IT’S A YOUNG MAN’S GAME
I approach a young, white, pale, thin male with black rimmed glasses, a plaid shirt and a pristine Macintosh sat neatly in front of him. It’s an all too familiar site nowadays, but there is something intrinsically different about Dylan Baldi a.k.a. Cloud Nothings (a name conjured up from writing down possible band names in his notebook whilst bored in class at school). Not only is he still a teenager, but he evokes the kind of goofball charm and endearing outlook and persona that makes him as refreshing as it does intriguing.
At eighteen years old he started to record a bunch of songs in his bedroom, armed only with a battered microphone and a crappy computer. The results were this year’s ‘Turning On’ – an album of lo-fi garage pop-smattered songs that brings to mind the early rugged charm of demo-period, pre-‘Is This It’ Strokes, whilst also creating one of the greatest hook songs of the year in ‘Hey Cool Kids’.
This is to be followed up by a self-titled release in January, recorded in a proper studio.
“It was always an ambition to record properly in a studio,” Dylan says in American high school twang, “definitely. That’s always been on my mind.”
With lo-fi itself becoming more an aesthetic and a genre based on trends rather than definition, you’d quite rightly expect it to be something that Dylan is keen to distance himself from. Plenty of others have since the backlash began this summer. “I’m not,” says Dylan, “because I love a lot of those bands. I also dislike a lot of those bands, but I’m not trying to distance myself from it, I don’t think, no.”
As we continue to talk, Dylan’s face very rarely stops beaming and grinning. It all seems a bit overwhelming for him. “Oh yeah, it totally is,” he freely admits. “Only four days ago was the first time I ever went on a plane and left the country.” Now the band are in the midst of a tour with Veronica Falls before they join the Wichita 10th Anniversary tour with Les Savy Fav, followed by a stop off at Leeds’ Constellations Festival to play with the likes of Liars, Four Tet, Broken Social Scene, Sleigh Bells, Los Campesinos! and Les Savy Fav again.
Dylan is now nineteen and in a world somewhat far away from his bedroom recordings days of 2008/2009, where he’d work completely alone. “What was definitely a little weird was having someone else there while recording the album,” he says. “It had always been just me before.” And although that suggests that Dylan is now working with a host of other musicians, he’s not. The “someone else” was a studio hand or two – Dylan still plays every instrument on every song. For the tour that’s clearly impossible, so he’s rounded up a backing band of friends, from other bands from his hometown of Cleveland.
So what happens when Cloud Nothings goes home? Will Dylan start to collaborate with his new band?
“Erm…no I think it will just continue to be me,” he deadpans.
So is Cloud Nothings simply Dylan Baldi?
“Well, I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but yeah.”
It’s when we start discussing such things as that that Dylan’s ambition, and to a degree control, starts to emerge.
“I couldn’t play someone else’s songs,” he says. “I used to play saxophone in the school band and we used to have to play Beethoven and I just hated it, I wanted to do my own stuff.”
At this point I quiz him on what instruments he can play and he continues to reel off quite an impressive list that includes piano, banjo, mandolin, guitar, drums and so on. “I started piano at the age of five,” he says, proudly.
Imposed by your parents, I assume?
“No. Actually, I remember seeing my grandma play when I was a kid and thinking it was really cool, so I just started to play.”
The footnote to this is that Dylan admits, “I can’t play them all really well or anything” but it’s nonetheless impressive, and so it seems this passionate immersion in as many things as possible is an accurate embodiment of his frantic and exhilarating musical output. The songs of ‘Turning On’ (an album in length but a record made up of past demos and limited single releases) give a sense of almost rushed relentlessness, manic and agitated. You certainly don’t imagine there is too much tinkering once they are complete, which is confirmed when Dylan admits that the studio debut album was made in “about a week and a half.”
It appears the gusto and speed of which most nineteen year olds live and feel has been cemented into musical form with the creation of Cloud Nothings. It’s music that sounds like what nineteen year olds should be making and it’s also music that makes you feel nineteen again – a perfect concoction of youth, exuberance and charm in musical form. But, with essentially two albums to promote and tour, touring must be the main focus for now, and that is sure to halt Cloud Nothings’ prolific output.
“Oh no,” says Dylan. “I’m always working on more songs. I want to do some more, yeah,” he beams. And it’s hard not to become engulfed by his enthusiasm and energy – a character trait he flawlessly shares with his songs.
When the band play live tonight they exceed my expectations, which, truth be told, were fairly high anyway. They seemed to emit and represent everything a band of their age should: they’re loud, fast, utterly enthralling and most importantly they were fun. Really fun! And I think it takes a band like Cloud Nothings and a gig like tonight’s to reinstate that live music can be that sometimes – it often becomes a forgotten priority in many bands.
Ultimately, Dylan is a very inconspicuous character. He’s exactly the kind of kid you may expect to encounter working as an assistant in a store that is polite, pleasant and helpful and even to a degree, a tad dorky. However, once on stage the softly spoken and very youthful sounding Dylan transforms into a natural performer that glides into the role of front man with a voice that at times rattles and stings with a venomous bite. Looks can be deceiving it would seem.
As I get older and generally more embittered with the world and the people in it, I should naturally extend this to the happy young go getters ready to set the world on fire with an enthusiasm that grates and sickens me – instead I feel totally consumed by it, to the point of sustenance. Cloud Nothings created one of the most engrossing and instantly likeable albums of this year, created from the mind of an eighteen-year-old college drop out, in his bedroom with whatever he had to hand, and that is a really cool thing.
As our interview concludes I ask him if he would like a drink. He politely declines and I enquire if he doesn’t drink? He doesn’t it turns out. “No, I don’t do anything cool like that, I just go on the Internet,” he smirks, as he lifts open the lid to his mac. I guess nobody thought it was cool to try and emulate your grandma’s musical skills either, but look where that’s got him.
By Daniel Dylan Wray
Originally published in issue 23 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. November 2010