Wild Nothing Balances Out

Last month, Wild Nothing (A.K.A. multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Jack Tatum)  kicked off an international tour for his third full-length release Life on Pause. The album, which dropped in February, makes for a lustrous and expansive dose of feel-good dream pop. It’s also his most ambitious and thought-provoking record to date.

Recorded between Los Angeles and Stockholm with producer Thom Monahan, Life on Pause is an examination of a life well lived. Posing questions like “Can I learn to wait for my life?” on “Reichpop” and “How can we want love?” on its title track, the album, Tatum tells Interview, is largely about “your place and how to find your place and wondering whether you’re in the right place.” Lucky for us, such sentiments are dressed up with synths and pop hooks to spare, so expect to bop along when Wild Nothing hits Webster Hall this Sunday, May 8.

caught up with Tatum by phone while he drove from dates in Minneapolis to Chicago earlier this month. He dished on how the road’s treating him this go-round, audiences’ reception of Life on Pause, and finding a balance between the things that make him happy. 

BENJAMIN LINDSAY: The last time you spoke with Interview was tied to when you were headlining at Bowery Ballroom for the first time. Kind of crazy what a few albums and years can do.

JACK TATUM: I know, I know. That first album came out six years ago—I can’t really wrap my head around it.

LINDSAY: How has the tour and travel been treating you this time around?

TATUM: It’s been good! It’s been a while since we’ve done a tour like this. The last time we played was in November and we did a few shows in South America. I don’t think we’ve done a proper U.S. tour probably in four years or something. Honestly, it’s kind of weird how quickly I feel like I’m back in the swing of things. I spent so much time in between just at home, and so to be back on the road after about 10 shows, it feels super normal again.

LINDSAY: This tour started on April 20, and then you’re eventually making your way abroad to Berlin and wrapping up on June 23. Do you have any tricks or regimens to stay healthy and rested for the long trek?

TATUM: I try. It’s more about doing the little things and hoping that they’ll add up. Trying to eat better. When we first started touring, you kind of feel like you have no other option so you just eat garbage all the time-—ast food, gas station food, whatever. But if you plan a little bit, then you can work around that sort of stuff. But it does start to wear you down if you aren’t keeping yourself in the larger context. I feel like I always have to remember how long I’m going to be on the road.

LINDSAY: Is Brooklyn still your home base?

TATUM: I actually just moved to Los Angeles in January. It’s been great. I was in New York for about four years, and I obviously have a lot of connections there, but for some reason, it never really felt like the right place for me. I grew up in Virginia, lived in small towns my whole life. I was living in Georgia before I moved to New York, and I sort of ended up in New York by default. All my friends were scattered and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, and I just figured with everyone I had met doing music, it made sense for me at the time. But I am enjoying life in Los Angeles for the time being. It seems like a good medium in a lot of ways. I can have a more reserved home life if I want to, but still have easy access to a million different things.

LINDSAY: How’s Life on Pause been received by audiences?

TATUM: It’s always interesting when you’re touring right after a record comes out ’cause people haven’t fully digested the songs a lot of times. But the reception’s been really good. Obviously, people are always really excited to hear older songs, something that they’re familiar with. I feel like it’s something that you expect when you’re making music and putting out records. There’s always this gestation period where people need time to be with the song.

LINDSAY: You’ve said previously that you wanted this album to sound more organic. What do you mean by that?

TATUM: I just felt like the previous records that I’ve made, I’ve been so in control of them, especially with the first record, doing everything on my own. There’s really no outside influence, which is a cool thing in some ways, but it can also be bad. As I’ve gotten older, I’m definitely more interested in getting more opinions and getting more input. So that was one thing I was doing when I went into this record, and part of that is just allowing yourself to let go a little bit. I wanted to be a bit more loose with it. That was part of it. And also just the way that the record sounds. I wanted there to be a more present sense of space, and that was something that I thought about a lot while making it. I like this idea that you’d be able to kind of hear the room a little bit more—you could imagine being in the room where it’s recorded.

LINDSAY: As time goes by, I’m sure your personal taste has evolved as well—what you’re listening to and sort of pulling inspiration from.

TATUM: Yeah, definitely. I’m certainly not the same person I was six years ago with Gemini came out. But I also feel like I have to respect what it is that I’ve already done. I always like putting whatever’s new in the same context as the previous record. [With Life on Pause], I did want to make some sort of effort to stretch my boundaries, but I also didn’t want it to be this completely drastic 180 turn or anything. I want my albums to be fairly linear. I want them to progress but also make sense together.

LINDSAY: Considering the album art and music videos you’ve released for Life on Pause, is its aesthetic intentional very ’70s and ’80s-inspired?

TATUM: I knew that I wanted [the album cover] to be a photograph of an interior space, and that was basically all that I knew. That was the starting point. It was meant to be a nod to ’70s or early ’80s songwriters, but we also tried to find a way to make it timeless. That’s always my goal. Obviously, it sounds kind of ’80s or kind of ’70s or whatever, but I like the idea that hopefully Wild Nothing does sound at least somewhat contemporary in a way as well. And I wanted the art to reflect that by not having a sense of time or place.

LINDSAY: I feel like your songwriting itself is pretty straightforward and reminiscent of the classic songwriters of those eras.

TATUM: I definitely am mostly interested in working in a traditional song format. That’s what I like. That’s music that I listen to, for the most part. I love just classic pop song structures. They feel good to me. I feel like I know what I’m doing when I work with them.

LINDSAY: In a recent interview with Complex, you spoke about how the title Life on Pause was in part inspired by your tour of Nocturne and feeling like you were putting something in your life on hold while needing to do something else. Has that conflict of emotions carried over into this tour?

TATUM: [Touring] does affect your life in a big way, and it’s a constant struggle for a lot of people—trying to figure out how to balance the things you consider important in your life. I think it’s something that everyone does on different levels. Basically, it just boils down to balance in your life. It can be hard. It’s hard to figure out on what and where you should focus your attention and what is the purpose of your life. That’s a super broad and kind of heavy thing to say, but everyone wants to feel like they’re doing the right thing and accomplishing whatever it is they want to accomplish. You have to decide sometimes what’s more important: My career as a musician or the fact that I have someone that loves me and I love them?

LINDSAY: Do you write at all when you’re on the road?

TATUM: I wish I did more. I haven’t found the right way to do that. If anything, touring is great inspiration in a couple different ways. Obviously, I’m much more active on tour than I am at home. I generally have a pretty quiet life when I’m at home. But on tour, you’re seeing a lot of different things, different people. [I’m] mentally stocking up on ideas. I almost feel less interested in writing when I’m on tour. I’d rather soak in a bunch of stuff and then get home and write for a while.