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    Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum channels the spirit of the ’80s

    Jack Tatum
    Cara Robbins
    Jack Tatum

    Jack Tatum, the creative force behind the indie-pop band Wild Nothing, was born in 1988. So when the 1980s ended, he was all of 2 years old.

    Nevertheless, the pop music of the 1980s has become a key inspiration for him. In talking about his latest album, “Indigo,” released in August, Tatum references Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, and Roxy Music’s 1982 gem “Avalon.”

    “The ’80s are a touchstone for me. I have no reason why. I was born in 1988, I didn’t really live through them. But for some reason that’s the music that resonates,” Tatum says in a phone interview. “A lot of bands straddled the line between pop and experimental music. I have this narrative in my head that in the ’80s people were given more leeway to make commercial records that could still be a little strange.”


    Wild Nothing comes to Royale in Boston on Wednesday.

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    Tatum meticulously creates his atmospheric, densely layered music in the studio, doing much of the work himself. So playing live, with a band, requires a different approach.

    “The live experience is always interesting,” Tatum says. “I record most of the music myself, so in some ways it’s like learning it in a whole new way.”

    Tatum plays guitar on stage, although his favorite instrument is bass, and he and his band try to stay as close to Wild Nothing’s recorded sound as feasible. “The songs do have an urgency live that you don’t always get in the studio,” he says.

    Tatum grew up in Virginia, and started releasing demos when he was still a student at Virginia Tech, including a cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting.” The demos won him the attention of Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks.


    Wild Nothing’s first album, “Gemini,” essentially recorded on Tatum’s laptop, was released in 2010, followed by “Nocturne” in 2012 and “Life of Pause” in 2016. In the process Tatum moved to Brooklyn and then Los Angeles, where “Indigo” was recorded. Now he has moved back to Virginia, so he has come full circle.

    Tatum says “Life of Pause,” which incorporated touches of Philly soul, was a deliberate departure for him. “Indigo” represents a return to the sounds of his first two records.

    “It’s the fourth record, so I guess I’m in a position to reference myself,” Tatum says. “You could kind of call it a return to form, although obviously there are some differences.”

    For one, Tatum said he was looking for a bigger, sweeping sound.

    As for style, Wild Nothing has been dubbed indie-pop, dream pop, chillwave, and synth-pop, although Tatum says he doesn’t consider himself a synthesizer guy. “I think of myself as more a guitar-based rock artist,” he says, although the synthesizers are undeniably present all over “Indigo.”


    Producer Jorge Elbrecht (Ariel Pink, Gang Gang Dance, Japanese Breakfast) says he got a text from Tatum asking for help with “Indigo” and was immediately interested.

    ‘The ’80s are a touchstone for me. . . . I have this narrative in my head that in the ’80s people were given more leeway to make commercial records that could still be a little strange.’

    Elbrecht listened to a series of “very well developed” demos that Tatum had made, and then they got together to figure the best way to create the best finished product from each one.

    “We talked about the vibe, such as [Roxy Music’s] ‘Avalon’ and how good it sounded. The quest was to capture the spirit, but have it work with the way records sound today. Wider. Louder. More bass-y. Brighter,” Elbrecht says.

    Elbrecht says the demos were “pretty perfect,” but needed a little looseness around the edges. So Tatum and Elbrecht rerecorded the basics of each track live, with Benji Lysaght on guitar, Cam Allen on drums, and Tatum on bass at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.

    Then they built the songs up again, adding new parts or using sounds from Tatum’s demos.

    “Jack is an extremely evolved human being,” Elbrecht says. “He’s not going to do anything he doesn’t want to do. The limits were very clear to him.”

    “Indigo” takes its title from the glow of a computer screen on the human face: “Together but alone/ When I look at you, it’s a screen turned blue.” The song even envisions the arrival of artificial intelligence: “A cold mind comes rushing in.”

    Many of Tatum’s lyrics on “Indigo,” have a hint of disquiet underneath. On “Partners in Motion” he is a voyeur of his own life: “I caught you in the dollhouse/ Drinking coffee with your new wife.”

    Even a love song such as “Shallow Water” contains a hint of doubt: “Eyes are moving in your sleep/ I wish I knew what you were watching.”

    “I like ambiguity,” Tatum says. “Some people are troubled by it, but I like that in songs. Sometimes it’s more interesting that way.”


    At Royale, Boston, Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets $25-$28, 855-482-2090,

    Andy Smith can be reached at