Alex Niedzialkowski of Cumulus Opens Up About Her Powerful New Release, "Comfort World": "It's like Turning on a Light Switch"
Some of the best music comes from some of the worst situations, and Cumulus’ new album, Comfort World is living proof. The album itself sprung from a time of intense growth in Alex Niedzialkowski’s (also known as Cumulus) life, following the loss of her job, the end of a long-term relationship and her mother's cancer diagnosis shortly after, but as Niedzialkowski says, she cannot write about dark without also focusing on the light that follows. The result is Cumulus’ incredibly personal and cathartic new release, which rises from the ashes and presents hope and most importantly, comfort for listeners.
With Comfort World just a little over a month old, we caught up with Niedzialkowski to chat about the creation of the album, her growth between releases and plans for the future. Comfort World can be heard now below, and it won’t be long before Cumulus is taking the show on the road once more.
Interview by Shannon Shumaker
Can you tell us a little bit about Cumulus for anyone who might not be familiar?
Cumulus has been my songwriting project since about 2008. I've had different band arrangements in the past, but it's always revolved around the songs I've written. My songs are how I process my emotions and the world around me and I hope it just helps other people out there feel a little less alone, because that is why I go to music most of the time.
You just recently released your new album, Comfort World. Now that it has been out for a little bit and you’ve had some time to reflect on it, what are some of your favorite things about the album?
I love the collaboration of the album. Mike Davis, who produced the album, brought so many elements to my sound that I would not have been able to discover on my own. His imagination is boundless and that energy inspired me and rubbed off on me in ways that I will always be grateful for. I'll will always look back on the time spent recording this album as one of the most meaningful times in my life. Before I went into the studio, I was really struggling in my personal life, and this album helped me get back to myself.
Comfort World comes from a really emotional and vulnerable place for you. When you first started working on the songs that make up the album, did you ever imagine you’d be able to get it all on paper and out for the world to hear? What was the most challenging part about working on the album?
I think for a long time I was scared I wouldn't have the songs in me. I've talked to other songwriters who get that feeling too- you write one album, and then in your head there is this little voice thinking "there is no way there can be another! This is it!" What I didn't realize is that I was letting that little voice hold me back. When I was fired from my job and umemployed, I had time to put into my writing and into my own thoughts. I had time to think about my pain and think about my joy and it just poured out of me. Honestly, the most challenging part of making this album was getting to the place where I was ready to do it- where I had the ability to be vulnerable in a productive way and the confidence to try new things and say this is what I have to offer and it is good. I don't think I'll ever take my time for granted again, and I'm more focused now on making sure that I am creatively fulfilled.
Compared to I Never Meant It To Be Like This, you took quite a bit of time writing, recording and perfecting Comfort World. What was the most rewarding thing about the process this time around?
Having the time to really ponder and explore the potential of each song in a studio environment was very special and rare. Chris Walla owns my label, and also has a studio in Seattle, The Hall of Justice. Mike Davis and I were able to sneak time into the studio at very odd times in the week, basically for a few months any moment that someone wasn't on the books for the studio we would be in there experimenting with the songs and playing with every idea we had. We didn't have a dead line, we just wanted to make something we were proud of. Witnessing the songs coming together, from iphone and Garageband demos to fully living ideas was a very surreal experience. I've learned to be a lot more flexible with my approach to a song, and to let the song guide me and take the wheel when it wants to.
Were there any important stories you wanted to tell with the album or any messages you wanted to get across?
I'm always writing the songs that I need to hear. When I'm sad or heartbroken, I'm writing a song about moving on and becoming a stronger person. When I'm depressed, I'm writing songs about pushing through and finding the support in places I'd least expect it. When I'm being hard on myself I write about that feeling and sing my way out of it. When I'm in a dark hole, I feel like describing it somehow makes it better, automatically. It's like turning on a light switch. I can't describe a hole without also describing the light pouring in from the opening above my head... I try to focus on the light in my songs, a map on how to find it. I hope people can hear that.
I think I just want to pursue a life that I love and talk about the humanness and struggles that go on within that. I was watching the recent documentary that Maggie Rogers put out a few months back, about her last year after releasing her first EP. She said, "It's my job to see the world and report back. It's my job to feel things fiercely." That really resonated with me. I just want to tell my story, and through that help other people feel more in touch with their own.
What would you like listeners to take away from Comfort World?
I'd like to think that when people listen to these songs, they can hear the hard work and love that went into the process. I'd like to think they can hear and feel a little bit of who I am as a person. I'd like to inspire others to write about their lives, to sing for the first time, to write their own songs. I'd like to think they can enjoy this album and take my stories and shape them into their own lives. The idea of being a soundtrack to someone else's day is a thought that brings me a lot of joy.
With Comfort World out now, do you have any other big plans coming up this year? Any tour dates in the works?
I'd like to play music and travel everywhere I possibly can, so planning is always in the works :)