Photo: Cara Robbins
Photo: Cara Robbins

Inside Indigo, Wild Nothing’s Ode to 80s Pop

The early aughts of music discovery via blogs were exciting and electric. As a budding music enthusiast in my early teens, I held a sacred daily routine: arrive home from school, snack on whatever the junk food du jour in my childhood home was and pull up a pantheon of blogs to deep-dive into the world of music that wasn’t accessible to suburban radio.

One of my first discoveries via the blogosphere was Wild Nothing’s massive, sparkling and mechanical-sounding track “Chinatown.” It lived on heavy rotation on my iPod classic, a favorite to soundtrack my rides home on the school bus. The haziness calmed the nerves that public school left frayed and the chorus of “We’re not happy ‘til we’re running away” spoke to the feeling that something out there was better than what I had – an inescapable permanence of teenage years.

Jack Tatum, the Virginia native and mastermind behind Wild Nothing’s consistently electrifying blend of 80s synth-pop and yes, chillwave, began in the dorms of Virginia Tech when his music was picked up and circulated around the burgeoning blogosphere.

“It was a very natural, grassroots form of getting your music around, and I took it for granted,” he says of his beginnings. “I didn’t really realize how nice it was at the time. It’s the whole reason why I’m still making music.”

Nearly 10 years out from his initial debut and five albums into his career, Tatum is exploring his affection for 80s pop à la Tears for Fears and Roxy Music on Indigo, released this past summer.

“I wanted it to sound like a pop record,” he says of his latest album. “By referencing more pop-leaning 80s groups and records, [I started] digging into more taboo production techniques from that era that I really love. I can’t really make the argument for them not sounding dated, but I never thought of that being a negative thing. To me, it’s just another palette to work with – another collection of sounds I can use for my own music.”

Wild Nothing will hit the road in support of Indigo this month, after a tour hiatus between records. And while Tatum is excited to share it live, he says it’s never been his style to “beat people over the head with the new record.” He’s currently going through all of Wild Nothing’s material to relearn the older tracks and teach his bandmates, a process he describes as cathartic.

“It creates a bigger story for the band and fans of the music. I always try to have a good mix of songs, old and new. It’s very important to me to honor the whole story of the band. It’s a blessing and a curse to have more material to pull from. It makes it so much more fun because you can curate it super heavily, but it becomes impossible to figure out what you want to play and how to please everyone.”

While Indigo allowed him the opportunity to expand the sounds Wild Nothing has encompassed over the years, Tatum also experienced a host of new audiences discovering his music through “Chinatown” in Netflix rom-com To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. An early scene of the movie sees teenage protagonist Lara Jean in a schoolyard montage soundtracked by the Wild Nothing single. A testament to its permanence and Tatum’s ability to capture fleeting feeling in a three-minute song, the track saw an uptick in popularity with fans new and old.

“It’s been amazing and palpable,” he says of the experience. “I can see that people are listening to this song a lot because of this movie. It’s a good reminder that [this] kind of stuff can make a difference. It’s cool that it resonates in a way with people who are much younger than me.”

At the time this was published, “Chinatown” had over 9 million streams on Spotify. I can only hope the next generation discovering Tatum’s music for the first time experience the same electric joy I did upon first listen. And with the release of Indigo, Wild Nothing is sure to resonate with listeners for many years to come.

Wild Nothing plays 9:30 Club on Sunday, November 18 with Men I Trust. Tickets are $25 and doors open at 7 p.m. Follow @wildnothing on Instagram and Twitter and learn more about Tatum at www.wildnothingmusic.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

M.K. Koszycki

M.K.'s entire life revolves around music, whether it be scouring Twitter for the band of the moment or catching a live show at one of DC's many venues. When she's not at a gig, find her hanging out with her golden retriever, drinking beer with friends or re-watching Twin Peaks for the hundredth time.