Throwaway Style: Power Strip's Trip Through the Metaphysical Wilderness

Throwaway Style, Features, Local Music
Martin Douglas
photo by Martin Douglas

Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to spotlighting the artists of the Pacific Northwest music scene through the age-old practice of longform feature writing. Whether it’s an influential (or overlooked) band or solo artist from the past, someone currently making waves in their community (or someone overlooked making great music under everybody’s nose), or a brand new act poised to bring the scene into the future; this space celebrates the community of musicians that makes the Pacific Northwest one of a kind, every month from KEXP. 

In this month’s column, KEXP Staff Reporter Martin Douglas spends an afternoon with Power Strip, the musical alias of Nellie Albertson. Albertson has been an instrumental figure in Seattle’s DIY scene, and through Power Strip, they explore the depths of their subconscious through engrossing, largely improvised experimental music. Martin speaks to Albertson about South King County, finding inspiration at the Evergreen State College, and much more.

At this point in my life, I’ve seen more parts of America than I haven’t seen. And it’s with this experience that I can assuredly attest to the opinion that when it’s warm and sunny, there’s not a region in this country more gorgeous than Western Washington. 

The full, green trees. The dry heat. Even in the concrete playground of Seattle Center, the mist from its famous fountain will hit you just right and you’ll fleetingly forget the oppressive cost of living and the passive-aggressive terror of this blessed/cursed city. The gentleman who always busks on the footpath on the way to Fifth Avenue will play “Hotline Bling” or “Wrecking Ball” between “I’m Waiting for the Man” and a cut from Pixies’ Doolittle and you’ll wonder if the former was written in the key of A-minor.

These are the days we grit our teeth through eight months or nine months of gray and drizzle for.

Instead of experiencing this lovely day only on the walk to and from the office, Nellie Albertson and I are killing time between lunch and our proper interview. Partly because the recording booth is currently booked, but who really needs an excuse to be outside in Seattle on an absurdly nice afternoon? 

It’s actually pretty fitting, because certain compositions from Nothing Yet (the recent masterpiece from Albertson’s recording project Power Strip) carries the allure of a blinding sun shining right in your face. As the literal sun does the same to Albertson and me as we shoot the shit on the patio atop Fisher Pavilion, we chat about Olympia — they attended the Evergreen State College. And me? I guess I never pass up a chance to chat about one of my favorite music communities ever created. At lunch, we talked about the thumping odyssey that is PALMSPRINGA, the new DoNormaal album, which was announced on the day of our interview and dropped two days after. (The album was produced entirely by Welp Disney, the pseudonym of Albertson’s partner Tony LaMothe.)

On the walk back around to KEXP (we took the long way to kill more time), we marveled at the creative wellspring that was the Seattle music scene from 2017-2019 (more on that later).

“We’ve been hanging out, kicking it for over two hours now,” I say as the recording starts. “Let’s just get into it." 


Photo by Junie Sankey


When I talk about regional identity in the Northwest, a lot of people fail to realize that there are about a dozen little pockets in the Salish Sea/Puget Sound region alone which have their own individual characteristics. Obviously, Tacoma and Seattle are vastly different communities, but Snohomish County and King County’s Eastside contain a vibe unique to themselves; as does Southeastern Pierce County, the Olympic Peninsula, JBLM, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

South King County is almost a world unto itself situated in the center of Western Washington’s urban landscape. Renton, demographically, is one of the most racially diverse cities in the area. Auburn is largely white and the meeting ground for many from the surrounding rural areas (and anyone who doesn’t want to drive to North Bend or Tulalip for some good outlet mall shopping). Kent and Des Moines are the twin cities of the area, joined by a road that connects one to the other. Nellie Albertson grew up in Kent, Washington.

“I actually feel nostalgic for Kent a lot of the time,” they tell me in the production room of KEXP. “I think South King County has its own thing going on; Kent and Auburn and Federal Way, they’re special to me. Obviously on the outside looking in, [they] can appear like highway towns or maybe suburban Seattle. It’s got a special pace it moves at.” 

Just like in my conversation with Bujemane, Albertson and I bond over Federal Way; on the face of it, a boring South King County suburb, but a place of historical diversity. In addition to Dash Point State Park (arguably the most popular state park in this urban/suburban sector of Washington), Downtown Federal Way has some of the best Asian dining in the state — over a dozen A+ restaurants in a six-block radius. (Don’t forget to check the strip malls.) 

