Diet Cig still smells okay.
It’s only the second day of tour, after all, meaning the duo is freshly showered and the majority of the members' T-shirts are clean. But, in keeping with their self-described slop-pop aesthetic, they’re taking the interview in the ever-so glamourous parking lot of a Walmart in Maryland.
“We’re very sloppy,” says frontwoman Alex Luciano. She’s referring to the duo’s music, its wildly energetic live shows and all-around modus operandi. That’s not to say that Diet Cig is bad, only that laser-sharp precision, mind-scrambling melodies and coded lyrics are not part of the equation. For Diet Cig, the best songs are the honest ones, and the best shows are those that prioritize energy over technical prowess.
Adding to the duo’s slop-pop sound is Luciano’s relative newness to the guitar. “I knew probably four or five chords when we started playing,” she says. “I only now feel like I’m scratching the surface.”
Same goes for singing, and for playing Diet Cig’s songs as she intended them to be played. After quitting their day jobs, Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman spent the past eighteen months gigging in order to learn how to play as a unit. “I only really figured out how to sing our songs this year,” Luciano says. “It was a lot of us just playing and playing and playing and playing.”
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This is, somewhat remarkably, Luciano’s first band. Bowman had previously logged hours as part of Earl Boykins, and the pair met at one of his gigs with his former band. Inspired by fellow East Coast bands Frankie Cosmos and Radiator Hospital and drawn to the DIY spirit and authentic lyricism of the upstate New York scene, Luciano set out to write intimate, straightforward rock songs with plenty of pop sensibilities. Bowman joined to fill in the rhythm, and they released their first EP, Over Easy, in February 2015.
A seven-inch, "Sleep Talk/Dinner Date," would follow in September, and the two were stunned by the enthusiastic response – especially given the absence of a full album. It’s in the works, however, and growing hype, enthusiastic fans and their own hefty ambitions have created an interesting climate under which to write and record. “The only real pressure is within ourselves,” says Luciano. “We want to make something we love and are proud of. We have a specific thing we’re looking for. It’s not even something you can name.”
“If we went with every song we’ve ever written, we’d probably have a record out,” adds Bowman.
In the meantime, they’re touring on the back of the EP and the seven-inch, the latter featuring a photo of Luciano’s twelve-year-old sister on the cover. Luciano recalls the story of how her sister excitedly bragged to her fellow middle-school students that her face was on iTunes after Diet Cig released the split, then cites her as an unlikely inspiration. “She’s a little weirdo,” says Luciano with a laugh. “Her confidence makes me so inspired to do my own thing no matter what. She doesn’t give a fuck. And she’s only twelve!”
It’s confidence Luciano needs to keep writing the emotionally charged, authentic pop songs she’s after. It’s a classic write-what-you-know scenario, though Luciano’s confessionals come with a side of catharsis. She describes concerts as spaces prime for empathy and catharsis, and pop songs as artworks in which it’s permitted to feel worse than okay. And if the result of being radically honest about slogging through the trenches of life comes out a bit funny, then all the better.
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“My honesty is really the only way I really know how to express what happens to me. I’m like, this is what’s happening, and the situations are hilarious. The honesty is enough for me to be like, ‘I can laugh about this,’” she says.
Since moving to Brooklyn last October and achieving an initial goal of going to Disney World as a band, Diet Cig’s endgame is now a mix of sky-high ambition and sheer enjoyment. “This is a fun project, but at the same time, I want to hang out with Barack Obama because he likes Diet Cig,” laughs Luciano.
Until they meet the commander in chief, however, Luciano and Bowman are happy to keep working on their debut album and enjoy the day-to-day realities of playing music. “We want to keep playing and having fun as long as it’s fun,” says Bowman. “If we’re enjoying it, that’s all that matters.”
Diet Cig performs at Riot Fest on Friday, September 2, and Saturday, September 3.