Cloud Nothings: “I’m not interested in doing the same thing twice or repeating ourselves. I just want to do something new and different with every record.”

Dylan Baldi always showed that he knew what he was doing with Cloud Nothings. The Cleveland-based four-piece have been, from record to record, raising the bar. Almost three years ago they released their first truly impressive effort Here and Nowhere Else. But nothing could have prepared us for the boldness of Life Without Sound, a record that presents a band that is fully in tune with its identity. Baldi’s lyrical abilities, their massive newly-found sound, and their songwriting chops, were some of the topics of a nice and relaxed conversation.

You said, “A thing I like to do with all of my records is drive around with them. In high school, I would listen to music for hours like that: just driving through the suburbs of Cleveland. And if it sounds good to me in that context and I can think of high school me listening to it and saying, ‘That’s okay,’ I feel good about the record. This is the one that’s felt best.” The first question is: how does that, let’s call it process, work? You write an entire album and then you go for a “test drive”?
Kind of. Whenever we finish a record and it’s all done, usually I will listen to it in the car driving around where I grew up just because it’s something I used to do all the time with other music that I liked a lot. It was kind of the main way I listen to stuff when I was a kid. I would just buy CDs, put them in the car, and drive around once I got my driver’s license. Because there’s not a whole lot… there’s just not much else to do in Cleveland when you’re a kid. [laughs] I liked to listen to my stuff in that way just because it brings back some funny memories.

What happens if you are not convinced after listening to it for hours? Do you work on what you have or is there the possibility of starting everything again from scratch?
You know, luckily I’ve been happy with everything, so we never had a problem. If we made a record that I didn’t like, I guess we would probably have to do it again.

If I’m not mistaken – and please correct me if I’m wrong – you guys worked as a power-trio for something like three years. What made you return to the four-piece format?
Well, we were going to be a four-piece for [2014’s] Here and Nowhere Else also but then I just made a bunch and we played them as a three-piece and we didn’t do the four-piece things. [laughs] I don’t even know why. So, for this record I wanted to have two guitars on every song, just because I like that kind of interplay. I like when there’s more than one guitar, I think it makes things more interesting and kind of cool and fun to listen to.

You’ve confessed that there was a pressure to perform better going into Here and Nowhere Else. Did you feel the same kind of pressure with Life Without Sound or any other kind of pressure?
There’s always internal pressure for me that I want every record to be like just bigger and better than the last one, and I want every song to be better… I just want to improve, all the time. I’m not interested in doing the same thing twice or repeating ourselves. I just want to do something new and different with every record. So, that’s the only kind of pressure that I ever really feel. People always ask if there’s outside pressure, if I feel like the pressure from the fans or whatever. I don’t really think about that. I just think about pleasing myself. [laughs]

As the press release states, “While (…) 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else came together spontaneously, in the little time that touring allowed, Life Without Sound took shape under far less frenetic circumstances.” How was to go back to a more “relaxed” creative process?
It was nice. It wasn’t even more relaxed. We worked a lot on it over the course… At first it was relaxed, I guess. I spent basically a year writing this record. So, every day I would make part of a song and that would be what I did that day. That was like, “Oh, today I made this part of this song,” and then I would think about it all day and change it around all day, and just do that for months, basically, until I had those nine songs. Then we spent a couple months practicing together as a band for like ten, sometimes longer hours a day, in a tiny little practice room. Just playing these songs and trying them to sound… good. [laughs] Because the first time we play stuff it never sounds good. So yeah, we just spent a huge amount of time working on this. I actually do much prefer that method. When we were to record Here and Nowhere Else we barely even knew the songs. I think some of the songs we really didn’t even know. We just sort played them and went, “Well, hope it sounds alright. I’m not really sure.” [laughs]

Did the process with your previous album made you appreciate more the kind of process you used on your new record?
Yeah, I think so. Here and Nowhere Else and all we did around then… everything was just really frantic. There was no time to really stop and think about what was happening. We were always sort of moving and always going. I don’t like living that way. I like having some time to myself, I like being home, and I like having my friends. So, it’s nice to have that time off where we can just focus on one thing and take it a little easier and not really always be moving. I don’t know how we did that.

