“The interview is at 4.15 pm. Please don’t be late. Be there around 4. Better yet, 3.45. Even 3.30. He might just leave if you are not on time,” the promoter says. He is panicking. And the reason is Jack Tatum, aka Wild Nothing. I am supposed to interview him before his London show at Scala and I’m quite intrigued myself. A good friend told me that he had just snapped at a journalist because he didn’t like being asked how touring had been going so far. It’s been a while since I came across a rude artist with an ego the size of China so I am all up for the challenge. The only thing is, it didn’t turn out to be a challenge at all.
I don’t know why people call Tatum a “character” because he is positively one of the nicest guys I have ever interviewed, with almost no rock star attitude. When we couldn’t do the interview at the venue due to the noise from the soundcheck, we wandered around at King’s Cross to find a quiet spot and he did not utter so much a word while I dragged him from place to place. He replied almost all of my questions with a smile and could have easily been taken for a Brit with that humour of his. I overheard his previous interview before mine and he was just as charming to the other journalist. During the interview he talked about people’s perception of him as this sad guy and how he is not. Seeing him a week later at the Wild Nothing after-party in Istanbul where I was djing, I can firmly confirm that he knows how to have fun. And he is the kind of geeky guy that you want to be best buds with. Still not sure what to make of him? Hope this interview helps…
How much do you hate giving interviews?
(Laughs) That’s funny! I don’t mind it so much. These days I had to do a bunch of them in a row. We were just in Tokyo actually and we only had three days. The last day I had to do a press day. That was a bummer, doing nine hours of interviews while everyone else is having fun…but that’s ok. Sometimes it becomes a bit monotonous to be perfectly honest. I don’t know, (laughs) you asked!
I asked because you don’t like to talk about yourself a lot and you are practically non-existent on social media, which is a big part of a lot of artists’ career.
I wouldn’t say I’m opposed to it so much. It’s just not for me. Sometimes bands use social media to put their whole life on display. I’d rather keep me to me. Not to say that Wild Nothing is a crazy popular band and everyone wants to know what I’m up to all the time because that’s not true.
So you say? You are playing sold-out shows everywhere…
(Laughs) I don’t know. I don’t feel the need to push myself on people. I understand why social networking is important and it works to bands’ benefit. I prefer to let my music speak for itself. I’d rather have my albums be out there and have people make their personal connections to the music. It doesn’t even have to do anything with me at all. It’s not me that they’re connecting to; it’s my music…
You say that it is a “mood” that you are trying to communicate with your music. What kind of mood do you think Nocturne evokes in people?
I’m not sure. I have heard all kinds of different interpretations. The whole reason why I named it Nocturne is because it really feels like a night-time record to me. It’s a continuation of Gemini. It pulls from a lot of foggy memories. I don’t necessarily want to continue with the nostalgic kick or anything but ultimately it is part of who I am. That’s the mood I try to portray. I listen to Nocturne during the day and think that it’s an ok record. Sometimes I listen to it really late at night when I’m really sleepy and it just clicks. But I have heard other people talk about how it is this happy, upbeat and sunny record. That’s cool, too. It’s not like I try to crate a sad mood. Sometimes people expect me to be this sad person but I’m really not. To me, it’s more like a calming record.
So if you had to complete this sentence in three words, what words would you choose? “Nocturne is all about…”
Umm…(thinks for about 30 seconds and then laughs) that’s hard! I’m so bad at questions like that! It’s hard for me to generalize. I would say that it’s about…(pauses for another 30 seconds) There are so many words to pick from! How am I supposed to choose?
Sorry but it gives away a lot.
Yeah, it’s true. I’m just trying to pick the right words. (Pauses for another 30 seconds) I know the feeling I want to describe but to put it in one word…umm…Let’s come back to that question (We never do). I will be thinking about it at the back of my head.
You worked with Nicolas Vernhes on this album. Did you have a similar vision or did you have to compromise a lot?
I think ultimately I pretty much got what I wanted. I still wrote and played all the parts except for the drums. Even with the drums I had certain parts in mind but I couldn’t do it myself; I am a lousy drummer. Nicolas kind of just gave me another ear. He gave me another opinion on everything. Sometimes his involvement was as much as that, an opinion. In other times when I was really stuck on something, he would pull out a keyboard and work on melodies. I am not a person that works well with other musicians. I grew up without having that. My dad taught me how to play music but I have never had any friends who played music when growing up.
