Talking Michael Hurley, Cockroaches, and Being Odd In Ohio With Dylan Baldi< < Back to
Sometime in 2009, a very young Dylan Baldi decided to make a few songs in his parent’s basement under the moniker Cloud Nothings. As an audio and music recording technology freshman at Cleveland’s Case Western University, he regularly crafted low-fi, home-recorded tunes under fake band names, making subsequent MySpace pages for each of them. New York City-based indie rock promoter Todd Patrick contacted Cloud Nothings through the MySpace that Baldi had created and asked if the outfit would open for the bands Woods and Real Estate in Brooklyn — and Baldi jumped to find musicians who could perform alongside him as the newly multi-person outfit.
Over the course of the past eight years, Cloud Nothings have released a slew of impressive, dynamic records — from the scrappy angst-pop of 2011’s self-titled album to their most recent — the contemplative and artfully polished “Life Without Sound.”
Cloud Nothings are slated to perform Friday, June 3 at the Nelsonville Music Festival. WOUB’s Emily Votaw spoke with Baldi about growing up as an awkward, music-obsessed kid in Ohio, making his first full length with one of Baltimore’s finest producers, and the impressive nature of Michael Hurley’s repertoire.
WOUB: How are you doin’ today?
Dylan Baldi: I’m doing alright. I just got back from Asia… yesterday night? So, I’m confused about what time it is, but, otherwise, I’m fine.
WOUB: Understandably! I know you’re based out of Cleveland again, so where are you guys in terms of touring right now?
DB: We just finished our Asia run over the last 10 or so days, which was the end to an almost three month long tour. I’m back in Cleveland hanging out for the first time in a long time.
WOUB: I’m actually from the Akron area, so I was really excited to speak with you today.
DB: Cool, the other guys in the band are actually from Medina.
WOUB: Nice! I definitely know that area. Out of curiosity, do you guys get much of an opportunity to actually listen to music when you’re touring?
DB: I always have my headphones, and we try to play with bands that we like in every city, too, for the most part. And a lot of touring is just sitting in a van or in a small room, so you can listen to music all the time if you want to.
WOUB: What’s been on current rotation for you?
DB: Actually, funnily enough, you’re calling about the Nelsonville Music Festival, and one artist who always plays that festival is Michael Hurley –
WOUB: For sure!
DB: What’s that?
WOUB: Oh, it’s just that Michael Hurley is great.
DB: Yeah, he’s amazing! And I had been looking for one of his records, Long Journey, and I hadn’t been able to find it in forever, but I managed to find a copy of it on this last tour. I was just listening to it now – I’m sitting in my bed – son that’s what I was listening to just this moment.
WOUB: How did you first discover Michael Hurley?
DB: Good question. I got my first Michael Hurley record from this record store in Cleveland called Bent Crayon. The record store itself was really disorganized, just piles of records – without any natural kind of way to look at them. I would just go in there and move piles of things around. I saw the Michael Hurley record there, and I picked it up because the cover was cool, and I saw that it was on Folkways Records.
WOUB: I was curious what it was like growing up as a very musically inclined kid in Northeast Ohio – we’re even the same age, and I know I was always looking for cool new records – but I guess I was wondering what it was like for you to be constantly searching for new music on that particular patch of the world?
DB: You know, there weren’t a whole lot of other kids doing that, at least not in my immediate crew. I had one or two other friends who were very, very into music, but I think that I even took it one more obsessive, weird step ahead of them, I was constantly looking for stuff. I had no life basically, and I was probably a pretty boring kid in a lot of ways because I would only talk about bands. It was isolating in the moment, but eventually it turned out for the best.
WOUB: Could you tell me what it was like progressing from recording music by yourself early on to working with a slew of impressive producers and other musicians? It seems like making music was a pretty intimate endeavor for you at first.
DB: Even when I was recording all alone, I was making band music, kind of, because that’s just what I liked. At the time, I liked the idea of having a band to play this stuff, I just didn’t know anyone who played music yet. It’s been great to have other people involved, especially when they’re musicians that I really like, and respect on their own terms, to have them play my songs is pretty cool. There is an intimacy to doing something alone, but there is also an intimacy to hearing music with other people, and doing something with a group of people rather than by yourself.
WOUB: Could you specifically speak to working with John Goodmanson on Life Without Sound?
DB: Yeah, just talk about John?
WOUB: Yeah! What’s he like?
DB: Alright, let me talk about John. Yeah, John is a really nice guy – he had an approach that was different from all the other people we’ve worked with so far. So far as producing, he did more to try and make everything sound huge, rather than like scrappy or low-fi like our other records had sounded. And we were in a studio that was very conducive to that because it was a crazy, fancy studio so we ended up with a real pro guy in a professional studio, it was kind of weird. We were there for three weeks, which was crazy long for us. It wasn’t like John would tell us what to do, we had all the songs written and all that, we just went in and played them and he recorded them and definitely did layer things and chose certain tones and melodies to accent that weren’t what I would have done if I had been doing stuff with the songs, but I think it turned out good.
I had one or two other friends (growing up) who were very, very into music, but I think that I even took it one more obsessive, weird step ahead of them, I was constantly looking for stuff. I had no life basically, and I was probably a pretty boring kid in a lot of ways because I would only talk about bands. It was isolating in the moment, but eventually it turned out for the best. -Dylan Baldi
WOUB: Well, shucks. This is a little bit of a fan question, but I am also a big fan of Chester Gwazda, who I know produced your self-titled album. I guess I was just hoping that you could inform me, as a big fan of that particular record, what it was like recording that album?
DB: Yeah. Wow. Okay. I haven’t talked to Chester in a while, I probably should. I made that album when I was 19, and I was still a very weird, strange shy little kid. I basically had never left Cleveland in that point in my life. Basically, I got in my mom’s car and drove to Baltimore to just sleep on Chester’s couch and make that record. So, I think I didn’t say a whole lot the whole time we were making the thing. I was too nervous to be doing anything with anyone outside of my immediate friend group. But Chester was great, he was really nice, a welcoming person, and maybe a little weirded out by me if anything because I wasn’t talking. It was fun. He didn’t have a bed in his room, I remember that. He had a little mat, and I was like ‘whoa!’ why don’t you have a bed? Also, I was going to sleep in his basement, but ended up having to do the couch on the first floor because I went to go and sleep in the basement, and I went to go to sleep and I closed my eyes for one second, and then opened them and there was huge cockroach coming straight for my face. That’s actually my main memory of making that record, a giant cockroach. But Chester is great, cockroach, not so great.
WOUB: I’m calling about Nelsonville, of course, and I was wondering if the band has ever been in this area before?
DB: You know, we haven’t done a whole lot of shows around there, we played in Athens a few years ago, at Lobsterfest. We did that one, but aside from that we go to Cincinnati a lot – but that’s not really in the area, is it? I don’t know.
WOUB: I mean, it’s a few hours drive, but I know I go there a lot because I have a lot of friends there, and it’s a cool spot.
DB: Okay, well, yeah. For the most part, even though we live in Ohio, we don’t get down to that side too much. Our drummer has been down to this Nelsonville Festival before just hanging out and watching bands and he said it was great. So, I’m looking forward to it. And I get to see Michael Hurley – so, win-win.
WOUB: Well, gosh, I see I have time for one more question. I have to ask about the weird meat in the video for “Internal World.” Is that real raw meat? What did you guys do to make that meat look so raw?
DB: *laughs* You know, that would be a question for the guy who directed it, because I wasn’t involved with the meat portion of the video. But I can ask him, and let you know if that was real raw meat. I can get back to you on that.
WOUB: Well, okay. I appreciate it.