Alex Luciano called me from her bed in Brooklyn, treasuring a rare moment at home between returning from the UK and heading out on her band’s fifth tour in under two years.
By Rachel Rascoe
The 20-year-old musician makes up half of the self-described “slop pop” band Diet Cig. Before the summer of 2014, Luciano had never played electric guitar or performed onstage. While attending the State University of New York in New Paltz, New York, Luciano met drummer Noah Bowman. The duo messed around with some acoustic songs Luciano had written in her bedroom for no one in particular to hear. Two weeks after playing their first show, they recorded their five-song EP “Over Easy.”
A year and a half later, thousands of fans are listening to these same songs worldwide, with their newest “Sleep Talk/Dinner Date” single catching attention from the likes of Stereogum and Vanity Fair. Luciano’s lyrics move seamlessly from the blunt (fuck your Ivy League sweater, you know I was better) to the biting (if I told you I loved you, I don’t who it would scare away faster), turning songs about heartbreak into personal power anthems. Diet Cig’s choruses are simple, sometimes silly and ready-made for yelling along with, led by Luciano’s energetic live performances.
Diet Cig is currently on tour, performing in Austin this Thursday at The Parish on 6th Street. Luciano and Bowman will return to Austin in March for the band’s first South by Southwest.
In the song “Scene Sick,” (I’m sick of hearing about your band, I don’t want to hear about who you think I am) were you writing from the perspective of someone who’s not in a band and just goes to shows?
Yeah, I totally wrote that song as an audience member. It’s kind of funny — people have come up to me and asked, ‘Do you still feel the same way now that you are in a band?’ And yeah, I still feel the same way. But, I definitely think I had more frustrations as an audience member. It’s more validating when you’re in a band in the scene and you can get a certain level of, I guess, like people respect you? I feel like I have to worry less about being cool because I already have a thing that’s bringing me into the scene.
You’ve said before that some of the songs on “Over Easy” were written before Diet Cig existed. Is writing any different now, knowing that you’re writing for a fanbase?
Noah and I were both like, now that people are going to be listening to this thing, our sound is definitely going to get more mature, but how is it going to do that? I think we’re both slowly easing into what our new sound is going to be like and how we can progress as songwriters and still keep the same vibe.
Because that first EP we just wrote in a couple of days, we didn’t put too much thought into how complex or simple the songs needed to be, which is why we were so surprised that anyone listened to it at all. Now we’re putting a little more thought into the details while keeping the same simplicity and honesty.
A lot of your songs are upbeat but about bummer subjects. Is that something you have to make an effort to do or does it just happen?
I think a little bit of both. I’ll write these songs that could either way — they could be total bummer jams or fun, upbeat songs. I’ll bring the basic chord progression and lyrics to Noah and he turns them into fun, upbeat songs. He’s really good at structuring the songs to make them more dynamic and to have a fun groove that you can dance to. I think that he’s really a big part in how all of the sad subject songs can still be fun.
Have you ever discussed a song with the person you wrote it about?
At one of our first shows ever, one of the people I had written one of our songs about was standing at the show and I got to look him in the face and sing that part to him. I’m sure he really had no idea that it was about him, but that was a very empowering moment and I realized that music was a way to deal with shit like that. It was really exciting to be able to look at him and sing that part and feel really validated about what I was doing.
Is that a picture of you on the “Sleep Talk” album art?
It’s actually my little sister and the “Dinner Date” art on the back is my brother. My sister’s 12 and my brother’s 9, so they were pretty excited about it. My sister walked into her first day of middle school and was like, ‘My face is on iTunes!’
What advice would you give to yourself when you were 12?
I would just encourage myself to keep being weird and keep being myself. I don’t think middle school girls get enough encouragement to be themselves. I grew up in a very small town where it was not the easiest to do that. I used to wear these crazy outfits. I would give myself a hell of a good pep talk and just be like, ‘Girlfriend, you rule. Keep doing it.’
What’s the meaning of the name Diet Cig?
We get this question so much that we’ve forgotten the real one and made up so many goofy answers. My favorite is that it’s addictive, but not bad for you, which sounds like something someone says doing a cheesy infomercial. I like to say that it’s short enough to embroider on stuff.
What music are you listening to right now?
I cannot stop listening to that new All Dogs records that came out this year.
I’ve been listening to the new Taco Cat single which is really awesome.
I’ve been listening to PWR BTTM because they are the best band ever. It’s so crazy when you have friends that are just incredible musicians. You hang out with them all the time and you get to fangirl over them. I’m secretly just a huge fan girl.