As a college dropout, the irony of performing on a campus isn’t lost on Cloud Nothings vocalist/guitarist Dylan Baldi.
The 25-year-old musician only spent two months at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, where he majored in music and audio recording technology, before starting Cloud Nothings in his parents’ basement at age 18.
Music soon became his escape — both from college and Cleveland — as the tracks he created at home on Garageband generated buzz via MySpace back in 2009, when it was still capable of breaking bands into the indie-rock blogosphere.
“When I was in college for two months, the only thing I liked about it was there were shows that would happen,” Baldi told Revue in anticipation of his band’s gig at Calvin College on Feb. 6. “So I like to think that hopefully someone who’s in college and having a bad time can be excited about these shows. Hopefully that helps them get through it.”
After releasing an essentially-solo effort titled Turning On in 2010, and a jangly, pop-punk self-titled LP in 2011, Baldi and his bandmates — drummer Jayson Gerycz and bassist/vocalist TJ Duke — took a stylistic left turn with the bleak and bombastic Attack on Memory in 2012.
Recorded with legendary producer Steve Albini, the album’s sonic assault shattered the band’s innocent online identity in just seconds and quickly became a critical favorite worldwide.
Relentless touring followed, with the band embarking on a whirlwind trek inside a van. Midway through, the band took a few weeks off to record a third LP, Here and Nowhere Else. It’s a blistering, breakneck record that captured the frantic frenzy of their life on the road.
All told, Cloud Nothings spent the better part of four years touring, cranking through amped-up gigs six nights a week — including a raucous stop at the Pyramid Scheme back in 2014 — before Baldi and company retreated to their families in the “quiet, level-headed” confines of Cleveland.
“I don’t want to do that again necessarily, but it is nice to strike a balance between home time and tour,” Baldi said. “I like travelling and I like hanging out with my friends in a van driving around the country. That’s fun. But it’s also nice to feel like you have a home and a family again.”
During the time back home, Cloud Nothings also took a much more relaxed approach to a brand new album, Life Without Sound (released Jan. 27).
Finished in March 2016, the album took shape over almost two years, with the band lying low and working at a more conventional pace when it came to songwriting.
“It was great to have that time, actually, because writing lyrics is frightening to me,” Baldi said. “I’m confident I can play guitar — I’m not going to hear a record and be like, ‘Oh, I wish I played guitar differently on that album.’ But the lyrics are the thing where people will sing along at the show and I’m going to have to sing this stuff every single day.
“I really obsess that it’s not something stupid that I have to say at every show.”
The album’s title, Life Without Sound, comes directly from a lyric to one of the songs and alludes to one of its larger emotional themes.
“This whole record is a little bit more about loss, but not so much in a bad way,” Baldi said. “Kind of realizing that it’s OK to have those things happen to you. It’s OK to lose. It’s just what happens to you. You lose stuff, and you gain things, and you just kind of keep going and keep doing what you’re doing.”
The band will play as a four-piece for the first time since 2013 with the addition of longtime friend Chris Brown on lead guitar.
“It’s almost like he’s always been in the band,” Baldi said. “We see him all the time, so it doesn’t feel different necessarily. Except, I forgot how much I liked the band when we had two guitars as opposed to just the one. We toured for the last couple of years as just a three-piece out of necessity almost. Then once we added Chris in, it just sounded so much better.”
While Baldi doesn’t plan on heading back to college just yet, the album does find the previously depressed songwriter eager to engage with the world in a new way as he heads forward into 2017.
“It’s not necessarily a political record, I wouldn’t say,” he said. “The record is about recognizing the importance of thinking about that stuff … and not (being) stuck in your own little world.”
Cloud Nothings wsg. Moon Bros
Calvin College Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium, 3201 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids
Feb. 6, 8 p.m.
$20 public, $10 with Calvin ID, all ages
calvin.edu/sao, (616) 526-6000