Words by Elena de Sosa, photography by Nelsen Brazill
Here's a stupid fun fact: The band you now know as Cloud Nothings almost went by the name 'Crazy Dorm Stories.' Kinda ironic, since lead singer and band founder Dylan Baldi really doesn't have any crazy dorm stories to tell—the Cleveland, Ohio native spent only three months in college before dropping out to pursue a career in music. Dylan's first few songs were a lo-fi one-man show, recorded on a computer in his parents' basement. He posted his creations to a Myspace page under the moniker 'Cloud Nothings,' and next thing he knew, everyone wanted to hear him play live. So, he got a full band as backup, and the rest was history. Two years later, after the success of their hook-heavy eponymous debut album, Cloud Nothings has released their latest (and our April 2012 Main Ingredient), the Steve Albini-produced Attack On Memory.
Please take the title quite literally and forget everything you thought you knew about the band. Their sound has evolved very much to become fleshed out, grungy, aggressive, and altogether reminiscent of the early 90's greats—and when they come out with their next album, expect the sound to change again. I met up with the band to discuss the new album, how to tell your parents you're dropping out of school, and of course, a little bit of skateboarding.
What's it like growing up in Ohio? When did you start playing music?
Dylan: It's all right. It's kind of boring, but that's why we're playing music. I guess 'cause we were bored, so that's a good thing. I took piano lessons when I was really little. I went from there, learning instruments and playing in the school band.
How did you decide to start Cloud Nothings?
Dylan: I was studying music at Case Western in Cleveland, and I went there knowing that I wanted to drop out. Pretty much after three months I was like, “I'm not gonna be able to get a job just majoring in music, so I might as well just try and actually do it by myself.”
From the brief time you spent in college, do you have any stories from the dorm experience or anything like that?
Dylan: I have no tales from the dorm. It wasn't fun for me to be there.
How'd you tell your parents you were dropping out of school?
Dylan: I sent them a seven page email and they sent me an email back that said, "Okay." They were cool with it. They trusted me. They've been supportive of me.
Do you write your music or lyrics first?
Dylan: My music usually. Lyrics I usually write like ten minutes before we have to record the song.
“There are whole bands that formed around the idea of skateboarding.”
How did you come up with the band name? Is there any meaning behind it?
Dylan: I had a list of band names written down since I was in ninth grade and I looked at that list and picked it. I don't even really know. The name might have had some meaning at some point, but honestly I don't have an answer for that anymore.
What else was on the list?
Dylan: Crazy Dorm Stories.
But you don't have any!
Dylan: It's on the list though. It's super weird that that was on the list. That was it—just Crazy Dorm Stories and Cloud Nothings. And good thing I picked Cloud Nothings.
How do you feel about the Internet and its influence on the music industry, considering it's how you got your music out there in the first place?
Dylan: It helped us a lot but I think it also kind of makes it a little less fun. I think it was more fun when you had to search for something a little bit more. I mean it's great that anyone who wants to can put out music, and everything is easily accessible now, too.
Your sound's changed a lot from those initial songs. When you're writing songs now that you have a band behind you, is it more of a collaborative effort, or are you still writing most of them?
Dylan: We've gotten more aggressive, I guess. I write the songs, but they add stuff to them. It's definitely different than it would be if I recorded everything on my own.
How did you end up working with Steve Albini? Did he have any influence on your sound at all? The new album sounds kind of similar to other records he's produced in the past. [Nirvana, Pixies, etc.]
Dylan: We just picked him because we knew that he made bands sound the way they were gonna sound, without any studio tricks or anything. So that's what we wanted because we like the way we sound and we didn't want people telling us how to change things and all that.
Were you going for a particular style or sound?
Dylan: Not really. I just knew I wanted to do something different than the last record. I was bored doing the same thing over and over. The next album will probably be a lot different, too.
Why did you choose the name Attack On Memory?
Dylan: It's just sort of a statement about how I wanted this record to sound a lot different than the ones in the past. I wanted it to wipe out everyone's memory of the band, or whatever.
So this being TransWorld, do you skate at all?
Dylan: I did when I was little, but not anymore. TJ does. He plays bass in the band and he would like his name mentioned in this article [laughs]. It's TJ Duke.
Well then TJ, can I ask you a question? This is an important question, because Steve Albini recently said that skateboarding has no connection to punk rock and that it's just yoyo tricks. What's your take on that?
Dylan: Even I know that's not true.
TJ: Music's just yoyo tricks. I think that's ridiculous
Dylan: There are whole bands that formed around the idea of skateboarding.
Has any of your music been used in a skate video yet?
TJ: No but that needs to happen. It needs to happen real soon.
Who do you want to have skating to your music?
TJ: Ideally it would be in a Consolidated video, because they make the best videos. I like Alien Workshop because they're from Ohio, but Consolidated for sure.
What's your favorite video part? Does the music have anything to do with it?
TJ: Welcome To Hell. Old Toy Machine videos. I remember hearing this song by a band called UI, and I think it was for a Tom Penny part. And Tom Penny is just the smoothest skater. It's a song called “Drive Until He Sleeps.” That's maybe the best skate video I've seen in my life. I saw that video and I needed to have that music immediately on hand.
“Tom Penny is just the smoothest skater.”
Anything cool happen lately on tour?
Dylan: Steve Wozniak was at our last show here [Bottom Of The Hill, San Francisco]. He was playing Gameboy the whole time. He was playing Tetris in the back with his wife. He was just hanging out. And then we saw him in New York again at one of our shows.
So Woz is your biggest fan?!
TJ: Not really. I think he was just friends with the opening band.
Alright, so you're on tour and you have one minute inside a Seven Eleven. What do you get?
Dylan: I would pee. And then get gas.
TJ: I'd ask if they'd take EBT [food stamps] and they'd probably say no. Usually nothing.
Dylan: Gas/pee. We're really practical. We're from Ohio. It's how we do it.
The cover art for the self-titled album is done by Jay Howell. Jay's a regular contributor over here at TransWorld—how'd you decide to go with him?
Dylan: I found out about Jay through Juxtapoz magazine, they did an article on him awhile back. I just really liked his art and thought it fit the way the self-titled album sounded.
How hard is it to decide what to put on the cover of an album? Is there tons of thought put into it, or is it pretty spontaneous? Does cover art matter nowadays, since the majority of kids are getting their music on iTunes or other online digital sources?
Dylan: I don’t want the cover to look stupid, but for the most part I’m not too picky about it as long as I think it fits the theme and tone of the music on the record. Also I like when we’re able to get something for free, so I took the photos on the cover of Attack On Memory, and luckily Jay let us use his art for free too. I think cover art is still a big deal to some people, but it’s definitely always secondary to the music.
Finally, if it's really the apocalypse in December and you knew for sure that it was, how would you spend your last nine months on earth?
Dylan: I'd pee, I'd get gas. I guess I'd have a kid. Just to see if I could do it.
TJ: It'd be born on Doomsday.
I think that's the due date for Snooki's baby.
Dylan: EW. The apocalypse? Really? Who did that to her?
“Hey Cool Kid” from when Dylan was still a one-man show.
For more Cloud Nothings, go to cloudnothings.com