It’s difficult to follow up a debut like Wild Nothing’s Gemini, which was released to unexpected attention in 2010 and ended up on many year-end lists. The distinct songwriting of Jack Tatum seemed fully realized from the start, and the bar was set so high that it was hard to imagine a follow-up that could match it. But, while it might have been safer to try to make something sounding like Gemini 2, Tatum has instead created an affecting album that stands apart from his breakthrough, not necessarily sounding like a different songwriter, but, rather, sounding like an artist that is still growing and has a lot more than one trick up his sleeve.
This record, Nocturne, is out Aug. 28 via Captured Tracks, and will be supported by a North American tour with DIIV that begins a couple days before. We recently had a chance to chat with Jack Tatum, discussing the process of creating Nocturne, the hardships and rewards of transforming a bedroom project into a touring band, and what the lunar cycle has to do with his music.
How did you spend your time after the support of Gemini concluded? Did you take some time off music or did you get right into the new album?
Jack Tatum: Yeah, we took a pretty big break after that because we had been playing a lot in support of that record and a lot of it was sort of happening as it went. So, once we started to wind down around September of last year, I made the decision to take some time off and try to return to normalcy a bit.
I ended up staying in Savannah, Georgia during that time. I was just there, living a fairly normal life, and slowly starting to work on some new music. Eventually I started to think about the next record and where I wanted to take it. From there I started writing on my own in Georgia and then moved to New York in January to record the album.
You mentioned that you wrote Nocturne in Savannah, and I believe Gemini was written in Virginia. How has your geographical location affected your songwriting from album to album?
Tatum I actually think sometimes about whether these locations have influenced my music, and I don’t think they have necessarily influenced the type of music that I make, but it definitely influences the way that I make it. Both Blacksburg, where Gemini was created and Savannah are relatively isolated in terms of music, and that was something I considered when I decided to move to Savannah. We had been on tour for quite a while and I was sick of being around music all the time. Plus, I knew people down there and thought that it would be a good place to be. And, it really was for quite a while. Of course, like anything, after a while you start to miss certain things and I eventually started to really miss music again. But, it was good while I was there for writing the album and it became a really comfortable place for me to work. I don’t think there is anything on the record that directly really relates to Savannah, but, living there allowed me to continue in the way that I feel most comfortable about making music, which is really doing it as a personal and internal thing.
Yeah, if I were to pick out one song that jumps out as a Savannah song it would be “Nowhere”; the 7-inch that you released ahead of this new album. Was that sort of a planned red herring to throw out ahead of Nocturne, because it doesn’t really sound like anything on the new album?
Tatum: I had been working on a lot of different things over that break when I was trying to figure out where the record was going to go and that song was one amongst others that didn’t really sound like what I had done before. But, I liked the song and the label liked the song, so we decided that it would be a good thing to release as a 7-inch, if just to put something out there.?? That song, in particular, was really funny for me because it really wasn’t like anything else I was working on. I had shown people the song before and I think people may have misinterpreted that and thought that was the new direction I was going. And, I didn’t really put myself out there to dispel those ideas and say “no, this isn’t what the album is going to sound like.” But, yeah, I had intended it just as a one-off.
As far as the songs that did make it on Nocturne, one of the main differences that I observed in comparison to Gemini is less of a reliance on vocal hooks and using the guitar leads as the centerpiece to the song, and it seems like you are showcasing your musical chops a little bit more. Is that something that was deliberate in your songwriting?
Tatum: Yeah, I think so. Initially when I started working on this album, I was thinking of it as being a pop album and I wanted it to be this really structured thing. And, I still talk about that way and think that on some of the songs there are clear-cut structures with clear-cut verses and choruses. But, I think it is true that I saw myself working a lot more in terms on instrumentation and the idea of a refrain, particularly guitar refrains and these musical ideas and melodies that would repeat themselves throughout the songs. So, yeah, I think that is true, but I think it is still working within a pop confines because the idea of structure is still there, whether it is the repeating of a melody or just an idea that weaves itself through a song. It’s not, like you said, always in the vocals. And, I think I have really come to terms with the ways that I want to use my voice and the way that I feel most comfortable using my voice. I don’t really think of myself as a singer; I think of myself as a songwriter. I feel like I interjected my voice just where it was necessary, but there are no long stretches of instrumental passages or breaks. And, yeah, I think that was because I was more drawn to the instrumental aspects of the new songs.
You recently launched a new website for your music that includes a nifty lunar calendar feature. You have also noted in a press release that the phases of the moon spoke toward your frame of mind while you were writing Nocturne. Can you elaborate more on that idea?
Tatum: Yeah. The idea of having this website and using the lunar cycle as a representation of the album is really not so meaningful in of itself, so much as it is an interesting way for me to tie something into the record. And, I think it works well because Nocturne, when I listen to it, I think of it as a nighttime record. Some people have said that their are brighter or sunnier moments on the album, but, when I hear it, it seems like a record that makes the most sense at night. Which makes sense when I consider that I wrote the album mostly by night. And, obviously, its just a more exciting way to share your tour dates.
Speaking of tour dates, you recently wrapped some dates with Beach House and you have another lengthy North American trek beginning on August 26th, which includes a few festivals and headlining shows with support from DIIV. Because, as you talked about before, your songwriting process is pretty solitary, how difficult is it to translate your material to a full band setting?
Tatum: It was far more difficult with the first album, mostly because I wasn’t thinking of it at all when I made Gemini. I literally did not have a single thought as to how I would play that record live when I was making it. It wasn’t even a world I was aware of at that point. It wasn’t a career path or what I thought I would be doing. I thought it was very much this insular thing, this very internal world to itself. It wasn’t until after the release when we started getting offers and people wanted to hear it live that I realized I had to put together a band. From there it took off, but it really was difficult figuring out how we were going to do it and a lot of compromises had to be made.
So, going into this album I thought a lot more about that. And, we used to tour as a four piece and now we will be touring as a five piece, so we have a little bit more leeway in getting a fuller sound and incorporating more of the recorded elements into the live show. It all can be frustrating but it’s also rewarding. Plus, there is the fact that you have to deal with four other people’s way of interpreting your song. But, for me it has been fun. It’s been really cool to have this added human element. It’s not just my songs anymore. When we play, I really feel like it is all of our songs.
Last year I had a chance to speak with Dustin Payseur from Beach Fossils around the time they were releasing the What a Pleasure EP, which included a collaboration with you on the track “Out in the Way.” And, he had good things to say about working with you and that you guys have become friends. Is working further with him something you are planning on further exploring or would like to?
Tatum: Yeah, Dustin has become a really good friend of mine and we both live in New York in the same neighborhood, so we see each other all the time. He’s definitely someone that I enjoy working with, but that song was really something that was just born out of a bored hangout session. We’d talked about maybe doing something further together, but I think we just both got too busy working on our own projects. But, I’m open to a lot of things, really, and there are a lot of musical tendencies of mine that I wish I had outlets for. But, for the time being, this is really at the forefront for me.