Since indie stylist Jack Tatum’s Wild Nothing project broke big onto the scene with its 2010 debut Gemini, Tatum has made exploring the sounds of the 1980s into its own pure virtue by capturing the era’s eerie, shimmering glow through a lo-fi lens. Wild Nothing’s fourth album, Indigo, still finds him drawing from that nostalgic well, but with a twist: this time around, the production is big, bold, and crisp, a gesture that seems both out-of-step with the confines of his oft-ramshackle Captured Tracks labelmates and perfectly in line with trends in overground pop (the 1975’s recent string of singles, Paramore’s excellent After Laughter from last year).
“I’ve always pulled from stuff in the past,” Tatum explained last week on a phone call as he was getting settled into his new home in Richmond, Virginia — both a homecoming of sorts for the Blacksburg native and a change of pace after a brief stint living in Los Angeles. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself much more attracted to bigger-sounding pop records from that era.” On the eve of Indigo’s release this Friday, August 31, Tatum shared with Vulture five ’80s pop records that served as inspiration for Indigo’s lovely, big-ticket confines.
Roxy Music, Avalon
It’s the record in my mind as far as that sound goes — a record that a lot of people, when you’re thinking about big, bright-sounding ’80s pop records, is the go-to for them. On the one hand, it’s a really great pop record, but there’s a lot of experimentation on it too. In my mind, it’s the same band that Roxy Music was since the beginning. I got really into reading about how Avalon was made, and so many of those songs were built up from one drum machine track — which isn’t an uncommon way of doing things, especially these days. A song like “More Than This” is the perfect example of the kind of song from that era that’s so beautiful-sounding in terms of how it’s produced. People were doing really exciting pop music, which was coinciding with a lot of technical changes in terms of how records were being made. People had a lot more freedom to do things differently, and they were much more willing to accept synthetic sounds. That’s often one of the biggest gripes people have about music from the ’80s — that it sounds stiff or inorganic — but I always loved hearing how people combined organic sounds with sounds from that era. People think those sounds are dated, but they’ve never sounded dated to me.
When’s the first time you ever heard Avalon?
I can’t remember the first time I ever picked it up and listened to it in full, but maybe five years ago when I really gave it a shot as a whole. It’s been a favorite record of mine since then.
You’re 30 years old — Avalon is one of those records that people typically don’t gravitate towards until they’re older.
Honestly, I think you can make the same argument about a lot of these records I’ve picked out. When I was younger, I was more attracted towards music that was rough around the edges because they felt more relatable —these ramshackle records more in line with Beat Happening or the Microphones. There was always this thing in the back of my head saying, “Oh, I could do this.” It’s similar to the argument as to why punk music became a thing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had a newfound appreciation for technical skill. [Laughs] You come around to your parents’ records. It’s the same reason why I like Steely Dan and Hall and Oates now. Avalon falls into that same category, but it’s coming from a band that was very avant-garde and pushing boundaries when they started. It’s still the same band, but it’s later in their career. I don’t know how many copies of this record sold — it must’ve been a lot. [Editor’s Note: It’s currently Roxy Music’s only platinum-selling record in the U.S.]
Kate Bush, The Sensual World
She’s one of those people who has such an amazing catalogue of music that every year I can have a different experience with one of her records. I hadn’t really listened to The Sensual World all that much — I was more into the earlier stuff. One of my favorite songs of hers is “Deeper Understanding,” which she’d done a newer version of on [Director’s Cut in 2011]. I really love that song, and it’s also on The Sensual World, so I dug deeper into that record. It’s like Avalon in a way, where it’s a pristine-sounding record production-wise — it’s put together so well. It’s also another record that does a good job of finding ways to emote through weirdly digital-sounding instruments. She was always pulling from weird world instruments, which is another thing that I love. There’s such a deep, emotional resonance in her music that’s always attracted me to it.
You covered “Cloudbusting” when you were first releasing music. Covering Kate Bush early in your career is a bold move.
It’s the kind of thing I would not do now. [Laughs] I was 21 years old and thought no one would give a shit in the first place. I feel that way a lot about covering songs in general now. It’s one thing if you’re covering a song live, because it’s living in its own world — a temporary thing you’re sharing with people in a room. But recording a cover is a lot of pressure. You better make sure it’s good. That’s why I haven’t done it that much.
What made you choose to cover it?
I’ve always been the kind of person who, if I’m immediately struck by something, I obsess over it. Looking back at it, the time frame between me hearing that song for the first time and covering it wasn’t that long. I was struck by it and was like, “I want to learn this song.” I didn’t put much more thought into it than that.
