Track-By-Track: CLOUDLAND Talks Debut ‘Where We Meet’

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Artwork by Elizabeth Harwood of Athens, GA.

Athens, GA-based CLOUDLAND has released their debut album Where We Meet, a multi-faceted exploration of the commonalities of the human experience. Written over the past year and a half, Where We Meet reassures listeners they are not alone.

The four-piece rock outfit composed of Zach King, Karmen Smith, Aidan Hill, and Hogan Heim has been releasing music steadily since 2017, but this album breaks the group’s typical record and release pattern. Where We Meet is the consequence of a year and a half of careful cultivation. 

We asked CLOUDLAND to take us through each track on the album and give us further insight into the inspiration and writing process behind them.

Check out their track-by-track rundown below, and be sure to queue up the album to listen along.

Sunday Afternoon

As the album’s first track, “Sunday Afternoon” immediately offers longtime CLOUDLAND fans something different according to Heim. This track is truly autobiographical, telling the story of an actual Sunday afternoon call. “There was a two-week period in which my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and my uncle sold both our family’s condominiums in Florida where my family had been going for 22 years. We spent most holidays here” says King. He recounts the difficulty the group had matching lyrics to the existing melody that would become “Sunday Afternoon”. 

“I ended up just writing down everything that had happened: the line about the painting references an actual painting my uncle sent me that had hung in the condo for fifteen years. The phone call is the actual phone call in which I was told my grandfather was in pretty severe shape with colon cancer. It was this moment of balancing living in the present, but also acknowledging the importance of the past. You want to have those precious memories, but you can’t hold on to the past forever without losing the present. I don’t think the song has any resolution, I think it is more just a statement on life.” says King. 

Overthinking

“We had the idea to write a song about overthinking a relationship for a while. The general concept was there and we all took a stab at it, yet the lyrics weren’t coming to us. Eventually, Zach was able to take the pieces that we had and performed some skilled mad libs to put it together,” says Heim. King remembers that “as a band, we were able to write the bones of the track. I went back and fiddled with the lyrics until we liked where it was at.”

“It’s a really straightforward song,” according to King. “There is no real  personal experience behind it, rather it speaks to the universal experience of overthinking the complex nature of relationships.”

Where We Meet

The album’s eponymous track was written before the band had even decided to make an album according to Smith. “We wrote that at a church late at night and that was like the first official single. It was kind of a desperate night in terms of writing because we were just very frustrated with the ideas that had fallen flat.  At the end of the night, we just decided to leave it to Zach’s vocals and Hogan’s guitar. In the past, all of our singles have just been really energetic and loud which is cool, but we wanted to do something different” says Smith.

“I struggle to open up unless it’s through my writing or I’m at rock-bottom. So this song was an opportunity for me to do that,” says King. “It was also about collectively realizing ‘okay you gotta fight for something.’ Just looking at love from a deeper standpoint than ‘oh I love this person’ or ‘you make me feel good.’ Because it’s not always like that, there’s some pain and some hardship involved. Commitment is worth fighting for and promising things even in the midst of hardship. The song was my way of telling my wife that I am committed to her and that I’ll fight for her.”

St. Elmo

“St. Elmo” is about bass player Aidan’s relationship with his significant other and him really opening up about what she means to him in this song,” says King on behalf of his missing band member. “They had just been on a trip to Chattanooga, and it is a really special place to them. We titled the track St. Elmo, a town just outside of Chattanooga, to honor the significance of that place in their relationship.”

 “The funny thing is when we were trying to write one our first draft was just way too heavy. Karmen, Aiden, and I were just sitting there looking at it and we concluded that it was just way too much. We didn’t feel a listener could digest it despite the simplicity of the song. So we ended up scrapping it and wrote another song that night with completely different lyrics.  Aiden just opened up about how he felt that she is the person who can hold him together. It is desperately saying that there are times when you are the only person in the world that can make me feel like I’m sane or loved and cared for.”

Lights 

King recalls ‘Lights’ being a much lighter song than the latter. “When we finished that one we wanted it to be the kind of song people could just kind of sing along to. You don’t have to think about it nearly as much as say, digesting a personal struggle. In my mind, the song is meant to capture the feeling of driving with somebody by your side looking to have some fun.”

King also credits Heim for elevating the song musically: “I had this chord progression and then I brought it over to Hogan. He recommended doing the verses in 7/4 and the chorus in 4/4 to add this layer of complexity to it. Singing it is still hard. To this day I have a hard time singing the verses,  which I like.” 

King summarizes the song as one he “never gets tired of playing live. It’s an opportunity for anyone to sing along and embrace spending time with the people you love.”