You’ve worked with Steve Albini on 2012’s Attack on Memory, John Congleton on Here and Nowhere Else, and John Goodmanson (Sleater Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie) on this new album. How has it been working with all these different producers and what did Goodmanson bring to the table?
I just always want to do a record with somebody different every time we make a record just because it’s fun. It’s fun to have a totally new experience every time you do it. Goodmanson, I feel like he was the most… I don’t want to say professional, but he definitely had work on bigger records than some of the other people we’ve work with. He has a style that sounds a little bigger, a little more polished. That’s what he does, and he wanted to add all sorts of effects on things for the record but we wouldn’t let him do. We ended up with what we have now, which I do like a lot. It’s kind of a good mix between the full-extent of what he wanted to do and the kind of bare bones style we usually have.

cloud nothings1“I’m not interested in doing the same thing twice or repeating ourselves. I just want to do something new and different with every record.”

I don’t really care about the lyrics, for the most part, within the context of our music,” you’ve said once. Has that changed at all?
Yeah, that definitely changed on this record, I would say. Really because I had more time to think about it. And also, I think about other band’s lyrics, like if a band make records with stupid lyrics then I don’t like it, and I just thought, “I should probably pay attention to our lyrics if I care about other people’s lyrics.” With this one I spent a lot more time kind of reworking and rewriting, and just making things as good as they could be in the time that we had. It’s just kind of being ok with whatever you are given. Or being comfortable and more confident than just being alive and dealing with things you have to deal with. So yeah, it’s about the future in a way but it’s more about making peace with the future rather than trying to figure it out.

On “Darkened Rings” you seem to be trying to explain how you perceive your own life.
Yeah, I would say so. That’s a song about being depressed, which I certainly… It’s not anymore, not to the same extent, but I definitely was a pretty sad guy for a while.

Did that change of state of mind affect the record?
Yeah, definitely. The record is kind of about changing that state of mind. That state of mind is not sustainable. You can’t live that way or you will go completely insane. You’ll be crazy. [laughs] It’s a record about coming to terms with that. My mom told me she related to that song, which made me go, “Are you ok, mom?” [laughs]

You’ve been working to evolve and feel more comfortable vocally since day one. How would you describe the experience, regarding your voice, with this new album?
I try to sing better on every record just because… like the way I play guitar. I’m happy with that I think I’m good with guitar, so that’s fine. But singing, I just never really thought I was good at. It’s always been kind of tough for me to record and hear my own voice. I don’t like hearing myself sing, so every time we make a record I try to just sing in a way that is easier for me to listen to, every time we do it. So that’s what I did. Especially with this one, we were recording and I had no idea that Goodmanson was going to make it sound so big. So, I was there to record vocals and I had the headphones on listening to it and thought, “This record sounds huge. If I don’t sing well, it’s just going to sound stupid.” [laughs] Yeah, I had to force myself to sort of… almost play a character and just sing better.

What did you want to convey with the title Life Without Sound?
It’s kind of a weird… It’s a title that I chose without really thinking about it. It’s kind of a lyric from “Things Are Right With You” and it’s mostly because I always like the titles of the records to be lyrics that kind of encapsulate the theme of the whole record and also that are lyrics in a song. I don’t want to name the record with just one of the song’s name. Out of all the lyrics and all the songs those three words kind of stuck together the best and also seems like a good way to describe how I was feeling writing the record. I don’t really have an exact reason for why I chose it. Right now it’s just because it sounds good and I think in a year or something I’ll have thought about it enough where I can go, “That’s why I chose that.

Words: Tiago Moreira // Photos: Jesse Lirola – Life Without Sound is out now via Carpark Records.
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