When Dylan Baldi Came to Town: An Interview with the mastermind behind the Cleveland lo-fi pop-punk band Cloud Nothings
By Carolyn Haynes
About an hour before Dylan Baldi and fellow bandmates played at Johnny Brenda’s back in April 2011, I had a chance to sit downstairs and talk with him about what this band was all about. While he didn’t blow up “Wavves fast”, he has gotten a considerable amount of attention in the past three years. The current lineup (which features TJ Duke, Jayson Gerycz and Joe Boyer, along with Baldi, of course) has only been together for a year and a half and already they’ve toured Europe three times supporting acts like Yuck and Toro Y Moi. Not to mention playing SXSW two years in a row, touring with Wavves, and signing to Carpark Records.
For Baldi, the decision to become a full-time musician was easy. He recalls, “As soon as I went [to college] I thought, this is terrible; this isn’t for me. The only thing I was missing was a way to convince my parents it was ok to drop out of school. So I was really happy when that show came along…” And that show was in Brooklyn with bands Real Estate and Woods. Even more interestingly, he was given the opportunity to play with these bands after the promoter had heard two songs Baldi put up on his MySpace only a few days before. “It was a good moment,” he said. “It’s very liberating to quit something you hate for something you really like doing.”
And the story behind signing to Carpark? Baldi explains, “The guy who runs the label, Todd, actually heard Turning On, our first album, at a dinner party Toro Y Moi was having. Chaz [the lead singer] was playing the tape at the party and Todd was like, ‘I like this song… I really like this song.’ And he ended up signing us because of that.” Carpark is a Washington D.C. based label that’s home to acts like Beach House, Dan Deacon, and Toro Y Moi.
Dylan’s story of musical maturity might seem familiar to many young artists, “It started literally as soon as I learned how to use a tape recorder that was sitting around in the basement… With Cloud Nothings it started with a Mac and GarageBand. That’s how the whole first album was recorded.” How much more DIY can you get? As for the writing process, Baldi writes and plays all the instruments himself. Will this change for future albums? He predicts, “For actually recording the next album I might use the band to record it… But as far as writing goes it’ll still be me.”
Cloud Nothings eponymous release is an album that even Baldi says was influenced heavily by the pop punk/hardcore music of his high school years. The truth, though, is that many of the songs from the newest album were created right before the band toured with Fucked Up. According to Baldi, “I was kind of super worried their fans were going to kill us… I wrote all those songs as a way to appeal to the crowd. I just didn’t want to get beat up.”
But where does their pop sensibility come from? “I listen to the radio all the time.” Baldi admits, “I listen to a lot of lame stuff. Our bassist fell asleep listening to the new Katie Perry album. It played through his headphones like eight times while he was asleep so we heard the whole thing. It’s so good.” So while trying to keep the hardcore kids off their back, Cloud Nothings tries to mix in melodies that would have Kitty Purry purring. Sure, why not?
As for the songs themselves, most don’t even hit the 3-minute mark, something that Baldi says is due to his short attention span. “Three minutes is so long. A minute and half is how long every song should be. A lot of my favorite songs are only 50 seconds long.”
As for his writing process, he states, “I’ll write a song everyday and forget about it. For the most part it’s all stream of consciousness. I always try to fit a bunch of pop songs into one song.” This fact is made quite clear when you realize each song is made of hook after hook after hook. Baldi keeps you captivated with catchy riffs and simple melody lines just long enough to stick in your head for the rest of the week.
When listening to the album, it may seem like three separate people are singing lead vocals on different tracks, especially when comparing tracks 1, 2 and 3. Baldi was surprised to hear the difference himself when he first received the masters but grew to like them all the same. “I sound like a chipmunk… which is ok, I kind of like it.” To get a feel for what he sounds like live check out track two, “Not Important”.
With the way his career is shaping up, we might be seeing much more of Baldi and fellow musicians TJ Duke, Jayson Gerycz, and Joe Boyer of Cloud Nothings. In fact, Gerycz and Boyer have a new side project called Total Babes, which is already creating some buzz. If you need any more swaying about Cloud Nothings, it might help to note that even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is a fan. I think it might be safe to say this kid knows what he’s doing. Oh, did I mention he’s only 19 years old?
– Carolyn Haynes