There must have been something noodley in the water almost ten years ago as the seeds of the local DIY scene were sown.
While RVA’s legacy of math rock stretches back to the late ’80s and early ’90s with Breadwinner, King Sour and many others, seemingly out of nowhere a totally distinct new wave sprouted out of the house show scene in the early 2010s led by the Subterranea Collective.
Night Idea, Navi, Midair, Zac Hryciak and the Jungle Beat, Way, Shape or Form, Houdan the Mystic, 8T88, Cheyenne, Parentheses, Freaky J and the Bears, Brother Rutherford and a slew of other technically-minded rock bands took hold of young audiences around the city and have shown no signs of stopping since.
While some of those bands continue to perform now, many have splintered into other groups, felt the pull of other styles and changed their tune or simply drifted apart during post-grad life.
But just as the phoenix rose when Navi returned earlier this year, another bastion of lush melodies and breakneck rhythms from that formative era of local music returns next month when Fight Cloud takes the stage at The Broadberry for their first local show in a year and a half.
After almost ten years as a group, guitarist/vocalist Justin Stuit, guitarist Mitch Clem, bassist Paul McDonald and drummer Miles Blunt crowdfunded their second LP, We’ll Be Alright, recorded in 2015 and released in spring 2016.
Shortly thereafter, the group went on an indefinite hiatus when members were pulled in different directions by school and work. Despite the distance, the four friends remained close and always planned to revisit their shared love of performing together when the time was right.
Over a year since their last show at Everybody’s Birthday VI, the group chatted with Dust Up’s Craig Zirpolo about what they’ve been up to, why they’re excited to return to Richmond and what’s in store for the future of the band.
Hey guys! Thanks for sitting down to chat about the band and the upcoming reunion! To start things off, how did you guys meet?
Justin Stuit: We had all known each other since middle school, and we started jamming as a trio of Mitch, Miles and I in the Spring of 2008 at the end of our sophomore year of high school. Mitch and I had been playing guitar together and recording stuff with his 4-track cassette recorder. Then I showed it to Miles in bio class, and I think we may have went over to Miles’ basement that day after school to jam. So we actually played a lot and made close to 50 songs before we recorded and released our debut album in 2012.
Where does the name Fight Cloud come from?
Mitch Clem: Our name came from our world history class in high school when we had an assignment that involved drawing cartoons. And I think we felt that it related to our musical approach, a mix of soft and sharp, cohesion and disarray.
What do you remember most about your early gigs? What has changed about the band over the years that you’ve been playing together?
JS: Well we evolved a lot from 2008 to 2011. We played a lot of weird shows in a rather inadequate NOVA local music scene, grew from three members to six members, gained and dropped a vocalist, recorded a lot of material we never released, went to college, etc. But it was early 2012 when we made the decision to grow through Richmond and pursue the style of music we are known for now. In 2013 we picked up Paul on bass. We had all been friends since high school which enabled an easy transition for everyone. He’s an extremely talented musician and added a new style to our already eclectic sound. Pauly McD, good guy.
From your first record, In Augment, through two EPs to your the newest record, We’ll Be Alright, your songs rely on the delicate interplay of everyone in the band weaving in and out of leading and support roles, like multiple heads on the same body. In that sense, how do you guys go about writing songs? Is it a group effort? And how long did it take for you to feel comfortable enough with each other’s playing to write songs that feel so cohesive?
MC: We’ve always felt that our best and most organic material has come from writing together, so that’s what we always preferred. Stew (Justin) is more of a writin’ machine than I am, so I would often have to tell him to hold off so we could hash out ideas together before they were too developed. We spent a lot of weekends together in between school/work weeks joining up wherever we could.
JS: We aimed to keep the band very democratic, and most of what we knew about music we learned together, so we always felt comfortable challenging each other and being honest with each other. That lead to plenty of heated discussions while writing and recording, but in the end made us more content and proud with the outcome as well as helped us understand each other’s perception of our music and what we wanted to write.
When you guys were first coming up in Richmond, what was the state of the math rock scene? Who were the bands that inspired you, and who do you look at now as inspirational as you return to the stage?
