Cloud Nothings write some of the most memorable and infectious punk-pop songs in the history of the universe. They get stuck in your head in ways that are medically dangerous and should probably carry appropriate warnings. Frontman Dylan Baldi has an ear for a tune that’s unparalleled and that has been a key part of his streak of back to back classic albums since the band came to exist in 2009. What started as a solo project on a computer under a variety of pseudonyms with the results being uploaded to MySpace has blossomed into one of the most exciting bands around today.
They’re no stranger to Australian audiences, last touring here in 2014 and set to return in February 2018 for a string of dates off the back of their incredible album Life Without Sound which was released in January this year. Having just completed a tour of the US and Canada with the band Japandroids, I caught up with Dylan to find out what’s next.
Are you ready for Australia?
I’m ready for Australia.
Good. Where are you now?
I just got back from a tour of the US actually, so I’m home. I’m in Cleveland.
Yes, with Japandroids! You have a habit of going on tour with bands who make absolutely incredible line-ups (The Hotelier, Violent Soho). Is that something you consciously setup or is it just good luck?
That’s a nice way of phrasing it. Generally with the bands we bring on tour, we make a conscious effort to pick bands that we like. If that makes for amazing line-ups that’s great. It makes the show more fun for us, rather than just touring with whoever the booking agent tells you to tour with. It’s more fun when we pick our friends who also happen to make amazing music.
How was it touring with Japandroids?
That was fun! That’s an idea that people have been tossing around for like five years. The fact that it finally happened was pretty exciting for a lot of people. It was a good tour, we played in a lot of parts of Canada that I never thought that we’d never go to, and I’ll probably never go back to.
Is that because you’ll probably not tour that extensively in Canada again, or did something happen that means you can never go back there?
Ha, yeah, we can’t talk about it. They were in parts of the country that weren’t easy to get to unless you’re touring Canada with the mindset of going on tour in Canada. I mean, you’re not going to play in Saskatoon, but on this tour it was interesting to go to those places.
That makes a lot of sense and sounds a lot like Australia in that way, where touring bands often won’t go anywhere other the biggest cities and festivals.
Yeah, everything’s so far away!
Speaking of Japandroids, I’ve noticed that when they perform live Brian King will hold back his singing compared to how they are on recordings, which I imagine is because if you’re singing like that every night on tour then you’re not going to have a voice at the end of it. When I saw you guys live though, particularly with tracks from Attack On Memory, you go all out. How the hell do you do that night after night?
I haven’t noticed any adverse effects on my voice, so I kind of just yell for a while every night when we’re on tour. So far it’s been fine. My girlfriend plays in a band too and she just got diagnosed with vocal nodules, which are like a callus on your vocal chords, which is bad and probably what should be happening to me. It just hasn’t for whatever reason. For now I’m just acting like… It’ll be fine.
Hahaha, yeah “It’ll be fine”, and if that changes, then you’ll just have a new style of singing.
Yeah, do a Bob Dylan I guess.
The album you did with Nathan Williams (Wavves), is that going to become a regular thing collaborating with other artists directly like that, or was that a one-off?
It feels like that was a one-off thing. It was Nathan’s idea, and I just said OK. I like making music with other people, I have a lot of friends who are really talented musicians and it’d be fun to play stuff with them somewhere further down the line.
In particular I have a lot of friends in Chicago who are amazing Jazz musicians and they all ended up in folk bands. People like Ryley Walker who makes folk music, but he’s an incredible guitarist. Everyone he has in his band are always amazing musicians. I don’t know, we’re just friends with a lot of people who make awesome jams that’d be fun to do something with. I’m not good enough to play with those people, so I’d just have to write songs and be like, “Play on this. Make it better”.
Oh come on, don’t downplay your knack for creating the sorts of songs that get stuck in your head forever, you can bring that to the table.
I do have that ability, that’s something I like to do.
Some of your songs you’ve been playing for quite some time now, do you ever tinker or rework them, or once a song is done is it done?
The older stuff we don’t rework drastically. There are bits in Wasted Days which has a long jammy part which change all the time but it has space to do that. We’re not going to add extra parts to a pop song or something like that. The way we play songs from the new record though sounds a lot different from how it did on the recording.
You wrote that album alone didn’t you, so there must have been a transition bringing those songs to the full band.
I wrote it alone one piece at a time rather than sitting down and making a whole song in one go. I would make a little part of something and then wander off and look at groceries or whatever and come home and make another little part. Then I’d eventually combine all those parts together into a song. That was all a different process to what I usually do and I think the record sounds the way it does because of that writing process.
So was that different to how you wrote the first two Cloud Nothings albums, back when it was a solo project?
I don’t really remember what it was like to write those records to be honest. It probably had a bit more overlap with that. It was very much in my head, I didn’t have a chance to make sound with anything, just some demo recordings on the computer with an acoustic guitar.
I’m guessing you’re working on the next album at this point? Any ideas yet of what we can expect from it?
