Interview by Kerri O’Malley of Babe Squad
Fuck everything. You’ve probably never heard the phrase sang more sweetly or in as many different ways as you will when you listen to Diet Cig. Fuck shower curtains. Fuck slow dancing. Fuck acting cool. Fuck your scene. Fuck your ivy league sweater.
Diet Cig is down to do away with it all, and as anyone who’s employed the “fuck it” philosophy can tell you, it’s incredibly freeing. With that attitude, you can cast away the hand-me-down expectations of your parents, your peers, and even the ones you created for yourself. And instead, you can just fucking dance.
Diet Cig’s infectious negging of the deserving, honest tales of growing up, and ability to incite a dance party anytime, anywhere have rocketed the band from their first DIY show in New Paltz, NY to venues throughout the country and mainstream media headlines in less than a year. Singer, guitarist, and lyricist Alex Luciano, a mere 20 years old, taps into the anxious part of all of us that is still growing up, while giving us the excuse to let go that we all need. With drummer Noah Bowman amping up the energy, the duo turns each open-hearted tune into a hilarious, life-affirming boogie.
As the band’s incredible 2015 came to a close, just before starting a UK tour, DOJO caught up with Alex to talk group catharsis, Diet Cig’s most adorable fan, the pressures of getting big, and how they shake, shake, shake it off.
You and Noah have a “meet cute” story, right?
Yeah, although I feel like it gets less cute every time I tell it. [Laughs] Noah was playing a DIY show in New Paltz at my friend’s house. I guess I was drunk or something, and I went up to him in the middle of his set and asked him for a lighter. He didn’t have one, but he handed me a bottle of wine instead that was, like, super-gross. [Laughs] I found him again later in the night and convinced him that I would make him a music video because I was doing digital media production in college at that point. I got his number, and we hung out the rest of the night. We started hanging out more after that, and that’s how the idea of being in a band started for me—hanging out with him and his band.
Now, I feel like we’re constantly together, always and forever. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had in my life. I feel super-lucky to have casually run into him because we had, like, no mutual friends. It was so random that we met that night.
What made you keep hanging after you first met? Do you have other stuff in common aside from music?
We don’t have that many interest or hobbies that are the same. Noah loves NBA basketball, and I have never watched it in my life. I’m really into crafting—I do a lot of embroidery and sewing and painting—and he is not interested in that at all. [Laughs] But our brains kind of work the same way. I feel like I can read his mind sometimes. And we’re both trying to have the most fun possible—I think that’s really the thing in common that brought us together. We were both always trying to go find something fun to do. You’ve got to have a partner in crime.
Is it mind-blowing and nerve-wracking to see Diet Cig in Rolling Stone, SPIN, NPR? Has the hype changed anything?
It is definitely getting a little scarier, just because expectations get higher. And it’s very different, I’m realizing, writing when you know people are going to listen. We didn’t really think about too much about the first songs we wrote. We just did it. Now that we know people are going to be listening, we’re a little more conscious of what we’re writing. There’s a level of pressure, but I think we’re thriving on it. We’re writing our new record now, and we’re so excited about it. I think it’s going to be our best songs ever. Not that we have that many out already! [Laughs]
What’s one of the best reactions you’ve gotten to your music?
There’s this young girl—she just turned ten—that loved our music so much. She would post covers of our songs online. It was the most amazing feeling to see her be inspired to make music because she liked our songs. We got to meet her at CMJ this year at our all-ages show at Palisades. We got dinner with her and got to chit-chat and hang. It was so surreal to see that we had made this impact on someone that was so young, like my brother’s age. [Laughs]
The press and stuff, like you were saying, that’s not the fulfilling part. The most fulfilling and satisfying thing about playing music is meeting these people and seeing everyone who connected with all of the random stuff I had to say. It’s like, “You get me, and I apparently get you.”
You’re able to make connections because your lyrics are so personal, but that also means you had to be very vulnerable. What have you learned about putting yourself out there through releasing the EP?
This whole thing has definitely made me feel a lot less alone. Meeting people who share the sentiments that I am screaming all sweaty on stage. [Laughs] It’s really validating, feeling that there are other people out there with the same struggle…or not even struggle, but just the goofy life bullshit that we all have to deal with. It’s been really exciting meeting a lot of people who share these feelings that I don’t think I would have expressed if it weren’t through these songs.
At our shows, every time I play one of those songs, it’s a cathartic experience, and I have all of these people with me, sharing it. Honestly, it’s better than therapy! [Laughs] I hope that people feel that catharsis in the audience, too. I like to have that connection where it’s like, we’re all just getting through this shit right now…and dancing our asses off! [Laughs]
As you work on your new album, is there shit you’re going through now that’s driving new, potentially different lyrics?
Definitely. I’ve kind of worked through my issues with the old songs. Like, I have a song, “Dinner Date,” where I sing about my dad, and through that song, I’ve come to terms with that relationship. The next songs, I think, are going to be similar in that they’re going to be me expressing my feelings about existing as, like, this female blob [laughs] growing up, trying to be the best that I can be—which is something I think a lot of people can relate to. We all have to come to terms with, like, “Who am I? How am I going to be the best at what I want to do? How am I going to even figure out what I want to do?”
