The world is a scary place at the best of times, but over the last few months it’s got a whole load more fucked up. As newly emboldened voices try and take away the rights of already oppressed groups, those willing to stand up and be counted are more important than ever. With their debut album, Diet Cig have no intention of staying quiet, and they’re not the only ones.
“Having fun and dancing is such a good way to say ‘fuck you’ to a system that just wants you to feel oppressed and alone,” explains Alex Luciano. A lot has changed for Diet Cig over the past couple of years but their desire for a good time has never wavered. Debut album ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ is purpose-built to inspire wacky dance moves, beaming smiles and wall-to-wall excitement. But it’s bigger than that.
“The fun is a way to subvert what is expected of anyone right now. The government and the patriarchy, they want us to be afraid. All these oppressors, all they want is everyone to be afraid of them, to put their head down and to not do anything. I think that it’s really important just not to do that. They want you not to have fun; they want you to feel like shit. It’s like, no, we stand together. We’re having fun, and we’re saying ‘fuck you’ to your idea of oppressing us. It is the biggest middle finger you can give to anyone trying to put you down, to just have fun. They can’t take that, or our sense of community while doing it, away from us.”
Three years ago to the day, Alex and Noah Bowman met at a house party. Alex wanted to borrow a lighter, Noah was playing drums with another band. A bottle of wine exchanged hands mid-set, and they’ve been best friends ever since. A handful of songs – 2015’s ‘Over Easy’ EP and the ‘Sleep Talk/Dinner Date’ single – were recorded on a whim and released with zero expectations. The world had other ideas.
Diet Cig is the first time Alex has played in a band. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm was contagious and Noah, a seasoned-pro by comparison, got a new lease of life. It felt like they were doing it because they wanted to, not because it’s all they knew how to do. That wanton excitement, it draws people in.
“Alex was 18 when we started this band, I was 21, and over these past two years, I feel like we’ve learnt a lot more than we would have learnt if we weren’t in this band. We’ve gotten to experience more things than we ever expected. It’s shaped who we are, and it’s opened up our eyes to what’s going on outside of who we are.” Eyes open and aware, Diet Cig didn’t question the journey. Instead, they realised: “Fuck, we like doing this. We have this platform to say what needs to be said and we have people who want to hear it, listen.” Political or personal, “When someone comes up to us and says, ‘Oh my God, you get me’ it’s like, ‘No, you get me’. You can bond over the fact you’ve gone through the same shit. Feeling your feelings and telling people about it is such a radical act and I just hope we can encourage other people not to stay quiet. I just want everyone to know we’re feeling the same shit they’re feeling, and I want to scream that from the top of the building,” starts Alex. “Although, I guess putting a record out is the equivalent of that. “
Intimate, unafraid and without a sugar-coating, Diet Cig’s debut is as honest as they come. From the perils of dating someone with her own name, through slut-shaming, self-doubt, sexism and shitty boyfriends to simply not feeling alone, ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ covers it all. There’s a joyous sense of self one moment, a frustrated “fuck off” the next. It’s proud and powerful, but the band never hide from their fears.
Written and recorded during a tense and confusing twelve months, it sees the band reacting to the world that surrounds them. It sees them determined to make it a little better. “2016 was the most fun, incredible year ever, even though it was the worst year ever for everyone. We’re super lucky to have been playing all those shows,” reasons Alex. Their music is powerful because it’s personal. It’s personal because they know they’re not the only ones with these stories. “We had so much fun, learnt so much and it was incredibly uplifting to meet all these people who were coming to our shows, standing in solidarity together and to just be a part of something bigger than ourselves for a little bit.” During their time on the road, the pair realised their music meant something to people beyond something to simply dance to. There were shows were Diet Cig were the support band, miles away from home, yet Alex didn’t even need to sing. The crowd knew the words. They had her back.
“It’s always going to feel crazy that people want to listen to our music. After we had done this record, though, it felt like we maybe knew what we were doing a little bit and it all made sense. It’s still so overwhelmingly cool that we get to do this,” grins Alex. With songs written in the studio, ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ didn’t come together until the very end. “It was the best feeling ever. We realised we work well under pressure and oh my God, we made something, and it’s cohesive and beautiful and from our souls and hearts. It was like our whole soul got poured into it then regurgitated back into our bodies, mama penguin style.”
