MusicMusic Features

Wild Nothing Comes Home (Sort Of)

None of the members of Wild Nothing are originally from Athens, but their June 13 show at the 40 Watt will be a kind of homecoming, nonetheless. While the band—songwriting muscleman Jack Tatum and his touring band of guitarist Nathan Goodman, bassist Jeff Haley, keyboardist Kevin Knight and drummer Jeremiah Johnson—mostly met as college students in Blacksburg, VA, Athens has become an adopted home, both literally and figuratively.

“We always rehearse here before going on the road, like at Nuçi’s Space, or for a while we were practicing down at Pigpen,” says Goodman, who relocated to Athens after finishing up at Virginia Tech.

Wild Nothing began as a bedroom recording project for Tatum, whom the Internet quickly hurled into indie stardom on the strength of his tunes. A quick perusal of his catalog makes it clear why his music has appealed to so many. His songs, which feature glowing synth atmospheres constructed around catchy guitar and vocal melodies, are of our nostalgic indie moment and also somehow timelessly outside it. There is nothing kitschy or gimmicky about Tatum’s music; it just sounds good.

On his first two albums, Tatum made some resounding statements about who he was as a songwriter, and now he’s going about subverting them. This spring, Wild Nothing released Empty Estate, an EP that, while it doesn’t quite turn everything you thought you knew about Tatum on its head, is surprisingly dancey and bold.

“The EP, for me, was kind of an opportunity to separate myself a bit from what I had done before,” Tatum says. “I was excited about showing people that I had other interests, and that I was capable of different styles of songwriting. It represented a different shift in my own musical interests.

“I really enjoy dance music, actually,” Tatum continues, noting that he drew from influences like Talking Heads’ beat-driven grooves when writing this new collection of songs. “It’s something that hasn’t seeped into my music so much [until now]… I have an interest in synthetic music. I’m drawn to music that is able to combine the organic and the synthetic.”

Wary of being pigeonholed, Tatum is clear about the fact that he plans to keep exploring new styles of music with every release, saying, “It’s about me trying to find what my music is, the thing that separates me from everything else.”

That quest for a singular voice explains why, despite having a talented group of musicians in his touring band, Tatum prefers to do his songwriting and recording solo. But, as Goodman points out, a Wild Nothing performance and a Wild Nothing record are two different beasts.

“When we all get together to figure out how to play these songs live, that’s when we can find ways to add little things here and there,” he says. 

The energy of five people onstage is undeniably more—or perhaps just differently charged—than that of one guy in the studio. That means Wild Nothing’s live show has something fresh to offer even those who know their catalog word for word—and if the frequency with which the band’s albums can be heard playing in shops and restaurants downtown is any sign, there are a lot of us in Athens. 

This week’s gig is one of a string of East Coast shows that offer the bandmembers a chance to run into family or old friends. After the three years they’ve spent relentlessly touring everywhere from Barcelona to Tokyo in support of Wild Nothing’s 2010 debut, Gemini, and last year’s follow-up, Nocturne, they’re happy to be staying close to home. And, Tatum says, despite the fact that he now lives in New York, Wild Nothing’s music is forever tied to the South.

“I think if I had tried to start Wild Nothing in New York… it never would have worked,” Tatum says. “I think it was the lack of outside influence in my town that allowed me to be successful. I was very much able to just look inward as opposed to looking at what other people were doing around me… I almost felt that the fact that I lived somewhere where there wasn’t this complete over-saturation of culture allowed me to get where I needed to go.”