But I definitely feel like I grew up a lot in 2015, and now, coming into 2016, I feel like I made it through. Those songs made me feel like I could let go of that adolescent growing-up period. I’m a 20-something now. I definitely am a weird kid who’s still growing up, but it’s a whole new set of anxieties, so it’s going to change because of that. But I think the new album will still be the same honest narrative of weird stuff that happens.
Speaking of changes, you recently moved to Brooklyn. How’s that been?
It’s weird. It’s really weird! I’ve never lived in a city before. Noah and I are still trying to find our city legs. It’s weird not having space to do stuff. I definitely don’t think I’ll live in a city forever. But it’s been exciting because there’s so much amazing music in Brooklyn right now. I feel like we’re at the epicenter of a movement of music and people that I’m just so honored to share a scene with. That has been the saving grace because I swear…my room is so small, and I’m the kind of person that’s like, “I want chickens in my yard!” But you don’t get that in Brooklyn. [Laughs]
Brooklyn doesn’t make you scene sick?
I mean, I live in Williamsburg, right off the Bedford stop, so I literally live in the biggest hipster capital of Brooklyn, to the point where there are people walking around giving tours in my neighborhood. It’s so ridiculous. But honestly, it’s less contrived and more fun and welcoming than I expected it to be, based on all of the stereotypes of Brooklyn. There’s always going to be people that are too cool to dance at shows and who just come because they heard it’s cool, but at the same time, there are a lot of people who are there because they love music so much. They just want to come and be a part of something bigger than they are. That really surprised me when we first moved here and started spending more time here.
I love how pro-dancing you guys are! How do you guys get the party started at shows? Is it ever tough to do?
You do play some shows where it’s like, “Oh my god. Literally no one’s moving. They’re all just staring at us. What’s going on?” So this year, we started having the sound person play “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift as we’re setting up and getting ready to go. We make everybody dance, and I dance, and Noah dances, and we all just kind of goofy-dance for two minutes to shake off the awkwardness of starting the dance party. People love it because everyone fucking knows that song! Everyone can dance to that song!
At our shows, we just dance a lot. Noah’s behind the kit, but I am all over the place. I feel like if I’m dancing a lot and having fun, then it will be contagious and everyone else will want to dance and have fun. It’s like, why else are you going to the show? I can understand if people don’t want to dance at Sufjan or something, but this is a rock show!
It seems like you guys are having a fucking ball. How do you keep it fun for the two of you?
That’s kind of our whole thing. We started this as a fun project. We’ve really made it a point, even after it became more of a real thing, to keep it fun. We go out of our way to really make sure that we’re having fun first, and then everything else second because we are so lucky to be able to be in a band. We feel obligated to take advantage of how fucking fun it can be. Like, we can do anything! This isn’t a 9-to-5 job. We have jobs. This has to be fun. [Laughs]
What are your 9-to-5 jobs?
Noah’s kind of a construction-y, freelance, housepainter kind of guy. That’s why his pants are always covered in paint. Everyone always asks him about that, if he bought them like that. He paints houses and apartments and stuff, and since I moved to Brooklyn, I have been bartending, which…is fun, but it’s tough to work overnight for twelve hours. I’ve only ever worked daytimes before. But I get to meet a lot of people.
How close are you guys to making the band your job?
We’re on our way to doing that for sure. We actually just got a business account at the bank. We are an LLC now, which is pretty crazy. I think that makes me a business owner. [Laughs] So I can put that on my resume. We’re definitely making the moves to make this a real job, but for the moment, it’s kind of a weird cross between a hobby and possibly a future career. We’re going to just keep doing it until we can’t anymore.
Reflecting back on this past year, what was the best moment you had?
Honestly, 2015 was the craziest year of my life. One of the biggest highlights was before we did our cross-country tour. We left New York in early July, and our tour didn’t start until we got to Seattle on September 1st, so we took this massive road trip. It was the quintessential post-college, cheesy, National Park, everything-ever road trip. But it was so incredible, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for the band.
What was one of the worst moments you had this year?
Touring is the best thing ever, but it’s also the worst thing ever. I have my highest highs and lowest lows on tour. We had our car broken into in Utah and had to drive eight hours with no window on our passenger side. We were on the highway, going 80 miles an hour, with a piece of plastic on the window. It was so deafeningly loud. It was the worst eight hours of my entire existence. Then, we got to Denver and played probably the worst show we’ve ever played because we were so dead from this horrible experience. That sucked so much. But we had to get back in the car and go to the next show, you know? That’s the only way we ever could’ve gotten past that—just to keep going. That was very hard emotionally and physically—that whole tour. But it was also the best part of my year and my life.
What are you most looking forward to this year? What big ideas do you have for 2016?
I have a lot of big ideas for this year that I’m super-stoked on. Gear-wise, I really want to have a wireless guitar set-up because I move around so much. I’m constantly yanking my cords out by accident because I’m in the crowd and my cord doesn’t reach far enough or I get tangled in it jumping around. I really want to be untethered by my cords and really be able to be my most rock-and-roll self. [Laughs]
Also, this record that’s coming out this year, we’re just putting everything into making it the best thing it can be because you can only have one first record! I want it to be crazy. I want it to have inserts and, like, a fuzzy cover. I just want it to be the best and the funniest and the fuzziest. [Laughs]
It’s crazy that it’s your first full-length record. Your story is such a whirlwind!
It’s pretty crazy! This year has been so incredible and generous to us. I can’t even wait to put out a full record because who knows what will happen next?