I don’t go to a show to be in a scene

Yeah It can be very pretentious, which is what throws me off going to a lot of gigs myself, I see everyone completely fucked off their face not focusing on the music at all , its like if you go to an art exhibition you're not going to not purposefully avoid looking at the paintings.

Yeah haha

Cool man, don’t want to keep you on the phone to long, its been like 40 miniutes, great speaking to you though and good luck with Nocturne.

Thanks it’s been nice speaking to you to.

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