Originally published in Noisey on July 15, 2015
The music world loves a band that has earned its keep—tour van veterans who only found recognition after they’d played a thousand VFW halls and recorded a dozen demos, and that’s far from some dumb trope. It happens. Other bands—shit, who are we kidding, basically all bands everywhere—toil in local scenes for years only to fade out as the years pile up. “Making it” in whatever modern way that turn of phrase still exists is chimera to most bands, even as the amount of music (and music journalism, natch) available and accessible to the world expands without end. But some bands, seemingly upon arrival, come equipped with such big hooks and jab-at-your-heart lyrics, they rise quickly to the surface. People notice.
Diet Cig are the poster band for that success story, taken to its preposterous extreme. Earlier this year, the band played its first show at a friend’s house in New Paltz, New York, a sleepy college town two hours north of New York City, and recorded a five-song EP two weeks later. Now, a half a year on, the first single from their upcoming record has landed on Spin, Vanity Fair, and—here we are—Noisey, all in the same week. That hyperspeed success would be enough to give anyone whiplash, but perhaps especially singer Alex Luciano, a 19 year old college sophomore who, before Diet Cig, had never picked up an electric guitar let alone played in a band.
But who knows; there’s a freedom of youth that perhaps makes sudden success seem easy and normal. There’s certainly freedom in being on the road, and in a little more than a month, the band will embark on a three-month trip around the country to play shows and search for a new city to call home. Last week, Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman drove to DC, set up their gear in a basement sticky with midsummer heat, and thrashed—guitar on, pants off—until there wasn’t a dry T-shirt in the house. Live, the band delivers its sugary, sloppy pop songs with the utmost urgency—particularly Luciano, who rips into the band’s still-slight catalog with such frenetic abandon, such stand-on-the-kick-drum bravado, it can transform the most heartfelt breakup song into a call to action.
Before their DC show, Luciano and Bowman fought off a plague of mosquitos in the backyard of Babe City Records while we asked them about their origins, and their plans.
Noisey: Tell me about New Paltz.
Noah Bowman: It’s nice. It’s like a little village. It’s a college town, so there are always kids everywhere. It’s funny because, once summer hits, it’s like a ghost town.
Alex Luciano: It’s a nice hideaway. We like it because we can play in Brooklyn or Manhattan all the time, but then we can scoot on home and not have to deal with actually living in Brooklyn.
How does living in a college town affect what you do—your music, your ability to play shows, afford to live, etc?
Alex: It’s a pain in the butt. There are new kids every four years and it’s really only ever kids, so it’s kind of pain when it’s some asshole kid booking all the shows, and you’re like: Get out of here already! But it’s cool because, at the same time, there are always new people—there are always new people to meet and new people to play shows with and bands popping up. Everyone always switches up their housing around campus every year, so there are always new house venues. It’s pretty fun. Everyone is always trying to party, so every show is a party—or the best shows are. It’s a college town, and everyone’s just trying to get wasted.
I don’t mean for this to come off as pejorative against your town, but do you feel like at this point, you’re kind of graduating from there as artists?
Alex: Yeah. Definitely
Noah: It’s funny because this trip [in September], we’re actually starting our trip in Washington state, and then coming back. This little trip out is about seeing the rest of the country, and where we might want to move to. We live together, we’re in a band together, so we could live anywhere and do the same thing.
Alex: We don’t have to worry about, like, the three dudes who are still in the town and you can’t just bounce that easily.
Noah: Our lease ended in June and we were like: We don’t have to sign another lease. We could be anywhere in the world, really, or anywhere in the country and play and tour. I think what we want is just another stage, another chapter.
But probably not Brooklyn?
Alex: Probably not Brooklyn. We have to go somewhere fresh, somewhere new. I feel like we’ve always played Brooklyn. I feel like we could go there, but it’s so easy to get stuck there, and it’s so expensive.
