Interview: Jack Tatum (of Wild Nothing)

A lot of interviews with musicians are conducted just before the band’s tipping point. What way the band tips is usually on the forefront of those artists’ minds. But in the afterglow of a successful album, a certain pressure is lifted off the shoulders of a band that garnered heaps of praise from the majority of media outlets, including this one. In the twilight of the buzz, Jack Tatum, the man behind Wild Nothing and the bar-raising 2010 debut Gemini, is about to take his songs back out on the road. We got a chance to catch up with him to see where the cards fell these past sixth months, and to talk about the escapism of his songwriting, his forthcoming tour, what it’s really like at NYC shows, and the twisted irony in naming the band Wild Nothing.

What, if anything, do you find enthralling about living somewhere besides where you are?  A lot of your songs deal with escapism. Did that come from a specific incident, or an overall feeling when recording Gemini?

I think it was just an overall feeling really. I mean, a lot of it has to do with living in the past, musically, and finally reaching that point in my life where I was beginning to seriously look at older music in more depth. But there is also a lot of escapism in the album; That comes more from my personality. Sometimes you just don’t want to deal with things. You’d just rather push things aside or plant yourself in a place that can’t be reached. Like the idea of the dream comes up a lot, I think. It’s absolutely escapism.

How did the Golden Haze EP differ from the LP? What, if anything, did you want to focus on after the release of the LP?

The songs on the EP were recorded after Gemini was done, but before it had been released, with the exception of “Vultures Like Lovers”, which I recorded three years ago, when I was 19. It’s actually really funny to me, reading some reviews of the EP, which pick out that song for being notably different and hinting that it might be the direction I’m going in. It’s like…no…I was 19 and trying to sound like Panda Bear (laughs). It’s a good song, so I included it, but it feels so old to me. For the most part, the EP doesn’t serve any sort of definitive purpose. I had the songs, liked them, and wanted to release them. I wasn’t trying to break any new ground for myself musically by doing it.

I think this situation is a fascinating time for a band to be on tour; The album is done, the praise is garnered, and now it’s just you and the songs. Is the pressure off a little bit? Where is your head when you’re on the road now?

The pressure is off in terms of not having to prove yourself, kind of. We’ve done a few tours and played more shows than I can count where we were just a band that people either didn’t know or were just mildly curious about. It was discouraging for a while, when we would play New York over and over again, and most of the people there were just, like, there to decide whether they liked you or not. There was no real excitement in that. I’m really happy now, because I feel like we’ve reached a place where the album has been out for a little while and the decisions are hopefully already made. It seems like the people that will be coming to the shows now will be real fans of the band, and that makes it just so much more fun for everyone. I’m very much ready to kind of enter that “tour mode” and just meet people and play shows for people that are excited about it.

I remember in the 2008 elections, there was a big to-do made about “The Real Virginia.”  Do you feel like there’s something more real about the Virginia that you were raised in? What do you find authentic about it?

Oh boy. Well, I’m slightly ashamed to say that I don’t really follow politics at all. I find it a very frustrating game to be a part of. But, to answer your question, there is definitely something about Virginia, and I think the South in general, that is very unassuming. Growing up there felt very normal and easy, and once I reached an age where I was interested in having, like, a “creative life” or whatever, it was still a place where that existed. That sounds really cheesy, but I just mean that even living in a place like Blacksburg was inspiring to a certain degree. I live in Georgia now, but its kind of the same feeling running throughout. Once you get comfortable, it’s easy to live your life the way you want to without stressing about outside influences and money and all these other things that seem to make people miserable (or at least complain all the time) in a place like New York

How have your former projects influenced Wild Nothing? Did the sounds that Wild Nothing produce come from Facepaint and Jack and the Whale, or was this music more directly the music you’ve always wanted to make?

I think you can find the similarities in all three, but I don’t know. Facepaint was kind of just a silly, fun band in retrospect. I don’t think we ever took it seriously, we never recorded anything substantial. And Jack and the Whale was just a blanket term I gave to anything I recorded when I was like 18 or 19 years old. It sprouted out of a joke band I had with a friend in high school. None of it was ever very serious, and its funny that people always ask about these projects as if they were, like, something I took very seriously. I mean, I guess that’s kind of unfair, because how would anyone else know, but basically it wasn’t until Wild Nothing that I kind of wanted to be very real about what I did. So I just stuck it with a new name and started recording, and the kind of music I started making felt natural, so I went with it.

You reach back for a lot of sounds on both Gemini and Golden Haze. Where do you find yourself drawing the most influences from for these two albums? Where would you like to go from here?

I think at the forefront of everything, I just love pop music, and the idea that a song can be a good song no matter who made it. I really believe that songs exist apart from artists, a lot of times. And I don’t mean popular music as in contemporary mainstream music, but the kind of classic, structured definition of a pop song. Like what made Motown and The Beatles so great. I think that’s always in the back of my mind. But, more immediately, the record was influenced almost entirely by dream pop and indie pop of the ’80s, primarily from the UK. Certain bands, whole records, sometimes just certain songs would inspire me. It was totally just an exciting time for me as a music fan, discovering new things all the time while I was recording the record.

Are you planning on making music as a collective effort next time around, or would you prefer to add other members later in the process? Is it possible for a solo artist to give up his power to people he trusts? Would you do it?

I think it’s certainly possible for an artist to do that. Whether I’m ready to or not, I’m not super sure. I’ve  kind of only ever written and recorded songs by myself since I was about 15 or 16. Making music is a very isolated activity for me, and it’s not that I don’t trust other people, I just feel more comfortable doing it myself. Especially since this project has kind of been established as my own. I would write with other people, absolutely, but to me that wouldn’t be Wild Nothing. That would be something else.

Were there ever alternate album titles beyond Gemini? Are you a Gemini, even after the whole astrological rearrangement?

Ah, I dunno (laughs). I hate naming things. It took me forever to think of two words as stupid together as Wild Nothing, and I hated it for a long time. I think you kind of have to realize that all band namess are kind of dumb if you over analyze them, some are just more dumb than others. But in terms of the record, I don’t know. I didn’t think about it at the time. There was the song called “Gemini” before the album, so I just went with that. In retrospect, I think it ended up making a lot of sense given the themes of the album.

What do you look for in new music these days?  What bands excite you?

I’m a total sucker for hooks. I listen to all types of music, but when I’m listening to new bands, I really find myself attracted to these more poppy, catchy acts. I mean, probably my favorite artist doing things right now is Jens Lekman. He is so exciting to me for some reason. Really creative sampling and just good honest hooks and melodies. I love Destroyer. I really like a lot of other Captured Tracks bands too, Beach Fossils, Minks, Catwalk, Craft Spells. I also like some of the records that did really well this past year too. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Deerhunter.

What’s going to change on this leg of the tour? What are you most looking forward to?

We’ve learned a few more songs to beef up the set. We’re incorporating some electronic drums which should be pretty cool. I don’t know, for the most part we’ve been pretty psyched on how the songs have been doing in the live setting, so I think we’re just trying to keep things going and just get tighter. I’m really excited for this tour. Abe Vigoda will be with us and I’ve been such a nerdy fan of theirs for awhile, so its just really good feelings all around.

Are you in Chicago? Check out Wild Nothing tomorrow night at Lincoln Hall! Purchase tickets here.

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