Finding balance and time for his third record was something really motivating and interesting. Wild Nothing‘s Jack Tatum talked with us about the importance of taking a pause in your life and how it inspired him for the new record, Life Of Pause. Just take a pause and read our interview.
How’s 2016 starting off for you?
It’s been good! It started off pretty different for me. I just moved to Los Angeles. I spent years on the road out of California. I’ve been here now for a few weeks and it’s good. It was a big change for me.
It’s been basically four years since you released your previous album, Nocturne. What was your mindset while approaching your third album, Life of Pause?
I don’t know if I have like a mindset… This record came together pretty naturally. I did it necessarily to satisfy this amount of time when I knew that I wanted to work on the record. It really was just a matter of time for us not touring anymore and I knew I wanted to focus on writing, but I didn’t know at the time what that really meant. This was towards at the end of 2013 when I started to work on some of the songs. I guess my mindset was just wanted to be patience… I mean, I just started working on songs and so much earlier in the course of the next year. I had a pretty good stockpile of songs that I felt they were ready to move forward… I think it was a pretty slow and natural process.
Is the meaning behind the name Life of Pause connected with that time you were writing?
Yeah, it does in a way. The sort of sentiment of the title Life of Pause is really about putting parts of your life on hold and what it means to do that and what it means to sort of prioritize the things that are important in your life. I think for me that was definitely true of this period of time when I was writing this record and I spent a handful of years when the two first records came out trying to kind of compromise. There were parts of my life that I felt were to start home life and sort of being a normal version of myself versus being frosted into a life of traveling and playing music for people. So, it’s sort of about that and also just there was something in the way that it sounded Life of Pause that I just kind of liked and I felt like it sort of suited me as a person as well, because I also started to think of it as a testament of just being observant and taking pause to notice the things around you.
Being the only songwriter on Wild Nothing, how do you abstract yourself when the ideas don’t come out? Or is that something that doesn’t happen to you?
Yeah, it always happens and I think when whenever it does happen, you kind of just have to wait. [laughs] I mean, really ultimately that’s what all you can do when you’re against the wall. I guess the thing is that as much as I like to subscribe to this idea that “Oh, if I just sit down everyday and try to write songs, it’s just gonna happen and be able to do it”, you have to have this balance of working and writing, but also living your life because if you don’t and you spend all your time just trying to write, then eventually you’re going to have to get inspiration and you got nothing to write about. Perhaps it’s part of the reason why this record took so long, because I did have these moments of big burst of creativity and then it would just die for a while, and you just have to let it die. [laughs]
While you were writing this record, were there any records or artists that inspire you?
Sure! There’s a lot of records that were super important to me for the last couple of years and really helped me to shape my sense of what I wanted to do with my own music. I think everyone does that, of course, but for me it just like can be pretty direct or I listen to a lot of sort of more bigger artists, so to speak, more well known artists. People like Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, David Bowie and all of these sort of capable groups. There’s a million things. [laughs]
You record all your songs by yourself, so what’s the instrument you enjoy the most to play?
It can change a lot. The thing is that I will start songs on different instruments and depending on what instrument I start the song on. It really changes the way the rest of the writing of that song goes. Every song that I write depending on the instrument that I start it on is kind of how it changes the way that the song sounds. Mainly the way that I write is that I start with guitar or keyboard or bass. Actually, I did kind of have the most fun recording the bass on this record. It’s definitely an underrated instrument that’s really extremely fun to write bass lines, in my opinion. I sort of bullshit my way through a lot of stuff. [laughs] I’m not a great keyboard player by any means, but I sort of know enough to get what I want done.
“The sort of sentiment of the title Life of Pause is really about putting parts of your life on hold and what it means to do that and what it means to sort of prioritize the things that are important in your life.”
You were saying earlier that you started some songs of this record with bass lines. Do you usually start your songs with bass or also with other instruments?
Yeah, it’s interesting. A song that I would start off on bass for me really is just about kind of creating this framework for the song. So when I start on bass it’s pretty much math out how the entire song is gonna work and then from there is just a matter of figuring out the melodies on top. I feel a lot of times when I start a song on bass it ends up being more sparse or less chord based. When I start songs on guitar, they tend to be sort of more chord-heavy and I think there’s songs on the record like “Adore” for instances, which has acoustic guitar where it’s very much just straightforward guitar chords.
Did you have any other musicians collaborating on this album?
