In Dylan Baldi’s perfect world, creative satisfaction comes without all the baggage of being a musician. The Cloud Nothings founder consents to an interview, but makes it clear that he’s indifferent to all the trappings outside of the actual music. It’s 8:30 p.m. and he and his touring bandmates—guitarist Joe Boyer, bassist TJ Duke and drummer Jayson Gerycz—are still in their pajamas. There’s no manager, no sound guy, no additional support. Their merchandise is unmanned throughout their set, showing their ambivalence about the business of being a band.
All that matters to them is the show at hand, playing music and sticking to what they know best. They showcase a mix of both their early pop songs and newer angst-ridden, hard-hitting rockers for the 50-person crowd in Atlanta.
The differences between the songs are striking, as the band’s new album Attack On Memory is an aggressive, alternative-rock-minded departure from their earlier and lighter lo-fi pop songs. “We kind of took it to the extent that you can take it,” Baldi says. “You have to change something. I guess for this one we just made a little more intense.”
Intense is one way of putting it. Attack On Memory is more ambitious and serious, steering away from the catchier, offhand pop songs that filled the band’s first two releases.
Baldi starting writing songs for several fake MySpace band pages while he passed the time between his classes at Case Western Reserve University. Cloud Nothings was one of those bands, and songs like “Hey Cool Kid” soon spread like adorable kittens across the Internet.
The Cloud Nothings frontman put out Turning On, an early singles collection, in 2010 and the group’s proper full-length debut in January 2011. As he increasingly garnered attention, Baldi recruited his band to tour behind him, playing his simpler, shorter pop songs night after night.
Once on tour, though, they all agreed the material wasn’t challenging enough, leading Attack On Memory to become a more collaborative effort. “If you’re not growing and changing,” Duke asks, “why are you doing it to begin with?”
“You got to evolve as a musician, and we’re all very good musicians,” Boyer adds.
Even the title of Attack On Memory questions the perceptions and expectations facing the Cloud Nothings. In addition to the louder, alternative sound, the songs are longer, allowing the band room to experiment and improvise live. On their first two releases, their songs rarely span beyond three minutes. This time, there’s only one song under that mark, and “Wasted Days” stretches to nearly nine minutes.
“I think we were just bored, because we played the songs so much and we wanted to do something that was more fun for us,” Baldi elaborates. “That’s kind of what that is, you know, more fun to just noodle around for a really long time and not really know what you’re doing than it is to play the same song every single night for a year and a half.”
Also gone is the band’s lo-fi aesthetic. They recorded with famed producer Steve Albini (Nirvana’s In Utero, The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and Superchunk’s No Pocket For Kitty) over the course of five days in his Chicago, Ill. studio. Their label suggested that it would be a good fit.
“I knew that [we were going to work with Albini], but then we didn’t do anything for a few months,” Baldi recalls with a laugh. “Then we … basically had a week to do all the songs and figure them out. Then we recorded them!
“Steve’s a nice guy,” he continues. “We like Steve. He didn’t do much necessarily, but he made us sound really good by putting the mics [in place]. He didn’t have any input into what we were doing at all.”
In this sense, Baldi’s averseness to the business side of his music remains unchanged. Despite waiting until the eleventh hour to write most of Attack On Memory, he managed to crank out some of his best individual songs and the Cloud Nothings’ most cohesive work to date.
While the lyrics brood with intensity and feel much darker than anything he’s ever released, Baldi just chalks it up to having a bad week. “Yeah, they’re all sort of depressing,” he says, chuckling. “I guess I was really depressed and made an album about it lyrically… as opposed to the ‘Hey, Cool Kid.’ I just was feeling pretty down one week.”
Even talking about the album, the band’s replies are hesitant. It’s hardly an aloof response, as they know people will likely see Attack On Memory as either a teenage-angst break-up record or an album with Albini’s legacy on it. They’d rather just chase their creative motivation and let their music to be the final attack on memory…whatever that may be.