Friday, 14 September 2018 () Jack Tatum on measuring the timeless against the personal...
There’s a line on 'Indigo', *Wild Nothing’s* fourth studio album, where Jack Tatum sings “breathe indigo, it’s the closest thing to living”. Referring to the perpetual “blue iPhone glow on everyone’s faces” that is such an engrained part of our quotidian lives, there’s a kind of wistful, prosaic poeticism to this image that Tatum alights and reflects on.
“I wouldn’t say it’s overly critical of technology,” he broaches, talking about ‘The Closest Thing To Living’, the track within which Tatum addresses this blurring between humanity and technology. “For me it’s reflective of how I truly feel about technology which is that there’s a lot of sort of scary things about it but at the same time I’m not one of these alarmists that is freaked out by how much time we’re spending on our phones. There’s a certain sadness to it.”
“I think there’s these kind of references in the song to things that are very true in my life,” he continues, “like sitting in bed with my wife and us both being on our phones and just kind of being in a dark room with screens up on our faces but it’s just kind of a reality of life right now, I think it’s hard to know how to truly feel about it all”.
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Almost a decade into crafting the infinitely textured and detailed sonic dreamscapes that encompass Wild Nothing’s distinctive repertoire, Tatum’s offering on 'Indigo' embodies his signature retro-tinged melodic bliss whilst presenting a palpable, glistening evolution in both sound and production, comprising the most poised and confident Wild Nothing record to date.
“I think starting out if I’d known that I would be able to sustain this project in the way I have for nearly ten years I think I would definitely be surprised”, Tatum articulates, contemplating the point he’s reached with the project. “But it’s just one of those things where even if I might not have been able to see where things would go, just because of my ambitions when I started the project it was so of the moment in terms of ‘I’ve made this record let me just put this out here and see what happens’.”
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It’s been a kind of weirdly reflective time for me...
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“So it was really all about that record 'Gemini', I really didn’t think any farther than that, but it’s just one of those things it’s been such a natural progression that it’s kind of only been recently that I’ve stopped to reflect on it all a bit. I think for so long I was just going with that same frame of mind of this is what I’m working on now so I’ll get this record out and play some shows on that. But yeah, it’s been a kind of weirdly reflective time actually for me.”
As an artist who very much experiments with varied approaches and sounds in the creation of each record, for 'Indigo' Tatum moved away from his usual more autonomous recording process; “'Indigo' was definitely different to the other records because this was the first record where I got other musicians in the room and we tracked the entire record live,” he explains. “I’ve always just pretty much played all the instruments myself on the record and then I’d bring in a drummer for instance, or something like that. But this was the first time where it was me and two other people in the room in a studio, who learned all the songs on the record, played through the record several times, and then took that and basically built everything on top of that.”
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There’s a graceful grandeur that 'Indigo' exudes, translating this kind of creative maturity and assurance that Tatum channels within the tracks. Having experimented with a wide variety of instruments from an early age, Tatum explains that a versatile approach has always been integral to how he works. “It’s never really mattered to me so much what instrument I pick up. I’ve always tried to do things in a way that if I’m sitting in a room and trying to work through an idea of find a way to translate something that I had in my head onto computer I kind of grab whatever’s there. So it really doesn’t matter to me if I’m starting with a keyboard or a guitar or whatever, it’s more so just a means to an end.”
Given Tatum’s dexterity for forming incredibly rich layers of sound that seem to offer up new details and discoveries upon each listen, the careful consideration that he projects as we speak over the phone isn’t surprising. Discussing his songwriting and the experience of assembling such immersive, sonic worlds he says, “it’s kind of the same as it’s always been. I’ve always definitely approached songwriting as an experiment in recording as well. It was always the case when I was younger I would just do things myself. And basically once I learned how to play guitar I immediately started writing songs. It was never important for me to become really good at an instrument. I was literally just like okay, I can play this thing well enough to write songs now which is what I really wanted out of the situation.”
Detailing this approach further Tatum explains, “I’ve always been doing things on my own so I’ve really learned how to write songs through the process of recording. I think in a lot of ways that’s really informed the way my music sounds too though ‘cause most of my songs will start with something simple, just start with one instrument then it’s just a matter of building things on top of it until I get a sound that I like. And so such a large part of my music is the textural qualities and the layering and you know my music is really not very minimalist in that sense. I’m always trying to stack as much on as I can get away with and at a certain point I might have to reel things back a little bit but that’s always the fun part for me, seeing what kinds of different sounds I can introduce and kind of get away with I suppose.”
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Listening to the different Wild Nothing records, they each bear their own distinctive sound and impression whilst very much channelling and evoking the characteristic nostalgic atmospheres of Tatum’s creation. “I mean it’s conscious on one level just because I think if you’re someone who’s creating things then you’re always trying to do things slightly different than how you’ve done it before. But you know it’s always been trying to do that in a way that is gradual, that feels not overly forced”, he emphasises, considering this balance between pushing yourself creatively whilst staying true to your artistic intent.
