Wild Nothing: TAS In Session
Singer and songwriter Jack Tatum's hazy Wild Nothing reveries are steeped in rain-dappled hues of British grey, but the Virginia native, who recorded his debut album, Gemini, in his Virginia Tech dorm room, still cuts his own distinctively lush path of dream pop.
Wild Nothing's second release, Nocturne, is likely one of the prettiest albums of 2012 and it earned Tatum a cavalcade of critical praise. The shy singer, who primarily records everything on his own, was somewhat stunned by the effusive attention, admitting that he never expected his songs to attract so much attention, so quickly. Not that Tatum steers away from some rather famous friends: Nocturne was produced by Nicolas Vernhes, of Dirty Projectors and Deerhunter fame, and Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams starred in Wild Nothing's video for "Paradise."
Recruiting a real band for touring over the past couple of years — the current lineup is keyboardist Kevin Knight, drummer Jeremiah Johnson, guitarist Nate Goodman and guitarist Jeff Haley — Wild Nothing will embark on a tour of Australia and Japan in early March, heading north to travel through the UK and Europe beginning on March 18 in Liverpool (including a date at London's Scala on March 21). They're also booked for Coachella, Primavera Sound, Field Day and more locally, New York's Governors Ball Music Festival from June 7-9.
Tatum, now based in Brooklyn, visited The Alternate Side with his bandmates and played a gorgeous four-song set. Hear the session this Friday, February 8, at 11 a.m. on TAS on 91.5 WNYE, also streaming online, and below, read highlights of the interview and watch videos of Wild Nothing performing tracks like "Only Heather" and "Nocturne" in Studio A.
Nocturne is available now via Captured Tracks (US) and Bella Union (UK).
Kara Manning: You basically recorded Gemini, your first album, in your bedroom. But you had to go out and tour that record; is that when this band came about?
Jack Tatum: Not this exact band. The band has changed a little bit over the past couple of years since that album came out, but the live band was born out of a necessity to [tour] the album. Jeff [Haley] and Nate [Goodman] have actually been playing with me since the beginning. Kevin [Knight] and Jeremiah [Johnson] joined at the beginning of this past summer.
Kara: When you were [writing] Nocturne, were you thinking in terms of how the songs would sound live?
Jack: It was definitely important to me and it was something I thought about a lot. We spent a lot of time on the road after Gemini came out. For all of us, it was the first real band experience we had so there was a lot of new stuff, learning how to be a band and what it means to tour. That really influenced the way I went in to record Nocturne, thinking about the larger context — this wasn’t just a song I was writing in my bedroom. It’s now something that will be played. It was really important to have live drums on the album. I definitely wanted that from the beginning, [to give] songs more of a translatable spin.
Kara: You got critical raves for Gemini — an [album that you were writing] in off-campus housing while you were still a student at Virginia Tech. Were you stunned that the album made such a deep impression?
Jack: Yeah, of course. I tell people this all of the time, but it wasn’t really something I expected to go anywhere. I liked it, I was proud of it and I had some faith in it. But I didn’t know it would turn into this or I’d be making music like this. It was totally shocking, especially for a pretty introverted person. The first few months were really strange. Touring was crazy.
Kara: Do you remember your first gig and how scary that was?
Jack: Oh yeah, absolutely. I remember the first couple of times that we played in New York. We played at [Brooklyn's] Monster Island Basement which I think is now defunct. We were terrified. There couldn’t have been more than 10 people there anyway and we sounded awful [laughs]. It’s been a long road for us.
Kara: I was intrigued to read that you were very much influenced by Fleetwood Mac, [in] sound and production elements. Was Fleetwood Mac the underpinning to a lot of the influence on this record?
Jack: It kind of was. When people ask about this album — a lot of time people want to know particularly with my music because it’s so referential or widely considered to be — Fleetwood Mac was really big. Mirage is probably my favorite Fleetwood Mac album. I like Tusk for different reasons, but Mirage is a really good pop record. Production-wise, it’s really clean, almost to the point that it’s cheesy. Some people probably don’t like it, but I think the songs are really strong. “Gypsy” is one of my favorite songs ever. “Hold Me” I just love.
Kara: What was it like working with producer Nicolas Vernhes — who has worked with Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound and Dirty Projectors? [Why was he] the right choice?
Jack: The whole reason I ended up meeting with him, months before we started working on it, I’m a big fan of Deerhunter, Atlas Sound and Bradford Cox as a songwriter. Knowing that Nicolas had worked with him was big for me and he’s in the neighborhood; Rare Book Room is in Greenpoint which is where I live in Brooklyn. It seemed to make sense and we got along really well. It ended up being the best fit. He became the person who pushed me to do things differently.
Kara: Was it just you or was everyone involved in the recording session?
Jack: It was just me and then we had a session drummer come in, a friend of mine. It was pretty much just me and Nicolas in the studio, for the most part. I spent three weeks there, just the two of us.
