Cloud Nothings have quietly amassed an astoundingly consistent and ever-improving indie rock catalog over their 11 years of touring, recording, and being a band. While their latest, The Shadow I Remember, is technically the Cleveland band’s ninth album, they’ve written and released two more full-lengths—July’s The Black Hole Understands and December’s Life Is Only One Event—since they recorded it in February 2020. Black Hole and Life are only available on Bandcamp, but the latter is exclusive for people who pay a $5-a-month subscription to Cloud Nothings’ Bandcamp. (In addition to the secret LP, subscribers get a free EP of new songs each month. It’s a pretty great deal!)
The Shadow I Remember, out Friday, marks a full-circle moment for Cloud Nothings. When it came time to record it, they reunited with all-star Chicago engineer Steve Albini, who worked with the Cleveland rockers on their 2012 breakout, Attack On Memory. Listening to both records reveals the band’s undeniable evolution: While there are still ghastly and noisy guitar riffs aplenty, bandleader Dylan Baldi’s songwriting and ear for classic earworm melodies have been considerably honed over the past near-decade.
“[Albini] is the best,” Baldi wrote on Twitter when the LP was announced. “It felt like we were all adults this time around? Whereas before I was simply a baby. Anyway, I am prepared for 700 interview questions about it, bring it on.”
Instead of asking Baldi 700 hundred questions about working with Albini, for this iteration of Pick Three, we let him choose a trio of things that influenced the new LP. Over a phone call— where we caught Baldi “alternating between the activities I do every day: shoveling, playing guitar, and making food”—he told us how long-distance running, his new home in Philadelphia, and watching the endless churn of Netflix content informed his writing on The Shadow I Remember.
Long Distance Running
Have you always been into running?
No. I got into it right around the beginning of 2019. My girlfriend [Sad13’s Sadie Dupuis] has run off and on throughout her life, from cross-country in high school to now. She had gotten back from a tour she had done and was telling me that I should come with her on her runs. And I was always like, “I don’t think so.” It wasn’t something I was very interested in at all. And then eventually, like she does [with] a lot of things, she wore me down in a good way to maybe do this exercise that is good for you.
Was it hard diving in?
I started running with her—slowly getting into it. It’s really hard if you have never done it before; it’s so exhausting. I had this ridiculous running app I was following. It was like a lady yelling at you in your ear, and the app would be constantly pumping exercise music. You’d walk for 30 seconds, and then run for 10 seconds.
It was a real slow build up to being able to run three miles on your own while EDM is playing and some lady is screaming, “Go! You can do it.” After a while, I realized I really can do it. I finally got to graduate from that self-imposed running class, and I started really getting into running without things in my ear. No sound or anything—just running totally alone. It’s a heady experience, especially if you’re out in the woods or something. It gives me time to get my thoughts together.
So I kept wanting to run farther and farther to have more and more of that time. It built up to the point where I ran a half marathon in Cleveland, and then I ran a marathon later in 2019 too.
So that quiet time helped your songwriting?
Oh yeah, totally. If you have to stick to a running schedule to train for a race or something, it forces you into a schedule-oriented mindset. It’s healthier. Before the pandemic, you could have an excuse to skip on a night out with friends because you had to run these miles in the morning. When I’d be up super early to run, I’d get home and have accomplished something that got my energy going and prepared me for the rest of the day. After a run, I’d be able to sit down and make a song and not think too hard about it.
That’s become my routine: run, come home, and make a song. It really helped with the whole writing process of this record. With the sheer amount of songs that we wrote, paring it down would’ve been a nightmare had I not been running and having a clear head. My normal workflow before running was way less regimented, but getting into running and a schedule made me realize what songwriting is: work.
Was it hard leaving Cleveland?
I’ve been in Cleveland for more or less my whole life, so moving to Philly didn’t seem that wild to anybody I knew. You can drive to Philly from Cleveland within a day—especially if your brain is warped from constantly touring, a drive like that is nothing. For the band and stuff, it didn’t feel like it would have much of an effect at all. I moved here, because I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for a long time, and we moved in together.
The cool thing about Philly is I can walk out my door and be able to walk to the other end of the city, essentially. It doesn’t take too long, because it’s not really a giant city. I think something that has formed this record, in particular, are these walks. The perfect makeup of a good city walk is being able to recognize when I’m in a different neighborhood, as things are really visually changing around you every couple of blocks. It’s just nice to have that kind of constant gradual change as you go from neighborhood to neighborhood. Each area is distinct, but it’s not like it immediately changes. You see it happening slowly as you’re walking from place to place. I think that also [mirrors] what a good record does, in a way: start in one place [but] gradually take you to another.
That’s a nice way to think about it. I wanted to make an album that’s structured like these particular walks I liked. The album starts off in a place that’s familiar, where the whole thing sounds like Cloud Nothings, but I wanted each song to have its own sense of identity. I hope all of our records are sort of informed by place, in a way. Even Last Building Burning, to me, feels like driving around some of the more desolate parts of Cleveland: it’s grey and intense. This one is a little more colorful and varied because I was influenced by the structure of Philadelphia.
**You told me that one inspiration for this record was “attempting to watch every movie and TV show released on Netflix in December of 2019.” Did you do it? And also, why?
**I set out to do it out of sheer boredom. This was in December 2019, through January 2020. This was something I wanted to do because I was living in Philly, Sadie was on tour, and I didn’t know a ton of people here or anything, so I didn’t have much to do. Every day was just the same routine with the running and the songwriting, but after that, there wasn’t much. So I thought, Maybe I’ll just try to watch everything on Netflix. So I was watching a bunch of Christmas movies. I saw that Pope movie with Anthony Hopkins and that other guy, and there were a bunch of bad movies that came out right around then, so I was really digging into all that. I was watching all the bad shows that came out. I even got to the end of The Witcher.
How does this relate to the album?
Really, the reason I picked this one is because there is a specific song on the record where the lyrics are just about this show that I watched called Messiah. Did you ever see that?
No. I haven’t even heard of it.
It’s probably not part of your algorithm. It showed up for me because I had been warping my mind with all this terrible stuff. Messiah is about this guy in the Middle East who appears out of nowhere and seems like he’s able to do Jesus stuff. He can stop storms, and he can control things. So people obviously start flocking to him; he starts a cult, and, of course, the C.I.A. wants to stop it or have this guy for themselves. The show is bad in such a particular way that I was pretty into it. I ended up writing a song that I would not have written if I hadn’t watched Messiah, and it’s “Open Rain.”. The lyrics are a little culty, which, directly related back to how I somehow convinced Netflix that I wanted [it] to show me a television series about a foreign religious cult being taken down by the U.S. government.