'No Lotus, No Mud' - Cloud talks to GoldFlakePaint
Awash in the creamy Los Angelean afternoon light of his bedroom, Cloud sets up camp by his modest music station for a remote interview while I “join” him from across the continent. Perched in front of my own scuffed-up laptop, I hazard a guess at the view from his window: palm tree, procession of silky designer dogs walked by personal trainer. This is coastal FOMO at it’s best.
Over in my neck of the woods, Brooklyn’s rickety elevated D track protests loudly as the train passes over a stretch of postage stamp-sized backyards and two-family brick row homes. As the crow flies, I’m probably sitting about an hour’s worth of railroad travel from Cloud’s original stomping grounds on Long Island, but life now finds him 2278 miles from home. Of his changed surrounds and tastes, he marvels, “I was talking to a friend recently and I was like, where has my life gone? I love candles, flowers and I forget what else I said… maybe something like meditation? She was like, ‘When you were younger, it was chicken nuggets and Halo II.’ I’ve changed a lot.”
For anyone unfamiliar with the charms of Cloud’s provenance, Long Island is a stretch of land sprouting Northeast between the New York Harbor and Atlantic Ocean. It’s a veritable mishmash of suburbia, lighthouses, deciduous forests, strip malls, hauntings and golf courses. P Diddy summers there. It’s also home to the world’s largest skin-mounted whale shark (dead, in other words), a McDonald’s built in a 19th century colonial-era mansion and the resting place of President Nixon’s dog, Checkers.
You might need a car to properly make the most of Long Island’s sprawling attractions, though plenty of young folks brave the shoulder of a given road on foot while cars whip past, their wheels flinging pebbles, or passengers flinging detritus. Cloud muses, “I’ve gotten takeout thrown at me there – it was still in the bag, in the box. I guess they didn’t want it anymore. I was with my friend. We thought it was kind of funny. We didn’t eat it. We looked at it, though.”
Musically speaking, this singular place is also home to the thriving basement scene where Cloud’s body of work took root. He has no shortage of good memories to share on the topic. He effuses, “There’s so much I wanna say about it. First I’ll say, I believe that what I value in a music community can only exist in the suburbs. I don’t think it translates into urban areas, primarily because it loses that intimacy. [Cities are] a different beast, you know? In cities, it’ll be broadcasted through the world and become a movement and people will latch onto it, like fashion… but that’s what I stay wary of because it becomes like a badge. But in Long Island, where it’s completely culturally oppressive and there is only one way to think in order to be accepted by your peers – it’s very macho, very ‘Yo, how you doin’ bro’ – if you’re not naturally that way, there becomes a divide, you’re gonna be pushed to the side a little, where you meet other people like you. And then you hear about more people like you in surrounding towns, bands like Palmkite, For Serious This Time, Giant Peach, the South Shore Kids and Beach Moon/Peach Moon. We all met and it’s such a magical thing, it’s amazing to me. It’s just about having a good time with people you feel a kinship with.”
To watch Taormina speak on his memories of making music, you’re left wishing you’d been in his posse during the golden era between 2008 and 2013, when he started throwing himself head foremost into a panoply of creative pursuits. He’s a lean, swift-moving guy with that affable Sicilian-American energy twinkling from the long, expressive hands he uses to tells stories. His laughter arrives in candid, incredulous bursts.
Explaining the advent of his recording career, he recounts, “When I was younger I was in a band called Adam and Naïve with my very best friends from home. There were a lot of local bands around but no one seemed to actually make any albums. They were just playing at these VFW’s [Veteran of Foreign War rental halls] or basements, and we thought, ‘Let’s make an album!’ A friend of ours, who was 16 or something, and made this psychedelic rock album that is to this day incredible. Mike Fiori from Criminal Hygiene had a lot of recording equipment, he showed us that we could do this. We all chipped in $400 each and bought a Minimac hard drive, a firepod interface, all these mics and Logic. We learned over the course of two or three albums how to really record. We also started an artist collective in Long Island called Practice Room Records, where we would collaborate. We fostered eachother’s songwriting in this venue- it was like a storage area in my house. That was seriously the greatest place in the world. The less I go home the more it becomes this spider infested, very moist place because of all the weathering from outside. It’s not really insulated. I’m telling you, in highschool we would host all these events there- we had a rave, a restaurant night, gambling nights, all these dumb-ass activities where over forty kids from our school would come in and it was just this small room. I would first muster up the courage to present my songs at open mics there. You also had people doing slam poetry and then you had magicians. My parents were there and they’d be like, ‘Tell this guy not to quit his day job,’ but fast forward and these guys are now professional magicians.”