Yeah! I wrote all the songs of the record myself and a lot of times I detail pretty much every part of the song, but I can’t play drums well, so I’ve always brought in drummers to help and sort of realize what it is what I want with the song. Part of that is interesting because you can get anyone to come in and just say “What do you think it would work here?” but other times I have songs that I’m working on in the demo that I pretty much math out what I want the drums to do, because I understand what the drums are doing but I just can’t do it. [laughs] It really just depends. I feel like some songs I have pretty strict ideas for what I want to happen, but other songs can be a little bit looser, so that’s where it becomes interesting when I bring other people to play. I had a couple of friends to come in and had sort of general ideas, but for the most part I just got them playing over the songs and see what happens. Brad Laner, who plays in this band called Medicine, he came in and played guitar on some of the tracks, which is really fun. I don’t often do that and I think as I get older I’d like to do that more, but there’s something pretty exciting about having other musicians to come in and just say “What do you think should go here? What would you do?” I spend so much time trying to control every aspect of it and so it’s nice now realizing that I don’t have to do that all the time.
This album was produced by Thom Monahan. What did he bring to the record?
Well, he’s the kind of person that is not afraid to just sit there with you and take as long as you need just to get a part and I feel like he’s one of the more encouraging people that I’ve ever worked with. He’s really good in sitting down with you and waiting until you get like the best version of the tape. It was an unspoken thing that we just wait until we start working was we were trying to get as many default takes on each song as we could, which is not necessarily impressive, but at the same time – even on the last record – you use your tools sometimes and it’s pretty easy to kind of punch yourself in and just record a section of the song here and record another section of the song. But we tried not to do that as much as we could and tried really to every time we were gonna sit down and track like a guitar line or track the bass line for the song just to get it all in one go, and because of that we spent a lot more time tracking than I’ve ever done. [laughs] I think it shows and makes the record a little bit looser and it feels a little bit more natural, which was really my goal for the record.
The album was recorded in Los Angeles and Stockholm. What did lead you to pick those cities, which are completely different places?
I think it was a really interesting, but unintended outcome of that decision which was having the opportunity to record each half of the record in such drastically different places. We didn’t set out or talked about how we needed to go to Stockholm to record, it wasn’t really like that. There was just this opportunity that aroused where Thom had some connections to musicians in Sweden that he had worked with before. They had really awesome studios in Stockholm and so they invited us to come and record. We did it and we kind of jumped on it. You don’t have to do something like that and it’s sort of drastic in a way to go half way across the world just to record part of your album, but at the same time it does help get you outside of yourself. I think us being in this sort of neutral environment for the two of us where we hadn’t worked with each other before and we’d never even met before, we were thrust into this totally unfamiliar world. I think it actually helped us in a lot of ways.
“You have to have this balance of working and writing, but also living your life because if you don’t and you spend all your time just trying to write, then eventually you’re going to have to get inspiration and you got nothing to write about.”
What’s the concept behind the album’s cover image?
There’s sort of a large concept with that. We started talking about based in relation to this record how we kind of felt that what was the most important thing about this record is that it seems to create a sense of space and because of that we wanted it to be really literal. We started working with this photographer Shawn Brackbill and told him my ideas for it. We liked the idea of just finding an actual physical space and sort of creating this little mini world that I could be in. I think what we were trying to accomplish with this room was to create this environment on the surface level. It’s a relatively normal situation, but there’s also something sort of strange that’s underlying. I think we got a lot of inspiration from other surrealist album arts and photographers and stuff, and I think when people see the actual record itself there’s just more to it than just the front cover, like the front relates to the back cover and inside is all one small narrative. It’s hard to comment just on the cover because you really need to see all the parts, which is fun for the people who will see the record, but it’s hard to take the front cover out of context I guess.
The front cover conveys this kind of balance with yourself and it feels in some way connected with the whole theme behind Life of Pause.
Yeah, definitely! There’s a lot of loose references to the record and to the art, and I think that is sort of a larger being in a way to this idea of balance. It relates to the album title just because for me what the album title represents a life of putting parts of yourself or parts of your life on hold in order to pay attention to other sides and that can be extremely literal and reference to me being gone and touring… What that means is that my real identity – me as a musician or when I’m home with my girlfriend or when I’m home around my family or more grounded and normal version of myself. It’s ultimately a matter of balance.
I loved what you wrote about David Bowie and it’s amazing how he touched so many musicians’ lives and so much more. I know this is a hard question, but what Bowie’s song or record really stands out for you?
I think it’s a testament to David Bowie as a songwriter that it is so hard to sort of pick something and I think at different times of my life that have been different records of his that have meant more than others and I feel like weirdly enough the record that first meant a lot to me was Let’s Dance . I think it’s an amazing record and it’s not a lot of people favorite as David Bowie’s records, that’s for sure. [laughs] But that was the first of his records that I’ve started listening to a lot and I’ve always been a fan of pop music. Now I’m definitely more like Low  and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) , they’re kind of tied for my favorite of his records, especially Scary Monsters because I feel it’s a record that some people overlook, but I think it’s really awesome and I feel like it’s really sort of a bridge gap between the Berlin Trilogy stuff and then Let’s Dance, it’s sort of right in the middle which I think it’s an interesting place to be. The production on that record is really cool and it influenced the production of this record [Life Of Pause] a lot, you know? We would listen to Scary Monsters off and on throughout the process and kind of trying to see what they were doing.