Like most art forms, music builds upon what has come before, so to say that Wild Nothing's Jack Tatum calls upon '80s indie-pop and refashions it with modern capabilities and musical context isn't an insult, it's a truth to which Tatum himself unabashedly admits.
"My music is based out of love for other records, so it's always something I try to be open about," Tatum says, who, as Wild Nothing, records alone but takes a band with him on tour. Following the release of a second album, Nocturne, the band returns to Memphis for the second time in two months. In July, they opened for Beach House at Minglewood Hall.
While in college in Blacksburg, Virginia, Tatum, who was focused on becoming a writer, began recording music in his bedroom. He stuck a few songs on MySpace to share them with friends. The songs drew the attention of the then-fledgling Captured Tracks label, which since 2008 has released music from artists such as the Soft Moon, Blank Dogs, Soft Metals, Beach Fossils, and Widowspeak.
"[The label owner] just happened to listen to my music and then sent me this sort of vague email that said, 'Do you want to do a record?' It started really small and kind of grew from there. It's been fun to watch not only my band grow but the label grow, too."
The songs on Wild Nothing's first album, 2010's Gemini, are diverse. Some are tinged with a cold-wave influence, while others, such as "Pessimist," are mildly industrial or techno-tinged ("Bored Games"). Others resemble the lighter, more pop-refined songs on Nocturne, which blur into each other. The seamlessness creates a dream-like atmosphere.
"When some people tell me that the songs flow together smoothly and they can kind of get lost in it, I hope they mean that in a good way," Tatum says.
"I think there's also a difference between getting lost in music as a positive thing and getting lost in music as a negative thing. You can listen to it and not think much about it, or you can listen to it intently, especially on headphones, or played loudly and notice things you might not notice otherwise. People might find there is a lot going on that they weren't aware of."
Indeed, Tatum's evolution from home recording to studio production is obvious in the nuances of Nocturne. In order to appreciate its complexities, one must listen to the subtle rising of synthesizer ambience that disappears suddenly or to the guitar tones, which shift throughout the songs. The use of Nicholas Vernhes' Rare Book Room recording studio — where indie favorites such as Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Fiery Furnaces, and Black Dice have recorded — opened new possibilities for Tatum, who had never recorded inside a studio at such length.
"I was pretty giddy and excited when we went to the studio," Tatum says. "There was so much gear and so many instruments that I felt like I had a lot to play around with and a lot more that I was able to do sonically. [Vernhes has] been collecting stuff for so long now that he's got tons of old synthesizers and a million guitars."
In his typical fashion, Tatum plays every part of the album except for the drums, because, as he says, "I'm a lousy drummer." But his control over the details doesn't end there. The artwork for his new album and the concept for its web page, which features a lunar calendar, were both Tatum's ideas that the label and a graphic designer helped polish.
Initially, Tatum was aiming to be a poet, but he says he approaches songwriting differently. "I really appreciate simplicity in songwriting more so than I do in poetry," he says. "There's room to be a bit more complex and vague in poetry, whereas my songwriting is a bit more direct and it's largely relationship-based. It's also just the idea that a pop song should be relatable, and I guess writing a love song is the most relatable thing you can do."
DIIV, which started as the solo-recording project of Beach Fossil's Zachary Cole Smith, will open the Hi-Tone show on Monday with a grungier, surfier version of Wild Nothing's dream-pop style. The band just released their first full-length album, Oshin, on Captured Tracks in June and is on the steady rise.
Wild Nothing and DIIV
Monday, August 27th
8 p.m., $10