“Kent is a very big city too,” Albertson says. “There’s a large population; it stretches a long territory. From Downtown Kent to Covington or Maple Valley, you’re stretching a fair distance there. I think it was a great place to grow up. It was nice being close to Seattle, but I definitely don’t consider myself from Seattle. It’s a very different experience from growing up in the city.” 

Albertson got into music at a very early age. They were five years old when their parents signed them up for piano lessons (“[which] I hated because I hated the structure,” a very telling quote considering where their musical path has taken them). “It was like, I almost immediately knew that I wasn’t as interested in the theory of [music] as I was the creativity behind it,” Albertson says.

There was also another big musical influence around the house: “My sister Jasmine [Writer’s Note: Yes, that is indeed Jasmine Albertson, former KEXP Editorial contributor] was in piano and played music and she would always be playing in the house.” Albertson the Younger acknowledges their older sister was way better at the piano than they were. This formative love of music the Albertson siblings shared at a young age can be attributed to their father, who played guitar — the one Nellie uses today, the amp too — and used to play improv games with his children. 

“We used to play this game where he would improv with our names and certain objects, and we would act it out. He would play the guitar and he’d be like, ‘Nellie turned into a turtle,’ and I would act out being a turtle.” 

As far as they know, Albertson’s father never played in bands as a young man; he got into music as a kid and would “shut himself in his room and play guitar all night.” This is the way Albertson started playing guitar too. As a teenager, being taught what guitar players often refer to as “farmer’s chords” by their father, and playing in their bedroom for hours on end.

Three chords are all you need to start playing songs on guitar, and these are the beginnings of most people who have ever played a song on the instrument (present company included). For Nellie Albertson, the guitar was their tool for musical expression, a means to explore the art form of being a musician, which wasn’t so much the case when they were taking piano lessons. 

“[On piano,] it always felt like I was learning other people’s craft, or learning how to play other people’s songs, or learning how to do something ‘right.’ And for some reason, with guitar, I could see how I could make it my own.” 

Photo by Trevor Williams

As Nellie was learning how to play guitar, elder sis Jasmine’s influence crept in again. As a youngster they were into mainstream pop-punk — they audibly cringe a little when referencing childhood favorites My Chemical Romance — but as they leaned into their teenage years and began to play guitar, the indie rock and alternative music of the era was their go-to music. Bright Eyes, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple. But their top favorite was Death Cab for Cutie, as they were for scores of Northwest teens at the time (and young adults like yours truly). Transatlanticism, Death Cab’s sweeping, grand fourth album, was the band’s breakout moment and certainly an era-defining album for anyone who loved it or Fox series The O.C. “If you ask me right now what my biggest musical inspirations are, I would not say Death Cab,” Albertson says. “But if we’re really stripping it back to the roots, I guess they are one of my bigger inspirations.” 

Death Cab for Cutie was a generational band for Pacific Northwest indie kids, and that’s whether or not you feel the glove compartment is inaccurately named. 

“I think something dawned on me where I was kind of wary about going to college and Evergreen reframed the idea of education for me.” 

There are few things more difficult when writing about the Olympia music scene, or the artist-bohemian-punk culture surrounding the city, than trying to omit the vast shadow the Evergreen State College casts on it. Many a budding anarchist, non-conformist overachiever, and art kid have been enticed by the legend of the school that famously doesn’t issue grades. Without Evergreen, I’d venture to guess the landscape of Olympia’s left-of-center (or outright experimental) ethos in their music and arts scenes would be barren or paved over entirely. Albertson agrees. “[Evergreen] took everything I thought I knew about the world and completely deconstructed it, and allowed me the space to rebuild it for myself.”

Both on and off the record, Albertson describes Evergreen as an art school, and I’d agree with that description whether students are pursuing a degree in the arts or not. If anything, the college proves by example that there is a little art in every approach to life. Albertson, the quintessential and literal definition of a “bedroom musician” at that point, was meeting people and making friends at Evergreen who had been in bands throughout high school, which opened Albertson’s mind to the possibilities of what they could do with music. From an education standpoint, having an environment where they were encouraged to tap into their creativity was particularly inspiring. “Evergreen reframed the idea of education for me, where it was really more about exploring myself and finding out what I was truly passionate about,” they say.

“Of course, the school is in the middle of the woods. So every day, going on walks in the woods and having that kind of environment around you — the moodiness of this thick, dark environment, that very artistic and creative environment — put me in an introspective state of mind, a very existential state of mind, that is ultimately what Power Strip came out of.”

