Analogue Music | Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings

By Matt Conner

Cloud Nothings' new album sounds like Cloud Nothings.

For Dylan Baldi, the defined sound and approach that comprises the band's catalog is an achievement in itself, a goal realized for a songwriter who wanted to carve out an identifiable space for his work since he started writing and releasing music in the first place. Cloud Nothings fans would likely wholeheartedly agree with the whole achievement thing.

The Shadow I Remember is the latest Cloud Nothings release and despite its more pop-oriented approach, the songs are filled with Baldi's honest, emotional explorations. While Baldi and company have been unable to generate much in the way of connection with fans given the limitations imposed by a global pandemic, the music has already done the heavy lifting. It will just take a minute for the (largely) Cleveland-based band to hear about it when they start touring in late August.

Analogue: You’ve been at this for a while so how was the experience of putting a new album out in the midst of the world as it is?

Dylan Baldi: We’ve put out more in the last year… I feel like we equalled the output of the band’s last ten years just this last year with the amount of things we put out. [Laughs] I like working, so I wanted to keep doing it. I like writing songs, so we kept coming up with ways to keep ourselves occupied.

The weird thing about putting out the record now is that we’re the kind of band that is going to put it out and then go on tour to promote it—or even just because what we do if there’s no record. So putting out the record and having it dissipate into the internet wind, there’s no sense of release.

We’ve sat on records for a long time, just because our label likes to wait a while to get things in line before they put the album out, but we sat on this one for a year. Then it comes out and there’s no physical proof your album came out… you’re not even really talking to anyone day-to-day who can tell you that you had a record that exists. It’s like, ‘I guess we made this thing and it’s out there, but I have no way to prove it.’ [Laughs] I’m looking forward to hopefully returning to a more normal kind of thing.

Analogue: No one obviously likes a global pandemic, but some people take to the forced stay at home easier than others. Did you take to that well creatively, to just turn inward and write songs?

Dylan: No, because I was scared of the disease. To be at home all the time without a pandemic with nothing else to do but make music, that sounds great. But to be at home with a constant sense of dread or fire is not the most fun thing in the world. [Laughs] So no, it wasn’t great for me.

A big reason I started the band stems from growing up in Cleveland and I never really left as a kid. We had some vacations here and there with the family but nothing too far. I was like, ‘I wanna see some stuff,’ and starting a band was a good way to do that. Missing that part is a big part of the band to me—the touring, the traveling—and a big part of my life. So missing that element was sad.

Analogue: Would you normally do well in that mode?

Dylan: Well, anything that would happen where I would be in that mode, I probably wouldn’t feel that necessarily. I tried to make a song a day, basically, and I’ve been trying to do that for a long time, so I have lots and lots of songs. I would try to write a song, but that only takes a couple hours. Then I’d finish it and have this whole day where I couldn’t do anything. So that’s when the weird feeling would creep in. Working on stuff was the only relief from getting stuck inside my head for too long. But even then, there’s only so much stuff you can write in a day before you don’t have anything to say anymore.

"Working on stuff was the only relief from getting stuck inside my head for too long. But even then, there’s only so much stuff you can write in a day before you don’t have anything to say anymore."

Analogue: You speak of the daily writing exercise as something that’s been going on for a long time. How far back does that go and what informed that?

Dylan: I would say I did that coming out of high school as I was starting this band. That was my general practice. I would try to make a song every day, just to do it. It’s just trying new things with songs every day to keep challenging myself in some way to keep up that pace and not repeat myself. But then, we started touring a lot and that fell by the wayside. But when we’re at home, I try to do that pretty often.

Going back to the song-a-day thing, it only came about around the winter of 2019, going into 2020, was maybe when I started picking it back up again. It was fortuitous timing, because it gave me something to do.

Analogue: Did something prompt that?

Dylan: I think I felt like I almost had a formula for how to write a song. I’d sit down, make a song, and I almost had little boxes I could put them in. ‘That’s the song that sounds like this other old song,’ and it would go in that box. [Laughs] It was diminishing returns on the same kind of song or something, so I wanted to improve in certain aspects of songwriting. The only way I know how to do that is to just keep doing it and trying to do a little bit of it every day.

Analogue: Does that kind of discipline come naturally to you?

Dylan: Only in this. Literally only in this one aspect of my life. [Laughs] I mean, I don’t live in filth. I clean my house. But I don’t have a strong work ethic for things that I don’t have a serious passion for. In school, I did fine, but I didn’t care about any of it, so luckily I found this thing I care about that I’m basically willing to spend my life doing and working at so much.

The Shadow I Remember
The Shadow I Remember

Analogue: I’m fascinated by this longing to improve and how it intersects with what I’m hearing on the new album. Are there specifics you can point to and say, ‘This is what I was able to achieve because I kept at it’?

Dylan: Well, every song on this record sounds like Cloud Nothings to me, but it doesn’t necessarily sound like any one of our other records. It’s almost like its own thing. I feel like all of our records are their own little universe in a way.

There’s a song toward the end called “A Longer Moon” and it has a sort of long part where the guitar is hammering on two notes for a long time. Little things like that. It’s not a big thing, but it was something I thought was cool. I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never really done this on other songs, so let’s have this one part where the guitar goes [mimics guitar sound].’ It sounded fun to me so we did.

More and more, little things like that are what’s different—at least it feels different to me. Maybe to an outside listener, they all sound the same or something, but I notice these little things. I think through discovery of these little things, eventually it will lead to a more significant change in the sound of things. It all builds on itself in a way.

Analogue: I almost think there’s a real achievement in what you’re describing. I mean, within such a crowded marketplace, you’ve got this defined sound or umbrella as Cloud Nothings. That in itself is a real achievement, don’t you think?

Dylan: Yeah, when I started the band, that was something I really wanted. I was really into jazz as a kid. I played saxophone and that was something I really loved. I always liked being able to identify saxophone players from hearing them play. To someone who doesn’t listen to a bunch of that, a saxophone is just a saxophone. But for someone who listens, just by hearing the tones or the notes they play, they can say, ‘Oh it’s that guy.’ I’ve never been good enough at any one instrument to have that ability, but I thought I could maybe write songs that were good enough or individual enough that were mine or identifiable as me. So that was actually a goal from the beginning.

VISIT: Cloud Nothings