Fuji Rock: Cloud Nothings interview

‘There’s not a whole lot of bands right now that I even like’

Fuji Rock: Cloud Nothings interview

A month after playing at the Hostess Weekender fest in central Tokyo, Ohio indie rockers Cloud Nothings were back in Japan for another gig, turning in an electrifying set on Fuji Rock's White Stage. We didn't have our tape rolling when frontman Dylan Baldi aired his less-than-complimentary views on The Stone Roses' show the night before (he lasted two songs), but we managed to grill him on band reunions, Japanese music fans and what to expect from the next Cloud Nothings album.

With a lot of the bands who play here, it's been two or three years since they last came, but with you it's been – what? – a month…
Yeah, it's been like three weeks.

How did that happen?
It just happened, basically. [Laughs] We'd got the offer to play that Hostess Weekender, and then they were like, 'Oh, you should come play Fuji Rock.' And we were like, 'Okay, Japan's tight. We'll do that.'

What are your impressions of the place so far?
It's the most exotic place I've ever been in. I can go to Europe or something and kind of feel like I know what's going on – I can go and talk to some people, at least. Here, it feels like everything's so different. It's fun, I like it a lot.

Is the way people respond to your shows here noticeably different from in other countries?
They're more… polite, I guess, is probably a good way to put it. They're quiet, almost, during the song; they make a point to clap and cheer and stuff right after the song ends. They seem really excited that we're here – everyone wants to take a photo with us or something if we end up wandering around after the show. That's a little different. They're just really open about being fans of stuff, I think – more so than in other places we play.

What about the festival itself? I don't know how this compares to the other festivals you've played elsewhere…
Oh, it's the first one in the mountains.

They've been really lucky with the weather this year...
Yeah, they said it always pours. This is great. A little too hot sometimes, but this festival is amazing. It's amazing that we're in Japan, it's also just a beautiful place. I don't like a whole lot of the bands playing, but that doesn't even matter because it's just fun to walk around.

You're leaving in about an hour or two, right? If you were hanging around for the rest of the festival, is there anyone else you would've wanted to catch?
Yeah, actually. Tomorrow, our friends Fucked Up are playing, and Refused, At The Drive-In. Those are all cool bands, it would've been cool to see them.

In the interviews you did when Attack On Memory came out earlier this year, you said that you'd got sick of playing the old Cloud Nothings songs live, and really wanted to do something different. Having toured the album for six or seven months, are you getting sick of these songs?
Yeah. [Laughs] It's about time for a change, I think. The same thing happened. It's not like I don't like playing, it's just that you want to do something new after you do the same thing every night for a really long time.

Do you find these songs are any more cathartic to play?
Some of them, yeah. They're just more dynamic, I guess, and just more fun to play because it actually takes some effort. [Laughs] Some of the older stuff, we'd just breeze through it, and it felt like we weren't even playing a show. But with this stuff, you have to focus a little more on what you're actually doing, so I like that.

Have they taken on a different shape since you started touring them?
Yeah, definitely. If we recorded the album now, it'd be faster. [Laughs] We play everything a lot faster, or at least I think we do. We just get noisier and noisier every time we play, just because it's what's fun for us to do at this point.

This was the first album you recorded as a band – was that a conscious decision from the start?
Yeah. We decided to record with Steve Albini, and he'll make your band sound like your band, basically: that's his thing. We wanted to sound like us, so we recorded with, er, us.

Would you work with him again, do you reckon?
Um… yeah. [Laughs] I liked him, he's a cool guy. Really efficient. We got stuff done super fast – it was, like, four days we were there. I wouldn't do it for the next album or something, just because I want to do something different again – just to keep trying new things, [while I'm] at a place where I can actually do that. But if I had some other band, I would definitely record with him, because I like the way the record sounds. I like the way a lot of his records sound.

Are there any other producers that you think you'd want to work with?
Um… [Laughs] I like Steve. I don't really know many producers. I'm not into that whole side of thing, which is why I like working with people who aren't necessarily 'producers' in the sense that they're telling you how to change things. Like, 'Oh, you shouldn't do that in your song.' I'm like, 'Well, I made the song, let me do whatever I want.' I don't really pay too much attention to that – I'm more into just the bands and songs, I guess. So 'I don't know' is the answer, I guess. [Laughs]

Do you have any inkling of what direction the new stuff might go in?
We've written a couple of things, and it's just a little more complex, I guess – the guitar parts and all that, and the way all the melodies work. It's like the same idea, but there's more going on, so it's a little more interesting, I think.

Do you manage to get anything written when you're on the road?
No, never. There's just no time. And even if there is time, I don't really want to play guitar right now: I want to go walk around this city I've never been to.

You could always walk around and play guitar at the same time.
I could do that, but… I'm not gonna do that. I usually write when I'm at home, and we haven't been home in so long that I don't have a whole lot done for the next record. But I have ideas – more so than actual songs.

