Reinvention. According to most mainstream music/celeb gossipers, this four-syllabled word is the key to a long and successful career. Without it you end up tired, uninspired and a washed-up parody of your former self. This, it turns out, is often true and all this would be fine if it wasn’t for one major point; reinvention ain’t that easy. It doesn’t always work. It can be, at best, a disappointment and at worse, a complete embarassment.
Earlier this year Cloud Nothings announced their return with No Future, No Past; a startling and dramatic comeback single that chewed up the sound of their debut record and spat it out in your face before punching you straight in the stomach. GoldFlakePaint had the chance to chat about the record with frontman and chief song-writer Dylan Baldi while he was touring over here in the UK; right in the middle of a rather busy schedule; “We’re in Europe for about a month and we were in the US for about two months before that. We had about a weeks downtime inbetween, so its been pretty full on. It’s been fun though. It’s always fun.”
As if to further distance themselves from their debut record, the band haven’t been playing a single track from that first LP on this tour. So how has that gone down with the fans? “It’s been great,” he tells us. “It’s very different from the last tour, but people seem to know the words and they all seem very dedicated, which is kind of weird to see. But also very cool.”
For those of you who aren’t away of Dylans previous work, the first Cloud Nothings LP was basically his solo bedroom recordings, not to mention a far brighter and breezier affair than Attack On Memory; not that Dylan was worried. He tells us; “I knew it (Attack On Memory) was a bit of a risk when I was making it but I also new that I was happy with it. It’s cool that other people like it too but even if they didn’t I would still be happy with what I did.” What about the reaction from the media, then? “I don’t read reviews. I don’t even use the internet much,” he says with a laugh. It’s not a suprising revelation; in person Dylan comes across as someone who lives for the now. Writing songs and playing songs ahead of everything else. Apart from when on tour, that is; “I don’t write on the road, it’s way too hard. I can barely even wake up on time. I’ll wait until I get home for that.” Don’t go thinking he’s any less planned when he does eventually make it home though. “It’s basically the only thing I do. It’s never scheduled out or anything, I guess it’s just my only hobby.”
With all his time spent honing his craft, it’s really no suprise that he would feel the need to adapt and change; even to the extent found on his bands new LP. “I was just super bored writing the same thing over and over. Which is what I was doing on the last record, at least. With the new record I wanted each song to be like something I hadn’t tried before. It was kind of an experiment. Each song has its own vibe and stands alone on the record. There wasn’t really a direction as such, I just knew I wanted to do something different and that’s how it came out.”
So if he’s not a fan of his previous record, is he pleased with the way Attack On Memory turned out? “I always hate everything I do about ten minutes after I finish it. Right now, I don’t really like it. I just want to keep doing new stuff. ”
Half-an-hour earlier, seeing Dylan on stage screaming the house down as Wasted Days drew to it’s momentous ending, it’s almost difficult to think of him as the same person sat in front of me now. In-person he comes across as shy, almost agitated; although if we’d just screamed relentlessly for forty-minutes we would probably exude the same level of enthusiasm. “I don’t like being the focal point,” he confesses. “Also, I don’t think it’s important because everything works together, the melodies and the instruments all work together. It’s all just one big thing, in my head at least, so there’s no need for someone to be out-front.”
With this frame of mind, one might think that making a record as angry and dark as Attack On Memory was a difficult task. To which he explains, “It was pretty easy. I’m not a depressed person but I think people always think about those kind of things. Some of it was cathartic, I guess. It was also nice that nobody was expecting a record like this.”
One reason given – by people outside the band, we should add – for the bands change in direction was the fact that Dylan worked with a settled group of musicians for the latest record. So were the songs a joint effort then? “Not quite. I would write the whole song and then they would add their parts,” he says, before quickly adding, “So the songs are mine, but if I had played it with a different band it would have sounded different. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that they helped me write them, if you know what I mean.”
The idea of one person writing songs as huge and as full as those found on Attack On Memory is a difficult one to fathom. When I put this to Dylan, it’s something he instantly dismisses. “Sometimes I have an idea or sometimes I want to play something that sounds like a song I just heard and enjoyed. It changes every time though.” It seems like a pretty simple blueprint, which leads us to question whether it’s the lyrics that make this record such a resounding success, that maybe that’s where all the hard and difficult work is done. “The lyrics are always the last thing I think about, and they’re usually written just before we record it. They’re all very last-minute. With this record I just wanted them to be darker and to go along with the theme of the record.” That would be a ‘no‘, then.
Throughout the interview Dylan comes across as very dismissive of his own talent. This would be understandable from someone further down the indie-music chain but Attack On Memory has been heralded across the board as one of the finest records of 2012. It was even produced by one of the biggest-named producers around in Steve Albini; but if that was a big deal for him he hides it pretty well. “We had all the songs written and I knew I wanted it to sound like us just playing live in a room and he’s known for that. So we called him up and asked him and he said yes. It was pretty cool.”
Indeed. It was at this point that I became a bit disappointed about his lack of enthusiasm Dylan shows for his own work. Attack On Memory is my favourite record released this year. I wanted Dylan to speak excitedly and in great detail about every aspect of the record. It wasn’t until a few days after the interview, when I was listening back to it, that I realised I had been stupid to think this would be the case. What I love so much about the album is how little it cares about itself and its pre-conceived image and also how much it sounds like all my favourite slacker-rock records rolled into one. If the man didn’t match the music then how could I possibly take it seriously?
So, yes, Cloud Nothings have reinvented themselves on this record but only in a way that feels more real and more true to who they are. Which is really the only way rock and roll music should be, right? Which only leaves one more question; where next? “I’m not sure. I just know I want to do something completly different.”
We’re looking forward to it already.
Words by Tom Johnson