Lots of bands use cello and violin. Strangers Die Every Day, though, rocked those rarefied strings in a way that evoked everything from hardcore punk to the Constellations Records roster. But when the Boulder-born instrumental band moved to Portland in 2007, where it dissolved after releasing the stunning Aperture for Departure, bassist Stirling Myles and cellist Jessie Dettwiler found themselves drawn to richer, quieter tones — and vocals.
The duo's new ensemble, Alameda, sports a fluid lineup (which occasionally includes Mike Reisinger of Denver's experimental Epileptinomicon) that crafts melancholy, atmospheric songs that teeter between folky simplicity and chamber-music lushness. Besides stepping up to the microphone, Myles has switched from bass to guitar; Alameda's debut EP, The Floating Hospital, reveals his hushed and tranquil songwriting, a solid core around which revolves the outfit's baroque yet stark multi-instrumentalism. We asked Myles a few questions about Alameda in advance of the band's show this week with old friend Ian Cooke.
Westword: How is playing in Alameda different than Strangers Die Every Day?
Stirling Myles: Personally, I think I've gotten some more confidence in composing. I'm actually writing full song structures. In Strangers, it was more democratic. In Alameda, everyone still writes their own piece of the song, but it's all about seeing the song as a whole, starting off from scratch with one instrument. It's a building process.
And then there's the new element, vocals.
Writing lyrics has added a great synergy. I've always wanted to involve writing with music, focusing more on the story. We've all just been experimenting with other forms of songwriting, especially composition.
Why was this the right time for you to switch to guitar and start singing?
I always used to feel that great music was ruined by vocals [laughs]. You have these great bands, and then the lead singer gets on the stage. But it's all relative. It changed for me a lot when I got out here to Portland. There's a lot of attention paid to lyrics and songwriting. It's all about leaving room for those things. I felt really inspired by that, so I started trying to weave vocals into my music. I also thought, "What are the two things I'm most scared of doing? Playing guitar and singing in front of people." So I wanted to invert that and explore it.
Strangers Die Every Day was known for its on-stage intensity. Are things different in Alameda?
Uh, yeah [laughs]. We were just talking about this lately: "We haven't gone above a certain volume level in a long time." I still sit down with my old hardcore records, and we'll still take one riff and go with it, see how far we can take it. There are those ebbs and flows, but we've definitely settled down a bit.