Coming into the Evergreen State College, Albertson speaks on how they felt somewhat naive about the world compared to their classmates. But ultimately, the “deconstructionist and philosopher’s playground” environs of the school helped them unlock a sense of the person they truly were. Albertson specifically notes the structure of Evergreen inspiring the freedom to be themselves, along scores of like-minded “really inspired, artistic, freak weirdos.” 

Olympia gave Albertson the inspiration to begin the Power Strip project, but soon the town would lose its luster in their eyes. It’s far from the first time I’ve heard someone express this sentiment. Many erstwhile Evergreen students and members of Olympia’s music scene have split for different scenery, mostly due to the small town claustrophobia Washington’s capital city provides. Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna referred to Olympia as a “fishbowl” in her memoirs. Albertson found themselves tired of the Evergreen and Olympia social scenes, mentioning they began to retreat inward as they started recording Power Strip songs. 

“It started to feel very monotonous and dark,” Albertson tells me about their desire to leave Olympia. “There’s a weird sort of dark energy around the city that was a bit much for me.” The need for new scenery brought them back to South King County; this time, Maple Valley, where their mom was living at the time. With a little laugh, they acknowledged that it was the classic scenario of a person moving back in with their parents after college. It was only a handful of months before Albertson moved to Seattle for the first time, into a Belltown artist cooperative. 

Photo by Martin Douglas

“I was still only 22 at the time,” Albertson says. “And that was a very wild experience to be [from these] smaller towns and then [in my] first city-living experience, I’m in a co-housing situation with 30 other people.” 

Drowsy Demos, released in 2017, starts with the buzz of an amp and ends with a composition titled “Gettin’ Loked.” (Which, indicative of the time period, suggests the crazy inebriation from the once-banned alcoholic beverage Four Loko, but I forgot to ask.) Its ambient guitar explorations offer hints of Astoria-based Liz Harris (and her all-time-great Grouper project), but there are elements of guitar interplay that feels like a distant relative to the Northwest indie that was making waves here about 25 years ago; a little slowcore; a dash of twee. “They sound like exploration. They sound like play. They sound like tinkering. But they also sound like rage.” These are Albertson’s own words to describe Power Strip’s earliest recordings.

“A lot of the first songs that I had made, I literally just hit record,” they tell me. “The art of recording them was like a part of the composition of the song.” They were reluctant to write lyrics — just as they were slightly nervous to do this interview — out of fear of being prescriptive or offering definitive statements for what was fully intended to be an open-ended concept. Albertson first and foremost wants the music of Power Strip to feel impressionistic, so whoever listens to it can draw their own conclusions about what the song means or how it makes them feel. Which is why the clanging guitars in the aforementioned “Gettin’ Loked” can feel ecstatic or violent (or both), depending on who you ask. 

“The music was like an experiment with myself,” they say. “I felt that if I wrote lyrics to it, it would make the song about something, but for some reason that would take away meaning from it. As I’ve been experimenting [lately] with writing lyrics, it’s a new process. I was attempting to not place too much structure on myself, but through that, I was placing a structure on myself.” 

There is freedom in limitation and limitation in freedom. 

In this artist co-op, Albertson was once recording at about three or four in the morning and by the time they were done for the night, they had five songs completed. Without any manner of forethought, they uploaded the songs to Bandcamp. Within days, people were listening to Drowsy Demos. Within weeks, Albertson was “almost immediately forced into the scene, into playing shows and stuff.” 

A show at Café Racer proved to be the catalyst for a few things in Albertson’s life: It exposed Power Strip to an audience, it taught them how to play these songs live (and how to play live in general), and it led them to start booking shows at Racer’s original U District location at a flourishing time for Seattle’s underground music scene. “It’s such a big, big part of the Power Strip process,” Albertson says. “My experience of doing Power Strip is so, so connected with all these other bands and projects.” 

In the period that Albertson refers to (2017 to pre-pandemic 2020), I personally remember telling everyone who would listen that there were so many artists in Seattle that were so much better than so many of the bands who get signed nowadays. Power Strip was part of a scene of musically diverse but kindred-spirited artists and bands, like Black Ends, Rachaels Children, Flesh Produce, the artist formerly known as Guayaba — just to name a few. Albertson steadfastly includes these artists to be a part of the Power Strip story, by sheer inspiration, by “just getting on a stage and screaming at each other or whatever.” 

Albertson says, “A really powerful thing that happens, allowing yourself to take up space on a stage and have people watch you and encourage you. It’s a really special thing to have a community back that up and support you in the process. And I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to find that in Seattle.” 

