Interview: Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings - Photo courtesy of Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings – Photo courtesy of Cloud Nothings

One of Berlin’s bizarre summer storms had just swept in and cleared the last traces of the August heatwave, but the sand at Badeschiff was packed with festive-feeling, deckchair-lazing beer drinkers. The optimistically named ‘Sommerloft’ series has been hosting intimate beachside performances throughout August, and on Aug. 18, the rooftop stage belonged to Cleveland trio Cloud Nothings.

Prior to the show, frontman Dylan Baldi sat down with Berlin Beat to discuss the band’s brilliant new album and to dispel some internet rumors. Cloud Nothings’ fourth record, “Here and Nowhere Else”—follow-up to 2012’s runaway success, “Attack on Memory”—has gone down a storm this year. Pitchforked named Cloud Nothings “best new music,” the band has been name-dropped on a ton of mid-year “Best Of” lists and, unsurprisingly, it’s seen the trio tour relentlessly.

How’s Baldi feeling so far? “It’s been fun,” he grinned. “I feel better [than] when we did this for the last record. We’ve finally figured out how to tour.”

A lot has changed in a year or two. Most obviously, Cloud Nothings has gone from a four- to a three-piece, a change which Baldi described as having “exhausting!” consequences: “Usually we’d play and just be like, ‘alright!’ after, and now we’re drenched in sweat.”

To compensate for losing an extra pair of hands, Baldi claims that he “tried to learn to play guitar better.” Whatever he’s done, Cloud Nothings definitely doesn’t sound sparser, and the band hasen’t let up on its typically relentlessly speedy playing either—“fast” may not be the most ‘musical’ of terms, but he laughed, “that’s pretty much it, it is just really… fast.”

He continued, “I think there’s more going on in this record; I think it sounds busier. But to me, the vocal melodies are still… really catchy? They get stuck in my head sometimes.” Laughing, he said, “I think in terms of a memorable melody, it’s still there… but within maybe a more… complex… musical… environment? Getting reeeal deep with this! Writing my thesis here.”

Although Baldi’s super modest about it, the real difference for Cloud Nothings in 2014 is a new-found “self-assurance.” After working with legendary producer Steve Albini last time around, this year the band teamed up with John Congleton (St. Vincent, Modest Mouse, Swans): “We’ve been in the studio before, but that was intimidating. With Albini, his studio was the first nice place we’d ever been to, like ‘should we even be here?’ This record was a little more… comfortable… and I think that comes across.”

Nostalgic, furious, and soaring, “Here and Nowhere Else” is as contagious as it is cathartic. Dispelling any notion that angsty, shouty rock music is a ‘teenage’ thing, the record is a complex, accomplished, immensely satisfying listen. And while it hasn’t lost that distinctive Cloud Nothings essence, it’s a far stormier ride. “Pattern Walks” melts down into a gloriously scuzzy, ominous, and genuinely intimidating puddle of effects, snares, and yells, and first track “Now Here In” asserts, straight-faced, “I can feel your pain / And I’m alright about it.”  Although the lyrics are anything but cheery, Baldi sounds self-aware and centered: he explained that he writes last-minute as it feels a “little more honest,” and then there’s no time for scrutinizing the lyrics afterwards. He laughed, “people tell me I’m not cheery, but I’ve always felt OK!”

Wrapping up in just eight tracks, album closer “I’m Not Part of Me” is triumphant. The opening lines, “It starts right now / there’s a way I was before / But I can’t recall how I was those days anymore” are as much a victory speech as a declaration of confidence.

Baldi clearly likes to keep busy: although he’s currently living in France, the band meets on the road more regularly than not. He’s also been caught up collaborating with Wavves vocalist Nathan Williams, and confirms that yes, 10 songs have been written, but “we haven’t decided what we’ll do with them yet… we might tour it with them? That would be fun.”

Recently rumors have circulated of a slightly more left-field collaboration, too. Danny Brown, really? “Oh! Ha, you know… no,” laughed Baldi. “We talked to him at one of our shows, and the guy that does press for him also does it for us. We were kind of joking like, ‘it’s not going to happen, but dude, what if we made a record with Danny?’ [The press guy] was like ‘I’ll ask… yeah he’s into it!’… but then it never happened. I don’t know how it would work though—I wouldn’t know what to do at all!”

Although he jokingly promised that next album will involve both Danny and a Parisian-inspired accordion, Cloud Nothings is fronting for straight-up, no frills guitar music—and doing a great job at it. In a year that’s revolved around twerking, trap, and lush, funk-inspired production, Cloud Nothings has proved that rock is still more than relevant.

That night, a sold-out show at Sommerloft reached capacity within the half-hour, and opening band PUP (not “poop,” as the Germans would have you pronounce it) did a stellar job of setting the tone. With a full crowd already in place, Dylan Baldi, drummer Jason Gerycz, and bassist TJ Duke had to push their way through to take the stage, welcomed by whoops from a very expectant audience.

As the sun set over the Spree, the trio fired through a set crammed with gems—older favorites “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” provoking a bouncing, effusive singalong. Gerycz’s drumming is genuinely a tour de force, driving the set just as much as Baldi’s throaty vocals. “Pattern Walks” was as brutal live as it is on record, and new(ish) single “Psychic Trauma” has all the makings of a new classic.

Cloud Nothings is—undeniably—a band on top of its game. And with Baldi’s drive (“I want to put out another record next year… If I don’t I’ll just feel lazy”) we’re guaranteed plenty more good times to come.

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