Dylan Baldi talks "Attack on Memory" and more in the lead-up to Saturday's show at Outland
With "Attack on Memory," Cleveland indie rockers Cloud Nothings have concocted a frontrunner for album of the year. Although iconic recording engineer Steve Albini allegedly spent much of the recording sessions playing Facebook Scrabble, the album nonetheless exudes his signature realism; every scrape, screech and wallop booms from the speakers with gargantuan force that suggests Dylan Baldi and company might actually be in the room with you. And they ain't happy. After exploring lo-fi pop on debut EP "Turning On" and glossing up the melodies on their self-titled full-length, "Attack on Memory" is an outpouring of frustration nobody expected from the underground's newly minted prince of power-pop. Even ultra-melodic tracks like "Stay Useless" seethe with tension.
Along with the unanimous critical approval has come a wave of sold-out shows, which has Baldi feeling a lot more satisfied with his life choices these days. (Don't worry, tickets are still available for Saturday's stop at Outland.) Baldi answered my phone call from the road between tour dates in Cincinnati and Toronto last month.
Alive: It seems like "Attack on Memory" has attracted this major press storm. How does it feel to be the savior of guitars in indie rock?
Dylan Baldi: (laughs) I'm not sure that we are that. It doesn't quite feel like that to me. But it is cool. Obviously I think there's kind of a resurgence of that kind of stuff with that Men record doing really well and some other stuff that's coming out soon, more guitar-based stuff. And that's really the bread and butter of music that I like. I don't listen to much outside of that, honestly. So I'm pretty happy that that stuff's making a comeback for sure.
It does seem like you guys have jumped up a few notches of fame. More people know who you are. Seemingly every review of your record is positive. Has touring and playing festivals like South by Southwest been a different experience since the album came out?
Yeah, it has been. It's the first time really selling out shows and stuff, and shows in cities I wouldn't even think about playing before, let alone actually selling out a show. South By, every show was packed, and there were lines - stuff that we're not used to. So it's cool, yeah. I'm really excited about how things are going for us.
So when you were touring on the previous records, there wasn't a guarantee that shows would be packed out?
Only in LA and New York and stuff would a bunch of people even come out. It's a new thing for us to have that in like every city.
The music on "Attack on Memory" is a lot more aggressive and angry. Is that what was going on in your mind? Fear and aggression?
Yes. (laughs) It kind of was. Fear, anger and depression and all that. I was kind of getting frustrated with the fact that I spent two years of my life touring and making music and it wasn't really - it was obviously going somewhere, more than a lot of bands do in their entire career. But it wasn't to the point that I wanted it to be, necessarily. And I really wrote an album about that, basically. That's what every song is about more or less is about that feeling of being upset with how things are and wanting stuff to change.
So something like "I thought I would be more than this…"
That's pretty straightforward, yeah. (laughs)
It's interesting to me that you felt that way because it seemed to me like things were on a pretty steady uptick. Did you have a sense before "Attack on Memory" came out that your time was running out or this was a dead-end pursuit?
I mean, we were just making no money and going on long tours and coming home with like 100 bucks. And you can't live on that obviously. I think everyone in the band was just hoping that with this record we would be able to do a little more, be able to headline our own shows and stuff instead of sharing with other bands, and just take things up to another level. A little more real, you know?
The general consensus about "Attack on Memory" is it's your best album or your first great album. Do you feel that way about it?
Yes, absolutely. I think it's way better than the other stuff. For sure.
What do you think is superior about it?
I just think I'm learning how to write better songs for the most part. The last couple records are just like - like the first record is the first songs I ever wrote, you know, so it's got that sort of na´ve kind of quality to it. Listening to it now I'm almost like embarrassed by some of the stuff. The second record it's like the same thing, "These are the second songs I ever wrote." It's just sort of progressing gradually, the quality and the way I'm writing songs, I think. Hopefully the next record I'll just keep improving.
Is it weird to have basically the entire evolution of your songwriting get this microscope treatment?
It is kind of strange. But people have responded positively for the most part to all of it, really, so I can't complain about that. And I think people kind of like that, being able to watch, essentially, the growth of someone else, you know? Kind of makes them feel like you get to know the artist a little bit better than if we had just come out with this record as our first record, it's not as shocking, I guess. So any kind of gradual growth from one thing to another, I think people can relate to.
It seems like that's becoming more common, where you just put your music online and people discover it and you're off, where in the past there would be more of a grooming period before you ever heard of a band. Are you glad it's been this way?
Sort of, yeah. And also we kind of had that grooming period anyway over the last two years. People knew who we were, but it wasn't like everyone was talking about us, like we were the next big thing. So we kind of had the best of both worlds, honestly, where people were giving us the time to do what we needed to do and still putting out our records and letting us grow as a band. So yeah, I'm really happy we didn't have that sort of Wavves kind of immediate - you know, he got so big so quick that he kind of combusted super fast too. So I'm glad we didn't have to go through that kind of stuff, yeah.
Style-wise, you've explored so many sounds already. Have you been writing more songs lately since you finished "Attack on Memory"?
Yeah, we have a couple new songs that we're working on. The ones I have done, they're kind of long for the most part, and they're a little more - there's still a pop sensibility to them, but they're a little more meandering, kind of noisier, I guess. Probably the closest thing on the record is that "Wasted Days" song. It's probably closer to that than it is to "Stay Useless" or something.
So your next album will be all eight-minute songs?
(laughs) Yeah, we'll see. It might be.
Is there a potential of hearing some of those songs in Columbus?
Not quite yet. We haven't worked them out to the point that we're comfortable playing them live or something. But probably the next tour.
I think the place you're playing here (Outland) is like 5 or 600 capacity.
Is it really? Wow.
How does that compares with some of the other places you've been playing?
That's like twice the size of most of the stuff we've been booking. We'll see how that goes. (laughs)
Do you get stronger support at Ohio shows than you do elsewhere?
We did just play Cincinnati for the first time ever last night and people really seemed to really be happy that we were from Cleveland and playing Cincinnati, just sort of an Ohio kind of kinship. So there was a little bit more of support there, yeah.
Being gone all the time on tour, do you feel like you have a good sense of the music that's happening in Cleveland?
Um, I mean, we have a couple friends who play in bands in Cleveland. All the guys in my band also play in other bands around town. But I don't necessarily go out to shows a lot when I'm at home. Yeah, I kind of relax when I'm home.
I think I remember you saying in a previous interview that you never really were super deep into the local scene.
Yeah, I mean, honestly, we played our first show ever in New York, and we were big on the internet before we were ever big in Cleveland. Who knows if anyone there even likes us at this point. We haven't played there since this record came out. So yeah, I like some bands in Cleveland, and there's a lot of older bands I really like. So it's cool to be a part of that, but I don't necessarily feel like I'm actively involved in it on a day to day basis.
You had certain expectations of how you hoped things would go. Do you feel like now you're living up to those expectations a little bit more?
I wouldn't say expectations so much as sort of goals that I set for myself that I wanted to achieve before I stopped being in a band or whatever. So yeah, I think all those have been met and far exceeded even within the past two months or so.
So do you have new goals now?
Yeah. We want a private jet, and our guest list for every show can only be A-List celebrities. Those are our new goals.