Noah: There are too many bands in Brooklyn now. It’s a constant competition. You do a show, but there are like seven other great shows going on that same night. As a fan, I feel for them because you’re conflicted—you have your one favorite bands playing in Brooklyn, but you have your other band playing in Lower East Side or something. Which one do I go to? You have to flip a coin.
Do you have hesitation about the possibility of moving to a bigger city with, as you said, more competition?
Alex: It’s scary because once you move, you have to break into a whole new scene. You have to prove you’re worth anyone’s time there. I feel like in a lot of cities, everyone knows each other. They can be tight-knit, and you’re coming in alongside all these other bands. It is a scary thought: proving that you belong there, too. But it’s not something I think about all that much.
Noah: We’re just trying to tour as much as possible. We don’t really want to have some thing where we’re from x-y-z city, you know? We are a band based out of the US. We’re everywhere. So let’s just be that. We don’t want to be a New York band, or a New Paltz band.
Alex: It sucks. I hate being categorized as a college band. You’re right. We have to graduate past it, in a way. We want to go elsewhere, and play to more people. All the kids in New Paltz have seen our sets like a hundred times. When you play your first shows, you’re always just playing at your friends’ houses. Now we’re getting booked at bigger places. It’s tough. It’s weird. It’s unexpected.
How did Diet Cig start?
Alex: We met in New Paltz. He was playing a show with his other band, Earl Boykins, and I met them, and I met Noah, and we ended up hanging out a lot. I was going to all their shows, and I was like: That looks really fun, I can do that. So we were just so bored last summer, and his parents have a small studio above their garage. We said, let’s just try to put some songs together. We were going to open for his band at this local house show—they couldn’t find an opener, so we said OK, let’s try to do it. Let’s put together like five songs.
So we put it together really quick, and people really liked it. It was just our friends, and it was the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was in front of all my peers, you know? I just thought: If I fuck this up, I’m going to be such an embarrassment. So we did it. I couldn’t believe it just happened. I was shaking, so nervous. A couple weeks after, I had kind of forgotten about it, we hadn’t talked much about it. And [Noah] was like: We’re recording next week, remember? So we just recorded it.
It was so random. We just had nothing to do, but he knew I had some songs. I had never played an electric guitar in my life before! He plugged me into the amp and I was just like “kraaang!” Crazy.
Where did these songs come from?
Alex: I had four of them written, and one of them I wrote specifically for this. They were just little songs I wrote on an acoustic guitar in my room. Thinking back now, I’m like: Why did I even write them? I had no intention of sharing them. It was just something I would do for fun, I guess, because I knew a couple of chords. Noah knew that I had those songs and suggested we beef them up a little bit.
A lot of your songs seem very personal. Did you write those songs particularly because you never expected anyone to hear them?
Alex: A lot of those songs… I was scene sick. It was my frustration with the scene. Even just in New Paltz, any music scene is irritating no matter how big or small it is. Everyone’s so annoying. I remember being so annoyed at all of these bands and just thinking: I could do that! So I wrote them and then didn’t really do anything with them. I was thinking about maybe starting a band with some girls that I lived with, but that never happened. So I just thought: Maybe I’ll keep writing songs, maybe I can do it with a band sometime. But I had no idea he and I would be in a band or anything.
Noah: I just play the drum parts. I don’t really have any input into what she’s singing. I hate to admit it, but I don’t even know half the words to these songs. I just know vocal cues. If you asked me to sing it back to you know, I couldn’t. Except for, “Fuck your Ivy League sweater.” That’s easy to remember.
Do you think it’s worthwhile on some level to write for an audience—for the people who you want to come to your shows?
Alex: Definitely. Especially because of the response we’ve gotten from a lot of people. A lot of young girls really love our music. I’ve had moms come to the shows and give me notes written by their nine-year-olds. I’ve had girls come to me and give me pictures that they’ve drawn of me. Now I have that in my mind. If anything’s ever been fulfilling about this whole thing that we do, it’s when these little girls say they love my music. So, oh my god, this is who I want to love our songs. But now I’m like: Do I have to write kid-friendly music? I don’t know. The people who I would love to come to the shows, it’s past their bedtime.