Riding the crest of the dream-pop insurgence that brought with it bands like Beach Fossils, Twin Sister and Still Corners, was that of Jack Tatum and Wild Nothing, who’ s debut album of 2010, Gemini was an exquisitely crafted record brimming with 80’s melodies and accompanying themes of nostalgia and romanticism. It was an album that quickly found its way into regular rotation here and on many critics end of year lists.
Having taken a year off to tour Gemini, Tatum then moved to New York to work on the follow-up, the recently released and equally inviting, Nocturne. Speaking to Static’s Chris Berkley, Jack Tatum spoke about his transition about his love of pop music and its influence on Wild Nothing and the long late nights that lead to the making of Nocturne.
Have you had any nerves or trepidation about the release of the album now that people know who Wild Nothing are and are expecting this one?
I did a bit at first when I first started working on the record. I had a few jitters about how everything was going to go, but once I started working on it and writing it felt really good and more exciting to work on new material than intimidating.
It must’ve been a very different process because the first album Gemini would’ve been made without any expectation. Was that something you were kinda just doing for yourself?
Yeah, it was to a large degree. I’ve been making since I was younger, and Wild Nothing the project, I started that about three years ago and it really was something that I was doing on my own, really for myself and then when it caught the attention of labels I started working on it more seriously. It was very strange because it was something that felt very personal and very guarded in a way. So when I released it I wasn’t necessarily expecting many people to listen to it at all (laughs).
Was it hard for you to assemble a live band to take Gemini on tour? Was that a weird process as well?
I wouldn’t say it was hard to find people to play with. That was the easy part as I had a lot of friends I played music with. They were excited about it. It wasn’t hard to do that. I think the hard part was trying to figure out how we were going to translate the songs to a live setting. I think that’s something we’ve been working on ever since. I think that it’s only getting better and better and now we’ve just upped it to a five-piece. I feel like with the new album that we’re going to be able to translate everything so much better. We’ve been together now for quite a while, me and a couple of the other guys and it feels really natural now when we get together to learn new songs and work on the old ones.
After you finished touring Gemini to work on Nocturne you kinda went back to being a solo person again, right? Was this record made in isolation once more?
It was. I wrote all the parts again on this record and played all the parts except for the drums, so it was a pretty similar process in a lot of ways, but it was also very different in a lot of ways too. I did a lot of the writing on my own in the same way I did with the last record but this record was recorded in a studio that was over the course of about three weeks. So it was different than instead of finishing the material on my own, I kinda came to the studio with sketches for songs and ideas and pieced it all together there.
But there wasn’t any temptation to take the touring band in and make them make the record with you?
Well, it’s something that I think about a lot and struggle with. I think that for me at the moment it’s kinda the way that I know how to make music and the way that I feel most comfortable. It’s one of those things where sometimes you have these ideas you can’t quite translate to other people. It’s very much my own language in my head of how I hear songs forming and it’s something that’s difficult to describe to other people. I would always feel it was someone else playing the part but not quite how I had it in my mind.
When you’ve had to describe your music to other people I’ve noticed a number of times you’ve told people you call Wild Nothing a ‘pop project’. Is that what you see it as first and foremost?
I think I do. There’s obviously a lot of references made to Wild Nothing and some of them are totally true. I definitely play around with a lot of influences, especially 80’s UK music, indie-pop and shoegaze music among other things, but yeah, I think first and foremost I do view it as a pop project and view them as pop songs and Nocturne as pop album. It’s hard to say because some people have really different opinions on what pop is but I guess in my own mind it’s what I think of as pop.
Was the early cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting” that you did a bit of giveaway to where your tastes and ideas lay?
The first album I was definitely open about a lot of bands that I was listening to and taking influence from, Cocteau Twins or The Smiths, among a number of others, and I think still I never really want to shy away from what has influenced my music because I’m just such a fan of music and a follower of how pop music has changed through time. I still try and hope to portray something that is uniquely my own. With this record I was listening to a ton of Fleetwood Mac and The Church and I think people should be honest where their music comes from.
There’s also plenty of English bands that weren’t big pop successes that I hear echoes of in Wild Nothing. Captured Tracks have reissued stuff by bands like The Wake and those Sarah Records bands, and a song like “Through The Glass” on Nocturne sounds like it’s something off a Blue Boy record, so you could also draw on plenty of influences that people haven’t heard of as well.
Definitely, and for ever Smiths or New Order reference there’s a million other bands that go under the radar that I draw equally from, and kinda like The Wake I got to meet them when I went through Glasgow. I was just totally excited and felt like a fan boy (laughs). There’s so much music from that era. I feel that it was a really rich time for music and independent music as well.
You’ve obviously spent a bit more time learning and using studio tools for Nocturne. I guess there is a bit more of a sheen about this record, but also it does see you stepping outside a few trademarks for Wild Nothing anyway. There’s a great baritone voice on a couple of songs that you’ve employed on “Paradise” and the title track. Was that you trying something different that you hadn’t done on Gemini?
It was, but I guess it’s one of those things where I never consciously made those decisions. I always feel when I write a song I just kinda go where I think the song calls for, and so there were a few songs, “Paradise” in particular where I just felt like it sounded better and did it. It’s not my natural voice but it’s what I felt like the song called for. There’s a lot of variation on the new record in terms of my voice and I think it’s partly due to me getting a little more comfortable with my own voice.
I guess when there’s just you in the studio you have to try out those things. There’s no wailing female back-up vocalist to help you out.
Yeah, exactly. People always comment on the first record and tell me “Oh, I love the female backing vocals…” and I just have to laugh to myself and go “… that was me”.
You’re going through a few cycles as well with this record. Gemini was obviously influenced by the zodiac and Nocturne has a luna theme going on including the calendar that’s on your website. Do they feel like night time songs to you?
Yeah, they do. Totally, and that’s the reasoning behind the whole luna cycle tie-in and the name of the record and in a lot of references on the record as well. They’re all songs that were born in the night, really. I was working on the writing of this album when I was living in Georgia and most of these songs were born out of ideas I would have very late at night and I wasn’t sleeping a whole lot. It just really kind of became the whole backbone to the album and I would listen to it during the day and be “…oh this sounds pretty good” and then I would listen to it again at three o’clock in the morning and it all made sense for some reason.
Interview broadcast on Static on 13/09/12. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).