Interview: Wild Nothing
Jack Tatum aims for a masterclass in smart pop songwriting with second album 'Nocturne'
Words John Freeman
As a songwriter, I have a very clear-cut idea of where a song is headed,” says Jack Tatum, the man behind dream pop outfit Wild Nothing. “I don’t see songs in parts — I see them as a whole.” Tatum is explaining why he wrote the glorious new Wild Nothing album Nocturne entirely by himself, without input from his bandmates. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t work with other people, but Ive just found something that works for me at the moment.”
Indeed, the 21-year-old seems to have struck on a winning formula. His debut album, 2010’s Gemini, was written and recorded in his college dorm room and won him a truckload of acclaim for its enthralling take on ’80s indie-pop. It meant that Tatum immediately went from graduating college to touring the world. Unsurprisingly, the first seeds of Nocturne were sown on the road. “I started writing [new material] when we were touring,” Jack reveals. “I wasn’t consciously thinking about an album. I was just working on songs.”
While Nocturne still possesses the allure of its predecessor, it also showcases a maturing sonic range, including dextrous use of electronica and the inclusion of live drums. “Using an actual drummer made it sound more like a ‘band album’,” Jack says. “For the first album I was writing and recording all at once. With this one, I had sketches of a whole bunch of songs. This album was recorded in a studio and it wasn’t until I was there that I started to think about how the songs might fit together.”
There were other, significant differences in the creation of Nocturne. Unlike Gemini, which was launched into cyberspace with little fanfare and even less expectation, Tatum’s second album will be eagerly-awaited by a niche but dedicated following of Wild Nothing fans. Jack is honest enough to admit that this added pressure caused some artistic navel-gazing. “I was excited about writing new material but the more I would work on it, the more I would psych myself out about it,” he admits. “There was a desire to try new things because I’d played the same songs over and over again, but also I didn’t want to alienate the people who’d enjoyed my music. The hard part was finding the right balance. The album doesn’t sounds extremely different [to Gemini], but it feels like a logical growth.”
On listening to Nocturne, Tatum’s summary appears to be just about right. If a track such as the lovely ‘Through The Glass’ still draws heavily on his love of The Cure in their Disintegration phase, there is a flowering depth to Tatum’s songwriting that’s clearly evident on the muscular ‘Midnight Song’ and the skyscraping indie-rock of ‘Paradise’.
However, like some dominant genetic code imprinted within the Wild Nothing DNA, Tatum’s desire to craft perfect pop songs is the major inspiration behind Nocturne. “It’s what I always come back to,” he admits. “I feel that pop is my strong suit in how I write songs. I like many types of music but in terms of what I want to do personally, it is all about perfectly structured songs that have a strong verse and strong chorus. That’s why I am drawn to The Smiths and The Cure because those bands took pop and did something interesting with it.”
In name-dropping these two legendary bands, Tatum reveals a refreshingly honest appraisal about his influences. While many bands are reluctant to have their music compartmentalised, he is open about the impact of Morrissey, Robert Smith and other major touchpoints such as My Bloody Valentine. “A lot of people don’t want to be compared to anyone — they want to be their own thing — but music history and its influence is a big part of why I make music,” Jack discloses. “On the first record I really was openly referencing a lot of bands. I’m not going to make a bunch of songs that sound like Cocteau Twins or The Cure and then distance myself from those bands. To be compared to them is flattering.”
Throughout our chat, Jack displays an endearingly frank outlook — a huge amount has changed for him since he recorded a willowy version of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’ in 2009. “My relative success has had a lot of positive and negative impact on my life,” he says. “Being away all the time soured some of my relationships, but it also gave me the opportunity to see the world and do all these things that I don’t think I would have done otherwise. All I ever wanted was to write music and share it with people. The fact I was able to do that from a home-recorded album that shouldn’t have got anywhere, is still amazing to me.”