Photos by Nick Grennon.
For the record, if you ever find yourself writing a song about, oh I don’t know, being sixteen and having sex with your boyfriend who happens to have the same name as you, and how weird it is to shout out your own name in the throws of passion, and then you make that song the opener on your awesome debut long player, Swear I’m Good At This, then Diet Cig have some words of warning for you.
“Oh god, I remember the first time she sang it,” Drummer Noah Bowman laughs down the line to us from their Brooklyn apartment, “And her mom was in the front row…” Oh, but it gets worse. “I have a little sister, she’s 14,” Alex Luciano, the guitar-swinging vocalist half of our all time favourite slop-pop duo interjects, audibly cringing. “And she ran into the boy that I wrote the song about with my mom, in a store in our hometown. She was like, ‘wait, mom, that’s Alex? Did Alex write that about him?’ And my mom was like, ‘yeah, shut up’. My mom had to stop her from physically going up to him and being like, ‘did you know that my sister wrote a song about having sex with you?'” Didn’t he already know about it? “I don’t know if he knows. I’m so sorry if he found out by unnecessary yelling in the store…”
“It’s okay to feel your feelings, it’s okay to shout them from the rooftops.”
Protagonists discovering that they’ve been immortalised in song is something that they’ll need to get used to, as we suspect the new album’s going to bring Diet Cig even more notoriety. It naturally treads a similar path to 2015’s Over Easy, the EP that first brought the band to everyone’s attention. Once again, it’s an incredibly intimate affair; listening to it feels a bit like reading someone’s diary through a shimmering punk-pop gauze. “I definitely think it’s a lot easier to write your feelings towards someone in a song.” Alex confesses, “But then it’s also like, oh shit, what if they hear it? But I kinda hope they do, because I kinda wish I’d said it. Like, ‘Harvard’ [from Over Easy] is about a guy and I never told him those feelings. But then I wrote the song about it, and it was kinda cathartic, without having to have the confrontation. If he heard it, that’s fine. Making it into art, making it into something that you feel happy about, that’s even better than telling them to fuck off.”
Diet Cig have already honed their skills as one of the most boisterous bands on the live circuit; as anyone who caught any of their 2016 UK shows can attest, it’s almost physically impossible to leave one of their shows without a grin so wide it genuinely makes your cheeks hurt. But how much of that is down to their massive stage presence, and how do you even start to translate that on to a record? Diet Cig admit that was a bit of a challenge at first. “We had to get back used to being in the studio. The idea of recording, and how different it is, but also keep up that energy.” Noah explains, “We just had to remind ourselves that we’re playing these songs that we love, and they’re fun, and have a fun time recording them.” “We’d played them live so much, and there’s only so much we can do live,” Alex agrees, “It was good to go into the studio and be like, what can we add on to this song? We can do anything now! It was fun to be able to expand and try out some new stuff.” “Yeah,” Noah concurs, “because we could always delete that take, or mute it, or try something a hundred times and not go with it, and no one will ever know.”
“There were so many wacky things that we tried that we just deleted.” Alex explains, “You can just be goofy about it. See what works.”
What they have left on the album does brilliantly capture all that pent up live energy, whilst simultaneously wearing a big, big heart on its sleeve. From the rollicking ‘Link In Bio’, with the stunning moment towards the end where it softens, just as Alex resolutely intones that she won’t be told “to calm down”, to the intricate longing of ‘Apricot’. There’s the loneliness of being sick of being your own best friend on ‘Barf Day’, coupled with the reassurance during ‘Maid of the Mist’ that everything is going to be okay in the end. Diet Cig seem to effortlessly cover the gamut of feelings that you’ve almost certainly had, or will have, at some point in your life, but maybe can’t articulate, all the while underpinning them with blistering indie-pop guitars and urgent drums. And that’s the genius of Swear I’m Good At This, how instantly recognisable it all feels, how it perfectly blazes through our transitions into adulthood.
“There’s a lot of emotions, from really angry to really happy to, like, sad, and everywhere in between.” Alex confirms, “I feel like one of the biggest themes that accompanies the whole record is that it’s okay to feel your feelings, it’s okay to shout them from the rooftops. If you’re a femme person; you’re not being over-dramatic, sassy, or crazy or whatever. Your feelings are valid. No one should be able to tell you that you can’t feel them. I feel that women are told that only certain feelings are okay, and other ones make them look bad. And it’s okay to feel and be loud and be crazy, and also to empathise with their friends when they’re also being loud and crazy or whatever. Empathising with people, and including people and being aware of other’s feelings, and talking about your feelings is way more punk than shoving someone at a show, or being aggressive, I think. I just really hope this can make someone else feel like, ‘oh my god, someone else is feeling like I do. My feelings are valid too’. I just hope that this record can make people feel less alone in the world.”