On the week of their return to San Diego, we got another chance to talk to Jack Tatum of Wild Nothing on perspective, the importance of album art, his musical beginnings, and an upcoming tour with Small Black. Don’t miss their show at the Music Box this Friday, 10/21!
Last time we talked, you had just finished your album Life of Pause. Has your perspective on the album shifted now that it’s been released?
JT: Yeah, I mean I think your relationship with a record, at least for me when I put something out, and you’ve had that time kind of to let it sit with people and everything, I think your opinion of it always sort of shifts slightly. Once I finished the record, I had a lot of expectations about what it would mean in terms of trying to expand my sound, and trying to kind of get across these new ideas. I think when you’re working on an album that’s what you’re thinking about, you’re not thinking about the larger context of it. So I mean it is interesting, I think I definitely have had time to see how people relate it to the older records, or what fans of the band think it means for future music that I might make. But I mean it’s still a record that I’m proud of. It’s one of those things given time where things just change. I think people react differently to the older albums too, after having years of them being out to listen to them.
I read that you built a room to represent the physical, or more grounded quality you wanted to imbue into the new record. Did you hang out or write there at all for inspiration?
JT: Actually, what happened was that I had been working on the record for a long time, I had been recording for about a month. The idea for creating a room didn’t come until after the record was done. When I was thinking about what to do for the album cover, I kept coming back to this idea of trying to represent a physical space. There was something about the record that kind of drew me towards being in an indoor space, and creating this indoor space. I think part of it had to do with, it sounds kind of silly, the spatial quality of actually peering into this room, and having these different planes of vision in a sense. That was partly a design choice, you know, all of the record covers I’ve done in the past are sort of very flat, and more design oriented. With this record I felt like when we were recording it, we spent so much time thinking about how to get across a sense of space, and that meant while recording, trying to capture more of this sound of the instruments being played in a room, and in some ways trying to create a more natural quality to the songs, so I think that just ended up leading into the creation of the room, which had to do more with the album art, rather than trying to inspire the album necessarily.
So do you usually take album art so seriously? That’s a pretty big project.
JT: Yeah, you know I do, yeah, I definitely do. I view it as the second most important step in the process of making an album. I don’t know, I don’t want to say I’m obsessive, but I definitely think I spend a lot more time about how the album art is going to correlate with the record more so than the average musician. It’s very important to me.
Do you feel like it’s almost the visual manifestation of the songs in your album?
JT: Yeah definitely, I think there is that aspect to it, it’s sort of like how you visually represent these songs. Like, you know, what is the tone of these songs, what is the mood of these songs, and what is the visual counterpoint to that. But it’s also, you know just being someone who has always collected records, it’s always been that the act of listening to records has been such an important part of my life. Like as kid, I’d sit on the ground and listen to my parent’s record collection. So i’ve always thought of records that way, in that sense, like for the last record we did, Nocturne, it’s slightly interactive in that you can just slip in different designs into the record cover. And it’s not an original idea, because there have been plenty of other people who’ve done that, but in a way it’s a nod to people that have done it in the past. It’s just kind of acknowledging that a record cover can be more, it can be a physical thing. Like with the new record, its a gatefold and you can open it up. I like the idea that it can be more than immediately meets the eye.
What have you been up to since the release of your record?
JT: We’ve been playing a fair amount of shows, we’ve done a couple tours in the states and in Europe, some over the summer, though this summer was fairly quiet, we did play some festivals. I just moved to Los Angeles actually last January, right before the album came out. It’s been good, i’ve just been kind of settling into my day-to-day life there. And yeah currently we’re just on tour again, playing shows in the states.
You’re also about to go on tour with the Small Black.
JT: That’s coming up soon, right now we’re doing shows on the West Coast, but we’re doing a larger East Coast, and Midwest tour with Small Black, which is great because I know those guys really well. I used to live in New York for a long time, and we all lived in the same neighborhood, and I would see Josh with Small Black just walking down the street like every other day or something. It’s kind of funny how small certain neighborhoods in New York start to feel after you’ve been there for a while.
