Cloud Nothings Tone Down The Anger, Just a Little
For their new album Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings did something they’ve never done before: They took some time off. After years of nearly nonstop touring, “We needed some time to return to reality and just kind of be at home with people we know,” frontman Dylan Baldi says. “It was either we keep touring and just fry our brains permanently, and maybe never stop touring again, or we take a break to check in with ourselves.” That down time helped shape an album that’s roomier and more reflective than its punkier predecessors, but hardly a huge departure—it’s still driven by the Cleveland band’s usual propulsive energy and concision songwriting. Ahead of their show at Turner Hall Ballroom on Feb. 12, Baldi spoke with the Shepherd about how politics shaped the new record and why, despite all those pieces you might have read online, rock isn’t dead
Cloud Nothings’ sound is pretty well cemented at this point. When you go in to record an album, are there unspoken parameters on what it will sound like?
There’s plenty of stuff we could do that’s bizarre. We all play in other very different bands that nobody knows about because we just play around Cleveland, or not at all. I do a lot of noisy stuff with people, stuff that’s just hard to listen to. So we could bring that element in. And I know Jayson [Gerycz] and TJ [Duke] both make techno, and that could both pop in there, but I feel like this is a song band. It seems like a guitar song band to me. So I like working within those parameters to see what we can do every time, rather than being like, ‘This is the synth record!’ We could do that, or we could try to figure out another way to play with guitars and bass and drums, which is more exciting to me.
You’re doing that music as well as anybody else, but it’s a time when there isn’t the same energy around rock anymore, at least not in the press. You’re in a guitar band at a time when there’s less interest in that than ever.
On a mainstream press scale, yeah. But a lot of people I know listen to a lot of people I know listen to a lot of guitary punk stuff all the time. ‘Rock is dead’ is a popular interview subject at this point. I did an interview today for an article that was just about that. He did an article about how rock had died and he talked to like four rock bands, and I was like, ‘You’re talking to four rock bands that exist and are doing OK. Maybe it’s fine.’
I think some pieces capture that narrative. It’s not so much that rock is dead, or even that it’s damaged, it’s that for some reason it doesn’t have the luster it had.
Yeah, it’s not trendy anymore. Luckily we put out our big
record right when rock was trendy again. Or emo. Everybody called us emo.
Which, you know, whatever. But I think we happened to make a record when rock
was popular for whatever short amount of time in whatever small press world
that existed. And now it is less popular to write about, I guess. It’s less
popular with the big outlets, the Pitchforks, but there’s always going to be
smaller outlets writing about it, and to be honest that’s preferable … It just
seems like now those sites are writing more about famous people and less about
things I think are cool.
I think there’s a narrative bias behind that coverage. You look at the big records right now, and they’re really easy to write about—they have an established personality at the center, and a big point of view. As a writer that stuff is definitely more fun to cover than another rock record.
Yeah, that’s definitely true. And even our PR guy was like, ‘Hey, I think more people would be down to interview you if you have a narrative.’ And I was like, ‘sure.’ Because there is no huge narrative on the record, it’s just songs we’re excited to play.
Are you a political person?
Uh, I mean, I don’t know. Not in any massively public way. But I have my thoughts.
It seems like it’s a hard time to be a band that doesn’t have those thoughts front and center.
Yeah, that seems to be something that a lot of people are focused on at the moment. And with good reason. It’s a frightening time.
There’s a theme on the record that I think will resonate with a lot of people about looking beyond your bubble, engaging with people who don’t share your views. What put that on your mind? Obviously you finished the record before November.
I’ve always known those people are out there. I live in Ohio! I’m surrounded by those people all the time. It’s like, ‘Whoa, I’m the weird one.’ So it’s not that insane to me to have to think like that. But I think this record is more just about a general awareness that the world is an uncertain place, and maybe coming to terms with that rather than me getting personally angry about it and just flipping out and not knowing what to do. Just realizing that’s what’s happening, that reality is going to be what it is and you have to function with it, and try your best to be decent.
As an artist that must be hard to move on from, because anger can be such a good muse, especially for you guys.
I think the record still has that element to it, but it
maybe just encompasses a little more than just that. It didn’t seem right to
make a record that was just yelling and screaming again. I mean, there’s enough
of that. It happens on there, but maybe just not as much as it used to. I’m not
old, but it feels weird to be getting older and playing all these really fast,
crazy songs that we wrote five years ago. It just feels weird. It feels like
acting if you have to repeat yourself.
Do you think there’s a shelf life on this band? Is there
only so long you can go on playing these kinds of songs?
I don’t know. At the time it seemed fine. If there is a shelf life and I sense an expiration date then we’ll stop. But I just also think I’m getting better at writing songs, and that’s the only thing I can provide to the world at this point. It’s the only thing I’m good enough at to be like, ‘Here’s my contribution to the world.’ It feels good. It gives me a sense of purpose.
Cloud Nothings play Turner Hall Ballroom on Sunday, Feb. 12 with Moon Bros and Dramatic Lovers at 8 p.m.