It's difficult to imagine that it's been nearly six years since Jack Tatum released his debut solo LP under the pseudonym Wild Nothing. Though it was recorded largely from the confines of his bedroom in Blacksburg, Va., Gemini impressed with a dreamlike sound that seemed to transcend structural boundaries, and Wild Nothing quickly ascended as one of the biggest names off of Brooklyn-based indie label Captured Tracks' roster.
When we last chatted with Tatum, he had just released his critically acclaimed sophomore LP, Nocturne. But moving forward, it was clear to him that he needed to switch up the formula in order to establish a more cohesive sound. The conception of his latest album, Life of Pause, took him out of Brooklyn and into sunny Los Angeles and frigid Stockholm. What resulted is his most expansive work to date, both spatially and sonically.
With Life of Pause due out next Friday—Feb. 19—we caught up with Tatum to discuss the making of the album and its “living” artwork, the influence of Swedish pop, and whether or not he'd consider taking his music in a cat-oriented direction a la Run the Jewels. Check out the interview below, and listen to his new single “Reichpop” here.
Coming off the release of the Empty Estate EP in 2013 and going into this album, what kind of goals did you set for yourself and what was your headspace like?
It was a completely different approach with this record than the last EP or any of the other records, really. When I made that EP, I didn’t necessarily have a set goal. I had this creative spurt and wanted to make something, and didn’t want it to be this giant commitment. Empty Estate was pretty much written and recorded within the span of one or two months, which I never really do.
I always spend so much time, especially with this newest record. I didn’t intend to spend as long on it as I did, it just kind of happened. I knew I wanted to kind of take my time with this record and have it be a more appropriate statement of where I am as a songwriter and as a musician. It took a while to figure out what that was gonna mean, and what direction that meant. But from the get-go, the main thing that I would say about it is that I wanted it to sound more gelled. I keep using the word organic, and that’s such a vague thing, but at the same time, that sort of made sense because I wanted the record to have more of a sense of space than the other ones did. I wanted you to be able to hear more of where the record was being recorded.
It’s interesting that you mention the instruments in the room because the album artwork…you’re actually on it for the first time.
It’s the first time, and that was purposeful because of what I just said.
The music video for the first two singles, “TV Queen” and “To Know You,” is a live interpretation of that very album artwork. Can you talk us through the idea behind that?
That was something that was born after the concept of the album was done. I’d had all these conversations with people about the album and about desire to create more of a physical space for the record. That very much became the conversation for the album art—how do we kind of create this world for the album to live in? We started taking it very literally and just being like, “It should be this room.” Once we came up with this idea to create this space, then we realized we could unveil pieces of it at a time and have this be the video that would take you inside of the space so you could see more. Always cloaking it in a little bit of mystery, but I liked that it was intentionally vague as to what’s happening.
Was there music written in that room? Was there a significance to it?
No, it was something we created completely after the fact. It was very much about creating this imaginary space. So, we built that room up out of scratch. We found this warehouse in Long Island City, and it was very bizarre. There was this room within a room on the top floor and we're like, “This is perfect.” We brought in a bunch of furniture and totally propped it out, trying to really create a unique space that would relate to the record.
We got really deep and dorky with it. I was working with this photographer, Shawn Brackbill. We came up with the concept together, and we liked talking about these old album covers where if you cared to, you can really spend time with them. There are certain things in the room that even reference songs if you look deep enough.
You released “TV Queen” and “To Know You” together, and listening to “TV Queen,” the lyrics reference “trying to know you.” Is that an intentional duality between those two songs?
I think there were things similar—either synonance or even something like that, which is a direct line that repeats. There’s other songs that I wrote that didn’t end up on the record that include certain lines from songs that did end up on the record. It wasn’t necessarily intentional. I’d get into the headspace and try to write, and sometimes you’re writing lyrics for songs in the same moment. That’s an unintended consequence of that, but I do like that and I like that there’s things like that that people have been picking up on that they tell me and I’m like, “Oh, well, I didn’t really mean to do that.”
I was watching the music video and it’s taking you through this cyclical room—and back and forth between these songs—and it definitely felt very intentional.
Yeah, for sure. This record is labored over on a level that the others just weren’t. Not to say that I didn’t work hard on the other records, but I feel like with this record and where I’m at with it being the third record, there is a little bit of feeling like there’s something to prove. My fear is that it would just flip under the radar and people wouldn’t care about it. So, I think because of that, I really feel like I had to put a lot of thought into it. It had to be intentional, it had to be labored over.
You recorded it between Los Angeles and Stockholm?
Yeah. I just recently moved, but I was in New York for the past four years and it wasn’t necessarily even that I felt like “I don’t wanna record in New York.” There’s just an opportunity that came up where the producer Tom Monahan that I was working with, he had some connections in Stockholm and so we decided to do that because we could. There was a good studio, and John Eriksson of Peter Bjorn and John was gonna play drums on the record, which he did, so that’s part. I’ve always had a bit of an infatuation with Sweden, and Scandinavia in general, so it was kind of a no-brainer to me when this opportunity presented itself.
So we went and did that in the dead of winter, and we were there for almost three weeks. It was great. It wasn’t bleak, but we didn’t do anything else. We were just in the studio all day, and it afforded me this creative concentration that I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else.
Sweden seems to be fertile ground for a lot of killer music lately.
It is; there’s a lineage of pop music in Sweden that’s very fertile, for sure. We were recording in a studio that’s now owned by a collective of musicians in Sweden, but originally it was owned by ABBA. There’s people that come in and out of that studio that own it or work out of there that do a lot of indie music, but also a lot of pop writing and recording as well. I always had an infatuation with Swedish independent music, especially when I was in college—bands like the Radio Dept. that meant a lot to me and still do.
Totally. So, about the album title, what does a Life of Pause entail?
It relates to the song of the same name just in the sense that I felt like, for a while when I was touring, there was this dichotomy of my life as a musician and my life as a normal person being home in New York, with my girlfriend, and living my normal day-to-day. Especially touring Nocturne, it got really confusing so I felt like, in a way I was living this life of pause, so to speak. Either way you look at it, I felt like I was putting something in my life on hold in order to complete something else. Just that feeling of once you’re in one mode, that feels like what’s normal. That feels like what your life is. But as soon as you get on the other side of it, it feels the same way. I think that was my existence, for so long, over the past five or six years.
Do you have a particular stand out track that you just can’t wait to perform live from this album?
We’ve already started playing some of the songs live, and that’s been fun. There’s some songs that have been surprising, that I’ve felt we’ve got a really good response to, like “Alien,” which is one of the slower songs on the record.
When you announced the album at Baby’s All Right a while back, you said, “It’s Life of Pause as in p-a-u-s-e, not p-a-w-s.” Would you ever consider going the Meow the Jewels route?
That depends! I have two cats. If I can get some amazing cat food sponsorship I could definitely see myself doing that.