Singer, songwriter and arranger Jack Tatum is essentially Wild Nothing. Started as a solo bedroom project in Blacksburg, Virginia four years ago, Wild Nothing signed to Captured Tracks shortly after but it was the release of debut album Gemini in May of the following year that aroused attention far beyond his native backyard.
Since then, having enjoyed similar levels of critical acclaim with follow-up EP Golden Haze and album number two Nocturne, Wild Nothing have just released their most boldly progressive colection of songs to date in the shape of new EP Empty Estate.
Now, with a European mini-tour underway taking in the odd festival or two in England and Spain, DiS caught up with Jack Tatum after his band's recent set at Primavera Sound.
DiS: Your recent EP, Empty Estate encompasses a range of different sounds and styles. Is it indicative of what the third Wild Nothing album will sound like or was it a testing ground for new ideas?
Jack Tatum: It's really hard to tell. For me, making this EP was probably the most fun I've had writing and recording in a long time. I sort of expected to get a mixed reaction with the EP. I think a lot of people are always gonna think of Wild Nothing in terms of what Gemini was and that's something that I totally respect. I still have so many connections to that record but it's not really me any more. I doesn't really reflect what I'm interested in doing musically, so to just repeat Gemini over and over again would be a total drag for me. I think that's why we had so much fun recording the EP. We tried a range of multiple ideas condensed into one product which was really exciting. I mean, it could really go a lot of different ways after this EP. I really don't know what's going to happen next.
DiS: At the same time, it's probably fair to say that a lot of people who got into Wild Nothing through Nocturne or the singles off it might not be aware of Gemini.
Jack Tatum: That's true. I do meet a lot of people on the road that either seem to be a Wild Nothing fan based on Gemini or a Wild Nothing fan based on Nocturne. They're very different records to some people even though I think of them as being quite similar. I think a lot of people probably were introduced to the band through Nocturne. I'll be the first person to admit it's a way more polished, pop record even. But then that's exactly what I wanted it to be.
DiS: Do you see the EP as being a seed for the next album? Something to expand on perhaps?
Jack Tatum: Yeah definitely, I think the next record will be an expansion of that. A more solidified and less messy version of the EP. I love the EP for the fact it's all over the place at times. It has ambient moments, then electronic pop, then a straightforward guitar song like 'The Body In Rainfall'. I think with an album you tend to want to smooth it over a little bit.
DiS: Would you say Empty Estate is the most ambitious collection of recordings you've produced so far?
Jack Tatum: I think so. To be honest, who's to say whether it's better or worse? I can't really be the judge of that because it's my own music but I tried a lot more ideas out on that record than I would usually. To me, Nocturne can be a bit monotonous in terms of its themes and ideas. It's a very maintained album. I put a lot of effort into making it that way, which I think was a turn-off to some people.
DiS: You're currently playing as a five-piece, whereas the first time I saw you in November 2010 you were a four-piece. Is this now the permanent line-up of Wild Nothing, and will you be involving the rest of the band with songwriting and arranging in the future?
Jack Tatum: It's sort of been this unspoken thing for a while now. We haven't really talked that much about it because when it comes to recording, most of the time it is only me. Nocturne and Empty Estate for example I did pretty much all by myself. I brought in a studio drummer and then hatched it out with the producer. I really enjoy doing that. I get a selfish pleasure out of it! I'm always thinking and wondering in the back of my mind about what the other members of the band could add in the writing department. But then it's always been my way of doing things, just me on my own as far as the recording and writing aspect goes.
DiS: Does having new members in the band give you the impetus to try out different ideas or take the music in different directions?
Jack Tatum: Adding new members was sort of a necessity in order to fully realise the sound that's on the record. We just couldn't do it. We were travelling and playing as a four-piece with two guitars. Nathan (Goodman) would occasionally switch off and play some synth, but I really wanted to have a full time keyboard player, and I think it's been an improvement. At least from my viewpoint. It's a lot easier to play what's on the record now. Having a five-piece band is cool. Everyone has their own input about how the songs are played.
DiS: Do you generally try to recreate the songs when you play them live or do you prefer to reinvent them?
Jack Tatum: I guess when we get together to learn the songs it's about recreating what's on the records. We're a weird kind of band in that we actually try and recreate what I did on my own as a five-piece. But I do think we've found through touring that songs do tend to change in different ways. For example, 'Ride' off the new EP; in fact that's the only song off Empty Estate we've learned to play together so far. Because I made the EP by myself at home we just never had chance to learn any of the songs. None of us love in the same cities, so when we did together to practice before Primavera and the summer tour we only had time to work on one of the new songs. We've turned it into a longer arrangement that sounds quite different to how it does on the EP.