Albertson shares with me the many occasions they would set up shows, working morning shifts, and then just hang out at the venue all day until the show started; sometimes being at the venue for 12 hours a day, nearly every day for months. “Even if I didn’t make music, I would still be at shows all the time,” they say. 

Around this period, I was dropped off in a vibrant musical community — not just the underground rock community, but the wildly overlooked rap scene, guided by artists like AJ Suede — and watched it bloom into a veritable forest. Our musical community as a whole was running and running… until it hit a brick wall in the form of a global health crisis. Since then, there has been something missing from the scene as a whole. Maybe it’s that bountiful landscape of thrilling, unpredictable, original artists all over the city thinning out and having been mostly replaced by a slew of pretty good rock bands and pop-rappers simping for airplay and bookings. But more than that, the momentum of the scene stalled.

Albertson felt it too. “From January to March [2020], I was on such a roll where I was playing shows and it didn’t even matter [what the show was}. I was just like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, all of it.’ And maybe that’s part of the reason why I look back on that era so fondly; it is representative of something we can’t get back, you know?”

Photo by Brittne Lunniss

In 2022, Albertson participated in the “Album in a Month Challenge,” organized by Brandi Diaz, the creative nucleus of garage-surf-soul-pop group Nada Rosa. Their contribution was titled No Breeze, a five-song release inspired by Neil Gaiman’s striking novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. In spite of the firm deadline, the album was made with a patient hand; evoking the glacial pace of Grouper (augmented by a striking clarity not usually of Liz Harris’s forte) and featuring diaphanous vocals harmonizing with themselves on loop like vintage Julianna Barwick. No Breeze was a profoundly emotional album and a deepening of Albertson’s musical talents. 

Some of the compositions from this January’s Nothing Yet date back to those halcyon days of 2019, extending to 2022. “I guess there was something intuitive in 2019 and 2020 where I was like, ‘It’s not time for these songs to be released yet,’” Albertson says. “And I held onto them and it felt right with this kind of concept. [It shows that] you could make two songs three years apart with totally different equipment that sound like they belong together, without even intentionally trying to do that.” 

The songs on Nothing Yet are meticulously layered; the EP showcases Albertson’s startling compositional prowess. Opener “Dreaming Materialized” features a world of life twinkling around Albertson’s vocals as they soar like they never have before. Closer “Hole” uses what sounds like a stock toy Casio rhythm for a percussive backdrop while spare melancholy emanating from the music fills the cavern of silence. “Fog Bath” feels like Horn of Plenty-era Grizzly Bear making way for a symphony of glowing synths. ”You’re a Delight” pierces through like the kind of sunshine that leaves your skin peeling for weeks. “After I had picked out the songs that would go together, I was listening back through them and asking myself, ‘What do they mean?,’” Albertson says.

Contradictions, conflictions, and paradoxes are the themes that came up for Albertson as they listened deeply to what these songs were trying to tell them. The songs themselves don’t act at cross-purposes to each other so much as show that different sides of a coin are still on the same coin. There is a challenge Albertson tries to create in their music; a confrontation. Somewhere in this thoughtful, talented human is a little bit of a trickster who gets a kick out of jarring their listeners. Albertsons says, “I like to create a space where people maybe will be closing their eyes and sitting down and feel[ing] like they’re getting to a place of relaxation, but then I can disrupt that; lure them to a space where I can destroy their expectations.” 

I suggest this is the duality of the Libra, as we share an astrological sun sign. They agree: “I want to be able to hold both sides of things. That’s the nature of Power Strip in itself; somehow a balance, but also a contradiction and a challenge at the same time.” 

Much in the tradition of jazz or certain strains of psychedelic rock music, Albertson doesn’t like to think too much about the songs —whether it’s regarding composition or concept — until they have been recorded. “I’m really interested in the ideas and the art speaking for themselves and almost being separate from me. I mean, it’s so incredibly personal, but i do think there is this weird thing where it’s a conversation I’m having with myself, but it’s also a conversation I’m having with…”

As Nellie Albertson trails off, they place their head in their hands. “Oh no, it’s getting too heady.” 

Throwaway Style’s Pacific Northwest Albums Roundup

Month after month, the Pacific Northwest runneth over with great new albums from bands within the region. This is our attempt to keep up by spotlighting albums from the past few weeks (and sometimes, giving ourselves the opportunity to admit we were late on some standout albums from the region). 