Are you a single child?
No I have an older sister but she did not play music either. I have always been a music snob in some capacity you know? (Laughs) So I was always in my bedroom writing all the parts because I did not have anyone else to do it. It’s hard for me to collaborate because of the way I learned how to write music. I am trying to correct that because I think it’s a very negative thing actually. Sometimes I feel like more of a producer that a songwriter because I am much more interested in the way that sounds come together as opposed to the actual songs.
So how does it work when you are onstage? For instance, can your guitarist come up to you and say he wants to change a riff or are you pretty much very loyal to the record?
We were four people before this record and for Nocturne I wanted someone else on keys full time. We didn’t start practicing as a band until the album was already done. In a lot of ways it is very true to the album. I don’t want it to be so different from the album because it can be a negative thing. If done well, then it’s really cool. But it’s a really hard thing to do; you have to be a really good band to do that. Of course when you’re playing the same songs every night, little things start to change. You tweak things and figure out what works. It’s fun for me to play the songs live and get this other input from the group. Even though I don’t necessarily like collaborating, I like to see how the songs change.
How about the ambient sounds in the album? Do you manage to reflect that live to your satisfaction?
Yeah, I do. There is a certain muscularity to the live set that doesn’t exist on the album. There are certain things you can’t help when playing live. There’s more energy, more…(At this point, a crowd sits at the next table and he gets distracted. We move to a quieter table.)
I forgot what the question was…
The ambient sound…
It’s a bit hard to do but I am very proud. Because at the end of the day pretty much everything that you hear are happening live. There’s only one song where it was too much and we had to bring in some sampled elements.
You wrote the songs, played almost everything yourself. You also designed the album cover. Do you like to be super-involved in every aspect of the creative process?
Yeah, I think my, sort of control freak side in music carry into other things (laughs). I have these overly romantic connections to music, especially music from the past. To me, it’s a whole story. The artwork and the way the music sounds should be connected. I don’t want to hand over an album and say, “ok, do whatever you want.” I want to feel connected to it.
And that includes the videos?
I don’t have as much say over the videos, which can be kind of hard! (Laughs) I had little to do with the two videos that we did for this record. Both of them were the visions of the director.
So it wasn’t you who said, “Oh, let’s get a Hollywood superstar to act in my video?”
(Laughs) No, I didn’t say that! Of course when that idea was brought to me, my first reaction was “I don’t know about this.” It was strange for me to think that such a recognizable person would be in a video for my band because I think there are certain implications to that. But ultimately it’s good for me, and the band. And I like her as an actress so it wasn’t like I had to compromise any sort of artistic integrity. As far as current actresses go, she’s very good and seems like a very nice person. I met her very briefly. In the end, I was ok with it.
You always say that lyrics are not priority or your forté. But you also said you initially wanted to be a writer in college.
(Laughs) I know! I’m full of contradictions! The reason for that is, I write very differently outside of music. When I write songs, there are certain confines I put on myself. It has to fit in certain amount of syllabus and they often rhyme. All the poems I wrote, they never rhyme. With music I always feel I have to rhyme. That’s why when writing lyrics, I let myself be cheesier that I would normally be outside of music. Because I have a very soft spot for classical pop music and the idea of love songs…Especially with Nocturne, I was listening to so much Fleetwood Mac. I like their lyrics and they are pretty straightforward and sometimes on the cheesy side. I am cool with that. I don’t think that’s embarrassing. With Nocturne, I let myself go a little bit. For instance, Heather is a super straightforward love song. I’ve had people telling me it’s cheesy but that’s how I wanted it.
May I ask if there’s a Heather?
How about Fleetwood Mac? Are you going to catch them live?
I wanted to see them in New York but the tickets were so expensive. They were playing Madison Square Garden but everything I could find was 70 Dollars but for the seats behind the stage where you couldn’t see the band. I thought, “this is bogus, I don’t want to do this!” I love them a lot; they are one of my favourite bands. If there was a band that I would pay a lot of money to see, it would be them. But it’s not going to be the same. They are old. I don’t want to pay that much money to sit behind the stage and not see them.