MC: Man, that was a crazy time. I already know I’m gonna forget a bunch of sweet bands and show spots from back then, but we first started going to shows at places like The Bughouse and The Camel and seeing bands like Night Idea, Houdan the Mystic, Navi, Shy, Low and Midair, and we were blown away. Over the following year or two, I remember the shows just blowing up and houses would be packed every weekend. The Yerb, The Side Boob, Johnny Cave, Babe Cave, Carpet Palace, other random houses and basements. The front row of the crowd would lock arms like red rover and try to hold people back from bumping into the band. A girl broke her leg during an especially crazy Navi set, Stew got a bunch of blood on his guitar at a very packed Bughouse show, etc. The whole idea of high energy house shows became on overall breeding ground for our inspiration.
JS: Returning to the stage is going to be a different feel this time around. All of our sister bands from the early days have been putting out nothing but great records, keeping us inspired and excited to come back to the town we all consider home.
Right after releasing your second LP, We’ll Be Alright, the band went on an indefinite hiatus. How did that come about, and how have you guys kept in touch in the mean time?
MC: The hiatus talks actually came before the release. We took the hiatus when I moved to Arlington in August of 2015, and I mixed and mastered the album that Fall. We were able to get together to play a couple release shows the following March in Richmond and Harrisonburg. But we didn’t want to gig regularly or get started on new material while I was busy with work and school in DC. But the release of the album was a big process that we tirelessly worked together on, and we’re all best friends so we continued to hang out when we could.
What have you guys been up to outside of Fight Cloud over the past year?
MC: I’ve been doing a lot of freelance audio engineering work and finishing my undergraduate degree in DC for the past two years. Paul has been finishing up at VCU, Miles has been working full time at a media production studio in Richmond and Stew is now back at VCU. Stew and I always continue to write, regardless of where the material ends up.
You guys played an album release show at Our House to launch We’ll Be Alright in March of 2016, then reunited at Everybody’s Birthday later that year. Was that Our House show the last time you guys played in Richmond? What are you looking forward to the most about playing here again?
JS: Yes, that was our last Richmond appearance as Fight Cloud, and it was an amazing one. So many people came out to support the release, it was really an honor to see friends and fans showing their support for the record, especially knowing the uncertainty of our future as a band. We’re really looking forward to just being on stage again, providing the opportunity for new fans and people who have gotten to know We’ll Be Alright over the last year and a half to hear it live. It’s been a good year for personal development for us all and we’re really excited to play for our hometown again, particularly in a venue like The Broadberry where we’ve never performed. Richmond just knows how to party, and were ready to party with you guys again \m/
MC: Also, this woman from Texas emailed us a couple months ago asking if we had any shows coming up because, as a birthday gift for her boyfriend, she wanted to get plane tickets to come see us. I told her about this show and she got super excited and said it would be the highlight of their year. So we’re looking forward to putting them on the guest list and having them here. It’s just one of those things that means a lot and is hard to explain but makes everything worth it.
Since coverage of the latest LP on international math rock site Fecking Bahamas, there’s been an explosion of international interest in your music. In the wake of that, how do you support a fanbase that you may never get to actually perform for?
MC: Explosion may be a bit of an overstatement (laughs), but we’ve been happy with the response. We got a couple emails from people in Europe who asked for some copies to promote, sell, play on their radio shows, etc. so I was glad to support that notion. But I dunno, other than that we haven’t done much, I guess the internet has been fairly good to us.
When you posted online that you were scheduling a reunion show, there was a lot of response from literally all over the world. I know you guys have toured before, but you also have jobs/other responsibilities outside of the band. Do you have any plans for other shows or touring in the future?
JS: Now that Paul is working full time in NOVA, Mitch and Miles are looking for full time gigs and I’m finishing my degree, it’s a bit difficult to find the time to tour. With that being said, touring has held some of our best times as a band, traveling the country together, seeing new cities and playing for new crowds. There is no current plans for touring, but were also not completely giving up on the idea.
Lastly, the big question everyone is waiting for: are you writing new music? Do you have any plans for future releases or a formal comeback of the band?
JS: Formal is a bold term for us right now. After nearly a decade of writing and performing, its hard to drop a cold shoulder on playing music with your best friends. We’re hoping to get together and jam for fun, but with lingering question marks in our lives, we’re not going to put any pressure on ourselves. I guess we’ll see what happens…
Dust Up presents Fight Cloud’s Reunion Show at The Broadberry on August 10th with local support from Spooky Cool, Manatree and Private Cry. Grab your tickets here, and check out the Facebook event page here.