Kara: You said that drums played a huge part in this album. [You used] a big, fat, thick drum sound, like Stuart Elliot or Charlie Morgan would get on Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love or Bowie’s “Modern Love.” It’s visceral — is that what you were looking for?
Jack: Absolutely. I’m glad you said “Modern Love” because Nicholas and I listened to Let’s Dance, the Bowie album, a lot. Especially for drums; it’s all relative. Some people may not like it, but I love that drum sound. I’m a huge Kate Bush fan, obviously. I covered “Cloudbusting” a few years ago. Those were definitely important records. Drums were big! Jeremiah is an amazing drummer and the first time we practiced, he just knew the songs inside and out, bascially. I say that drums are important in the record, but it’s all still fairly simple stuff. I don’t think that drums have ever really taken a central role in my music. It’s definitely more a nice backbone. It’s an interesting album in that I think it works best as a whole. You can take certain songs out and listen to them for their own merit, but listening to it start to finish makes sense, at least in my mind. To listen to everything in context to the other songs.
Kara: I heard that you had to play “Only Heather” 16 times in a row. Because you’re about to make it 17 [times].
Jack: Two days ago we went back to the Rare Book Room, where I recorded the album, and we did a live video [for the song]. So we played it a lot!
Kara: Jack, where did you grow up?
Jack: I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Kara: Did your parents have the most amazing record collection or did you scrounge around [for music] yourself?
Jack: They did, in their own way. It’s not the music I felt I grew up on. They didn’t listen to the music that inspires what I do. I found out about '80s, UK music. I’m such a huge fan of music in general and it’s not necessarily genre-specific.
Kara: What was it about [bands from that era] that appealed to you?
Jack: It’s moody, a lot of times textural. It’s the same reason I like shoegaze music, especially with Slowdive, for instance, or parts of My Bloody Valentine. It’s never really important what they’re saying so much, it’s how the music and the instruments playing together creat this full environment. I’ve always loved the combination of relatively happy sounding music with sad vocals.
Kara: When you began making music, did you always think of yourself as a singer? How did you find your voice?
Jack: It’s very natural. I don’t feel like I put much thought into it. I feel like I started singing because I was writing songs and I just had to. Vocal melodies have always come very naturally to me, but I’ve had to learn how to sing and that’s something I’ve been trying to figure out since I was 15. I still don’t think I’m a great singer, but it fits what I do.
Kara: Any comparison make you crazy? Happy?
Jack: I haven’t heard too many comparisons about my voice. I’ve heard a lot of people saying, with Nocturne, that I sound like Billy Corgan. I don’t think it’s bad, but I just don’t hear it myself!
Kara: Is it true that “Nocturne” — the track and the album — came from suffering huge bouts of insomnia in Savannah?
Jack: Normally I don’t sleep a whole lot. A lot of these songs were written very late at night. That’s what I did when I lived in Savannah; I didn’t have much to do. I love Savannah, it’s a beautiful place, but it’s kind of boring. I’d just stay up all night working on music.
Kara: Was there one song on the record that was the trigger for the rest of the album?
Jack: Definitely the title track. That was one of the songs, early on, that I finished in the demo stage and it was a fully-formed song. That was kind of the one where I finished and went, “Okay, this makes sense. This is what I want to base the rest of the album around, the feeling that [“Nocturne”] in particular evoked for me. That became the central song for the album and why I ended up naming the album after the song.
Kara: Jack, you’re here today Nathan, Kevin, Jeremiah and Jeff. In terms of looking ahead to a third album, do you think you’d work as a group?
Jack: Yes, it’s something I’ve put a lot of thought into and a third album isn’t even on my radar as of yet. But it’s something I’m interested in trying eventually. I’ve been learning to let myself not be such a control freak [laughs] because I’m so used to being in control of everything.
Kara: Are you a terrible perfectionist?
Jack: Yeah. Definitely. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Kara: You were a communications major at Virginia Tech. You were there during the shootings in 2007?
Jack: Yes, that was [Nate's and my] freshman year.
Kara: This is such a naive question, but that must have affected you in such a great way. Do you think being bold enough to go for what you wanted in life was perhaps out of that experience?
Jack: I don’t know. I never really thought of what direct correlation what I do now has to do with that event. It affected me a lot as a person, definitely. I think, more so, it affected my relationship with Blacksburg, the town where Virginia Tech is. It’s a weird thing for me to talk about or for anyone who was there to talk about. Not because … it’s a sensitive subject. I’m not opposed to talking about it. It was just so strange and surreal and horrific. It seems like an awful dream at this point, like it didn’t happen, but it did. It affected me a lot as a person and I think in a lot of ways it shakes you up and makes you realize what you want to do. We knew people who were directly involved with that and it’s such an awful thing … I don’t know.
Kara: You don’t ever recover from something like that.
Jack: It kind of stays with you.