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Interview: Diet Cig

8 July 2020

After taking a year off from a busy road schedule, the New York two-piece Diet Cig were ready to get back out there with their new album Do You Wonder About Me? The follow up to their debut focuses heavily on mental health and knowing your self worth, and they were excited to share it with their fans until COVID-19 caused them to make some major changes.

Singer and guitarist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman spoke from their home in New York.

Your newest album came out two months ago at the peak of COVID here in the U.S., how has that impacted the release of Do You Wonder About Me?

Alex: Oh my gosh. It changed everything we had planned, it really kind of forced us to be creative with our announcement cycle. We got to do a lot of fun stuff like we had a virtual album listening party with a little red carpet moment. We ended up, because we couldn’t shoot one of our music videos that was supposed to be like a dance-based music video, we just hired that video choreographer to choreograph a TikTok dance challenge for us that we could do from our house. So, we had a lot of pivoting moments like we can’t go on tour, we can’t shoot our music videos. What are we gonna do? So we definitely had a lot of fun trying to figure out how do we do this now.

Noah: Yeah, and also going into doing some live streams and trying to figure out how to translate our songs that are usually big and loud and upbeat with a lot of energy, and then trying to bring that to just playing in front of our phone on Instagram, so that was definitely a bit of a challenge that I think we’re starting to get a grove. I actually just got a Roland drum pad and I’m pretty excited to do the next live stream at the end of this month.

You’re definitely a high energy band, for sure. I’ve seen you a few times come through Austin for South by Southwest and things like that. How has that changed for your playing now that you can’t really feed off the energy of the crowd?

Alex: It’s been definitely tough because I feel like at our shows we really engage with the crowd a lot and get a lot of energy from them, so it has been weird. We’re just reading the comments and everyone is like, “yeah this rules” and we’re trying to get that same level of gratification from just that or like a little heart emoji or something has been a little underwhelming, but we’re getting used to it.

Noah: Yeah, the first couple of times after we played a song it’s just like the sounds of our apartment and it’s dead silent and it’s like alright on to the next one.

Alex: Our fans have been so sweet. We had a lot of fans who would watch all of them and we would see them in the comments, and it was kind of that feeling when you see them at a show and they would then travel to the next city to see you and you see them at of couple of shows and you’re like wow and you’re so grateful that they’re so excited to be there. It kind of had the same feeling with the username in the livestream comment thread. So, definitely a lot of love for the fans who held it down.

I was going to say, I feel like Diet Cig has a pretty decent social media presence before this all happened. Like, I’ve seen a lot of bands’ online presence grow with everything going on, but I feel like you’ve all been front and center on social media the whole time since the start of your band. Do you think that’s helped a little bit as far as engagement?

Alex: For sure, I feel very lucky to be someone who enjoys being on social media because that’s pretty much all we have now. Especially when we realized we wouldn’t be able to tour and stuff, we realized we had to be on social media full force. But it was a fun challenge because I really liked engaging online. I really love sharing images that are reflective of our music, and it was something that I definitely felt very lucky to be someone who enjoys it, because I know a lot of people don’t love social media because it is really stressful sometimes. It’s not like the same validation as real life stuff, but it felt like more of a seamless transition to being online only because we were already so online.

Last question with the COVID-related stuff, do you think there’s any silver lining from any of the things that came out of this that could help the music industry once things go back to normal?

Noah: I think the noonchorus thing that has started with paying for a live stream event, I feel like it’s something that’s kind of going to flow into touring when that starts again. Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if we were playing a show in Brooklyn or somewhere and you were in Texas and you could watch that show live and still be home? I think it’s a cool idea that people are kind of thinking how to develop that.

Alex: It opens a lot of doors for accessibility at shows for sure. The idea of a rock show isn’t always, especially at the level that we’re playing where venues are a little smaller, aren’t always accessible for everybody. So, it is cool to hopefully make live streaming actual shows more mainstream and more acceptable and to have more platforms to do that when we do get to start touring again.

Also, something I think is the silver lining is a lot of artists like us and people in our scene have kind of started to ally together and there’s been this union that has emerged, the United Musicians and Allied Workers Organization, and they’ve been lobbying for better unemployment benefits for people who are freelancers and musicians and touring folks, and just kind of community organizing within the music industry among artists and workers who tour and work with artists has been really exciting, inspiring, and I think has been something that has been a long time coming, even before COVID. I think that a lot of these issues like not having health care and relying only on live shows for income have affected a lot of us forever and so it’s been cool to see people having the time and energy to organize a group that can kind of address these issues.

