It may only be early February but a few contenders for album of the year are already beginning to emerge. One of those is Here And Nowhere Else, the third album from Cleveland natives Cloud Nothings. Primarily the project of singer, songwriter and main driving force Dylan Baldi, the band recently become a trio after the departure of guitarist Joe Boyer. With Baldi also having relocated to Paris, it's been a time of upheaval. Yet if Here And Nowhere Else is anything to go by, a somewhat productive one.
Written almost entirely on the road then recorded with Grammy-nominated producer John Congleton in New Jersey last summer, it represents another leap forwards from 2012's excellent Attack On Memory. Once again showcasing Baldi's talents as a songwriter and arranger, there's hints of early Lemonheads and Husker Du at play throughout the course of its eight individual pieces.
Although not officially out in the UK until the end of March, lead single 'I'm Not Part Of Me' has already created a buzz on its own. Not least with DiS' resident 45s editor Robert Leedham who made it his single of the week recently.
Currently over in the UK on promotional duties, DiS caught up with the enigmatic frontman on a cold Tuesday afternoon in Islington's Lexington. The drinks are most definitely on us...
DiS: What brings you to the UK?
Dylan Baldi: I live in Paris mostly now. I go back to Cleveland sometimes. Anyway, I was there in Paris and said to the label I was around if they needed me for interviews and stuff, so I came over for a couple of days and then I go back Thursday (6th).
DiS: It's been eighteen months since Attack On Memory came out. What have you been up to in the meantime?
Dylan Baldi: I've been on the road pretty much the whole time since the last record came out. It meant that there wasn't as much time for writing as I wanted. So after we finished touring, I took a couple of weeks just to flesh out Here And Nowhere Else. That was in September of last year, and during that month we pretty much recorded the whole record.
DiS: Apart from the eight songs which made the final cut on the record, were there any others that you considered for the album?
Dylan Baldi: Eight songs is enough! The songs I write for each record tend to follow a similar style. To me at least, so if I wrote a ninth song it would probably feel like too much.
DiS: The new record reminds me of the first two Lemonheads records in many ways. Are you a big fan of that late 1980s punk pop scene?
Dylan Baldi: Yeah, I like a lot of stuff similar to that. I don't listen to it that much any more but it was definitely a formative influence on what I was doing.
DiS: Your songwriting has developed quite progressively from those early singles and the first album through to Attack On Memory and now Here And Nowhere Else. Do you consciously attempt to change your approach when making a new record?
Dylan Baldi: All I set out to do is for each record to be better than the last one. That's the only goal really. I don't necessarily think about writing a more interesting song or whatever.
DiS: Is there a common theme or concept running through Here And Nowhere Fast? The reason I ask is that a lot of the lyrics seem to deal with personal relationships that may or may not be about the same people.
Dylan Baldi: I'd like to think all of my records deal with personal relationships. Lyrically the new album is very much about me. It's how I get that stuff out because I don't really talk too much about myself in day to day life. Whether it is good or bad, I tend to use my songs to channel any anger I may have about something, and I can live with that.
DiS: The penultimate track 'Pattern Walks' is possibly the most epic piece you've recorded so far. Again its lyrical content seems quite philosophical, especially the line "I'm moving forward while I keep the past around me." What's the story behind it?
Dylan Baldi: I tend to deal with the same themes on every record, general stuff that people my age feel they have to overcome. With this one it was about me taking a more positive view towards that stuff. Dealing with it in a more mature way. I think 'Pattern Walks' is pretty similar to 'Wasted Days' on the last record in structure. 'Wasted Days' ended with "I thought I would be more than this" and 'Pattern Walks' just ends with "I thought..." So I guess it was just a continuation of that but with a different take on it.
DiS: John Congleton produced the new record whereas Steve Albini produced the last one. Obviously two very different and accomplished producers. What did each bring to the records they worked on and if you had to pick one to work with again, which would it be and why?
Dylan Baldi: That's a difficult one! John was different. He made the record sound very different. What we normally do is go in and play the songs, and then let whoever is recording it decide how they want to make it sound. Because to us, that's just how it sounds. When we record we play live. No overdubs or anything. So with the John Congleton record that's how we felt we sounded. It's just he used different microphones in different rooms to get that sound. But if I had to pick one? I'd probably go with John Congleton I guess because he wanted to record us as close to how we play live as possible, only using different techniques. But I'd also like to work with Steve (Albini) again too. He was a lot more carefree in that he would let us do whatever we wanted. If we did something terrible but decided afterwards that we liked it he'd just go, "OK!" Whereas if we played badly with John Congleton he'd tell us to do it again. Generally, I don't like working with the same people more than once. It will probably be somebody different for the next record.
