Crack Cloud: “It’s art as a means of performative and rehabilitative healing”

Vancouver collective Crack Cloud were founded on community spirit, communal freedom, and storytelling - they're an interesting bunch for sure.

Crack Cloud are a far cry from your typical band. In fact, if you asked them, they’d probably tell you they were less a band than an art collective. When the Canadian group first started gaining buzz in 2018 off the back of two supremely vital EPs there was a clear seven-person configuration at their core, but a lot’s changed since then. Not only is their debut record, ‘Pain Olympics’ primed and ready, but they’ve cast an even wider net for collaborators, drawing in a wildly diverse array of artists with little concern for medium or geographical location. It’s perhaps no surprise then that Crack Cloud have also been described as a cult.

That open-armed approach to collaboration has resulted in a record that could loosely be labelled as post-punk, but doesn’t do well with neat genres boxes. Too many cooks might spoil the broth, but Crack Cloud have busted right through to the other side of that curve and proven that using the most cooks leads to a special dish indeed. As Dork speaks to singer and drummer Zach from his backyard in Vancouver, he’s quick to make it clear that those porous barriers aren’t happenstance—they’re encoded into the very band’s DNA, and his 10-year friendship with keyboardist Mohammad Ali Sharar.

“There’s a certain narrative that Mohammad and I have been developing for the last few years, largely informed by our experiences growing up, that’s the basis.” Those narratives, concerning addiction, oppression and their staunch political values have in turn “acted as a jumping-off point or foundation” for other artists to voice their experiences. “It’s more complex than a core of people driving it. It’s the whole intersectionality that we’re taking advantage of, and I hope that it continues to grow to an even higher level inclusion than that.”

Part of what makes Crack Cloud such an intriguing prospect musically is this focus on the art of collaboration rather than the perfect chord progression. Zach is clearly a passionate musician, but he sees the group as storytellers first and foremost. “As we become more familiar with our own territory here in Vancouver, and meet more people with different skill sets, we’re able to take our vision a step further and a step further. I think that the music is very visual, and so, in order for us to tell our stories, it’s necessary that we take on different mediums.”

Still, Dork is a music magazine [Now you tell me – Ed], and fortunately Zach has plenty to say about the catharsis of recording upcoming album ‘Pain Olympics’. “There’s been something very freeing about the process of this record, just as far as the general abandonment of any sort of stylistic intentions. Overall we were thinking about the album as a theatre piece or as a story, and we were thinking about certain arcs that we could hit based on emotional plateaus.”

Creating a concept album as a debut speaks to the ambition and clarity of vision driving Crack Cloud as a project. Fittingly, Zach’s inspirations are less sonically driven than they are by scope: both ‘The Wall’ and ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ come up several times. “The major influences for me are Kendrick Lamar and Roger Waters and people who took the album to a level of storytelling that transported you into the world that they were coming from. That was mostly the intention and the headspace when we were putting the album together. We wanted to bring you into this world outside of ours.” As far as invitations for a cult go, it’s an enticing one.

“My addiction is just a talking point to illustrate the dynamics of our histories and our intersectionalities”
Zach Choy

With an album title like ‘Pain Olympics’ though, it’s hard not to worry about what such an invitation could entail. For the fortunately uninitiated, in internet slang “pain olympics” refers to a loosely connected series of home movies that feature sharp objects coming into contact with… sensitive body parts. When we tentatively ask if that’s where the name came from to, Zach laughs. “I think that it’s absolutely non-essential that there’s any correlation drawn between our album title and the internet phenomena… though that’s where it came from. It just felt like we were able to draw some sort of symbolism from that and appropriate it into the world that we’re creating.”

As the discussion turns away from genital mutilation to the process of networking and the so-called “philosophy of Crack Cloud”, the other elephant in the room (or backyard in Zach’s case) rears its head. “That homegrown community building has culminated in some of the work that we’ve been doing with ‘Pain Olympics’. But it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s something that we continue to work with. Obviously, the lockdown has created a big rift between all of us. Some of us are trapped on the other side of Canada right now, but that’s just the way that we function as well. It’s kind of whoever’s around – that’s the flavour that you’ll get.”

Ever the poet-philosopher, Zach has taken lockdown as a moment to step back, working through what he describes as “an ever-growing process of existentialism and reflection”. At the same time, the group are still very much involved in the same community work they always have been at harm reduction shelters in Vancouver’s Eastside. “It’s been a strange dichotomy of going from our own neighbourhood which is in a lockdown, where social distancing is a real thing, and then entering the Eastside, where there’s a very dense and marginalised population, and social distancing goes out the window.”

Early coverage of Crack Cloud zeroed in on this one narrative in particular: addiction. Crack Cloud have often described themselves as a form of communal rehab since “that’s a common link between a lot of us”, but Zach wants it to be more than that. “My addiction is just a talking point to illustrate the dynamics of our histories and our intersectionalities. Hopefully, addiction and those themes don’t pigeonhole the broader picture and motivations of what we’re doing as a group.” That goal, Zach explains, is presenting “art as a means of performative and rehabilitative healing.”

The form that healing will take for the band/collective/interpersonal rehab in the future is unclear, but Zach emphasises that any evolution will always be premised on deeply human terms. “The beauty of art is that it’s an emotional, spiritual engagement with yourself, however you want to contrive it in terms of like, why you’re doing it or what it’s all about. You can’t escape who you are. That’s what Crack Cloud is, to me. Whether or not drugs and addiction and blah, blah, blah, are going to be the focal point – I’m not sure, I’m not sure. It doesn’t really matter. It’ll continue to evolve, and the interpretation is always open.” That continual morphing of meaning and membership means that the Crack Cloud you see one day is very different from the next, and yet the momentum remains the same. Who knows – we might all be in the collective one day. 

Taken from the August issue of Dork. Crack Cloud’s debut album ‘Pain Olympics’ is out now.

Words: Blaise Radley

The May issue of Dork, featuring A. G. Cook, Djo, English Teacher, Luke Hemmings, WILLOW and more, is out now
Dua Lipa has released a new single inspired by knowing what you're getting into, 'Illusion'
Nell Mescal has released a new single about moving on, 'Yellow Dresser'