Cloud Rock: Cumulus' Alexandra Niedzialkowski on Lilith Fair, Riot Grrrl, and the World's Most Comfortable Pillows

Cozell Wilson
The situation I'm on Capitol Hill at Cafe Presse with 24-year-old Alexandra Niedzialkowski, founder and frontwoman of the pop-rock band Cumulus. We're sharing a baguette and, at her recommendation, Okocim beers, a Polish brew with a label that reads "O.K. Beer Okocim." "You're more than OK, beer," says Niedzialkowski, addressing her bottle. "You're really good!" She lives about five blocks away in a house she shares with an actress, a woodworker, a gardener, her guitarist, and a female cat named Floyd.

How She Got Here Niedzialkowski, born and raised on Whidbey Island, recounts her musical evolution as follows: first, printing out Christina Aguilera lyrics so she could sing the songs out loud in her room, then the Lilith Fair folk phase when she wanted to be Jewel ("I remember this one time my dad took me to the EMP right after it opened up, and he showed me a Sleater-Kinney record, 'cause he was like, 'Alexandra, I think you'd like this band! It's, like, all girls and they make rock music!' And I was like, 'It's too loud!' "), then on to the high-school "Hot Topic emo phase," then her discovery of the K Records roster after a friend gave her a Mirah CD.

Shop Talk During college at Western Washington University, Niedzialkowski got all riot-grrrl and over her distaste for Sleater-Kinney, but the songs she started writing and performing on her guitar were nevertheless calmer and easier. "I used to be embarrassed that my voice was so pretty," she says. "I'm not meant to scream. I really want to, and I think it'd be really cool, but it's not going to happen anytime soon." Niedzialkowski says she's never wanted to be pigeonholed into the singer/songwriter genre; Cumulus started as a solo project and sprouted into a quartet. "I feel more comfortable with a band," she says. The foursome is working on an EP that Capitol Hill's Porchlight Records has already agreed to release.

BTW: Niedzialkowski's left arm sports a tattoo of a girl lying atop a cloud with the words of Langston Hughes' "Dreams" wrapped around it. To her, clouds represent childhood innocuousness: "When I was a kid, I literally thought that, when I looked at clouds, they were the most comfortable pillows in the world. And if I was ever able to get a parachute, like parachute out of some kind of flying thing, that I could land on the cloud and hang out there." She can still remember the moment her innocence was shattered: Her family went on vacation to Las Vegas and their airplane flew right through a cloud. "It totally broke my heart," she says.

Cumulus plays the Columbia City Theater this Saturday, March 17, opening for Vetiver and Gold Leaves. The show starts at 9 p.m. and there is a $10 cover.

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