Glossing Isolation: An interview with Wild Nothing
Music — 15.06.20
Words by Brit Parks
Photos by Ryan Patterson
Perfumed-air is an admixture of fleeting muses, a weighted moss tree huffing at night. A hybridised glossing of gasoline and dead grass. Gush-worthy saffron, the modernised ancient of the rarest. Music is Jack Tatum’s wild nothing. When pressed on his chosen band name he proclaims he loves freedom and a lull of sadness that it connotes. He has made his name in records attuned to a compound of melodies. He teeters between a poet and days past court musician in his ability to masquerade his messages under a myriad of sounds. With his coterie of fellow musicians, Jack finds himself standing languid in a mythical bus station with tickets that have no date. No return to normalcy, concerts, fans, live air.
As a new father, he’s taken his role as protector of this new life with the serious complexity it demands. He has traced through seas of albums, shifting his muse to his young child with calm confidence. In this exclusive interview with Teeth Magazine, he expands on where we are, where we have been, where we are going, reminding me those answers may or may not be true.
Brit Parks: We are quite apparently talking in the midst of world chaos which forces a different perspective. I know you and other musicians have had to cancel tours and make adjustments none of us thought possible. Can you speak to how you are feeling in general now and how it is effecting your own music or view on music?
Jack Tatum: It’s all new and weird. On a day to day level, my life hasn’t changed drastically because I’m already a homebody but once I start looking outward everything becomes really murky and uncertain. We’ve all just very suddenly been forced to readjust and reconfigure our lives in general, let alone our creative lives. For artists, I think that immediately means having to face the reality that physical events are kind of just dead full-stop for the foreseeable future. When that’s how you make a large portion of your living then that’s obviously terrifying.
To top it all off my wife Dana and I had a son at the end of February so when everything started going south here in the states it was just like, well shit okay here we go. Being a new parent is so incredibly hard, so this hasn’t made our lives any easier. The thing is though, I was planning on having a quiet year regardless to focus on family. We’re so much luckier than most so I’m incredibly thankful for that. I’ve had to postpone tours and cancel travel plans but honestly, so what? People are dealing with so much worse. In the short term though it’s interesting to see what people are doing with themselves. I think some artists have really embraced the home broadcast format and are being very present with the things they’re creating. Sometimes it feels gimmicky. Other people have kind of gone quiet. It’s all new to everyone so who’s to say what people should do with their time. I have a two-month-old so creativity on any kind of large scale isn’t really on the agenda, but I work on tracks when I can and started a live radio hour on twitch so I can still interact with fans and share music that’s lifting me up right now.
I know you re-issued your first album Gemini in May which I saw you play out at the time. It must be a bit surreal to have a kind of retrospective at such a young age (relatively speaking.) I know my friends in Cap’n Jazz had a similar scenario where their highschool band album was re-released twenty years later which was a complex mix of feelings for them. How do you feel about playing these songs out at this point? What place does this album hold for you?
When we started putting together the packaging for the re-issue I wrote this short essay for us to include and it opened up a whole pandora’s box of emotion for me. I felt sad looking back on it like I’d lost some version of myself that I used to be or something. It was a really magical time in my life, and that’s just how life works. You don’t get that back. Even when we revisit this record in full it won’t bring that moment back entirely. I think that’s what happens when you create something like that when you’re young. I was 21. When you’re 21 you feel fully formed but now I know how malleable I was. It’s already such a nostalgic record so when you add ten years on top it’s like, wow. It’s a very earnest record, and that’s probably partly why it’s resonated for as long as it has. I think for a lot of people these days, particularly in the world of music criticism, nostalgia in music is viewed as ornamental at best and irresponsible at worst. I’m proud that this record has lived on for as long as it has though. It came from a really sincere place. It’s gotten to the point where my own relationship with this record feels almost inconsequential. I let that bird out the coop a long time ago.
Through the span of your career, you have employed a myriad of different art aesthetics in videos, album art, and graphics. How has that evolved? Do you tap different people to collaborate with or do you find yourself in a kind of new world you are creating for each album?
I’m always pretty easily swayed by whatever it is that I happen to be into at any given moment. Sometimes I look back and wish I had developed some more consistent aesthetic for Wild Nothing. I also have regrets about not making more music videos and letting certain insecurities sway me away from being more of the face of this project. It is what it is. As far as the album art, you look at some artists and how their record covers tell this really natural story. I look at mine and it’s like, huh? Haha. I don’t know though, I was always really happy in the moment though and that counts for a lot. Plus it really is about world-building for me. Each record looks different because it attempts to accomplish something different.
