One might look at the name of this week’s Weekly Featured Artist, Ourselves, Alone, and immediately think that the band writes dark, lonesome tunes. But that’s actually not the case at all, as the group’s music spans an array of sounds and emotions which are rather indescribable.
Ourselves, Alone are a three-piece instrumental group from New Haven, Connecticut, who play what they describe as ‘god-tier, math-heavy’ post-rock. The band was formed in 2016 by guitarist Mike Cueto and drummer Nick Restivo when the two discovered a mutual love for prog elements like complex polyrhythms and jazzy timbres. The two recorded a single entitled “Pepper and Paprika” and released it to the public, a move which would end up altering the course of what was previously intended only to be a side project. The single received high praise from listeners, and all of a sudden the newly formed duo enlisted bassist Steve Perez as they began to receive offers to play shows.
As the trio began to build chemistry and compose more songs, they decided to record four original tracks and subsequently released their début EP Covet on August 26, 2016. The name of the record was influenced by an anecdote about the producer’s laptop, which the band was using to record the songs – it was stolen at first, but then recovered! Covet finds Ourselves, Alone building off a core math rock sound akin to bands like CHON and Polyphia while also adding their own unique touch. Many of the band’s songs can be characterized by guitar tapping, an ethereal jazz vibe and dramatic interplay between all three members.
Their music has an especially satisfying flow to it, and the band has a knack for seamlessly playing a spectrum of genres over the course of just one song. Just listen to “Pepper and Paprika,” the lead single from Covet: the song begins with a catchy, smooth rock groove complete with tasty guitar licks and a jazz-like aesthetic. The atmosphere then quickly shifts to post-metal and the track picks up in intensity, before dreamy guitars and a groove-laden rhythm section closes out the track in a quite ambient and melancholic fashion. All the elements that make Ourselves, Alone so promising are thus found jam-packed into this one track. The technicality is fun to listen to, and the songwriting is top-shelf.
So what’s next for these New England math rockers? I was lucky enough to hold a Q&A with Cueto and Restivo to discuss the band’s origins, unique style, and plans for the future!
It Djents: How would you describe the sound of Ourselves, Alone? What artists are your main influences?
Mike Cueto: Our sound is definitely very melodic and chaotic, cathartic, precise, technical, vibrant, colorful, and unpredictable all at once. We like to catch the listener off guard, but not in a gimmicky way. We all share an affinity for odd rhythms and structure, and jazz, but we also like catchy indie music, so I think we try to blend all of that together. With me, the music usually comes out when I’m feeling inspired. Whether it’s on the weekend when I’m just messing around with the guitar in my free time, or while I’m at work and get hit with an idea…it usually just hits me. Some of my favorite artists are Minus the Bear, Kayo Dot, Jaga Jazzist, The Cinematic Orchestra, Mouse on the Keys, Tera Melos and The Alarmist.
Nick Restivo: I think in the most basic sense we are a punk rock band. We satisfy a primal urge and harness a chaotic energy all the while touching on elements of music that we all love. Elements ranging from jazz to funk to hip-hop to afrobeat. As people who listen to just about everything we feel it is important to demonstrate the relativity between these styles, and what better way than showing a metalhead that they can get down to our music just as much as a Berkeley Jazz student?
ID: Can you describe how new opportunities came about during the band’s formation – especially the offers to play shows after releasing “Pepper and Paprika?”
MC: We posted “Pepper and Paprika” on our Bandcamp shortly after we received the master, and people would ask us for links to other songs, but that’s all we had. They’d be super bummed so we thought, “Alright, let’s record an EP.” Somewhere during that time, Brian Dicrescenzo from The Refectory contacted us to see if we would hop on a bill opening for Giraffes? Giraffes! and we gladly said yes. After that, show offers have consistently been rolling in, which is awesome.
ID: What is the current state of the band?
