Cloud Nothings
Far Out from Close By
by Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings have been churning out energetic mid-fi pop janglers since 2009 now, and have gotten damn good at it. After garnering some internet attention for his self-composed bedroom rock songs, lead Nothing Dylan Baldi had to grab some friends and get a band together to play his songs live. Two albums and handful of singles later, Cloud Nothings are growing out of their topsiders. A lot of bands get a little money and spend it on an expensive recording instead of trying to capture the energy of their work. Baldi’s sharper than that, though. With a few tours under his belt and a solid live band behind him, he chose Electrical Audio in Chicago to record album number three, enlisting impresario Steve Albini to engineer. As such, the band used the studio as an impetus to release the pent-up energy that their songwriting held back on previous records. The result on Attack on Memory is a much more grown-up sound, with each song given room to breathe. The band is in the midst of a tour right now that includes several performances at South By Southwest this week, but I managed to catch up with Baldi on the phone.

The new album is a departure from the older material, more wide-open and loosened up. Tell me how that came about.

Dylan Baldi: I got kind of tired of writing the same sort of song over and over, which is what our first two records are basically. They’re all kind of the same song. I wanted to make something a little different, a little more far out in places than our other stuff was. Instead of using the same pop structure, I wanted to structure it in a different way—that’s how I started writing the album.

The older stuff is catchy, but fuzzy, pop songs, and you guys get lumped in with the lo-fi, fuzzed-out rock & roll of Times New Viking, Wavves, etc. Was is it a conscious effort to aim for that sort of sound?

DB: That was more about the boundaries of our recording equipment. I’m sure if we’d had better equipment it would have made it more hi-fi rather than lo-fi. But we had what we had so it sounded like that.

The new record, Attack on Memory, is decidedly more high-fidelity, and you recorded at Electrical Audio with Steve Albini. Was it strange to have those resources available suddenly?

DB: It wasn’t really strange, mainly because we set out to make a record that sounded better. So we were really just able to go into this studio and just get it done. It wasn’t too weird or anything.

Was it intimidating recording in the studio where some of the best records of the past few decades have come from?

DB: No, not really. We weren’t really concerned with the awesome stuff that had come out of that studio. We just wanted to get the record done and to the best of our ability take advantage of the studio and all the amazing things it offered. I guess I’m glad we had that opportunity.

You’ve said that the first records aren’t really influenced by the type of music you really enjoy listening to. Want to elaborate on that?

DB: More or less, yeah, because those were the first songs I ever wrote. I was just kind of writing and wasn’t thinking about composition or influence. It was more just like, “That works, we’ll use that,” as opposed to really pulling from the stuff I liked listening to.

What kind of stuff are you drawn to at the record store then?

DB: I’ve been into a lot of older pop stuff. I was liking The Wipers while I was writing for this record, along with Dead Moon, stuff like that.

Ohio’s got a pretty rich history of great rock bands. Do you see Cloud Nothings as an Ohio band? Do you identify with bands like Devo or Dead Boys or GBV or Black Keys even?

DB: I think a big part of the Ohio band thing is that not a lot of them are too alike, you know what I mean? It’s kind of hard to identify one Ohio band with another except that they’re from Ohio. Ohio has a history of producing bands with little idiosyncratic things, like a rock band that has one weird thing about them that really sets them apart from bands from New York or something. I think we identify with that aspect rather than sounding like Pere Ubu or the Electric Eels. I mean, we don’t sound like those bands at all, but we all have an Ohio mindset.

Maybe then your idiosyncratic hook, if you will, was that you recorded the first couple of records alone in your room.

DB: Yeah, right, except now the band I took into the studio is my solid band now. They played the live sets for those records and did all the touring, and they recorded the new album with me.

How do the songs come about? Are you the primary songwriter or are you more of a traffic cop?

DB: Well, I write my part, basically the core of the song. Then they’ll work out their parts, and we kind of work it up that way, together. At least that’s how we did all the songs on this record.

Do you feel like you have a narrative arc, as a lyricist, that runs through most of your material? Did the lyrical content grow and change with this new, more spaced-out album?

DB: Sort of. It changed in that a lot of the songs are kind of depressing, lyrically, just because of what I was thinking about at the time I wrote them. Lyrics are kind of something I do last-minute. I don’t tend to think about lyrics too hard; they usually come last. I think about the music more, which is probably why it’s so obviously depressing, because the lyrics changed with the sound of the music.