Cloakroom know their product

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Doyle Martin is waiting in a parking lot in Michigan. The guitarist and vocalist for Midwestern shoegaze band Cloakroom will, after our conversation, be buying some hard hats as props for a new video, the final clip to be released from the band’s new album Dissolution Wave. And the clip is slated to be shot at a legendary nearby bar called Wolverine Gardens, a place that Yelp reviewers tend to assume is abandoned, and which Martin himself describes as “Northern Exposure and Ice Road Truckers all in one.”

It’s the first time in five years that Martin and his bandmates have had new music to promote, and when I point out that length of time, Martin deadpans, “You’re making me feel old, Jeff.”

Other bands’ entire careers have come in gone in as much time, and Cloakroom, themselves, have experienced a dramatic period of transition and transformation since the release of their 2017 album Time Well. Drummer Brian Busch exited the band, and after Cloakroom played handful of shows with fill-in drummers, Sweet Cobra’s Tim Remis, whom Martin refers to as a “Chicago legend,” has stepped in full time. Martin, meanwhile, moved away from his home state of Indiana for Michigan, leaving bassist Bobby Markos as the only member of Cloakroom still taking up residence in the Hoosier State.

Martin also took up work as a touring guitarist for Philly shoegazers Nothing, the type of gig as a musician that he tends to romanticize, as one might a Sun Records or Motown session player—but shoegaze. “I’ve always loved the idea of being a Nashville hired gun, you know? Just keep playing, be malleable, play in any kind of band, doesn’t matter what kind of band it is,” he says. In early 2020, that too came to an abrupt pause, as did plans for Cloakroom’s then-unfinished third album, a more concise and streamlined vision of the band’s heavy, epic effects-laden sound.

With no release date on the horizon, and no shows to play, Cloakroom simply used the time they had to continue fine tuning the sonic details of the album, with the eventual hope that the chaos outside would slow down enough for them to finally put it out into the world.

“Remis, our drummer, when the shit hit the fan, I took a page from his book,” he says. “He said, ‘well, music is over, I’m just gonna do a demolition job. Or hang drywall.’ We all got our own little thing to do. Bobby’s been working in television, doing the damn Lost Speedways thing with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Working from home, doesn’t feel too crazy about not touring. But I was bartending in rural Michigan, so that was hell sometimes. Like, am I cleaning up urinals or blood? I can go on tour in a couple months and justify all this that I do. But during the pandemic it was just like, ‘I used to really rock, you know?’

“Life doesn’t stop just so we can play these riffs whenever we want.”

Dissolution Wave—out this month via Relapse—is recorded proof that Cloakroom still, in fact, rocks, with bookending tracks “Lost Meaning” and “Dissembler” each swathed in fuzz, heavy as Cloakroom has ever sounded. But rocking isn’t the only thing that the group does here, exploring more melodic jangle-pop sounds on “A Force at Play” and a kind of shimmering post-punk gloom on “Lambspring.” It’s not a reinvention of Cloakroom’s sound so much as a representation of their music at its most refined.

When Martin describes making the record, he uses words like “product,” “commodity” and “commercial,” and not entirely ironically either, but he also doesn’t differentiate between the band making their best music and their most marketable. “I want to make the best product every time,” he says. “That’s true if you’re making a bookshelf.” Whether or not those are always complementary ideals, there’s a melodic immediacy to Dissolution Wave that suggests he’s probably onto something there.

“I feel like when we wrote this record, we wanted to make it really diverse. Just everything we were good at,” he says. “After releasing Time Well and seeing the pageantry of a release, we learned from that. So this record kind of trims the fat a little. It’s weird to say but maybe we kind of wrote it a bit as a commodity, to showcase more what we’re good at.”

As much as Dissolution Wave represents Cloakroom at their most potent and accessible, it also comes in the aftermath of a challenging few years for the group, one marked by periods of grieving and loss. Yet rather than use those experiences to create a more deeply personal work on this set of songs, they became the catalyst for inventing an escapist fantasy world where writing songs can literally save the world. As if merely finishing an album during a pandemic wasn’t pressure enough.

In a nutshell: The title phenomenon obliterates all art from the planet, and in order to save the earth, the Songsmiths have to continue writing new music, which is then fed through a filter (the Spire and Ward of Song), with only the best material able to ultimately pass through and keep the planet turning. It’s part sci-fi musical, part dystopia, part maximalist projection of the behind-the-scenes process of actually creating something. Meta-commentary in the form of a potential cosmic catastrophe.

“I don’t want to just say ‘This is all the bad shit that happened in my life,’ and I can kind of somewhat mask into my coping mechanism of music,” he says. “It was easier to say in a press release that it’s not about a personal life or this world, it’s a fictitious world we’re romanticizing somewhere. It mirrors our real world and our personal lives, pretty hard, but then I’ve tried to remove myself from that, so I suppose it is compartmentalization.”

Martin is hesitant to go into too many specifics about the kinds of personal experiences that led to the elaborate world of catharsis Cloakroom have built on Dissolution Wave (“It’s not important. It really isn’t,” he says). But he doesn’t discount the therapeutic potential of making music—or listening to it, for that matter. That’s something of value beyond commercial product.

“I get a lot of nice messages every once in a while, especially over the pandemic, people were like, ‘holy shit your music helped me through some crazy stuff,'” he says. “And that’s not necessarily why I made it, but it was helping me through some crazy stuff too. So it’s a mutual thing. Listener and creator, maybe we’re getting the same benefits.”

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