Q&A: Cloud Nothings' Dylan Baldi On "Blog Rock," Cleveland, And Having "Lo-Fi" On His Tombstone
Clevelander Dylan Baldi is making like the indie rock LeBron James. Except instead of pinpoint passing ability, Baldi's hands are able to noodle a fine lo-fi pop tune out of a four-track or ProTools like an all-star from an early age. His early cassette releases garnered him what's referred to today as "buzz," and it was loud enough to entice Carpark Records. The third Cloud Nothings full-length, Attack on Memory, came out this week; it's a louder leap out of the territory he previously inhabited, which was labeled by many as "lo-fi." There probably won't be a The Decision-like series of posts on Brooklyn Vegan anytime soon, but Baldi, like LeBron, now faces more attention for his skills and more chances to tour, and helike many a Clevelanderwill probably soon face the decision to stay or move. From the sounds of Attack, and the fact Baldi has a fairly punchy full live band behind him now, he has already elevated his game.
So, the very first thing I ever heard about Cloud Nothings was that you had a rep as not really liking to play Cleveland, that the scene there wasn't your thing, and that you'd rather concentrate on playing out of town. It is true that, musically, Cloud Nothings do not seem to conform to the usual Cleveland-sprung rainy day/rusty belt alt-rock...
Not sure where that rep came from. We did play our first show ever in Brooklyn (New York, not Ohio!) instead of in Cleveland, which I guess is not the normal route for a band to take, and we do tend to tour more than most current Cleveland bands that I'm familiar with. But in general playing in Cleveland has never been a bad experience for us.
Our sound is definitely different from the majority of stuff that has gone down here, historically speaking. But currently there aren't too many young rock bands in Cleveland at all, so the idea of conforming to a "scene" or something similar never crossed my mind.
All that aside, are there some bands you have become friendly with in Cleveland, or regional ones you want to hip us to?
I have friends in great Cleveland-based bands called Library Time, Smooth Brain, and Swindlella.
I've often chatted with friends about how many current "bands" (think Wavvves, Deerhunter, et al) are basically one-man bands, with someone, like yourself, making records alone at home, often playing most of the instruments. Then, when interest in your music ramps up and you want to play some shows, you have to get a band together. And then when fans of the recordings finally see you live, it's not always what they expected. Like I love how your drummer is pretty heavy and crazed, and it gives a different edge to the music from the recorded stuff. That said, you also get the boo-birds who want you to be a "lo-fi" band live. Does any of this ring any bells?
Yeah, playing live with the band I put together has actually influenced the music I'm currently writing. When I was writing on my own I didn't think about the live show at all, I just thought about making things sound "nice," for lack of a better word. So the music I made had a softer, lighter quality to it than the stuff that appears on Attack On Memory. In retrospect, I don't really like listening to that stuff. I'm much happier with what I'm up to now.
We often get comments about how our live show is really tight and intense in comparison to our records, and usually people think that's a good thing. There were definitely some people who seemed uncomfortable with hearing the songs live, with them sounding different than they do on record, though. After the first couple of times people asked why we played so aggressively, I decided that I'd need to record with the live band for any future recordsjust so people would know what they were getting when they came out to see us!
The last time I saw you guys play in Columbus a few months back, it felt like you were developing into a kickin', bent-melody alt-rock band. Whatever, these designations get corny at this point, except I find so many people still want/need genre distinctions, especially in the indie rock world. In fact I see an analogous situation with Cloud Nothings and Guided By Voices, where both bands sprung from Ohio (of course), and made initially clankier home recordings, but when onstage, are a bigger Rock beastie. And now, like when GBV released Mag Earwhig, I assume you might get the slings and arrows that the new record is "too produced" or something...
Yeah, I can't stand some of the genres people have been labeling us as. I'm pretty sure "He dropped out of college to form a lo-fi one man bedroom project" will be written on my tombstone. Lo-fi! That doesn't describe anything about the music at all. And with this new record the word "grunge" has been tossed around, which I can't understand. I don't remember the last time I listened to and enjoyed something even remotely considered grunge.
Attack On Memory is definitely the most sonically clear album Cloud Nothings has made, but it's easily the least produced. Studio effects played a big part in the previous recordings (outboard distortion, reverb, delay, etc.), and with the new one there is maybe one time on the entire record where an instrument is treated in any way, the vocals are only double-tracked on one song.... It's a really bare bones, basic rock record. I'd imagine that people will hear it and understand that.