When I meet Cloud Nothings for the first time, it’s after having braved a taxi, an airplane, a train, a bus and then walking five kilometers to shoot the François & the Atlas Mountains takeaway show. We’re in Brighton for the Great Escape festival and I haven’t even had time to listen to “Attack on Memory”, which all my friends recommend. We meet up with Dylan and Joe, who use the time as an excuse to decompress on the beach, far from the fatigue and the chokehold schedule of a life on tour. Before we film, they play Elliott Smith, as if avoiding their own songs, which leave Dylan’s voice shredded every night by the end of the show. “Acoustic sets I don’t think are really our thing…” And despite the maturity of the lyrics from “Cut You” I’m reminded that Dylan can’t even drink legally in the US.
A month later, we’re drinking with the band on the banks of canal Saint Martin in Paris, which runs the length of Point Éphémère. It’s the last stop on their European tour and in a haze of exhaustion and intoxication Dylan isn’t taking me seriously. That’s not exactly a bad thing either, because on this night he’s destined to fall in love with France: he’ll stay out all night and in the morning, he’ll miss his flight…
It’s summer at Fort Saint Père in Saint Malo and I’m with Cloud Nothings at Route du Rock. They execute a clamorous, violent set before ceding passage to Stephen Malkmus, the “godfather” of indie who came through earlier to encourage them. The next day, in transit and fed up with the sterility of their hotel room, I pick them up for a tour of Saint Malo’s bars. Accustomed to the dusty saloons of a Cleveland in ruins since the sub-prime debacle, here they look like they’re on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. And when a bartender threatens to tear me a new one, the four band members are at my side in a second, threatening to turn the place upside-down…we’re more than just acquaintances now.
Since November, the group has been at Ptichfork Festival. It’s still “acoustic sets aren’t really are thing, you know that…” But between sound check and the concert, I finally get an ‘okay’ out of them, even the drummer agrees to join in.
Dylan spends the rest of November in Paris and I bring him to record stores, my favorite bars and the places nobody knows about. He collects vinyls, has a passion for obscure graphic novels and is an amateur Belgian beer enthusiast. He buys a book of photos, we laugh about a guy selling autographs of stars, some kitsch and some long forgotten. He convinces me to buy Ty Segall’s brilliant album Twins because I still hadn’t heard it.
Some people criticize the wild side of Cloud Nothings, the side of their music that seems to scream ‘we give zero fucks!’ Those people haven’t listened closely enough–they miss the mastery above the careening swells of noise. What do they expect from these guys? Would their grunge still hold together without the insouciant hoarseness of Dylan’s tired voice? This fury must be a few shades of puerile to express itself the way it does and, at the same time, it’s the only path of escape possible for these middle-class sons of America, who chose to abandon themselves–morally as much as physically–to the life of a touring band.
When the time feels right, I ask Dylan why he finishes everything he says with a laugh: “The world is so serious and important and I have a hard time imagining something I say might have an importance…so I find that pretty absurd and it makes me laugh. I laugh at myself.” In one or two albums, each one of them will realize the convictions they left by the wayside fifteen years ago, and which they still might dare to honor as best they can.