In the Middle with Seattle’s Latest Indie Pop Gem

Catching up with Cumulus’ Alexandra Niedzialkowski on the eve of her band’s brilliant debut.

It is raining fiercely outside, but Alexandra Niedzialkowski is dry now, sitting at a Capitol Hill coffee shop sipping a steaming cup of chai. While everyone else has been curling up indoors, she has spent this Sunday afternoon putting up posters for her band’s upcoming record-release show, Thursday night at Neumos. Between the rain coming down outside and the Hill’s viciously competitive postering culture, she wonders out loud if her work was worth it. Still, she smiles broadly. A quiet energy pulses beneath her glowing countenance. Friday was her last day of work as a secretary for a very big tech company—at least for the next month.

Since then Niedzialkowski has been resting, though she can’t stop writing songs. She just started a new one about how messy her apartment is. It quickly morphed, she says, into a song about the current chaos of her life, which, given her talents as a pop songwriter, would be heard by her fans as a song about the unpredictability of life in general, or their lives specifically.

This is her process, she says, recalling her earliest days as a secret songwriter at Western Washington University in Bellingham. “I started just writing joke songs and singing about my day into my laptop,” she says. “That is still kind of what I do.”

Tomorrow she gets to sleep in, but it isn’t a day off. She will be joined by her bandmates—guitarist Lance Umble and bass player Leah Julius—to begin practicing in earnest for their first national tour, during which they will play 28 shows in 30 days. T hen on Tuesday, Cumulus’ debut full-length album, I Never Meant It to Be Like This, will be released on Trans-, the record label run by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist and producer Chris Walla.

It is a surprising and strong debut, filled with aching power-pop songs, each located emotionally in transit, somewhere between being lost and lonely and being found and surrounded. Like debuts often are, this record is a culmination of years of writing, its contents tracking the songwriter’s journey from her Oak Harbor hometown to college, then to her musical mecca of Anacortes, and finally to Seattle.

The song that Niedzialkowski has been thinking about the most lately, she says, is “Middle.” She began writing it soon after arriving in Seattle in 2010, a time when she was fighting the urge to feel lonely. Seeking a sense of community, she snagged an internship at Sub Pop while volunteering at the Rain City Rock Camp for Girls and Hollow Earth Radio. Fittingly, she didn’t finish the song alone; Umble and Julius collaborated on the final product. “Why don’t you come along,” she sings over the song’s bright clatter. “Why don’t you get in the middle.”

The oldest song on the album, she says, is the first single, “Do You Remember”—a song that upon its late-summer release was praised for its throwback ’90s indie-pop sheen, made fresh by Umble’s muscular, galloping guitar parts and Niedzialkowski’s comely coo. A potent piece of instant nostalgia, the song was penned six years ago at a time when the songwriter, now 25, sat on rooftops with her college friends, staring at the stars, drinking beer. Sitting in the coffee shop, Niedzialkowski struggles to express the feeling she was trying to evoke. I know the feeling, because the song captures it so perfectly.

“Do you remember when young meant invincible?” she sings as the instrumental lifts you up as if to remind you again of that very feeling. Infinite is the popular way of putting it. Limitless seems more fitting for Niedzialkowski. With Kithkin, Sundries. Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9442, $10 adv. 8 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 3.

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