When you're writing, is it something that you'd be doing on a daily basis, or do you do it in a concentrated burst of activity?
I try to do it all the time, just because I never know when I'm going to do something that I like. I end up not liking pretty much everything right away – it's very rare for me to write a song and like it the next day. So I try to write constantly, just to always keep things moving, so I don't ever forget how to do it or something like that. It's not quite like riding a bike.

Do you pay much attention to the critical response to your albums?
Enough to know that people like it, generally, but I try not to read actual reviews or reviews of shows or anything. I don't want to start thinking about what other people will think. When I sit down to make an album, I don't want to think about anything except, 'Do I like it?', because that's all that really should matter. When I'm playing songs every single night, I need to like them or else I'll probably flip out. So I try not to do that stuff, just to keep level.

Remind me, was it The Wipers who influenced this album?
Yeah, they're like my favourite band.

How did you first get exposed to them?
Through the internet, as lame as that is. Just from a blog or something, probably. I read, 'Oh, The Wipers', and then I downloaded the record and it just blew me away. So I found all their music. I really like that.

What's it like when you hear music from a few decades ago, and realise people had done stuff like that back then? Is it exciting, or more like 'Oh shit, people have already been here'?
No, it is exciting. There's not a whole lot of bands right now that I even like, so I mostly listen to older stuff. In my head, I play something and I think, 'Oh, that sounds great', and everyone says, 'It sounds like the '90s' or something. And I'm like, [in a small voice] 'It doesn't sound like that to me…' It doesn't even matter to me: it sounds good. I don't really worry if it doesn't sound like whatever's new, it doesn't sound like dubstep or whatever people are talking about. So… I don't even know if I answered your question. [Laughs]

Have there been other older bands who've hit you in the same way?
Yeah, one of my first favourite bands was Hüsker Dü. There's a bunch of Portland bands (which is where The Wipers are from: Portland, Oregon) from around the same time who are all really, really amazing. There was a band called Dead Moon who are really, really good. The Neo Boys. It's all real small stuff – they never kind of got anywhere while they were popular, but now a couple of nerds are into them.

Can you imagine somebody finding your stuff 30 years in the future?
I suppose they could, coz I imagine it'll be around. And if that happens, and someone listens to our records and starts a band, that'd be kinda cool.

Is there any new stuff you like? You mentioned Fucked Up earlier…
Yeah, they're friends. The only new stuff is kind of like that: sort of punk and hardcore stuff. There's a band called Milk Music who are OK, they're pretty good. There's a band called Rational Animals that I like a lot. But it's few and far between.

The earlier Cloud Nothings material didn't really sound anything like that. Do you feel like you've been sucked in a more hardcore direction as you went along?
Yeah, the early stuff, I was just writing songs. I wasn't even thinking about the end product, I'd just be like, 'Oh, that's a song. That's cool that I made a song, so let's put that on the record.' But with the new one, Attack On Memory, I wanted to make something that's a little more what I would listen to, if I were buying a record. I wanted it to be something that I would actually want to spend money on and get into. So I focussed a little more on making music that I liked.

Do you think anyone would ever take you seriously as a hardcore band? Say, even if you put out a really in-your-face record, do you think people would still be seeing it in the context of the ones you'd done before that?
If we changed that much, I don't think people would think it was cool – and also, I wouldn't want to do that. When I'm making stuff, I'm not like, 'Oh, I've gotta do this, because no-one thinks we're gonna do this. We've gotta make a hardcore record now.' If we did it, people in the hardcore scene wouldn't take it seriously, probably, because they'd listen to our old record and be like, 'These kids are idiots.' It wouldn't be good. The end result would be bad. We'll settle with that.

There have been a lot of band reunions recently. Have you seen any yourself that you thought were really good?
We're from Cleveland, Ohio, and there's an old Cleveland band called Rocket from the Tombs – it's the guy from Pere Ubu before he was in Pere Ubu – and they recently started playing again. And they're really good, they're still really amazing.

Can they still capture the same intensity?
They actually can. [Frontman] David Thomas, he's just crazy looking. He's old and bald and looks like a goblin or something – he wears a cloak everywhere – and he sits down on stage, in a chair with a cane. Even if they weren't intense, you'd be like, 'These people are crazy! This is fun.' But no, they still sound like the old records and stuff. They were really good the last time I saw them.

What's your take on the whole reunion thing? Do you think it can be artistically valid?
Sure. I think a lot of people do it because they need money, and that's valid – if you need money, play your songs. I don't know, it seems something that it's almost just for the fans. It's probably fun – you get back together and just play – but I'm sure they'd like to be making new music or something, rather than just playing old stuff over and over. But it's valid, sure. It's a very valid thing to do.

Cloud Nothings' 'Attack on Memory' is out now on Hostess

Interview by James Hadfield
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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