Wild Nothing grows up while staying true to original style

Jack Tatum speaks on his experiences with third studio album

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Just in time for the warmer weather and days spent out in the sun, indie pop rock group Wild Nothing’s new album Life Of Pause is providing yet another textured and atmospheric soundtrack for the beautiful moments to come. Since their first album Gemini in 2010, Wild Nothing has solidified themselves as an indie darling, providing ambiance and meticulously layered soft tunes riddled with romance and floaty themes. We caught frontman, singer-songwriter Jack Tatum for a phone interview from Los Angeles before leaving on Wild Nothing’s North American tour, which will make a stop at Vancouver’s own Biltmore Cabaret on Tuesday, April 26th.

“This record definitely has a lot more that it’s pulling from I think,” said Tatum of his third studio album. “I think with the first two records Gemini and Nocturne, there was very much a style that I was trying to work within, and [I was] very content to just work within the certain confines that I had made for myself. A record like Nocturne to me was very much rooted in a lot of eighties UK music—you know, a lot of big bands of that era like The Cure. But at the same time I’ve always been interested in classic pop music, like Fleetwood Mac was a big band for me when I was making that record. With Nocturne I was trying to explore a few different areas, but with this record I took it even farther.” 

Known for harboring control over every aspect of his product, as usual Tatum performed nearly all the instrumentals on Life of Pause—save for the drums and few guest instrument interludes. Since spawning Gemini while still in college, Tatum has regularly gone into a solitary creative mode while working on his music. The jump from the studio to live shows is a process of change and acceptance for Tatum. 

“I think my music does [take on a] different life with a band,” Tatum said. “For someone like me who makes most of the music on my own, when I present it to the band it always ends up becoming a little different. And I think that’s something I’ve grown up with and have had to figure out because at first that kind of weirded me out because I’m such a control freak. But now I enjoy it and I have people I’ve been playing with for quite a while; it’s always great to bring the music to them and just be like, okay learn this. But it’s a little bit looser and up to the player, which is fun and totally different from the way I make my music.”

Often compared to Beach Fossils and Neon Indian, Tatum sees Wild Nothing differently than his critics do.

“Everyone sees this record as being really synth heavy—which it is—but I don’t think of it as a synth pop record, which is how I think a lot of people approach it as,” said Tatum when I brought up that Life Of Pause featured a more guitar-heavy sound than its predecessors.  

The new album is more finely tuned than the others, but that signature Wild Nothing persistent focus on ambiance and atmosphere is definitely not going anywhere.

“I’m definitely the type of person that uses environment and ambiance as another instrument,” Tatum said of his process. “When I’m writing I’m not just thinking about what kinds of instruments I want to be on the record, I’m thinking not only about how they’re going to sound but how they’re going to sound together. Even with this new record and its different influences, I think I’ve still maintained that desire and I still gravitate towards textural sounds. I think it’s a special thing—I think it’s about feeling like you can step into the music. It feels more immersive when you have these sounds that [appear to be] cloudier. It feels more inviting.”

This is not to say that Tatum is not going to take Wild Nothing into different musical spheres; he like all musicians is always growing and feeling drawn to different kinds of styles. With Life of Pause there are newfound disco elements and quite a soul turn-up. While the influences will keep on coming and changing, that textured approach will not change in the near future. 

“The older I get the more I’m thinking about other ways to make music, and I have a lot appreciation for music that is very dry and straightforward and minimal,” said Tatum. “But at the same time this is what I do, and I can’t help but layer my music.”

There is always a longing to try new things and Tatum believes that as an artist he owes that to himself.  

“That sort of juggling act of following what you are interested in at the moment and than also considering the people that have supported your music from the beginning and care about it can be very difficult,” Tatum said, thinking of fans of his music. “You never want to disappoint anyone, but at the same time as an artist you owe it to yourself to explore the things you want to explore.”

One summer I was sifting through Songza playlists and came across a Chillwave one. In the midst of Tame Impala and Toro Y Moi I found Wild Nothing, and spent an especially hot day biking around near the Okanagan Lake and listening to their entire discography. This is the effect the group has on its fan base, and Life of Pause is no departure. Gemini and Nocturne were filled with romantic lyricism, and those first albums were exploratory and young.  

“I am definitely still a romantic, and a lot of the songs [on Life of Pause] are still about love and relationships, which can be such a tired thing to talk about for a lot of people,” said Tatum. “But at the same time I think I approach it from a different place and, now, a much more stable place than before. I’m in a long-term relationship now, so the writing is more about the ways that we define our relationships and the things that you learn to be happy with. It’s a record about settling down in a way.” 

As this is Wild Nothing’s first North American tour since 2013, Tatum is looking forward to being around fans of his music.  

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been on tour, so I’m looking forward to just getting into that mode again,” Tatum said. “In a lot of ways since I’ve started working on this record my relationship with my own music has been extremely solitary and personal. So I’m excited to get out and have the same reactions live and talk to people about it.”

Life of Pause was recorded mostly in L.A. but Tatum wrote most of the songs while living in New York. Fans have gravitated towards the first single “To Know You”, but Tatum feels a strong connection to some other facets of the album.

“On a personal level, songs on the record like “A Woman’s Wisdom” and “Whenever I” are two of my favorite songs because they’re a bit different from what I’ve done before,” Tatum said. “So I can’t help but love it because it’s new for me. But it’s funny because I’ve been kind of keeping an eye on fans’ reactions so far—I mean it’s still pretty early because the record has not been out for that long—but some people’s least favorite song is others’ favorite song. It feels like it evens itself out so far. It boils down to taste.”

“I feel lucky that I’m on my third album and I’m still able to do what I want to do and that there’s people that care about it; I feel close to them,” said Tatum of his fan experience. “It’s almost a bad thing sometimes with the easy [accessibility] of the Internet. It’s not the healthiest thing to do, to obsess over what people are thinking. And that’s why I’m so excited to go on tour, because that’s the best way to connect directly with the people that listen to your music. And it’s been awhile since I’ve had that experience of being able to talk to fans about the music.” 

Small venues like the Biltmore offer a more personal performance opportunity, and Tatum—having performed there before—is excited about the upcoming intimate Vancouver experience. 

“I do honestly love smaller clubs,” Tatum said. “It can be dependent on the environment, but for the most part I definitely enjoy small shows. For one thing the sound is usually better, and it feels more special when there isn’t this great divide. That always feels kind of strange to me. A place the size of the Biltmore is always really great for me.”

Vancouver can look forward to a night of synth soul music, as Wild Nothing presents a dreamy set filled with old and new favorites. Tatum’s immersion in the musical process takes on a whole new life live, and it is not to be missed.