Better known at the family Thanksgiving dinner table as Tyler Taormina, Cloud went on to garner considerable praise for his 2013 LP Comfort Songs, but it didn’t come easy. “I was in a dark place writing Comfort Songs. The recording process was very emotional. Some takes I would start crying. The things I was saying were so heavy – I was so immersed in the work that it was really tolling. You are living it for a little. It feels like work you’re put on earth to do. You’re a laborer of the song. Fruition is not inherently a fun thing, it spends a lot of energy. No mud, no lotus. You make your album and put the rest up to God – are people gonna like this? Is this gonna lead to another thing? I have no idea!”
Cloud’s approach to his new LP Zen Summer took on a more lucid, beatific energy. Written primarily from parks, beaches and a nature conservation area, the album documents a moment of holy summertime fun. It shimmers with reverbed vocals and driven rhythms that swell and unfurl like green shoots under the springtide sun. His plush, whorling dreampop riffs interweave to form an engrossing atmosphere. You can feel each song quivering with Taormina’s finely strung, restless energy around his transition into a strange new town teeming with hustlers and the many caprices indigenous to LA’s showbiz industry.
Touching down on Tinseltown turf to finish his studies in screenwriting was in some ways a rude awakening for the gentle-mannered Long Islander. He thinks back, “When I first came out here I met up with my grandparent’s childhood friend, a director with a really long and successful career. He kind of mentored me really briefly, and he took me to some weird places. I hope that doesn’t come across as a sexual implication… he took me to penthouses and beach clubs and I was like, ‘Where the fuck am I?’ and then it stopped very abruptly. I guess that’s an LA thing. One Christmas he needed someone to play Santa Claus and wanted my friend’s number for the gig, which I don’t think I ever got for him, so that was that.”
Plenty of non-natives in La La Land feel like fish out of water in the legendary if flighty town. Taormina recollects, “For awhile, I was like, ‘I’m not a musician.’ I looked at everyone here and I didn’t identify. I felt outcast. Sometimes you go to shows and people hand you their CD, sort of like they hand you rap demos on the street in New York. I’ve had people pitch me their bands like a feature film idea, and then there’s this homogenous appearance – maybe I’m being overly cautious about all of this – that almost looks like uniforms, and it doesn’t really rub me the right way. Nowadays there are these weird witch hats that I think stem from American Horror story. I was at a show and someone was like, ‘That band reminded me of Urban Outfitters’ and I was like, ‘That’s fair.’ Your band should be compared to a mom and pop shop if anything. The way Cloud functions is based on friendship. We keep a conversation going between each other with music and when it comes time to record, even if you don’t make music, whoever’s around, I invite everyone. It’s a group endeavor with a loose organization of friends having fun and spending time together.”
Taormina’s grass roots take on music hasn’t kept him from being recognized as a gifted songwriter by a host of widely known media outlets, but when pressed to share his feelings on the myriad praises, he shrugs, “I learned that no matter what happens, if you don’t feel that electricity, that lust for life that comes through art, no badge of ‘Oh, you were reviewed here!’ will do anything. I’m at a really terrible blockage point. I don’t feel that right now. I believe you’re not here to document things – creation is a residue of a life well lived. I want to get out of this country. I want to go on an adventure. The past four months I’ve been just waiting around for the release, honestly. It’s long and arduous and I’ve been doing nothing, I’m so bored. I wanna dance very more often than I do. My friend and I went to this salsa bar deep, deep into Echo Park, where, quote-unquote, they don’t let white people in. We stood in a big line dressed way down and a good twenty years younger than everyone there. We got in and there was a ten-piece Cumbia band. It looked like a wedding, a really ornate and dilapidated rec center, and all the couples who weren’t dancing were off to the side patting sweat off their faces. I want to do that every day of my life, essentially. I decided yesterday that I wanna have more fun with my life. I’m ready."