When he was 18 years old Dylan Baldi started to grow bored and disillusioned with college. He was studying music at Case Western Reserve, a prestigious private university in Cleveland. To curb his boredom, Baldi spent his free time recording songs on the computer in his parents' basement under the name Cloud Nothings. It wasn't long before these songs seeped onto the Internet and spilled out of the speakers of smitten music bloggers and lo-fi indie fans.
The enthusiasm and buzz generated by these early recordings propelled Cloud Nothings into a record deal with Carpark Records (Beach House, Toro y Moi, Dan Deacon) and landed it on the road with a consistent schedule of gigs. Now 20 years old, Baldi hasn't seen the inside of a university classroom in ages.
"I had no idea it would get to the level it is currently at," said Baldi on a 12-hour van ride from Florida to Texas. "It kind of blew me away when people actually cared about it."
Cloud Nothings started out as a fuzzy, lo-fi indie rock band with garage and pop-punk leanings. The band's songs on its debut compilation album, Turning On--as well as most of its first self-titled full-length--were simple, fun pop songs. They usually clocked in at less than three minutes and were loaded with hooks and catchy choruses.
As Pop Matters noted, "What makes Cloud Nothings one of the best of the lo-fi pop bands around right now is the commitment to writing good pop songs and nothing else."
This pop proclivity is apparent on tracks like "Leave You Forever," where Baldi churns out a simple four-chord structure with little more than a strong, catchy chorus and bare-bones lyrics. But with his song-writing prowess and knack for appealing pop hooks, Baldi's two-and-a-half-minute tracks often come off as sturdy pop songs. That same can be said for singles like "Understand at All," "Nothing's Wrong" and "Hey Cool Kid."
On its most recent record, 2012's Attack On Memory, the band went into a proper recording studio with indie legend Steve Albini and came out with a batch of dense, heavy guitar-rock tracks. The album contains songs that run longer than eight minutes, with lengthy instrumental jams that barely resemble early singles.
"With the previous stuff, I recorded everything on my own," said Baldi. "I would always make every part, and play all the guitars, all the bass, all the drums, and then tell everyone what to play. With the new record, I would just write my part and my melody or whatever I was singing, and then I would just bring that to the band and we would make the song from that. So I guess it was more of a collaborative process this time."
In an interview with BW in October 2011, Albini commented on his studio approach:
"I tend to not get involved in creative decisions in the studio because I'm an ignorant outsider. I haven't done those eight-hour drives where the whole life story and philosophy of the band has been worked out in conversation ... so I really have no right to and no perspective to tell them that this song should actually be a little bit faster or that maybe the guitar solo shouldn't be so long," he said.
Albini's engineering philosophy allowed Cloud Nothings to chart its own course in the studio. The band has always utilized distorted guitars and fuzzy vocals, giving it a rather heavy sound. But the new record takes the group's heaviness to a different level, with songs like "Separation," on which Baldi wails on his instrument, emanating a thrashing wall of sound, or "No Sentiment," on which rapidly strummed guitar is backed by slow, deliberate drumming and a dark bass line, while Baldi throatily screams with nihilistic swagger, "we forget what you do / we don't care what we lose."
"Having the full band helped make the songs heavier. ... And part of it is the material itself is actually heavier than the other songs we've done," Baldi said. "[I'm] trying not to do the same thing over and over again. I wanted to branch out."
This desire to branch out is also reflected in Cloud Nothings' live show. Baldi and his band--an assemblage of friends he put together for touring back in 2009--grew bored of playing the same old songs the same way night after night, so with this new batch of songs, the band left room for live improvisation.
"Every night's a little different," said Baldi. "It's fun to not be 100 percent sure about what's going to happen when you go and play a show. There are a lot of instrumental sections that we add into the songs that are more improvised and free."
In addition to some on-stage experimentation, Baldi promises that when Cloud Nothings plays Neurolux on Thursday, March 8, it will be a hard-hitting show.
"The audience can expect the most energetic show that they've seen in a while," said Baldi. "There's a lot of energy to our performances that I think a lot of bands lack."
Baldi's assertions are backed up by a recent concert review from the Texas music blog Austin Town Hall, where the critic gushed:
"Clearly, singer Dylan can write great tunes, as he's been doing it for over three years now, growing with each release. But live, dear lord, they've become a different beast entirely. Dylan focuses his humble attention on the lyrics and audience, the rest of the band just kills it."
It turns out that playing gigs night after night, recording acclaimed albums with top producers, and traveling the country isn't such a bad way for a 20-year-old to spend his days, even if he can't enjoy a post-show drink.
"Touring in a band when you're young probably isn't as romantic as people might think," said Baldi with a laugh. "But it's more fun than the other possibilities that are in my life at this point, like being in school and studying music or whatever, which probably wouldn't have gotten me where I am right now."[ Video is no longer available. ]