PREVIEW: Wild Powwers - Pop Hits and Total Bummers Vol. 5

They used to call themselves “post-grunge,” but mercifully realized that there’s nothing wrong with simply being a great rock band. Wild Powwers have been putting out great and woefully overlooked albums for the past decade, growing better and better with each passing full-length. Their great 2021 album What You Wanted set yet lofty another bar for the Seattle trio of Lara Hilgemann, Jordan Gomes, and Lupe Flores, and this, this fifth album, absolutely clears it with ease. From the first seconds of opener “Looper” (sadly not a song about the underrated 2012 movie of the same name), it’s clear the melodic sensibilities of the group have deepened even more and the heft of their music can now only be measured at weigh stations off the freeway. Hilgemann scales to unprecedented heights on songs like “Wild Reprise,” and there’s not a vocal melody on the entire set that fails to burrow into your head. And whether it’s a pop-leaning banger like “Sam’s Song” or rippers like “Gossamer,” the rhythm section of Gomes and Flores remains a pummeling entity. There seems to be an entire generation of bands trying to bring alternative rock back, but they’ll all have to fall in line between the longtime scene leaders of that sound.


DoNormaal & Welp Disney - PALMSPRINGA

The prodigal Third Daughter has finally returned. It has been almost exactly seven years since DoNormaal dropped the album that absolutely changed the landscape of Seattle’s rap scene. And by the thunderous beats and slightly off-kilter samples of her surprise new full-length PALMSPRINGA, she has plans to stay way ahead of the curve. Collaborating with Seattle DIY/experimental music scene stalwart Welp Disney, the soundscapes step to the left of anything resembling traditional hip-hop, and for the better; even songs that skew toward the center of rap (“DISNEYLAND,” “PALLADIUM”) feel beamed in from out of this world. And DoNormaal herself crafts a Homeric epic of self-exploration; surveying broken friendships, lack of motivation, and a question: “Do you believe in me?” Judging by the rapturous reception from the city in the days since PALMSPRINGA was released, that’s going to have to be a resounding yes.

Chong the Nomad - DO WE MAKE OF THIS?

Ah, it feels like just yesterday I spoke with Alda Agustiano, better known by her main stage barnstorming alias Chong the Nomad, in the waning days of pandemic lockdown — and pressed her about when she was finally gonna drop an album. (Spoiler alert before you click the link to our interview: It was nearly three years ago.) At long last, Augstiano’s full-length masterpiece has arrived, replete with everything that has captured the hearts of longtime fans of her sonically rich singles and undeniable live show: glitchy, immersive soundscapes; avant-dance grooves; a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sample lifted from the immortal fighting game series Street Fighter; enough staccato notes to make you think you’re studying morse code or a dox matrix; and one absolutely stunning R&B ballad (closer “Before It Checks Out”). We’ve been waiting for so long that this moment could have passed with a whimper, but DO WE MAKE OF THIS? truly feels like a graduation for someone who was once only the Pacific Northwest’s greatest singles artist. Now there are no qualifiers to her greatness.

LATE PASS: Milc & Televangel - Extra Phish

The creative partnership between Portland league champ MC Milc and West Coast underground rap legend Televangel is rife with excellent LPs followed by can’t-miss companion pieces. To be paired with last year’s great The Fish that Saved Portland is an eight-song EP which melds the former Blue Sky Black Death producer’s neck-snapping compositions (every rapper should be nicking the beat for “Moon Rising Pisces” and kicking freestyles over it) with the seasoned rapper’s typically observant, lifestyle-focused, punchline-packed verses (check: the Jay-Z-inspired lyrical exercise “Thirty-Three 3’s, “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” and “The Last Fish”). Milc raps that he’s not trippin’ when people don’t give him his props, but I’ll say those people fell off a cliff if they’re still sleeping on NE Alberta’s favorite rappin’-ass white boy. 

Related News & Reviews

Throwaway Style Features Interviews Local Music

Throwaway Style: Playtime (and Cultural Dread) with Rachaels Children

Martin Douglas has witnessed the future of Seattle's punk scene and spoke to its prinicpal songwriters.

Read More
Throwaway Style Local Music

Throwaway Style: Grouper and the Comfort in Being Sad (Part II)

Music is more often than not the soundtrack to – and relief from – some of the hardest moments in our lives. Martin Douglas describes how listening to Grouper got him through a very tough decade.

Read More
Throwaway Style Local Music

Throwaway Style: DoNormaal's Omnipresence and the Ascent of the Third Daughter

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it's a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that's been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the …

Read More