Dylan Baldi is the symbol of the ingrained ingenuity the interwebs instantly afford to up and coming “indie” bands. His first hurdle was his surroundings, as Cleveland, Ohio, despite nurturing a thriving experimental transcendentalist scene (Emeralds, Mist, etc.) isn’t exactly an epicenter for lo-fidelity pop-rock. His second, was how to shift his priorities from his initial band, the earnestly industrious, yet infectiously deficient, Neon Tongues, to focus on the rising profile of his solo project, Cloud Nothings. “Hey Cool Kid,” the incredibly simple, but catchy, first recording by Baldi as Cloud Nothings, surfaced nonchalantly on a host of reputable blogs—and then spread. The viral life of Cloud Nothings has emerged from virtually nowhere. All of a sudden the once quite personal and quite obscure Turning On cassette that the single was pulled from was becoming just as critically regarded. As a result, the offers to ply his wares on vinyl and on some extensive high profile tours have caused a prolific streak. (he’s got at least five tapes on tap) for Baldi and his recently assembled Cloud Nothings band.
It’s easy to write off Baldi and his distortion-reliant pop songs as just another wav(v)e on the precipice of lo-fi backlash, even before he really gets started. But good songs are good songs, whether they are shoebox bred in computer bytes or pounded out in raucous abandon on a sweaty Cleveland dive-bar stages. Any sucker with a guitar and a four-track will be conditioned to the universality of Cloud Nothings appeal.
Can you give us the process you went through in recording Turning On? What did you use? How long did it take to complete?
Dylan Baldi: Turning On was written and recorded over the space of a week or so in November. I started with “Hey Cool Kid” and “Whaddya Wanna Know.” Kevin Greenspon from Bridgetown Records heard it online and really liked it, so he offered to release something if I wanted to. I wanted to, of course, so I wrote and recorded the rest of it at a rate of about a song a day. There’s plenty of songs that I didn’t think were good enough or that just don’t quite fit that are sitting around unheard.
To record them I used one mic going straight into my computer, since all I really have recording-wise is one mic and my computer. I added some effects after recording, but nothing too much, really. I don’t exactly have any idea what I’m doing regarding recording, I just fuss with things until I get it to sound good to my ears, or at least as good as I’d be able to get it to sound. I’d love to be able to get a cleaner sound, but it’s just really not plausible for me right now.
Were you responsible for playing all of the instruments? Is Cloud Nothings to be considered the work of one person?
DB: Yeah, I played everything on Turning On. For recordings, I write everything on my own and play every instrument on my own, so Cloud Nothings, as of right now, is considered the work of one person.
The band you played in right before Cloud Nothings appeared, Neon Tongues, seems to have become inactive in the new year. Was this caused by having to attend to the sudden rise of your other project or is Neon Tongues just as much a priority?
DB: Neon Tongues is sort of on hold due to the attention I have to pay to Cloud Nothings now. I was in plenty of other stuff around the Cleveland area that I’ve had to stop doing or put aside for a bit to focus on Cloud Nothings. It’s definitely my main band now, and what I’m putting the most effort towards.
I see that you’ve decided to press the Turning On cassette to vinyl, which can only mean there’s been a demand for the record. When did you realize this was something you couldn’t just keep on cassette anymore?
DB: The decision to release it vinyl was actually made by someone else. Blair Amberly, who owns a record store called Speakertree Records in Lynchburg, Virginia, contacted me and asked if I would consider putting Turning On out on vinyl as the first release on his label, also called Speakertree Records. Having my music on vinyl is something I’ve always wanted, so I said “yes.” I was actually a little hesitant about being able to move enough copies to make it a worthwhile investment for him at first, but now I think we’ll be able to do pretty well. I’m excited for it.
It’s amazing how fast a song can be proliferated these days. “Hey Cool Kid” is kind of everywhere now, and it was completely spawned by the appearance on one particular blog, which I think was Weekly Tape Deck. Those are blogs I leaf through every day, and each day there’s a good dozen new bands cropping up with a few songs for trial. It’s becoming so hard to sift through, and most of it is absolute trash. Do you have any theories how that song rose to the top and began to spread?
DB: I’d like to think it’s because it’s a good song. It’s also a little more straightforward and immediately catchy than a lot of stuff floating around blogs right now. Not that it makes it at all a better song than those, but it’s definitely more accessible right off the bat than some of the more electronic stuff going on.
You’re the first logistically “rock” band I’ve loved from Cleveland in some time. Of course, the Emeralds circuit has been lovable for some time, but those aren’t “bands” per se. Is there anything brewing in Cleveland that you think the rest of the country is missing out on?
DB: Um, as much as I hate to say it, not really. There’s plenty of music here that’s alright, but nothing I’m too stoked on outside of that Emeralds scene that you mentioned. Hopefully some kids will start bands because a lot of the music around here is pretty stagnant and dull. Cleveland needs a burst of energy.
It looks like you’ve got a lot of releases coming in the near future, all cassettes. Can we expect the same formula as Turning On or is there another side of Cloud Nothings that isn’t apparent on your more pop moments like “Whaddya Wanna Know” and “Can’t Stay Awake?”
DB: I recently finished up a couple of those releases, and I think they’re a lot more layered than Turning On. It’s definitely still pop music, but the chords underneath the melodies are a lot more complex than the ones I was using on Turning On. The 12-inch I have coming out on Group Tightener actually has a little synth instrumental based on grape soda. So yeah, there’s a bit more branching out, but it’s all still pop.
Instead of naming influences, please fill in the blanks:
In ____, I was in 10th grade, listening to _____ in the _____ doing _____ with _____, hoping one day I’d be _____.
DB: In 2006, I was in 10th grade, listening to myself crying in the bathroom doing drugs with homeless people, hoping one day I’d be a real man.
Now that you’re touring, did you put together a full band? How is that differing from the recordings?
DB Yep, I’ve got a full band together now. We’ve been practicing about once a week for a month or so, and I definitely think it’s sounding pretty good. It’s not too different from the recordings—there’s just a more obvious energy to the songs since everything is live.
You’ll be down at South by Southwest for the first time. Are there any particular bands you feel a kinship with that you hope to play with?
DB: I really haven’t been around enough and played enough shows to feel kinship with many bands. I know some bands I really love that we’ve played with that I’d like to play with again are Beach Fossils and Real Estate, and I think a show with us and Total Slacker would be a pretty awesome thing to have happen.