I’m thinking about it a lot at this point. I haven’t really started. I always have random bits and pieces of things that I could say are songs, but for the record I like to think about it a lot. I would love for this one to come out next year, but what I’d like to do is longer songs, or just one long thing with a couple of different movements in it. It’d be a bigger undertaking than anything else that we’ve done so far. Writing little pop songs is something that I can do, but I feel like I’m reaching a point where I’ll repeat myself if I keep doing that. I’m not going to come up with a new thing in that realm, so I want to try something pretty drastically different I think. We’ll see.
When you say something like that, Wasted Days comes to mind, the way it breaks down and builds for so long, it’s got some incredible dynamics with a huge payoff at the end. Are you thinking something along those lines, or would it be something else entirely?
I don’t really know yet. I haven’t worked out yet what the point of it is or why that’s my idea. I want to think about it some more. I think one day I’ll be walking around and it’ll hit me like “Oh this is what I should do! This makes sense!” and then there’ll be a reason for it. For now it’s just an interesting idea but we’ll see if I end up doing that. I’ve been listening to a lot of records that are like that, one extended piece.
I’ve been listening to a lot of doom metal in particular. There’s a Boris album that I feel that not a lot of people know about called Flood that was one of their first records. It’s an hour-long piece with four different movements in it but it’s awesome, it’s so good. That sent me on that path originally. More recently there’s this band called Bell Witch that are a doom metal band from Seattle. Their new record is crushingly heavy and depressing, an hour-long song, that’s just awesome. Those couple of records in particular are just so good that I’m like “I wanna do that!”. We’ll see.
That’s exciting, I’m just trying to mentally get my head around how that’d work in the context of the way you write… Yes. I’m excited, please do that.
Yeah! Or maybe I’ll just write another ten pop songs.
You use a different producer on each album, was that to try and vary up the sound? Does that actually influence how the album ends up sounding or do you go in and tell them “this is how it’s going to sound, make it happen”?
Generally, I think the records just sound like the band. We try to go with people who don’t change it drastically but we have changed every time. I don’t really know why, it’s almost as though it’s because we can, it’s like, “Sure, why not?”. I’m sure with the new one we’ll probably work with somebody else. It makes sense to us to have a totally new experience every time we make a record.
Do you have anyone in mind yet or is it too early to say?
I have a couple of people in mind, but before I say their names, I’d like to ask them. I wouldn’t want them to see it and be like, “…No!?”
Do you prefer writing alone or writing with the band? Is there anyone in the band you particularly click with when writing?
Generally, I’ll write a song and then we’ll play it together over and over until it becomes a thing that makes sense. I think me and our drummer could do that as a two piece and end up with stuff. We could sit in a room for an hour and have a song at the end of it, that’s just what we do. I prefer working in an environment where I can be loud and have other stuff going on at the same time. I think doing stuff on the computer with the headphones is kinda hard for me to do something that I feel is exciting.
Is it a conscious thing that you have to make every album reproducible live? Do you ever say “No, we can’t double track that!” or “No more layers!” or are you pretty open to that?
If we went in and recorded something without having played it, I guess I could see it happening. Usually what we’ll do is practice the songs a bunch and then we’d go into the studio. It’d be strange to practice something that doesn’t sound right and have parts missing and be like, “Well OK, I guess that’s it, let’s layer over that in recording”. It’d feel weird. For now everything that we do starts from the realm of the possible for a four-piece band to perform live.
You’re living back in Cleveland again now, is that right?
I am in Cleveland.
And that’s where you’re originally from?
Did you move back before this album, or just after this album? I know you’ve lived all over, like the time you spent in Paris.
It’s been two years. I did have a little time in Paris, I didn’t technically move there as that’d have been too hard, but I did live over there for a little bit. I spent some time in Massachusetts when I was writing this record and now I’m back in Cleveland. I always end up back in Cleveland no matter where I go.
On the albums Attack On Memory and Here And Nowhere Else, Stay Useless and I’m Not Part Of Me stood out as there upbeat, obvious singles. It made me wonder when you’re choosing songs for the albums if you have a distinct idea of the sorts of songs the album needs or whether it’s just a collection of the best ones you had at that time.
It’s usually just a collection of the most recent stuff that we’ve done before we have to record. If I let songs sit around for too long I just don’t care about them anymore. I don’t think in terms of “We need this kind of song!”. For the new one, I did want every song to be different from the other songs on the record. I wanted every song to have its own specific vibe so it was hard to mistake. With Here And Nowhere Else I felt that every song was sort of similar in a way. Very similar style, it’s hard to explain. It was a one-note album, which is cool and works for that record but I wanted to do something different for Life Without Sound.
OK final question, was the album title Life Without Sound inspired by the band Life Without Buildings?
It’s not, I wasn’t even thinking about that, but that is one of my favourite bands who released a live record in Australia and they’re great! It’s a lyric from one of the songs with slightly different wording. It’s from Things Are Right With You, but Life Without Buildings? Great band.
CLOUD NOTHINGS AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Tickets available here
February 22nd | Oxford Art Factory, SYDNEY
February 23rd | Max Watts, MELBOURNE
February 24th | Fowler’s Live, ADELAIDE
February 25th | Badlands Bar, PERTH
February 27th | The Zoo, BRISBANE