When Jack Tatum bought a car after relocating to Los Angeles, he needed some music to accompany his drives through the smoggy metropolis' traffic. Without an AUX outlet in his older car, he discovered an old CD booklet filled with unmarked CD-Rs at his parents' house and started to listen.
“I’d say about 80 percent of it does not hold up,” Tatum says, “I wouldn’t want anyone to know what I was listening to, but some of it is really good.”
Tatum’s talent emerged to the mainstream when he recorded a cover of Kate Bush’s song “Cloudbursting” in his bedroom under the moniker Wild Nothing. In the seven years since that single caught the attention of acclaimed indie label Captured Tracks, the Virginia native has gone on to record three full-length albums that hold up much better than the songs he discovered in that old CD collection. Tatum never intended to have Wild Nothing take off like it did. “It ended up morphing into something real,” he says, “I just lucked out. I’m not even sure there would be a record if [the label] didn’t ask for one.”
While the albums all started in humble conditions, the final projects are now finished in the studio. Tatum can finally work with tools that cannot be found on a laptop. In fact, his obsessive nature forces him to play as many of his own instrumental parts as he can, but to him it’s the only way he’s known how to make
“It’s definitely been a gradual thing,” Tatum says of his musical journey, “I feel like every time I record something I have a little more at my disposal. It helps keep it all fresh for me. I still get really excited about all this stuff. I feel like it could bottom out at any point.”
Tatum and Wild Nothing tour as a quintet when supporting an album without the use of backing tracks. The songs can take on a different feel when each musician puts their own spin on the music, but Tatum feels that everyone does their best to stay true to each song. Occasionally there are moments when he hears something a member of the band plays and wishes he had thought to do that in the studio.
“Sometimes there are certain things on the record we can’t do,” Tatum says with a chuckle. “We try to interpret the songs the best we can as a five-piece. We have to reconfigure certain parts so they make sense live. Sometimes they end up working in a way that’s interesting and you say, ‘Shit, I wish I could go back and change how that was.’”
Wild Nothing’s latest release Life Of Pause was partially recorded in Sweden with Peter, Bjorn, and John producer Thom Monahan. It displays a slight change in musical direction for the band, with the shoegaze on which Tatum built his reputation giving way to a more psychedelic techno feel that resembles the electronic duo Air. (The French band was part of the music he found in that old CD booklet.) The songs, which continue to focus on pining for love, alienation, and adapting to strange surroundings, tackle the same themes that have made Tatum a success.
“I’ve always questioned my place,” says Tatum. “I’ve never stopped questioning if this is the right thing. I’m always thinking about the larger picture and what I’m able to do with my life and what to focus on. I’m always worried about striking the right balance.”
Despite his many sonic strengths, Tatum has one weakness: percussion. He recently admitted in a Reddit AMA that he “sucks at drums.”
“I’ve gotten better,” Tatum says reassuringly. “It would be funny for people to hear some of the songs because the drum line is so sloppy, but I like to get the idea across. Drums are not my forte.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE...
Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.