On your new album, Do You Wonder About Me?, I feel like there is a new level of self-confidence compared to the first few albums. What brought that about?

Alex: We are slowly starting to figure out how we want to sound as a band and what songs we like to play.

We took a year off from touring while we were making the record and I feel like in our heads a lot, it was like, what sounds do we want to play for the next year and a half on the road? Let’s write those songs. And so, coming from that sort of place and just that mindset of let’s play songs we want to play, there’s definitely confidence. We know what we want to write instead of focusing so hard on what do the fans want to hear and what do the critics want to hear. We took that time off and I feel like we got to just take a breather and grow as people and become a little more confident as people outside of the band.

Noah: It gave us a chance to kind of step away from being a band for a second. I feel like we’ve been so go, go, go for the past four or five years and just never really had a chance to think about, okay, what are we? What is the type of music we want to play? Who are we? What are we trying to do? So taking that time off, you really kinda gave us a chance to do a couple of things, make our brain think about something else for a second. And then coming back to working on this record and recording, and I feel like we were kind of fresh and the had some new ideas to try and definitely have this confidence of okay, we’re gonna do this and just go for it.

I also want to talk about the writing process. I feel like this record is unique in that it’s definitely a record you want to listen all the way through. From A to B. There are tracks that kind of serve like interludes and there’s definitely an outro track with “Night Terrors (Reprise).” Was that a concise effort?

Alex: It was intentional. I think we were really inspired by other albums that have had just like those vignettes and those moments. Especially, like a more extreme example is the Tierra Whack record Whack World where every song is a minute long but with incredible masterful songwriting with little vignettes that you just want every song to be an entire album. It’s just so incredible. We wanted to just show a moment. Not every moment needs a three and a half minute song. We definitely wanted those pauses to keep it dynamic, and that’s a thing that I feel like is part of our live show, we like to have these big loud fast rock n’ roll moments and then bring it back to a really tender quiet moment and then bring it back up and keep it dynamic. I feel like it really stems from us starting a two-piece because there’s only so many ways to keep things dynamic when there’s only two of you playing instruments, and so I feel like that kind of dynamic structure of our record was definitely heavily informed by our beginning.

I also feel like lyrically on this album you definitely branched out too and discuss a lot about mental health. Were there personal things you can discuss that motivated that?

Alex: Yeah, I think so, because we took this year off of touring there was definitely a lot
more time to feel introspective and to kind of sit with my mental state in a way. When you’re on tour it’s just go, go, go and have fun and any time you’re feeling emotional, it’s really not the time for it. So you just got to keep moving. But we kinda had some time off to sit and think and really kind of marinate in emotions. A lot of the lyrics are just pulled from my experiences. Like “Broken Body” I wrote after I had recovered from ACL reconstruction surgery, which was really challenging for my mental health. And then “Night Terrors” is obviously about my night terrors and sleepwalking and stuff, but also about how that mirrors and reflects my relationships and how the people closest to me are the ones who see me having night terrors and that’s something I can’t control.

Diet Cig has always backed causes that are important to you. What do you think is the role right now for musicians with the Black Lives Matter movement?

Alex: I feel like all we can do and the biggest strength that we have that we can provide to movement is the fact we have a platform. I think there are a lot of people who we have access to who are a lot less radicalized than say we feel or the people in our circle feel, who might listen to another person who they look up to because of music, and we can tell them these are the reasons that Black folks are being marginalized by the United States. I feel like if we have this platform to share resources and to amplify Black voices, and to also use our privileges as people who have that kind of access to our fans to learn from Black activists and to use our energy to share that message. The pressure is not on Black educators to educate every White person about what’s going on. We can put in work to say, “hey you should care about this and here’s some resource we found.” We’re so privileged to have the platform we have so we just want to amplify this movement.

The cliche last question is also, what’s happening next? But obviously COVID has changed that. Are there any future plans for Diet Cig at the moment?

Noah: I guess the next big thing for us is the noonchorus show live stream we’re doing on July 31st.

Alex: It’s the first time we’re doing a public live stream that is going to be plugged in, but we also kind of earlier on in the pandemic started a Patreon page, and so we’ve been really focusing on creating fun special content like guitar playthroughs. We have secret live streams that only our Patroen patrons get to see. There’s special merch and prints I make. So going forward we’re really focused on just making really fun and cool content for our Patreon subscribers. It’s just like a cool little community we’re starting to build over there.

 

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