Cloud Nothings started out as a one-man project in 2009, when Dylan Baldi was just 18 years old, but the band has has come a long way from their humble Cleveland basement beginnings.
The group recorded their fourth studio album, the newly released Life Without Sound, in El Paso with John Goodmanson, the producer of several classic Sleater-Kinney albums. It’s Cloud Nothings’ best work yet, expanding their use of melody without sacrificing any of the band’s raw punk edge.
We spoke to Baldi in anticipation of Cloud Nothings’ Fine Line show on Saturday.
City Pages: You spent a full year workshopping the songs on Life Without Sound. What made you slow down this time around?
Dylan Baldi: We kind of toured non-stop for three years. We had little breaks here and there, but nothing substantial. And that makes you crazy. So I didn’t want to be crazy anymore. I wanted to take some time off. It wasn’t a year of full-on every day sitting in a room making songs, but it definitely was nice and relaxing to have that kind of pace rather than breakneck gotta-finish-it-before-you-go-out-on-tour-again. There was no deadline. We didn’t have to make a record even, I guess. It was nice to have that kind of open end.
CP: You’ve said that Life Without Sound is your version of “new age music. It’s supposed to be inspiring.” Why did you want to make that kind of an album at this point in your career?
DB: It doesn’t sound like new age music, unfortunately. Maybe we failed in our mission. I think what I meant by that isn’t quite literal. I listen to a lot of ambient music that you sit there and listen to it and go from beginning to the end and follow it on a path. Very narrative, instrumental music. I really like stuff like that. I try to do that with the songs, to have them ebb and flow in a natural, interesting, progressive way. That “journey” aspect of it I really like, where you can start in one place and end in another that’s recognizable but you’ve definitely gone somewhere in the song.
CP: How did you initially get into rock? Weren’t you more into jazz when you were in high school?
DB: I was into classic rock ‘cause that’s just what they played around Cleveland. I started playing saxophone when I was in school and because of that, slowly got really into jazz. From there, I got into really noisy, heavy rock music. I feel like I went the opposite path of a lot of people who get into far-out realms of jazz. I used that to get into aggressive rock music.
CP: What kind of guitar do you have?
DB: I have a bunch. Right now, my main one is a Gibson Firebird. Normally, I like to use old guitars, like vintage. Pretty old, like ‘60s stuff. This one is from 2010. I was playing it up against all these other old Firebirds and it was the best one.
CP: The music video for “Internal World” features a VHS tape and has a retro feel. Are you nostalgic for the ‘80s or ‘90s?
DB: No. I wasn’t born ‘til ’91, so I don’t remember the ‘90s. I don’t know what was going on. I was like a weird little kid, probably. But I do like VCRs. I know people who collect old, bad action movies and really far-out stuff that’s only on VHS. That whole concept is really the director’s [Johnny Look]. We kind of just said, “Hey, do whatever you want.” He came back with a reptilian instructional video from the ‘80s. We were just like, “All right, sure. Sounds good.”
CP: Spin called you “notoriously neurotic” in a 2014 profile. Do you agree with that?
DB: I don’t really know what that means. I didn’t think I was notorious for anything. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to making music. I like everything to be as good as it can be, but not in a way that’s detrimental to relationships with other people.
CP: How did you meet your bandmates?
DB: They are people I met from just being in Cleveland and interested in music as a kid. I met our bass player first, TJ [Duke]. My band played in a high school rock-off. We lost so hard. Nobody liked us, except for one judge that happened to be one of TJ’s friends who told TJ to listen to us. TJ knew our drummer Jayson [Gerycz], and that was it.
CP: Do you guys still live in Cleveland or have you moved?
DB: I’ve moved around a little bit. They’ve been in Cleveland the whole time. I keep coming back.
CP: What is it about Cleveland that brings you back?
DB: I like the comfort of a smaller place where I feel like I know everybody. I tried living in a very isolated town where I didn’t know anybody and that was weird and uncomfortable and sad and lonely. And then I also tried living in Paris for a little while. That’s a huge, insane city and that was a little too much too. Cleveland fits the bill for me.
CP: You guys are about to go on a massive world tour. What are your must-haves when you’re packing?
DB: Ooh ... I always like to have a lot of books ‘cause that keeps me busy in the van for hours and hours. We’re pretty practical. I’ll bring a toothbrush, bring some deodorant, and books, and I’m ready to go. I don’t own that much stuff. If I really needed to, I could probably fit my life into a suitcase real quick. We’re pretty basic. The weirdest thing we’ll bring is maybe a random synthesizer just to play on the road when we’re bored.
With: Moon Bros., Fury Things, Citric Dummies
When: 9 p.m. Sat., Feb. 11
Where: Fine Line Music Café
Tickets: $16-$30; more info here