Musing on this further he adds, “the last record that I put out a couple of years ago I think I made a lot of decisions on that record where I was really trying to purposefully push things a bit and intentionally work in different sorts of ways and not always do what felt the most natural. So there are lots of songs on that record where if I was working on something my initial instinct would be to go to a certain chord I would tell myself well don’t do that. But I think with this record I was kind of less hard on myself. This record was definitely more okay well I’m just gonna do things as they come and really play into the things that do come naturally to me.”
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Basically once I learned how to play guitar I immediately started writing songs...
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“ I think even when you do that you’re bound to change because everyone’s taste is always evolving and obviously that’s true of creative people. Even though you might feel like you’re doing things the same way that you were five, ten years ago or something there’s always gonna be similarities and differences.”
On the topic of channelling creativity and that all too familiar struggle of establishing and adhering to routine within creative practices, Tatum details “I was living in Los Angeles for a number of years while I was working on this record and while the last record was out and I was touring on that. But it was the first time that I’d found myself falling into some sort of routine when it comes to making music. In the past I never tried to schedule my creativity. It was always just if I have an idea then that’s great otherwise I’m not going to worry about it and so I got into habits of working on stuff really late at night, whenever it would strike me. But in Los Angeles I set up a studio space where I was really trying to find a way to say like okay I’m going to work on things everyday and it’s okay if it doesn’t happen. I guess just a more sort of steady, adult approach to my own creativity which is sort of weird to do but it was just the nature of it I guess for me working on this record”.
As we talk about the relative abnormality of adjusting to this kind of creative maturity within working processes Tatum adds, “it’s weird to try and fit your creativity in every day and work on things within a certain time frame or something. But I did find that doing that it changes the way you work and eventually you adapt to it. It kind of gives interesting results.”
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Intrinsic to Wild Nothing’s music is an undeniable 80s atmosphere, and his records have always conveyed a certain cinematic quality. “People always bring up John Hughes with my music or other people too like Gregg Araki, another film maker that was doing stuff in the 80s. His stuff was quite a bit more on the outside” Tatum expresses, on the relationship between cinema and his compositions. “My music is one thing but there’s so much film and music that I do love. I went through this phase, in some ways I still am, of listening to so much Ennio Morricone and a lot of Italian composers from like the 60s and 70s and yellow horror movie stuff.”
“For me I get a lot of influence from those people because I feel like a lot of good memorable film music is all about these instrumental refrains that stick with you, and just themes basically, this idea of a melody becoming representative of something”, a quality that could certainly be attributed to Tatum’s music as he employs melody and composition in a similar way. “I think in some ways that’s obviously something that you can still try and work into popular music”, he continues, “and so for me the idea of making instrumental refrains is really important to my music. So I always love it when songs have these melodic lines that kind of weave in and concentrate on a certain theme.”
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Timelessness is one thing but it’s kind of personal for me too...
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Setting out to create “a classic studio album” with 'Indigo', Tatum astutely conveys how the notion of something being timeless is not only incredibly subjective but also perpetually in flux. “It’s hard to say right, ‘cause something that feels timeless to me wouldn’t necessarily feel timeless to you”, he says. “I think at least for me, because I obviously have so many connections to the past with my music and my music references a lot of stuff from the 80s very heavily and very intentionally too because that’s just my favourite era of music.
“But I think something that’s always been important to me is like timelessness is one thing but it’s kind of personal for me too. I try and think about how I’m gonna feel about something I’m working on a few years down the road. I worry sometimes about being too of the moment or giving into anything that seems trendy”, although this is definitely not something he could ever be accused of.”
“There’s a certain safety I think in terms of referencing things that have already come and gone because it’s already out of time. The best thing I feel like my music could be is something that sounds like it could have been made whenever,” Tatum clarifies on this intention within his music. “I mean I know it obviously doesn’t sound like that because it’s very rooted in like the past 40 years of contemporary or modern music or whatever but I guess I just mean in the sense that it sounds like a record that could have been released back then but also sounds like it could have been release in 2018. So it’s just about finding that middle ground or something. I’d hate to think that my music is retro to a fault, but also I don’t make a huge effort to try and fit in with whatever’s happening at any given moment.”
And given that 'Indigo' is a work of remarkable creative maturity and transcendental sonic elegance that feels at once nostalgic and current, it’s fair to say he’s got this balance just right.
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Words: *Kezia Cochrane*
Catch Wild Nothing at the following shows:
11 *Manchester* Gorilla
12 *Birmingham* Mama Roux’s
13 *Leeds* Belgrave Music Hall
14 *Glasgow* Stereo
16 *Dublin* Button Factory
18 *London* Village Underground
19 *Brighton* Komedia
For tickets to the latest Wild Nothing shows click *HERE.*
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