Back in 2010, Jack Tatum accidentally made a great pop record. This time round, he’s ready to relish the moment.
According to the dictionary, a ‘Nocturne’ is a musical composition which is evocative of the night. It’s a pretty apt title, then, for Wild Nothing’s second full-length album; a record in which the palette of words and sound captures the mood of romanticism and impulsive actions which occur under the luminescence of a warm summer night.
Wild Nothing’s jangly guitar leads and twee pop hooks recall the 80s British indie bands associated with the seminal C86 cassette and artists on the early Creation records roster such as Felt, The Pastels and The House of Love. It’s a somewhat mythologised era of indie music, back when the tag really was an abbreviation of ‘independent’. But Jack Tatum, the man behind the Wild Nothing pseudonym, also has a weakness for the glossy, flamboyant sounds of chart-topping pop from those years, and these influences shine brightly on Nocturne. The record opens with Shadow, a delicate and bittersweet indie-pop tune where Jack plays the forlorn lover lamenting the fading passion of a relationship. On the title-track, Tatum is less fey and instead dauntlessly lust-struck. “I just want to let you know you can have me”, he sings over the kind of anthemic chorus which might suitably accompany a collage of screenshots from John Hughes coming-of-age movies.
Tatum began assembling tunes for Wild Nothing’s first record Gemini during the summer of 2010. At the time he was living in Blacksburg, Virginia, a provincial town home to a fairly large community of Virginia Tech students. Jack was about to enter his senior year at the college, studying for a Communications degree that he felt apathetic about. Like so many students at this stage of higher education, he was disillusioned with academia and didn’t have the faintest idea about what to do with his life once he’d finished. He’d been in a couple of bands before, mainly just messing around with friends for fun. But then Gemini became a much bigger success than Tatum had anticipated. Although any profits made from an indie record these days are going to be fairly modest, Wild Nothing suddenly became Tatum’s full-time job. He quickly had to pull together a band to perform his songs on an endless string of tour dates, and the frequent blog interviews that kept popping up often portrayed a 21-year-old feeling slightly uncomfortable under the spotlight.
But fast forward two years and Tatum is gearing up to promote Nocturne, and touring with a satisfyingly tight live set-up. When Crack calls him, he seems confident and justifiably proud of the new record.
Could you tell us a bit about the Nocturne website? The brightness of the computer screen changes as you scroll over the tour dates …
Oh yeah, we came up with this idea of incorporating the lunar cycle into the album artwork. On the website it fits in with our tour dates as you scroll through. But also, we were able to set it up so it tracks where you are, so it’ll tell you what your moon is going to look like and when it’s going to come up.
The vinyl edition of Nocturne comes with six different covers. Did you have much input into the album’s artwork?
I actually had the initial idea. I found some old marble paper patterns and a lot of them date pretty far back, like into the 1800s. I like to be involved with artwork and make sure that it’s in line with the music. Initially we had to choose one of them, but then the label Captured Tracks suggested we do all of them. I honestly think it’s the coolest thing, that you can choose the sleeve.
It definitely increases the appeal of owning the physical record. Be honest, are you the kind of guy who goes digging through crates of vinyl or is your collection mainly mp3 based?
Oh, I’m definitely a vinyl nerd. I can’t really stop myself from spending obscene amounts of money at record stores! Mostly old stuff though, and that’s why I think the artwork appeals to me, because it’s kind of a reference to older records from the 80s or 90s.
When writing Nocturne, what kind of emotions and experiences were inspiring you lyrically?
Lyrically, this record is fairly similar to the first, in that a lot of the lyrics are about relationship- based scenarios. With this record it’s almost imaginary romanticism, in a way. But it’s very relatable, I write about love because it’s so universal. The lyrics are the last thing I do, but it’s not that I don’t care about them. It’s just something I don’t spend too much time thinking about. So in that sense, it’s kind of scary because it’s unmediated.
The Wild Nothing sound often draws comparisons to certain 80s British indie, like the C86 bands or the early Creation bands, old school 4AD etc. Are you also influenced by some of the more mainstream music from that era?
Yeah, I think that’s part of what made this record more fun to make, because making a great pop record is kind of my ultimate goal. I’m inspired by a lot of the Creation Records stuff, bands like The House of Love or whatever, but also bands like Fleetwood Mac. When we made Paradise on the new record we were listening to Let’s Dance by David Bowie a lot. I don’t think I write songs like David Bowie, but from a production standpoint Let’s Dance gave us a lot of ideas about how we wanted this record to sound, especially with the drums. There are a lot of mainstream pop influences in there, definitely.
Do you think that Nocturne is a more ambitious record than Gemini?
Yeah, I do. I think it’s more ambitious in that my intention was to make a really cohesive album. With the first record, it was very much just pieced together. You know, write a song here, write a song a couple of weeks later there. It was this album which just totally stacked onto itself. But this time in the studio we were really trying to think about how the sound and how the songs would fit. But it wasn’t like I was trying to make a big statement, I wasn’t trying to do anything above myself. It’s very much an album that sounds like me, and it does sound like the last record, but it’s much more polished.
Back when Gemini took off it seemed like you were taken aback by the sudden amount of attention you were receiving. Over the last two years do you feel as if you’ve come to terms with it?
Yeah, it’s honestly taken me this long to get used to it. It’s good now. During the whole process of making this album, I knew what it was leading to and what was going to happen afterwards. I knew I was going to be doing all these interviews and going on tour for months and months. That was something I was able to mentally prepare for this time round. Whereas with the first record, I wasn’t prepared. I mean I could have just made a record that didn’t go anywhere and I would’ve never toured, but there was this demand for us to travel and to play and I just didn’t know I’d have to do that. So having at least that foresight to see ahead is huge for me. Also, the two years we’ve spent on the road doing this and getting used to it has helped me so much. I’m definitely more in a place where I feel like this is what I want to do, and I feel comfortable doing it.
As far as the live incarnation of Wild Nothing goes, what was it about these guys which that made you want to approach them to be in the band?
We’re a five piece now. Two of the guys have been with me since the beginning of Wild Nothing. They’re all just people that are my friends foremost. It’s not like we were very professional musicians when we started out, but it’s really been an experience for us all to grow together as performers and as players.
So do think that you’ll genuinely enjoy this tour?
I’m going to get tired of it. You get tired of doing it night after night. Sorry to destroy any of the myth, but it’s a job and it gets boring and you get tired. But it’s what I do and I enjoy doing it, as long as I’m not constantly on the road and as long as I have some time to recharge, then it’s all good.
Nocturne is out now on Bella Union.
Words: David Reed