DiS: You don't play 'Chinatown' that often these days. Any particular reason for that?
Jack Tatum: It's one of our most well known songs I guess, and without meaning to be negative, you either embrace that as a band or it drives you absolutely crazy. With me it kind of drives me crazy. We do play it fairly often, but it's usually a bastardized version. We're pretty set on trying to do as much as we can live. For example, 'Paradise' is a song where we have to involve some electronics. For the most part we try and keep things organic and real, and 'Chinatown' uses a sample, so from a musician's point of view it's quite a difficult song to play live. I don't really enjoy playing it.
DiS: There seemed to be several like-minded bands signed to Captured Tracks around the time you released Gemini, people like Beach Fossils and Craft Spells as well as Wild Nothing. Do you feel any kind of affinity with those bands?
Jack Tatum: I think we all felt a connection through the label in that we could all talk to each other. Being on the same label meant there was always going to be a mutual appreciation for certain types of music. I haven't even met some of the people on that label but we've talked through email. I'm always sending songs back and forth with Dustin (Payseur) from Beach Fossils and Justin (Vallesteros) from Craft Spells and other people on the label as well. We're always talking about music and what we're planning on doing next. And it's cool because to be perfectly honest, I'm not someone that keeps up very well with new music. There are some contemporary bands I really like. Tame Impala for example, but for the most part I tend to listen to older music.
DiS: You're now signed to Bella Union in Europe. How did that come about?
Jack Tatum: We were looking for a label in Europe and the UK. We decided with the second record that we wanted to have a label that was more established and knew Europe and the UK better. And I'm a massive Cocteau Twins fan so of course with Simon Raymonde running the label it made sense. He'd been in touch with me before. We'd emailed each other back and forth a few times. Every time I got an email from him I was like, "Oh my God! Simon Raymonde from the Cocteau Twins just emailed me!" But that aside, he's an extremely nice person and I like a lot of the other bands on the label too. We'd been in touch just after Gemini came out and it was an decision to make in going with them.
DiS: Do you think it's been important in raising the band's profile?
Jack Tatum: It's always hard to say. There's always a certain amount that just happens naturally and then it's hard to say whether a label's helped you out or it's been down to word of mouth or whatever. I'm very happy with the label. Just to have people that are based in London and just close to it, 'cos you know we're not always thinking about what's happening in the UK. We're in our own little world most of the time.
DiS: How would you compare Wild Nothing's fanbase in America to that in the UK?
Jack Tatum: It's difficult to say really. It depends where you are. The bigger cities are always going to be busier but that tends to be because more people live there. We've had a lot of good shows in the UK. On our last tour we played a show in Leeds that was really fun. We always love playing the Brudenell Social Club. It's such an awesome venue. And we love playing in Scotland too. Glasgow's always lively and I have Scottish heritage too. In terms of how it relates to the US, it tends to be different. It can always be different every time you play a city anyway. In general we tend to stereotype British fans as being a bit colder, but we still love playing there.
DiS: You've amassed a wave of critical acclaim from day one. Do you pay much attention to what the music press or bloggers are saying about you and Wild Nothing?
Jack Tatum: I wish I didn't pay as much attention to it as I do. Of course when your record comes out you're always going to be curious as to what people are saying about it. We've been pretty lucky in terms of how the press has treated us. I'm someone that doesn't really do an awful lot to put myself in the public spotlight. I'm not kooky, I don't dress crazy, I don't say weird shit or start fights on Twitter, I'm just not one of those people. So I think we have this reputation of just being straight to the point. Which is how I prefer it, to have people talking about the music as opposed to a stupid comment I might have made somewhere. It's been good, especially with the new EP. I think that's the best record I've ever made so it's kinda great that other people like it too.
DiS: Are there any more new songs on the horizon?
Jack Tatum: I'm always working on songs when I'm home. Sometimes they end up on albums months down the road, most of the time they just end up in the trash bin!
DiS: You often get compared to a lot of UK bands, people like The Cure, The Field Mice and New Order for example. Is that where most of the inspiration for Wild Nothing comes from?
Jack Tatum: A good bit of it yeah, definitely. I'll always hold a lot of the pioneering UK bands very dear. A lot of Manchester bands in particular have always been very important to me. In a lot of ways that forms the base for my music. I'm always keeping those bands in the back of my mind so they're always influencing me. But I'm also interested in a lot of other things too and I think that shines through on the new EP. That I'm not just trying to ape New Order for the rest of my life if you know what I mean!
The Empty Estate EP is out now on Captured Tracks/Bella Union.
For more information on Wild Nothing visit their official website.