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 he—like many a Clevelander—will 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 records—just 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.

Can you tell me about the making of the new album in general, and how it was different from your previous stuff?

It was the first album we recorded and wrote as a band, so it was a more collaborative process overall. Definitely more fun, too! A big reason it sounds different from the previous music is that we tried stuff that I never would have done if I was recording alone at home. It would have taken too long to do, or I would have gotten bored. But with a band you can try something in a few minutes, and if it doesn’t work you can move on right away.

It was also the first time we recorded in a genuinely professional studio, which had a big effect on the overall sound of the record. The guitars sound like they are actually in front of you instead of a behind a steel wall 30 feet away!

A New York Times music critic recently mentioned his take on “blog rock”—music that is mostly defined by its mode of distribution and audience rather than the, y’know, sound. You could very well have been labeled “blog rock.” It does seem there is a huge music fan audience that spends most of it’s time and typing trying to keep in front of some race to see who knows what band first, and what band is already “so over”…

Blog rock! I associate that more with complete garbage electronic synth fart music. I’d hope that term wouldn’t be applied to us, especially now. The kind of stuff tossed around on blogs (excluding some of the bigger ones) is most often disposable trash, which I think is why it can be “so over” so quickly. If you eat a banana, you don’t really remember that banana for the next couple of years. If you eat a five-course meal at an upscale restaurant on your birthday, you remember that for the next couple of years at the very least. Blog rock is a banana. The five-course meal is Led Zeppelin or something, y’know?

Your voice and some of your tunes (“Fall In”) seem to have a pop punk intestine wrapped deep inside. Were you a skater NOFX kind of kid?

For about one year I was heavy into skating, but it didn’t last much longer than that. I’ve always had a soft spot for that music though, for anything that sounds good in a skate video. I really can’t say anything negative about most of those bands, no matter how much the press or “real” music fans might have disliked them at the time. A lot of them are great songwriters.

So, are you going to move out of Cleveland soon? What are the good and bad things about living in Cleveland? And why hasn’t Parma become the latest mecca for underground house shows and new bands, like I’ve been predicting for years?!

I’m happy in Cleveland for the time being. The good and bad things about Cleveland are exactly the same—there isn’t much to do! Bad because boredom can set in pretty easily, good because it gives me a lot more time to focus on music than I would have if I lived in a more upbeat town.

And have you seen Parma lately?! What Ghoulardi said in the ’60s remains true. At least they had Drew Carey. I was looking at Drew Carey’s Wikipedia page just the other day, actually. Did you know he was born with six toes on his right foot?

Cloud Nothings play at the Studio at Webster Hall tonight.