Published Jan 27, 2011Aaliyah sang it: "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number." But there's something about Cleveland's Cloud Nothings that makes his age impossible to ignore. At 19, Dylan Baldi has been writing some of the most beguiling pop songs to enter my ear over the past while. It's difficult not to be envious of his talent at such a young age, and of course, the fact that he's hooked up with such a cool and innovative label like Carpark makes it downright awe-inspiring. After releasing a bunch of seven-inches, a split cassette and the Turning On EP last year, the prolific Baldi has released his debut full-length under the Cloud Nothings moniker: a succinct batch of scrappy earworms that would find equal ground with '70s power pop, post-Dookie pop punk and most recently the lo-fi fuzz punk of Wavves. Right after their performance at the Drake in Toronto, Exclaim! caught up with Baldi to discuss how he ended up on Carpark, why a good hook is a beautiful thing and the reason why he doesn't understand Less Than Jake comparisons.
On stage you kept referring to a review that compared you to Less Than Jake. It seemed like it really got to you…
Right before we played I read a review of our new record where they didn't like it and kept saying, "It's a really good song, but it reminds me of Less Than Jake, so I don't like it." I mean, what kind of weird review is that? I'm not upset about it. It's actually kind of funny. I guess it was just a pop punk band that someone could name if they don't know anything about that kind of music. We're poppy and punky, but I don't see comparisons to Less Than Jake.
Do you get pop punk comparisons regularly?
Yeah, a lot of people say Blink-182. But if you find someone who say they've never liked Blink-182 in their whole life they're lying. Everyone liked Blink-182 at some point. I don't mind that sort of stuff though.
How did you end up on Carpark? Looking at the roster, you seem like an unlikely choice.
Carpark just emailed me out of the blue one day and said they liked the Turning On EP and Todd said he wanted to see us live. We happened to be going through DC where he's based and we played and after I talked to him for a while. He's into all sorts of music, like stuff that doesn't sound at all like Carpark releases. He basically signed us there on the spot.
And you're going to be touring with your label-mate Toro y Moi soon. Again, it seems like an unlikely pairing.
Hopefully the shows will go well. I'm assuming there will be some people who will show up to see us. But I'm hoping that the people there to see Toro y Moi will be able to relate to us as well.
I've read your first ever gig was opening up for Real Estate last summer. That's impressive.
It was with Woods and Real Estate in New York. I added this band Coasting as a friend on MySpace and they happened to be close to a guy named Todd P in Brooklyn who puts on a lot of shows. He just asked us if we wanted to play and that was that.
I can imagine being underage can pose problems for you playing shows. I spoke with Cullen Omori from Smith Westerns the other day and he said it really bothers him when the media focuses on how young he is. You're still a teenager, which writers always seem to mention.
It doesn't bug me but it also doesn't matter to me either. I don't ever think about it because everyone else in the band is older than me, a lot of my friends are older, so I've always just been around older crowds. So age has never been much of a dividing factor. It definitely makes sense [to mention it] because everyone needs something to write about. If that's some way into our music then that's fine with me.
Are you done school at this point?
I took a semester of college majoring in audio recording, but I didn't like it at all. And then this kind of happened so I left college. So I'm done with school for the time being.
How has it been working with a band, seeing as Cloud Nothings is essentially a solo project?
It's been really easy, not at all like I've been getting used to them. They're friends of mine so when we rehearse we just hang out. They change around the songs a little, but not so you can't recognize them.
But you were the only one performing the songs on your new album. What made you do it all on your own?
It's just the way that I write songs. I write really fast and a bunch at once. All of the songs for the album I wrote close to recording them, so I couldn't teach them to everyone in time, which is why I did it on my own.
All of your previous stuff was self-recorded. Why did you decide to work with Chester Gwazda this time around?
That was on the suggestion of Carpark, who know Chester because Todd used to live in Baltimore and recorded for Dan Deacon and Future Islands. The Wham City people. Todd suggested I work with Chester and I was fine with it since I wasn't paying the bill. So I went there and didn't know anyone, drove six hours alone and recorded an album with a guy I had never met and slept on his couch. It was fun!
What kind of role did he play?
He didn't really mess with the song structures or writing, he just knew how to make things sound better than I did, like with miking and that, which was his main role.
Cloud Nothings doesn't have the grainy lo-fi sound of your previous recordings. Was that something you wanted to avoid?
I wanted to get away from that because it was a tag that a lot of people are against. It's also a way to reach more people by branching out and making it sound better. But I didn't want to make anything that sounded "super produced" because a lot of my favourite records are actually, um, lo-fi. So I wanted to keep it a little rough.
I feel your songs have a lot of potential to reach a much wider audience than the type of listener that buys Carpark releases and reads blogs like Gorilla Vs. Bear.
I would absolutely love to keep it going. Right now we're at the point where we can't tour as a job, we have to find jobs when we go back home. But even just to get to the point where we can make enough money on tour to just go home afterwards and just be home be a musician for a job. To go even further would be even better though!
I guess I say that because there are so many hooks to your songs. Is that something you set out to find when you're writing?
I listen to all sorts of music that doesn't have any hooks, but when I personally write a song, I don't think it's any good unless it has a catchy hook to it. I don't know why that is. I've tried to do it differently but I've never liked those ones. So I usually just try and sit down, play guitar and sing something spontaneously.
I'm reading Andrew Earles' new book, Hüsker Dü: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock. And when I listen to your new album I can't help but think they're some kind of influence.
That's awesome that you think that because they're one of my favourite bands, if not my absolute favourite band. They're a huge influence on me and I listen to all of their records all of the time.
What can you tell me about Cleveland's music scene right now? Do you feel like you're part of anything special?
To be completely honest, the way things took off for us so quickly, we never really had a chance to get attached to the Cleveland music scene before we started touring. I have a lot of friends that are in bands, but I feel kind of outside of it because we're always touring and never home. But there is stuff going on, mostly bands that never leave Cleveland though. There's a band called Library Time that sound like Half Japanese a little. Emeralds, of course. And we're really good friends with a guy who's in a band called Rubella.