When the coronavirus hit, it was just one in a series of difficulties that befell Miranova singer and guitarist Alex Douglas over a stretch of months starting in March 2020. In addition to adjusting to pandemic life, the musician split with his longtime partner, had surgery to repair a deviated septum, moved from his residence of six years and then flipped his bike while riding, dislocating his shoulder in the process.
“And there was a lot of downtime because I had to recover from the surgery, and then I had to recover from the bike accident. I could still somewhat play guitar, but between [healing] and the pandemic, I literally couldn’t do anything else,” said Douglas, who was also adjusting to the reality of being on his own. “So, in the middle of quarantine, all of a sudden I’m completely by myself, and I can’t go anywhere or do anything, or see any friends. I couldn’t do any of those things you normally would to get over a relationship.”
As he had in the past, Douglas turned to music, penning a series of tunes that started off shattered (the storm cloud-laden “Hell”) before gradually finding their footing. The resultant album, What Now?, traces this arc, playing less as a breakup record than an accounting of how to rebuild in the wake of personal tragedy. Witness “I Am Different Now,” which is presented in two different forms. The first, dubbed “Side A,” falls earlier in the recording and is woozier and more downtempo, reflective of those early days when Douglas was still picking up the pieces. A few tracks later, the musician revisits the song with “Side B,” a more confident, muscular turn that captures a newly discovered confidence.
“One thing that I really tried to do was emphasize the steps that you take to come back from something, or at least start looking forward in your life,” said Douglas, who will celebrate the new record with a release show at Rumba Cafe on Friday, Dec. 9, alongside openers Cliffs and Luke Bollheimer. “I mean, there are definitely songs about sitting in your grief. … But, to me, the most important songs on the record are about understanding yourself and finding those things that help you move on.”
As the album progresses, Douglas moves through the stages of grief, progressing from depression and bargaining – “I just want to see the light,” he sings on “Light” – to something approaching acceptance. “I’m searching for some meaning,” he offers on “Lamb,” which falls near the close of the record and sketches a loose way forward.
While the record trades in some heavy themes, it never feels musically bogged down. Indeed, even those songs where Douglas nurses his wounds – witness “Work Week,” which finds the singer drunk on a Tuesday, desperate to claw his way to the weekend – move with swagger, the instrumentation driving the music forward even as his words signal retreat.
Douglas ascribed part of this to the contributions of drummer/pianist Chris Price, who collaborated on early versions of the songs and helped shift the frontman’s understanding of what the record could be.
“His ideas really changed how I thought about the songs,” said Douglas, who will be joined onstage for the release show by Price, guitarist Scott Brown, bass guitarist Pete Mendenhall and keyboardist Brian Baker. “For example, on ‘Lights,’ I was going for a downtempo … more somber-sounding song, and then [Price] wrote this drum part that made it sound orchestral and big.”
Douglas said a big part of arriving at What Now? included expanding upon the idea of what Miranova could be as a band. Going into writing, the singer said he had a musical expectation of the group, and he initially believed the new songs didn’t fit the mold. For a time, he even toyed with the idea of releasing the album under the name Douglas, owing to the more personal nature of the material.
“I think going into the pandemic, I had an idea that the band was always going to be a certain thing,” said Douglas, who broadened Miranova's traditional indie rock palette here, incorporating horns and piano. “But writing songs in isolation gave me the opportunity to not just stay with one genre, and to write whatever songs felt right for me. And I think that’s something I’m going to continue to carry forward.”
While Douglas is optimistic about the future, he's not quite done with the past, cognizant that performing these new songs in concert will require him to revisit a headspace that he's eager to leave behind. At the same time, the musician has no regrets about how things have unfolded over the last few years, accepting that the positive changes he's viewed within himself couldn't have taken place any other way.
“Despite having to relive these moments in time, which can be difficult, there are also lessons in there that are important for me,” Douglas said. “I’m glad I wrote this album, and I’m glad I went through those experiences. Ultimately, I think I came out all the better for it.”