Nights and weekends: How one Seattle band balances life and music

Nights and weekends: How one Seattle band balances life and music
The members of Cumulus: Leah Julius, Alexandra Niedzialkowski and Lance Umble [Photo: Marybeth Coghill]

Seattle has long been hailed as a great city for new music -- but for the dedicated musicians who are trying to make a living touring, recording and playing, the journey is marked by a difficult balancing act. How does a group of likeminded people find the time to practice, write, fundraise and book shows between eight-hour desk jobs? For Cumulus, one of the city's up-and-coming bands, it's all part of the dream.

The band is chiefly comprised of Alexandra Niedzialkowski and Lance Umble, both from small towns in the region (Niedzialkowski is from Oak Harbor, Umble, from Anacortes), alongside bassist Leah Julius. They were recently signed to Trans- records, a label owned and operated by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla.

It's an exciting step, says the band, though it hasn't exactly made the demands on their time any easier. Niedzialkowski, who works a full-time job as a receptionist, as well as weekends at a restaurant, is pragmatic about the challenges.

"You've got to do it. It's not a choice, working and playing music. If I could choose, I would only be making music, but that's not the way life works."

That the band's members are in their mid-twenties means they're already statistically challenged by the job market, but the problem of scheduling is compounded for musicians who work in the industry, as Umble does, which presents its own challenges.

"Lance's job right now is guitar tech for the Lumineers," Niedzialkowski explains, "so we're also balancing our time around his schedule." 

The Lumineers are currently on tour, meaning Umble is out of town more often than not.

And as much as holding down a job makes music a challenge, Niedzialkowski says, making music also becomes challenging for work; she's had to pass on career advancement in the interest of remaining available for the band. 

"There are so many people around me who are my age who are working toward their careers; I went to school, I got my degree, and I didn't even really start playing music until midway through college. So now, post-college, I realize what I want to do is make music, so I'm not pursuing any kind of career, as far as what would be typical for a young adult. I'm choosing to not get promoted, because I know I wouldn't be able to do a job with more responsibility," Niedzialkowski explains, echoing a familiar sentiment for college graduates.

"Every day, I'm like, 'am I doing the right thing?'"

Anxiety aside, the band appears to be moving in the right direction. In addition to being added to the Trans- family -- a piece of news they received on the exact day they were anticipating ordering 1,000 copies of their album, "I Never Meant It To Be Like This," which they were going to pay for in part with a successful Kickstarter campaign -- the band has also booked shows, including performances at the sold-out Doe Bay Festival and a gig opening for LA surf band Best Coast at Neumo's.

The light at the end of the tunnel, as Umble describes it, has been a long time coming, considering Niedzialkowski has been playing shows since 2008, and she and Umble have been working together to grown the Cumulus audience since 2011. And both say they found a community in Seattle that is welcoming and cooperative. 

"Everyone is sort of struggling together and in the same way," Umble elaborates, "that's what I've seen working in the field in my hometown, and here as well."

So what is the ultimate goal? What's is the final outcome, after years of evening and weekend practices and using every possible vacation day to play and record?

"Ditching our jobs, getting in a van, and just really seeing two years' worth of ideas coming to fruition," says Umble. 

The two also have larger goals for their music, as well. Niedzialkowski also says she's looking to inspire other young people, especially girls, to make music, because, she says, many just don't realize that it's possible. 

"That realization doesn't happen to everybody. One of the reasons I love volunteering at rock camp. When you're around 80 girls, and they're all in this pop star mindset, they all think that the only that it works to make music is to be a pop star and therefore, it's not possible for them...But you meet people who are living their lives and making music. They're doing it....you don't have to choose. A lot of kids don't get to see that."

Find out more about Cumulus by visiting their website, or following them on Facebook or Twitter