Operating from the humble confines of his Ohio hometown, Dylan Baldi made a name for himself as an 18-year-old who released a slew of infectious pop-punk melodies under the name Cloud Nothings. Now 20, Baldi seems eager to shed that humble skin for something larger. Cloud Nothings has blossomed into a full band whose collaborative sound supplies depth and substance to his cathartic ruminations on untapped potential and captive disillusionment. The group’s latest, Attack on Memory, is aggressive and tortured, capturing both the vulnerable and provocative elements of maturation. It leans heavily on the same insecurities and tight hooks that populated Baldi’s earlier material, but this time the band’s products are much louder, and much larger.
What was the process like for Cloud Nothings becoming a full band?
Well this has been the band that I’ve played with since the very first show we ever played two years ago. They’re just friends from around Cleveland, people I’ve met going to shows or the way anyone meets people, you know.
We’d been playing together for a long time and we just decided that we should record the next album together, because this was going to be the band the Cloud Nothings for the foreseeable future.
There’s a very focused, aggressive energy on this record that you’ve never really had before when you were just recording by yourself.
We just play aggressively in general as a band. I was just recording everything myself before, so you couldn’t really get a simulation of what the band sounds like together. This band, the way we play is we play all the songs sort of aggressively. And the fact that it was recorded better also adds to the energy and the way it can just sort of pop out. It’s very direct and intense, I think, because that’s just how we play.
The songs themselves are a little different because I was just sick of writing the same song over and over. And that’s kind of how I felt like our last album was—just the same song 11 times over whatever. I wanted to do something different this time.
Did you seek out Steve Albini purposely because you wanted to display these aggressive energies the same ways he was able to showcase the aggression of, say, Big Black and Shellac?
Yeah. We had the songs written and we wanted to record it with someone who would just make it sound like it was just us in a room playing the songs without any sort of studio—whatever—trickery. And we were just thinking and finally Steve Albini came up, and all his records have a specific sort of sound even though the bands are all very different. All the records sound like they were a band playing songs in a room. And that’s what we wanted, so we went with him.
The songs themselves are more expansive in scope, but they’re all still centered around very strong hooks. So has the songwriting process really changed that much or is it just in how you’ve executed them?
Songwriting is—that’s what I look for in music that I like. If the songwriting is good, then I like it, no matter what it actually sounds like. That’s something I study when I listen to music. I’m just trying to do different things with songwriting now. I’ve had the same idea in my head of what’s a good song, whether I was making the self-titled record or even earlier stuff. But yeah, I’m just executing it differently.
You’ve talked about Attack on Memory as describing the ways the band has changed, and that you’re attacking our memories on what Cloud Nothings once were. Maybe it’s just because we’re more or less the same age, but I tend to pull more out of that title and this record in your feelings of disappointment and feeling existentially lost. Did you feel that at all?
Sure, yeah, because a lot of the songs can be interpreted that way. It’s all very negative kinds of stuff that I’m singing about, and the songs themselves are sort of dark. So that’s definitely a way I could see it being interpreted, and I would agree with it. Yeah.
You’ve also talked about the difference between focusing on short, three-minute pop songs like your earlier material versus letting yourself go for an eight-minute song; but you also say you cut Attack on Memory at only eight songs to avoid an overload. How do you figure out the balance between letting everything go and reeling it back in?
For the songs themselves, I tend to repeat something until it gets boring, which normally tends to be four times or something. And that’s how my structure of a pop song fits in my head. So I just try to do that. I try to listen to what I’m doing all the time and keep it from becoming repetitive or stale. And if I hear that we have too many super-aggressive songs in a row on an album, I’ll change the order or something like that. And with this album, I noticed that all of these songs are kind of down-beat, and it could be kind of draining to listen to it all even though it’s only about a half hour long. So I knew to try and definitely keep it short.