I’ve always chosen to work with new artists each time because for one reason or another they’ve inspired me. Those collaborations are special to me. Aaron Denton, for instance, who designed the Indigo cover has gotten huge. Everyone has their posters designed by him. I stumbled across Sophy Hollington’s art a few years back and always had in my head that I wanted to ask her to make something so when I was working on the Laughing Gas artwork it was kind of an easy decision for me. It’s the same reason I’ve yet to repeat producers for my records too. The more people you work with the broader your definition of creativity becomes. It’s like a riddle with 100 right answers. No one ever completes a task in precisely the same way.
Returning to the current mood, I know myself as a writer and a lot of creative people are having very mixed emotions at the moment. Being highly sensitive and a person who expresses the world through lyrics is a strange place to be in at the moment. I have had trouble focusing, as in one minute I am listening to the new A$AP Rocky and the next very old Led Zeppelin tracks. Do you feel that same sense of a time warp? Is this a creative period for you or one more of contemplation.
I’m at a loss right now, honestly. Sometimes the bigger your scope the harder it is to write something concise and meaningful. It’s like this uncomfortable middle place right now. Writing about my otherwise normal life feels trite but then trying to tackle just how overwhelming and confusing the world is right now feels hopelessly daunting and corny even. I think eventually people are going to have to just settle back into what they know and do best. Are people really going to want all these ‘quarantine’ themed records after this is over? I don’t want that. It’s like you said, at the moment there’s no map and I haven’t felt like writing much. Just the occasional iPhone note blurb here and there.
If anything, this virus and being quarantined has swung me in the direction of really trying to seek out positivity. Part of it comes from being a new parent in an otherwise terrifying time. My wife and I have been talking about it a lot recently. Usually, I’d be inclined to drown in how much things suck but now we have someone who really needs us to be optimistic about the world. So I’ve been listening to a ton of dance music, like 90’s house, some contemporary electronic music too. Just really positive body music mostly. I’ve always liked dance music but right now that kind of physicality feels cathartic in an unexpected way for me.
Can you talk about your lyrics a bit, how do they come about? I know you studied creative writing so perhaps you have a more formal process. Do you write each album at the same time or do you find it’s a mix of different ideas coming to fruition?
Yeah, each album is written in a chunk more or less. It’s been the trend for me that a handful of songs will get written with specific lyrics in mind but the majority of the songs are written with vocal melodies but no actual words. It’s good and bad. The phonetic nature of working this way can lead to interesting results but it also boxes you in at times and can create a lot of writer’s block for me.
I think I’ve always dabbled in the grey area with my lyrics. I’ve gotten a lot of shit for it over the years. It’s just the school of thought that I come from though. I studied poetry and admired people like John Ashbery, I’ve never really been opposed to abstraction. Poetry can seem really pompous or like it’s purposefully averting meaning, but I think it’s like any other art form. It’s a very process-oriented craft. Some of the writers I’ve enjoyed the most feel like they’re finding the meaning of their words as they write them. I’m always back and forth though. Sometimes I really enjoy abstracting ideas I have but other times I just want to embrace the inherent corniness of pop music. Like Fleetwood Mac, for example, one of my favourite bands. Some of Lindsey’s lyrics can be really plain but for me, it’s always worked. That played into a good bit of the lyrics on Indigo. I had pretty high hopes for that record in terms of its common appeal, that it could somehow be more grounded and universal.
Wild Nothing is a beautiful band name as it always concocts a kind of action. It seems to embody this long stretch of prolific writing and music you have created. What does the name mean to you?
It’s an amorphous thing, right? It’s been a good home for me I would say, all in all. It’s also been something that I’ve felt tied to and at times really wanted to thrash against or throw away. It’s defined so much of who I am now though. You don’t think about those things when you name a project. I didn’t think, “Oh let me pick something that I’ll have to live with for the next decade“. The one thing I remember thinking was that I liked how it sounded simultaneously freeing and sad. Like a beautiful expanse in front of you that you’re not able to explore for some unknown reason. I don’t think that’s changed for me, the reason why I liked it in the first place.
Music has been a critical point for people at every point in history. It transports and gives voice to their emotions. How do you feel your new EP will be heard as music becomes an even more precious currency for the survival of our hearts.
I don’t think this year will ultimately change what it is I look for in music. The wonderful thing about music for me has always been that you can have it all. You can find your own reflection in it if you want or you can seek out the spaces that allow you to step outside of yourself. You can scour lyrics for meaning or find your own in atmosphere and melody alone.
From a career standpoint, it’s a crowded world. I feel you have to fight to let your music breathe sometimes and I’m a hesitant salesman. I’m mostly just thankful for the people that have stuck around and given me a chance with every release. The new EP is no different. I think it has the potential to help plenty of people right now. I see it all the time. It’ll also probably do absolutely nothing for other people. Who am I to say? I’ll keep making things either way because that’s what I do.
The 10th Anniversary version of Wild Nothing’s debut album Gemini is out now via Captured Tracks. Listen below: