Cloud Nothings: Alone in an Elevator

Frontman Dylan Baldi on traveling to understand the “now”

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When Cloud Nothings posted a teaser video for their fourth album, Here and Nowhere Else, on Facebook, it was captioned “proof that we haven’t just been sitting at home the last few months.” Considering the band is from Cleveland, it would be understandable to assume so. Ohio is the type of Midwestern sprawl that can be pegged as a desolate wasteland (à la Harmony Korine’s Gummo) or a monotonous suburb (Clarissa Explains It All), neither being a place that ushers change. Thankfully Cloud Nothings made that happen on their own.

“Usually I’m writing because it’s something I need to do or else I don’t feel good that day,” says frontman Dylan Baldi. He’s back in his Cleveland apartment after spending 10 days in Los Angeles recording eight new tracks with Wavves’ Nathan Williams. “I don’t really know what we’re going to do with it, but it’s done and it exists,” he says. “It’s like a mix of Cloud Nothings and Wavves. You can tell who played what, but it all sounds together.”

Baldi, 22; drummer Jayson Gerycz, 27; and bassist TJ Duke, 31, recently played three showcases at South By Southwest. Now they’re touring the world through the end of the year.

“We’re going to China!” Baldi says, his face glowing with excitement. He is an impulsive peripatetic. He talks about his worldly adventures—from floating in the Dead Sea to chancy driving in Italy—like he wants to trade stories. “You ever been to Finland?” he later asks. “I thought it would be cool, but it looks like Pittsburg. Helsinki’s just a run-down, Midwestern town.” Then he starts talking about a last-minute trip to southern Portugal.

“I just go where people take me,” he says before chronicling a recent adventure with rapper El-P to a New York steakhouse. “We were hanging out at his place and he was like, ‘I’m watching my weight, but I need a fucking steak.’ So we went there and he bribed the door guy. I didn’t realize you could still do that. He seriously gave the guy a $50 and said, ‘We need to sit right now.’”

When not on the road, Baldi lives in Paris, his new home since he started dating a French girl he met on tour a year ago. It’s the kind of “embarrassing rock-star bullshit” that has him looking at the ground, half-mumbling.

While his French isn’t perfect, it’s decent enough for him to explore the area’s nooks, like Le Motel and Monster Mélodies, when, of course, they’re open. “They do a lot of weird shit that I’m glad we don’t have to do here,” he says regarding the country’s abundance of holidays, Razor scooters and ping pong. “I’ll walk outside and everything’s closed, like, ‘Oh, it’s Tuesday? Cool holiday.’”

Baldi’s constant traveling seems contradictory to the album’s title, when, in fact, it couldn’t be more related. Here and Nowhere Else reads like some optimistic bumper sticker about seizing the day, but instead it’s about being aware of what should and shouldn’t be happening in that moment.

“There are brilliant lyricists that I will never, ever, ever write anything nearly as good as anything they’ve done—but I’m not trying to,” he says. “I try to make little statements. The lyrics aren’t poetry.” For this album, every line was penned a mere 48 hours before recording. Their meanings were relatively flat when written, but revisiting them reveals they’re an accurate representation of his headspace at the time.

In the past year, he began prying deeper into jazz pianist Bill Evans’ work and even tried to play guitar in that style. “It’s just the way he talks about music: you have to start with a really simple idea and expand on that rather than starting with something crazy and complex,” Baldi explains. “It’s very easy to make something human if you start with a simple idea.”

For a while, it seemed his life would take another path. As an alto saxophone major, Baldi was set to endure collegiate life, but he loathed the academic environment and dropped out to pursue Cloud Nothings. What began as a solo project in 2009 became a band whose sound is dependent on its combined intensity.

“That guy’s crazy,” says Baldi of Gerycz. The latter’s vehement drumming is what makes that single pause in 2012’s “Separation” so strong and the fevered intensity of “Psychic Trauma” topple over itself.

Yet with all the similarities, Here and Nowhere Else and Attack on Memory have distinct differences. Producer John Congleton replaced Steve Albini, and Baldi tried a new way of singing. “I’m happy with this record. It’s the first one where I haven’t cringed at the sound of my voice,” he says.

Considering he’s only just entered his 20s, Baldi is still coming to terms with Cloud Nothings’ fame. “At first it was like, ‘Why do people want to talk to me? I’m not doing anything. I dropped out of school.’ But it’s cool because not that many people get the opportunity to do this. So as we’re still a band after five years, you’re just kind of grateful for everything.”

That’s what Here and Nowhere Else stands on: sincerity. It’s an indicator of his sense of adventure, one that extends far beyond a fearlessness of unknown territory. At one point he mentions eating kangaroo in Australia, crocodile in New Orleans and reindeer penis in Stockholm (if you’re wondering, “everything just tastes like chicken”).
All of a sudden, Baldi interrupts to ask what I do in an empty elevator.

“It’s the most private moment in the world,” he explains. “Usually you’re in a crowded place, but suddenly you’re alone for a second and it’s like, ‘Whoa, I can do anything.’” The more he elaborates, the more his growth makes sense. “It’s an important moment,” he concludes. “I do whatever I want.” With any luck, he’ll continue. That unbound freedom is leading towards something bigger, and at this point Cloud Nothings will have to work hard to miss the mark.

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