You might not think it to listen to it but "Headlights On," the euphoric new single from Wild Nothing, was written during a particularly delicate moment in Jack Tatum's life. The birth of their first child had left Tatum and his wife both sleep-deprived and distant from one another. The song doesn't shy away from this chaotic period of their life (which coincided with the early days of the pandemic), with Tatum singing self-lacerating lyrics like, "Don’t always treat you right / But I don’t know how to be subtle with all the things I hate about myself." Amid the tension, though, is a sense of a deeper connection and a mission to find their way back to that place. Tatum, joined by Hatchie on backing vocals, bounces across a Balearic-style beat as the release offered by club-centric music sparks memories of better days and provides hope for the future.
"Headlights On" will appear on Hold, a new Wild Nothing album due out on October 27 via Captured Tracks. It is the first Wild Nothing album since 2018's Indigo and the first self-produced effort since 2010 debut Gemini. In the interim period, Tatum has worked with Japanese Breakfast and Molly Burch as both a writer and producer.
Speaking to The FADER about "Headlights On," Tatum explains that, "lyrically, it's definitely indicative of my head space at the time. And I think my relationship with my wife was in a really rocky place because we were just under so much stress, and I think this song became this very cathartic outlet for me of being able to just get these things out there and just trying to, even in this really hectic and dark moment, still leave room open for her and for our relationship.
"I describe it more as body music, music that's meant to be felt. A lot of these electronic and dance music influences started seeping in because that was what was making sense to me at the time. I think musically, a lot of things lost their appeal for me at that moment, just being under so much stress. But something about dance music just felt, it's very repetitive, it just felt meditative."
Read on for a full Q+A with Tatum about his new music and upcoming plans, which includes a headline tour this November to celebrate the release of Hold. Full details of those shows can be found below.
The FADER: What you were listening to around the making of "Headlights On"? It reminds me a little bit of the Madchester scene, Happy Mondays and that kind of thing.
I've always been a fan of the Haçienda scene stuff, Madchester stuff, Happy Mondays. I think even the certain shoegaze bands that kind of gravitated towards these sort of hypnotic, rhythmic elements. So there's a bit of that in there for sure.
I was a big Chemical Brothers fan when I was a kid. This is a bit of an embarrassing admission, but I was obsessed with the Mortal Kombat movie for some reason and if you go back and listen to the original Mortal Kombat soundtrack, it's a lot of intense industrial music and stuff. Another of the songs that, at the time, was so important to me was this Underworld song, "Two Months Off" that, I don't know, for some reason I hadn't really been familiar with it and then I was listening to it one night when I was just so sleep deprived and it gave me full body shivers. I was just so moved by it and wasn't expecting it at all. And I think just that energy, for whatever reason, crept into this song.
The video has that energy, too. I was wondering how comfortable you found dancing, having spent most of your time on stage behind a guitar?
With this record I feel at a place in my life where I'm a little bit more OK with the idea that this is my music, I'm the person that makes this music. Why not just put myself forward a little bit more? I think of my music as being pop music. I think hopefully it tries to do some things that are more interesting than traditional pop music, but at the end of the day, I write songs that are structured by design and very much, I think, want to be accessible.
Hold is the first Wild Nothing album in five years. What can people expect from this new project from you?
With all of my records, this one builds upon the last, and it builds upon, I think, the overall legacy that I've been working towards over the past decade, just with all the records that I release. And I think with that comes a lot of familiarity, but also a lot of places in which I feel like there's some pretty obvious points of trying to stretch as a songwriter and as a producer. I think too that it is an important point that I self-produced this record and I think more and more define myself as a producer and start trying to work with other people. And I think through working with other people, that definitely has influenced how I make my own music.
I think this record, in some ways, is a bit more ambitious. I think it reaches toward something a bit larger than life at some points, but it's still me. It's still grounded in all the good and bad in my life, and my insecurities and my triumphs.
Could you expand a little on how your work writing and producing for Molly Burch and Japanese Breakfast has had an effect on your own music?
Just purely on a song-writing level, working with different people, no one really works the same. You can always find similarities in the way that you approach your songwriting, and particularly I think with Michelle [Zauner] and Molly both approach songwriting very differently.
In the case of working with Michelle, she's someone who is just so confident and she worked really fast too. When we were working on that song, "Be Sweet," that song was really born in a day, like an afternoon, truly. I mean we obviously did a lot more work on it after the fact, but that was really inspiring, just as someone who tends to labor over songs for ages.
There's something very freeing working as a producer for other people because a lot of times the songwriting element is taken out. You're always helping to make tweaks here and there, but I think when you work as a producer with someone else, the pieces are in place, you're just there to put them together and make them be as good as they can be. That's really fun for me.
2020 marked the 10-year anniversary of Gemini and Nocturne had its 10-year anniversary last year. As you announce your fifth album, do you have any insight into why Wild Nothing has been able to last the distance?
On a personal level, you've got the fact that this project, while I've had people that I've played with and collaborators throughout the whole process that have come and gone, but it's still largely been a solo project. So I really kind of just had myself to answer to in terms of how much I want to work, how much I want to write, how much I want to put out. So I think being your own boss in that sense, there's no band to implode or something.
But two, I don't know. I mean I think it's hard for me to talk about it without accidentally sounding like I'm pumping myself up or something, but I think when you go back and listen to those early records, they kind of just hold up. I don't know. Obviously, I'm biased, but I think there's something about them that they kind of struck this really nice balance between referencing a lot of things that had already happened, but also sounding very of the moment in themselves.
Thinking about those early years, it feels nice having a new Wild Nothing album in the same year as a new Beach Fossils album as well.
Yeah, I know, I know. We couldn't believe that. Our records were coming to completion around the same time and it felt like this very sort of surreal roundabout moment, I think especially for us both going on tour recently to celebrate these big anniversaries. It's just kind of, I think we both are in a place too where it's like, I don't know, it's really weird having your records turn 10. You can't help but take a step back and be like, "Whoa, what the hell? How did this happen?"
Wild Nothing tour dates
November 9 - Washington DC - 9:30 Club
November 10 - Philadelphia, PA - World Cafe Live
November 11 - Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
November 12 - Norfolk, VA - The NorVA
November 14 - Los Angeles, CA - Fonda Theatre
November 15 - San Francisco, CA - Independent
November 17 - San Diego, CA - Quartyard
November 18 - Santa Ana, CA - Observatory
November 20 - Chicago, IL - House of Blues