MC: We just finished recording demos for our next album. It’s going to be seven or eight songs, and we’ll be recording with Jeremy Kinney, who did the most recent Peaer album. We’re also going to be working with All Sounds Records in some capacity, though we’re not sure exactly what that entails yet. Where our first EP, Covet, was purely instrumental, the new material, in addition to having vocals, will have violin, cello, flute, and a few other instruments, but with the main focus still being on the interplay between guitar, bass and drums. We have a show with Jerkagram coming up on April 15 at Cafe Nine in New Haven that we are super psyched for. As far as touring goes, we’re planning to tour with The Planet You, a really cool jazzy math rock band from New Jersey, this August!
ID: How do you guys write and record your music? What makes your creative style similar or different from other bands?
MC: I wouldn’t say there is a specific formula that we use when writing our songs, but usually I write a part or a few parts of something on guitar and bring it to Nick and he writes a drum part for it, or Nick writes a part or few parts on drums and brings it to me to write to, and we collaborate on it from there, then Joe colors it all in with his bass parts. Each song usually goes through a few different arrangements before we decide on a finalized version. I’ve been in a lot of bands where someone writes a part and refuses to change it, and then expects the other musicians to just write to that part. We, fortunately, are not one of those bands. Parts are constantly changing. When we record, we tend to change a few things here and there. I do a lot of guitar layers, so they tend to influence each other. Joe and I also utilize our guitar pedals pretty liberally live, so those sounds and loops usually works their way into recordings.
ID: What would you say your songs are about?
MC: I’ve experienced a lot of major changes and transitions over the past two years, and the overall feeling of our songs definitely reflect all of the accompanying restlessness and anxiety…but that’s not to say that it’s all negative. The songs definitely feel hopeful, and even triumphant at some moments, and I would like to think that even though some of our songs start in a dark or restless place, they gradually move into more optimistic or hopeful place by the end. In that regard, to me at least, our songs are about transitions, and change. My beginning does not necessarily determine my end, or something like that.
‘The best part about the CT/NE scene is that I could name a handful of bands, and not only would all of them be killer, but they would all sound different.’
ID: How would you describe the rock/metal scene in CT and New England? Does the geographic location give the band a certain advantage or disadvantage?
NR: The best part about the CT/NE scene is that I could name a handful of bands, and not only would all of them be killer, but they would all sound different. I have a ton of respect for the sense of community and the amount of diversity.I would say that does make it advantageous to base our project here because we never play the same kind of show twice, which prevents things from getting stale and it shows how open everyone is to new types of art. Shoutouts to The Most, Cheem, Queen Moo, Zanders, Crag Mask, The Planet You, Jelani Sei, El Americano, Pet Jail, Peaer, Oh Adeona, The Refectory and Pat Stone and the Dirty Boots.
ID: How do you envision Ourselves, Alone, say, 5 or 10 years in the future?
MC: In the short term, I would like to see Ourselves, Alone touring in support of our next album. If we could make enough money to break even so that we can continue doing what we love, I’ll be happy.
In ten years, I want to be running a recording studio/repair shop with Joe, and still be playing music with Joe and Nick. And maybe tour Japan, or Europe, though if that all happens sooner, that’d be sweet too.
ID: Anything interesting about the band or individual musicians that is noteworthy?
MC: I think that what makes Ourselves, Alone interesting is that, unlike many other three piece bands in our genre, we are attempting to utilize more instruments. We didn’t do this with our first EP; though we wanted to, we just simply didn’t have the time. The songs would be strong on their own with just guitar, drums, and bass, but why stay limited to just that? We haven’t seen too many bands try string and wind arrangements with math rock, aside from maybe He Was Eaten By Owls. I think our next album is going to be a game changer because of the atypical compositions. As for anything noteworthy about us individually, I used to play in a band named Arms to the Trees, Joe used to play in a djent band named Sons of Atlas, and Nick played in Father Ocean.
NR: It is interesting to note that Nick and Mike met through their current jobs as classroom aids. Mike saw Nick’s Don Caballero shirt at a new staff orientation, and the rest is history.
So there you have it… be sure to look for a new and diverse record from Ourselves, Alone soon, and keep an eye out for any shows coming up in the northeast this summer! Visit the band on their website, Bandcamp, and Facebook!
OURSELVES, ALONE IS:
Michael Cueto – guitars
Nick Restivo – drums
Joe Rousseau – bass