Fleetwood Mac, Mirage
It’s hard to pick a favorite Fleetwood Mac record, but it’s become my favorite. I was trying to decide whether to pick this one or Tango in the Night, because they’re both shining examples of ’80s Fleetwood Mac. I’ve listened to Mirage so much. In 2011, I was living in Savannah, Georgia, and I had this car that only had a tape deck. The only tape I had was Mirage, so I probably listened to that record more than any other record during that time. I know it so well. That band is such an important touchstone for my music — in the way that I approach songwriting. They’re the ultimate pop band. I can always look to them for inspiration in terms of melody and how to structure a song. It’s rare to find a band that had so many good songwriters and such diversity in the songwriting. I’m always switching back and forth between who’s my favorite songwriter in the band, but Mirage has my two favorite Christine McVie songs: “Hold Me” and “Only Over You.” It’s a record that’s so indicative of that era in terms of the way it sounds —unabashedly pop, intentionally clean and clear-sounding. That’s what I’ve gravitated towards with my own music, too — I’ve wanted it to sound like a hi-fi studio record. It’s hard for me to escape the era of the ’80s — I don’t know why. It’s like a curse. [Laughs] But it’s my favorite shit — I can’t deny it.
I feel like our generation appreciates Fleetwood Mac a lot more than previous generations of rock critics and musicians. Why do you think that is?
There’s a handful of songs that are undeniable hits. A song like “Everywhere” on Tango in the Night — I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like that song. I’m sure age is part of it. There’s plenty of people our age, too, who have a preconceived notion of anything from the ’80s sounding as cheesy and dated. We grew up with a lot of that music, but we’ve bypassed it too, because we weren’t alive for it. I’ve never had that feeling about the ’80s, though. There was still such good songwriting at the heart of those groups, as well as the production choices that changed the way the songs sounded. It’s hard for people to strip away the sounds they’re hearing from the core of the song. I pay attention to that much more as a musician than the average person would. Also, maybe we’ve all bought $0.50 Fleetwood Mac tapes at thrift stores and learned to love them.
Prefab Sprout, Steve McQueen
Out of all the records I’ve picked here, this was the hardest one for me to get into, but the most rewarding, too. It’s the record I’ve listened to the most in the last five years — I listen to it almost every day. I can always put it on and be fine with it when I don’t feel like finding something new to listen to. I’ve always felt like Prefab Sprout had more in common with the Steely Dans of the world, where the songwriting is pretty complex and there’s a lot of lyrical deeper reading involved if you care to do it. I can totally understand why they weren’t more popular, but I also think they’re hugely underrated. It’s the kind of record that people would pass over due to production techniques, but I love how it’s produced. Thomas Dolby produced it, who most people know from “She Blinded Me With Science.” Paddy McAloon has such a way with words that it can almost be uncomfortable or embarrassing. There’s an earnestness, but also tongue-in-cheek nature to a lot of his lyrics that I’ve always been really jealous of. He injects his songs with humor, but they can also be heartbreaking. It’s really difficult to write in a way that runs the gamut of emotion.
Do you ever feel self-conscious about expressing yourself through your own music?
I don’t think so. I’ve always touched on things that feel personal or born out of personal experience. There’s times when it can be a little hard to do that, but I feel like that’s always been part of my music — it’s pretty earnest [Laughs], and more on the serious side of things. That’s why I’m jealous of people who find a way to inject music with humor while also being able to talk about things. David Byrne is pretty good at that.
The Blue Nile, A Walk Across the Rooftops
The Blue Nile have always been a favorite of mine. A Walk Across the Rooftops is a good pop record. A lot of the songs are more minimalist than I shoot for on my own records, but melody-wise — it sounds dumb to say, but for me, melody is always the most important thing in any song. I’m always listening to vocal melodies. I love instrumental refrains, and I do that in my own music a lot. I’m always attracted to melodic motifs that repeat themselves. A Walk Across the Rooftops is very indicative of this sound I was shooting for — trying to not leave that many rough edges on. After having made records that were intentionally rough around the edges and attracted people to my music for that reason in the first place, it’s strange to end up in a place where I want to make more pristine records. But this is the music I love, and it’s what I aspire to.
When did you first hear The Blue Nile?
It would’ve been around the time I was touring behind Nocturne.
They’re one of those bands where I’d never heard of them until maybe 18 months ago, when a bunch of 23-year-olds I was working with at the time were like, “This is our favorite band.” It’s very different from when people their age ten years ago were more into scruffier-sounding music.
Maybe it’s unfair for me to chalk it up to age, but I’ve always invented this narrative in my head that you’re more attracted to that when you’re younger because the idea of technical skill is vomit-inducing. Who cares if you’re amazing at your instrument? What matters is the songs and the feeling involved. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s much more of an all-encompassing thing where I can still listen to a lot of music that’s intentionally ramshackle, but I can appreciate the time and energy that went into a Steely Dan record more. Before, I was like, “I don’t care about this at all.” At a certain age, though, something clicked, and I realized there was a lot to appreciate. Most of my contemporaries are more interested in making their shit sound good, for lack of a more creative way of putting it.
Do you listen to the 1975? They’re very much in line with the music that both you and the Blue Nile work in.
A little bit. I wouldn’t consider myself a massive fan, but as far as mainstream pop music goes, they’re doing things that are more interesting to me than a lot of other people. I’ve even read that [1975 front man Matt Healy] is a Blue Nile fan as well. That’s indicative of the kind of impact that these pop records from the ’80s have. They sound more contemporary than most people might suspect they would. You can hear parallels, whether intentional or not. It’s the nature of things being weirdly cyclical. I feel like if I keep making the music I like making, every four records I’ll be back in vogue. [Laughs.]