By Michael Luis
Most 22-year-olds are still figuring out what to do with their lives, wading through the sludge of student loans and summer internships, while blowing the little money they have in music-festival beer gardens. Cleveland, Ohio’s Dylan Baldi, 22, and his band Cloud Nothings have toured the world, released four critically acclaimed albums, and received coverage from every publication from Pitchfork to your 13-year-old sister’s blog.
When I saw Cloud Nothing’s at Coachella 2013, they were the only band I noticed tearing down their own gear after they played, doing so as thousands of fans screamed for one more song. When I arrived at Victoria’s Upstairs Cabaret for the interview, he was nowhere to be found. Scoring drugs for the after-party? Hardly. He was checking out the used bookstore across the street.
When we finally do meet for our interview, Baldi is bespectacled with a gruff beard and lanky physique, looking like Grizzly Adams if he traded in his musket and bowie knife for black coffee and programming software. He answers the questions with a mellow demeanour, accentuating most responses with a dopey chuckle. If humble people are “down to earth”, then Baldi is below the earth, somewhere between the mantle and the outer crust.
Cloud Nothings’ first two albums, both written and performed by Baldi on his own before he was 20, featured a scuzzy power-pop sound, while 2012’s exemplary Attack on Memory saw him add a full band and piece together a brash offering of abrasive indie-thrash. This past April’s Here and Nowhere Else falls somewhere in the middle, but according to Baldi, this wasn’t a calculated decision. “It was sort of just how it happened,” says Baldi of the album’s sound. “When I’m making stuff, I don’t think in analytical terms. I’m just like ‘Do I like this? Sure.’” Thankfully, others liked it too. Many have heralded the LP as one of the years best, and rightfully so. Mixing sweet melodies with the unabashed aggression of noise rock and hardcore, the album is gnarly enough for the angsty punk, while also musically deep enough for teahouse music-nerds.
The album also came with two packaging options: a standard edition, and a special edition featuring glossy artwork and a blue vinyl pressing. “I just like records and collect stuff. I want to make stuff that’s collectable,” explains Baldi. “And it would’ve been cool to make every record glossy like that, but it’s too expensive. Just to do it with some of those was cool though and it’s a good-looking record.” At the suggestion of the record label, Baldi and his bandmates, bassist TJ Duke and drummer Jayson Gerycz, also took Sharpies to some copies and stuck them in record stores across the west coast, adding another level of collectability. “They’re really stupid,” says Baldi of the doodles, “but they’re good. Somebody will like them.”
Speaking with Baldi, it’s clear that he’s all about the present. The album is called Here and Nowhere Else after all, and one of the standout tracks on Attack on Memory was called “No Future/No Past”. This is best exemplified in the fact that the band no longer plays any pre-2012 songs. “I just don’t like it,” says Baldi of the material. “If we’re playing it, and I don’t like it, even people who want to hear the song, they can tell. ‘This is bad. This could be better’ (laughs). So we might as well just not do it.” However, Baldi found out via Twitter that there’s a Japanese band that plays exclusively pre-2012 Cloud Nothings songs. “Yeah, that’s weird, right?” remarks Baldi. He and his bandmates just recently toured Japan and tried to track down the band to open for them, allowing the fans to hear the vintage tracks live. “Because we don’t play those songs, it would be like ‘Here’s a band who does play those. Check it out.’” Unfortunately, they were unable to locate the group.
Having released four albums in five years, it almost seems natural that Baldi is already working on the next one. The next LP is a collaboration with Nathan Williams of Los Angeles slacker-punks Wavves, which they plan on finishing in September. “It sounds like a combo, but it’s also very different from either band. When we do stuff together, it sounds different than Wavves and different from Cloud Nothings, but also a mix.” Wait, what? “It’s hard to explain,” he clarifies with a laugh.
With four exceptional albums, an evolving sound, a grounded attitude, and the ability to blow the lid off a nightclub with a pummeling live show, Baldi is an artist who is easy to fall in love with. Who knows what he’ll have accomplished by the time he’s 23.