Though your new record strays away a bit from this, your previous music has a very distinct, ephemeral sound to it. How did you discover and hone in on that?
JT: I mean it’s interesting. I’ve always been a fan of a lot of different kinds of music, and when it comes to my own personal listening taste, I don’t tend to limit myself that much. But yeah there was something that, when I started to write the songs that became Gemini, the first record, I was trying to find something. I felt like I needed like a niche, and I sort of found comfort in trying to direct my songwriting into a specific area, a specific sort of genre, and I think I found that. I felt really comfortable in making this kind of music that was very, sort of like ethereal, and drew from a lot of like shoegaze, and dream pop music. There was something kind of exciting about it at the moment. I think it’s something that’s been absolutely done to death now, but at the time it still felt exciting to drag up some of these older bands and records. But I think really just on an emotional level, why I was drawn to this, was because I do think it’s an extremely effective medium of trying to express an emotion, or set a mood without really necessarily even worrying about lyrics. It can be very emotive, but just musically.
Yeah, I know you’ve mentioned before that lyrics aren’t the most important thing to you, but rather the feeling that you craft sonically.
JT: Yeah, you know for me, I wish I hadn’t said that because people bring that up all of the time, but it is true in a sense, that the lyrics sometimes are a bit of an afterthought. But I sort of meant that more in the process of writing a song; if I am more concerned about the music first and trying to create a mood with the music and then I always write the lyrics last. I don’t know, I just think there’s more to songs, there’s more to music than the words. I think the funny stereotype is like, thinking about people’s parents when they listen to my music. They’re like “oh yeah, like I wish I could hear what you were saying better.” And that’s how a lot of people listen to music, which is totally fine. A lot of people, a large portion of people, that’s what they latch on to, that’s how they choose to connect to music, through the words. But for me, it’s always the larger picture of how the music itself makes you feel. Obviously too, I’m different because I’m a musician, and so I can’t help but think about all of these different levels, of how something was played, how something was recorded, like I’m always thinking about that when I listen to music. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse to be honest.
Yeah, and I mean there’s only so much words can say, so it’s pretty cool that you think in that mindset. So how did you get started making music? Was there a moment you knew this was what you wanted to do?
JT: Yeah. So my dad plays guitar, so growing up we always had a ton of guitars around the house, but it wasn’t something I was particularly interested in right away. Like when I was much younger, he would kinda poke at me and be like “hey do you wanna learn how to play guitar?” and i’d be like “eeeh I don’t know.” But I don’t think it was until I started thinking about music on my own terms, being like 10 years old, and listening to like, I don’t know, Green Day, and being like “oooh, I like Green Day, I wanna play guitar like Green Day.” So, it was all about context for me. My dad, the way that he plays guitar, he’s definitely more drawn towards blues, and that never peaked my interest. Once I sort of broke from that and realized “oh I don’t have to play blues guitar,” I realized I could play whatever I want. So I started playing guitar when I was around 11 or something. But I think right from the get-go, obviously I wanted to learn songs that I liked, because that’s like the first step of learning how to play guitar, but simultaneously I was immediately interested in being able to put together my own ideas, and realizing you can combine certain things and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. So yeah, I started writing songs when I was pretty young, I mean they were god-awful but still, that’s how I got to where I am. But as far as doing music professionally, that never really even crossed my mind as a possibility, really, until it just happened. I wasn’t necessarily setting out for a career in music; I made a record and kind of got lucky. But now it does feel like music is my career. At this point it’s kind of the only thing i’ve done in my adult life, and the only thing that I feel passionate about.
What are you listening to lately?
JT: All kinds of stuff, I’m always flipping around, I’m still on that soul music kick, been riding that out for the past couple of years. Mike, who runs Captured Tracks, the label i’m on, just sent me a bunch of records. He actually owns a couple records stores in New York as well, so he sent me a fat stack of Roy Ayers records. I’ve still been listening to a bunch of 80’s music too, like i’ve been listening to this band Japan, it’s kind of like an arty, new-wave band. I’m constantly kind of jumping around.