Watching the World Fall Apart with Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi

Dylan Baldi, the lead singer and auteur of Cloud Nothings, was happy to meet me in New York City on election night—he said that he wanted to “compare the vibe” of the city to the atmosphere of his hometown of Cleveland on the night of World Series Game 7. And an hour earlier, when news began to filter through the bar that Florida was too close to call, the opportunity to talk about his band’s new album seemed like a pragmatic escape. “An interview might be good,” he said between sips of beer, sitting upright on his bar stool. “It takes the mind off depressing shit.”

But an hour into our conversation, Baldi left the table and promised that, upon his return, we’d discuss his band’s fifth studio album Life Without Sound, their first since 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else. “I’m going to use the bathroom. Then I’ll be ready to reckon with my demons.” While waiting in line, he caught a glimpse of a TV showing that Pennsylvania was leaning towards Trump and now he’s pushing his nose-length fringe around his right eyebrow, quietly fretting. “The country could be falling apart right now,” he says, “and we’re just talking about my demons.”

Given the circumstances—the country could well be falling apart—this makes sense. But such restraint is not atypical of Baldi. In an interview with Noisey in 2014 around the release of Here and Nowhere Else, he responded to a question about the making of the album by saying, “It’s making a record, you know? We just made songs.” Around the same time, he told the UK-based website Drowned in Sound, “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.” Later on, he admitted that, “I don’t really talk too much about myself in day to day life.” Baldi is notoriously reticent to talk about his work in depth. “Interview mode is a mode,” he tells me. “I’ve gone in and out of it for a long time.”

Baldi has his reasons for retreating. Life Without Sound is Cloud Nothings’ most self-reflexive album yet; it’s the product of a year spent in isolation, a crumbling relationship, and the resulting introspection that sent the 25-year-old into a prolonged depression. For the first time, Baldi spent time on his lyrics, considering his words in advance rather than scribbling them down in the studio. He laid himself out.

On top of this, an amorphous sense of guilt has taken hold of Baldi in the last few months. Announcing the album’s release to Columbus Alive in September, he talked about social awareness and how, despite the new album’s personal content, there was a greater purpose to the tracks. “It’s about bigger things than me complaining,” he said then. “In my mind, at least.”

So now, with the atmosphere at the bar turning from boisterous to anxious, Baldi wants to stress that he’s trying to make his records “more universal.” He talks about 2015 as a “dark year” and then quickly insists that he has “nothing to complain about, absolutely nothing, and I never have.” He says he writes, “with an awareness that the things I will be writing about aren’t things that only I think about,” that he wants his songs to be “relatable.”

As the evening wears on, Dylan Baldi wants to assert that his music goes beyond himself.

Soon, things fall into disrepair. By 9 PM, Baldi is standing in my kitchen taking his second shot of whiskey from a coffee cup, leaning back on the counter and trying to avoid the glowing red screen to his right. “Weird night for an interview,” he says, chasing it back with another can of beer. “Maybe it isn’t all going to be alright.”

Continue reading at Noisey.