You'd never guess Dylan Baldi is an indie rock star. Wearing black-rimmed glasses and a half-zipped hoodie, he looks like any other 19-year-old. The difference is he's spent a hectic 18 months making a name for his musical identity, Cloud Nothings.
"It's actually been really stressful," says Baldi, having just returned from a whirlwind tour of Europe. "Even today, I woke up and answered emails all day, and then I have band practice. I'm constantly working on stuff and responding to people about inane little things. ... It's a lot of work, but I think I can handle it."
It all started in October 2009 when Baldi, a frustrated music student at Case Western Reserve University, recorded a couple songs in his parents' Westlake basement and posted them online. He was hoping for a way out of school, and he got it. A New York promoter heard the tracks and recruited him to play a bill featuring up-and-coming acts Real Estate and the Woods. That meant Baldi had to write more tunes and put together a band.
"I got an email asking me to play that show, and I really only had one song," Baldi recalls. "I had never even been to New York. But [the show] was great. There were like 400 people there."
Baldi then wrote the songs for his debut, last year's Turning On, in a week and recorded the album in his parents' basement over a weekend, playing all the instruments himself. He dropped out of Case, embarked on a national tour and inked a deal with Washington, D.C., label Carpark, which in turn reissued Turning On, a brisk bit of ramshackle pop that recalls early Guided by Voices.
For his second album, a self-titled affair that brings out Baldi's pop-punk impulses, he went to Baltimore to work with producer Chester Gwazda.
"I just drove to Baltimore on my own and stayed at his house for a week," Baldi says. "He is a real nice guy, although I was more comfortable playing at my home alone than in front of a guy I never met."
Baldi plans to spend the rest of the year touring and has an EP slated for release by early fall. "It's still melodic and accessible," he says. "It's not as direct, but you can still tell that it's me."
And even though he's been touring steadily, Baldi still makes time for local shows.
"I'm proud of being from here, and there's not a lot of music that people talk about that tends to be from here," he says. "I like hanging out in Cleveland, and I like the people here. I want people to know there's good music here, and it's not confined to Brooklyn and LA."