Lunar Cycle: Wild Nothing

"...a really inward-reaching, internal thing."

Penning a follow-up to 2010’s slow burning hit ‘Gemini’ was always going to be a challenge. But dream-pop wunderkind Wild Nothing appears to have cinched it. Packing up and relocating to Savannah– he’s achieved what some thought was unachievable. Taking inspiration from classic pop structures and the magic of the wee small hours, he’s returned with the deliciously good ‘Nocturne’ – an album to rival the critical acclaim of his debut.

Bolstered with pop rhythms and lyrical ambiguity, it’s the sound of an artist confidently carving out his niche. Famous for recording his debut single-handedly in his Virginia college dorm room, ‘Nocturne’ sees Jack Tatum hand over the reins to producer Nicolas Vernhes. The result is something a little deeper than what we’ve heard before; a record which is bigger, broader and definitely more refined. Tatum is continuing to push against the hazy edges of the dream-pop formula he helped create, tailoring his aesthetic to suit the demands of a live audience. He met up with Clash to discuss how the heady combination of insomnia, the moon and critical expectation influenced the record.

You’ve spoken of lunar cycles and restlessness being important to the making of the album – can you elaborate?
Yeah. I mean, when I finished the album – even when I was still working on it – I realised that there a night-time theme…this dusky element to the album. A lot of the songs were borne out of ideas that I got in that zone of being sleep-deprived. I was staying up super-late when I was working on the album and a lot of the songs came from that, really.

Like an insomnia record?
Yeah. Basically I just realised that the root of most of these songs was that feeling of being sort of half-crazy. And when I would listen back to the songs, it would feel like they were ‘at home’ at night.

It kind of became a theme for the album. And that’s where the lunar cycle came from. Really the whole lunar theme which runs through the album and the website – isn’t necessarily to ‘mean’ anything but acts more as a representation of where my head was at when I was making the album. For the website, it’s honestly just a more interesting way to portray tour-dates and stuff.

Wild Nothing – Shadow

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Obviously you’re in a very different place now – you wrote ‘Nocturne’ whilst living in Savannah, not in your college dorm room. Did the lyrical focus change?
I think, for me, my location has never played a huge part in how I get the sound. I think it does maybe change the way I approach music and work on music, but honestly it was a pretty similar kind of theme with the first album. My music is such a one-man operation, a really inward-reaching, internal thing. When I was living in Savannah it gave me the space to work comfortably with ideas and to take my time, and really work on doing things myself.

I live in NY now, and that’s a little bit different. But to be honest, it’s always been a little more about what’s going on within myself than what’s happening around me.

Did you feel a certain amount of pressure because of the amount of attention your debut received? Did it change the way you approached this album?
A little bit. I was talking about this earlier. I felt some pressure when I first started working on the album and I started working on songs when we were still touring ‘Gemini’. I would come home, and start working on songs. Mostly just because I hadn’t been able to and it was fun to get in that creative mode again. I think once I’d started thinking about where the album should go, and what sort of direction it should be – that’s when I felt a bit of pressure.

I think anybody that is working on a follow-up has some sort of jitters. Once I’d got over the initial feelings of doubt, it became almost more exciting than the first record. I was much more aware of an audience and a direction that I felt was the right place to go. If anything, the only struggle I had was finding the right balance. Between not wanting to alienate anyone who liked my music before and having enough of a change that I could still be excited about it. I think with this I realised fairly early on that I wanted it to be a pop record and the over-arching idea behind the record was ‘a pop record’. It’s very structured. I think it’s pretty close to Gemini, but more put-together and refined.

What was it like for you recording the album with a producer? Did you find it hard to relinquish control?
No. I mean, with certain things maybe. For me, it was almost a relief that I was able to step back and allow somebody else to do some of the work. It was so nice to have someone there to bounce ideas off and really act as a filter for my music. With Gemini, I really wasn’t doing that. I was sending songs to people and I’d go “what do you think of this?” but it was really just me working through my own ideas.

It wasn’t a dialogue?
Yeah. There wasn’t a dialogue. So being able to have that on this record was pretty integral to how the record sounds, and how it was put together.

You’ve mentioned you wanted the record to have more of a ‘live’ focus. Do you think you’ve achieved that?
Yeah. This record is more about the shows. I’d just spent the last year and a half playing shows, realising what works and what didn’t. The record (‘Gemini’) really didn’t take into account any sort of ideas about how the songs would be played. It was definitely on my mind. I would still make what I wanted to make regardless, but I was focussed on making this record directly relatable to the live shows. There are still moments on the record that are indulgent and are going to be hard to recreate, but for the most part I wanted to make it sound more like a band.

How has it been received?
We only started playing tours in June. We did a big tour with Beach House this summer and we did some of the new material. It’s all went down pretty well. With a lot of the older material, we’d have to compromise as we were only a four-piece (and there’s only so much you can do) but I think now we’re five and that helps in a lot of ways. Again, with the way the songs are written on the new record, I think people will find that they’re a lot more translatable. We were playing a lot of these songs before people had heard them which usually is a – you have to go through a period of convincing people. I think it’s going to be really fun for us to do.

What’s next?
I’m really not making plans. For now, I’m perfectly content with focussing on these songs and perfecting them as much as I can. I really haven’t had much of a drive or desire to write recently, which I’m honestly fine with. I spent a lot of time on this record so I need to cool down. With that being said, every time we go on tour I get this urge to start writing again. We’ll see. It’s only a matter of time.

Words by Marianne Gallagher

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‘Nocturne’ is out now.

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