Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Miele are Cedric Lamour, Ray Cohen, Melissa Lee Nilles and Joseph Spilsbury. (Photo: Austin Su)

The opening notes of “Anxious Ghost,” the single premiered Wednesday by alternative band Miele, could take you anywhere, a pleasant uncertainty that lasts for all of about three seconds.

That’s when a second, more urgent guitar kicks in, then drums and vocalist Melissa Lee Nilles, and within 13 seconds it’s pretty clear that you won’t necessarily like where you’re being taken, but everything’s going too fast to get out.

Miele brings you first around the corner, where Mistress Misery waits, then hustles you home to safety, which isn’t safe at all: It’s where Nilles’ lyrics reveal another kind of anxiety – the kind comfortable enough to butter your toast before swallowing your soul.

Relax. Miele is made up of mental health and special education pros, and by the far gentler end of the song everything feels pretty okay. 

“The way I think about things as a musician, as an artist, as a writer, I like to personify things. And in work I do with clients, I also have people personify emotions or internal experiences,” said Nilles, who wrote every song but one on “Transience,” the quartet’s upcoming full-length, kickstarted album. One inspiration was Ruth Gendler’s “The Book of Qualities,”  where the author imagines characteristics and emotions as though they were people. “In her book, anxiety is also kind of lurking and is something that sneaks into the house. It sneaks up on me too, sometimes when I’m alone.”

Bandmates Joseph Spilsbury, Cedric Lamour and Ray Cohen had questions about the lyrics, from the identity of Mistress Misery to the reasoning behind the buttered toast and grungy, organ-layered chorus, which actually slows down for the words: “Now I’m moving at light speed / Just to catch up with me.” Nilles also got good response from the impassioned way she calls out when anxieties might appear: turning points when it’s not clear what to do, like getting fired or graduating from college. “This is one song where everybody was thinking about lyrics and meaning, though the beginning is a little more straightforward in terms of ‘You haven’t got a plan / You haven’t got a fucking clue’ – that’s Joe’s favorite song lyric that I’ve ever written, actually, which is funny to me,” Nilles said.

Fast and slow at the same time, dark but hopeful, resonant but something of a riddle, the lyrics also contain a section springing from a surprising source: 

“All you can do / is choose and follow
Follow through / All you can do”

“The verses were inspired almost completely by ‘The Lord of the Rings!’ Where Frodo Baggins and Gandalf are talking and Gandalf says something like, ‘All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that’s given us,’” Nilles said. “I’m a huge ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan.”

Given band’s background and lyrics, Nilles is used to the idea that fans are more likely to want to talk about emotional health than Middle Earth. “I’m pretty used to having heavy conversations, I have them every day,” she said. “So if someone came up to me and said, ‘I really like your stuff and have been dealing with anxiety for my whole life,’ I’d say, ‘Cool, we’ll talk about it’ … the part of me that works in that field feels like destigmatizing things.”

“There was a girl in the audience at our last show at Club Bohemia, below the Cantab Lounge – it was a pretty fun show, and she was screaming her head off after every song, to the point it got a little crazy. It’s nice when people give us applause and are really excited, but this was on another level,” Nilles said. “I talked with her afterward and she said, ‘Yeah, there was something in me that was just super moved by the words and those experiences. Those are things I relate to.’ She had performed earlier that night and definitely seemed to be struggling with some performance anxiety. I didn’t want to make any assumptions, but she did disclose stuff about that anxiety.”

What Miele performed that night “felt validating,” she said. “It was not something that made her feel bad, or sad. It was cathartic.”

Miele’s website is here.