Sunday Evening (Interlude)

Smith says “We went to our friend Tommy’s house and stayed up until 2 a.m. working on the interlude. We always go into a writing session with an idea, but somehow it always crumbles. The initial track was too much, and we simplified the whole thing because we didn’t want it to be too busy. Hogan and Tommy experimented with some weird guitar stuff and I played on their baby grand piano It ended up meshing together.”

Heim elaborates on the purpose of Sunday Evening believing it “set the tone for the rest of the album — particularly the following track, “Walking Away”. We wanted to use “Sunday Evening” to frame and seamlessly transition into “Walking Away”. We wrote it after the last four tracks were written, so we were able to compose with intention rather than trying to fit it back in.”

Walking Away 

Heim had just gotten his second amp and a flanger pedal when he started writing “Walking Away”. With additional inspiration from The Police‘s records, Heim composed the beginning of the track before eagerly texting King to hear what he had. 

King remembers Heim sending him a voice message with the chord progression and “just like that it was my favorite beginning to any song we’ve ever made. Just tonally, in the way it sounds.”

King clearly had fond memories of recording the track; recalling how things “just kind of fell into place. We really didn’t have to work for that one. The funny thing is we worked with artist Alec Stanley here in Athens. From a recording standpoint, it was the first time I’ve felt that experimentation pushed outside our comfort zone. The track has some tighter guitar and drum tones that really elevated what was possible… we really owe that to him.”

“The music thankfully steps in and says more than we could,” says Smith.  We didn’t write a bridge because we felt we had said everything already.”

Coming Back

“We didn’t even have lyrics to the song when we started discussing track placement. We just felt the progression sounded similar to “Walking Away”, but not in a bad way. Because of this, we decided to call it “Coming Back” in answer to “Walking Away”. The lyrics don’t contain the words “coming back” and I never fully understood the track until it was put into the context of the album. With “Walking Away” preceding it, the track fit thematically within the rest of the album,” says Heim.

King remembers the Nashville recording sessions. “I would procrastinate writing until the day of recording but found that working under pressure breathed some freshness into the writing. Particularly because a lot of these song meanings change for me when I’m in the studio versus when we are rehearsing together. It’s funny because I wrote the song about my relationship with God. I was at a point where I was genuinely wondering what I was doing, who I am, why I even believe in a creator, and that he is supposed to love me. Like these really heavy things. Only a week prior I had been sitting on my couch at 3 am and felt like I knew all those answers. I had known that I was loved and valued, yet completely shrugged it off. For me, that’s what “Coming Back” is about. It’s a recommitment to who I am and what I believe. But for a lot of people, it is a song about relationships — whether with a significant other, a relative, or even a friend.”

“A lot of people thought it was about my wife and me when I realized I do that with her too. I shrug something off or I won’t open up. Listeners drawing their own meaning from the track makes it something truly special.”

Restless

“We actually wrote “Restless” around two years ago and came back to it last Summer. Hogan essentially wrote the whole song and then we added the bridge. Essentially, the song had no lyrics for almost two years.”

Heim agrees adding that “A cool thing about “Restless” to me is that musically it was only the second song we had tried to write shortly after Aidan had joined the band. At that time, the band was firing on all cylinders, with Aidan rounding the rest of the band out. He really refined track into a state where the point gets across to listeners.”

King speaks to the lyrics saying “we were stuck until Hogan mentioned how cool it would be to swap perspectives between the verses and the chorus. So I just kind of ran with that. The perspective of the verse is young me and the chorus is me now telling my younger self what to do. But for anyone, it can be a reminder to slow down when you’re in the midst of existential concern.”

“The restlessness in the song speaks to this overarching idea of not being content with where you are,” King surmises.

Perfect Timing

Smith recalls the recording of “Perfect Timing” as “one of the most fun times recording and writing we’ve ever had.”  He says the band  “went up to Nashville to record as a snowstorm was approaching. So there was this looming feeling that we might get stuck there, which added excitement to the air. We were working with these two guys Ethan Standard and Blake Tallent; Blake’s an old friend of ours but we had never recorded with him. The lyrics were pretty cool because Zach wrote them sitting on the couch while we were busy doing drum and guitar takes… it just felt very natural.”

Heim agrees, “It was a super fun one because it was the first time I got to really flesh out all my ideas on the guitar with Blake, and Karmen did a similar thing on the drums. We all decided to give it what we got individually and see how it goes together without as much hands-on editing.”

“This song really helped us recognize how much trust we had in one another and how comfortable we became with trying out new things. This was a really fun song because our parts were separate but able to come together in a really cool way,” added King.

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