DiS: Do you have anyone in mind?
Dylan Baldi: Once I've written the songs I try to think about who I want to record it. Then go from there.
DiS: You mentioned earlier about recording live without any overdubs at all. Is that an intention of yours on every record? To try and replicate a live sound?
Dylan Baldi: I just don't like records that are "produced". I like bands that sound like bands. As far as a rock band goes anyway. There are other kinds of music where it makes sense to have something produced to make it interesting. For a band like us that would be weird. We're all about the rawness and energy you'd get from seeing us play live. I just want to make records that sound like real people playing in a band.
DiS: What's your relationship like with Wichita? Are they quite supportive in terms of allowing you creative control to make records as, when and how you like?
Dylan Baldi: They're great. They let us do whatever we want and then put out the record. It's really simple. Luckily they're music fans, which is a good thing. I think even if we made something they hated they'd still put it out! For now it's a pretty great relationship with them.
DiS: They're one of the few labels who've retained their integrity and never been influenced by scenes or what's fashionable.
Dylan Baldi: Totally. We've never been trendy either. What's fashionable in our world probably makes no sense at all to most people. And Wichita are the same. Maybe they just seek out bands who are like that!
DiS: Are there any expectations around the record?
Dylan Baldi: I try not to, because if you do something always falls short. So for now we'll just be happy with whatever happens.
DiS: Cloud Nothings has always been primarily your project. Do the other guys in the band get involved with the songwriting and arranging?
Dylan Baldi: I write a song and then show it to them. Just the fact they're playing it changes things a little bit. And sometimes I realise things don't work. But for the most part I tend to write and arrange everything.
DiS: Guitarist Joe Boyer recently left the band. Are you currently looking for a replacement or will you be continuing as a three-piece?
Dylan Baldi: We'll probably stay as a three-piece. I think it's enough. Honestly. There's not that many three-piece bands around at the minute that are good. There's a tradition of three-piece bands that I like so it would be good if we could carry it on.
DiS: Which three-piece band is your favourite?
Dylan Baldi: That's a hard question! Not Rush! You know what, I take it all back actually because there are quite a few three-piece bands I like. So I was wrong. I just want us to be a good three-piece band too. I just like the fact that in a three-piece band you can hear everything, so everyone has to be good all of the time. I listen to a lot of jazz and most of that is made by people in really small groups. Piano trios like the Bill Evans Trio. So it's kind of the same for me. Just guitar, bass, drums with one person singing.
DiS: Are you thinking ahead towards the fourth album? Do you have any ideas forming about how the next record might sound?
Dylan Baldi: Not yet. I'm not very good at planning. I tend to do things off the cuff. I'll think about that record when we have to record it. For now I still have to remember how to play these songs.
DiS: You're touring around Europe throughout May including five dates around the UK and Ireland culminating in two shows at Barcelona's Primavera Sound festival. How does it feel being part of an incredible line-up such as that?
Dylan Baldi: It's amazing! We're actually doing the Primavera in Portugal the week after too. Am I allowed to say that yet? We're playing it anyway! It's quite surreal. We played there a couple of years ago and it was easily the best festival I've ever been to. It's just so exciting. The line-up is always incredible. And also, you always get a bunch of bands that reunite just to play at Primavera.
DiS: Do you find UK and European audiences more receptive to your music than back home in the States?
Dylan Baldi: It just depends really. There are certain places back home where we're not very well received. At the same time we've played places in Europe where they haven't got us either. But when people do like us they tend to really like us, so that makes it all worthwhile.
DiS: With three albums and a batch of singles to your name, you now have quite an extensive back catalogue for such a relatively young band. Does that make it difficult when choosing setlists to play live? Are there any songs from your back catalogue you aren't that keen on revisiting any more?
Dylan Baldi: The first two records I don't really want to play any more. It's like looking back at something you did when you were really little. That's cute but it's no longer me. It's nice to have those documents of that time but I don't really want to revisit them again.
DiS: Finally, are there any new bands you would recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
Dylan Baldi: Even just in Cleveland where I'm from there's this band called Pleasure Leftists. They play eighties influenced, guitar-based coldwave. There's a lot of great hardcore bands there as well like Smooth Brain. Protomartyr from Detroit are great too. There's always lots of great bands coming through from the mid-west of America, mainly because it's such a fucked up place!
Cloud Nothings tour in May and are scheduled to play the following shows:-
22 Manchester The Deaf Institute
23 Glasgow Stereo
24 Dublin Button Factory
26 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
27 London Scala
The album Here And Nowhere Else comes out on 31st March via Wichita Records.
For more information on the band visit their official website.