For Alex and Noah, music has always reminded them of family connections and sanctuary. Noah grew up in and around his dad’s studio, his earliest musical memory singing a version of The Cartoonz ‘Witch Doctor’ from the Rugrats Movie with his twin brother (who the band recorded ‘Swear’ with). Alex learnt guitar from a guy her step-dad knew, but those lessons quickly transformed into the two families hanging out and having fun. The friendship between them all is still going strong, and the idea of music as a tool for bringing people together grows from there.
The pair had to take a step back to get closer on ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ though. “We had a lot of people waiting on this record, and as we took longer and longer to write, more and more people were asking ‘Where’s your record?’ ‘It’s coming, I swear’.” At one point, they just had to say, “Fuck it, we’re just going to write this for us.” That breakthrough came via ‘Barf Day’. “We wrote that song so randomly, and it just rocks. We weren’t thinking about whether it was a Diet Cig song or an Alex and Noah song, we just wrote it. That’s when we got over the hump of thinking, ‘Are we good enough?’ ‘Can we do this?’ We just did it, and that felt really good. Once we let go of any expectations we had of ourselves, it came together quickly.”
Messages aplenty, ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ comes packed with fuck-off fables, solidarity and community. It’s got a voice and, for the most part, it wants to be heard. “The thing is, I knew I had something to say,” explains Alex. “It’s just the whole articulation of it. How do I say it so that everyone will get what I’m saying? I realised I just had to be honest and I had to be myself because if I don’t even understand what I’m trying to say, no one else will.” The result is a record that doesn’t shy away from being direct or saying exactly what’s on its mind. “It’s hard showing the world who you are, isn’t it?” questions ‘Bath Bomb’. “Something nice about knowing everyone feels hopeless,” reasons ‘Bite Back’. “No one wants to think that they are all alone in this.”
“We had to hunker down and figure out what we wanted to say. Is there a way we can help people?” The answer was right in front of them. “The world is spiralling into darkness, and it’s incredible to be able to put that on pause for our shows and be like, okay, we’re all standing here together. We can be a part of this for forty-five minutes and just let all the bullshit in the world go.” Solidarity is difficult to capture on record but ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ is a war cry to be better. It encourages you to escape those who won’t. You are not alone. Not now, not ever.
It’s also a personal mantra for the band. “It’s the whole idea of having to convince yourself you can do something. We said that to ourselves maybe 100 times a day when we were recording. I feel like I say it to myself constantly every day as well. This whole band has been me reassuring myself, ‘Okay you can do this, you’re good at this. We got this’. It helps pump me up. Everyone is their own worst critic, and I’m definitely mine.” It’s confident, but there’s still a flicker of self-doubt. It’s also a line that finds itself at home in ‘Blob Zombie’. “That track is one of the first tracks we wrote for the record. It’s about how you can be the most creative, driven, artistic person but also wanting to crawl into your bed and never leave again. It’s me battling those feelings of wanting to do everything, wanting to be the best, make a huge impact and be a rock star but also not wanting to get out of my bed. A lot of the record is balancing those two sides. I’m powerful, strong and a badass but I’m tired, insecure and trying to just figure it all out like everyone else.”
Before, Diet Cig dealt in escape. Out the window, down the drainpipe and off somewhere fun. Now, they’re out to make their world a little more like the place they wanted to escape to. “I don’t feel I’m necessarily running away from everything anymore as much as I’m confronting it and being like, this needs to fucking change. Something needs to change. I’ve grown up so much since the band started, I no longer wish to go somewhere that’s nicer, I want to take the place I am now and make it nicer. Or I’m going to fucking die kicking and screaming about it.”
Positively rebellious, ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ is “way more confrontational, and it addresses my feelings in a way more upfront way. I’m trying to turn my reality into something that I want, rather than an escape. This band has made me feel like I have a place in the world. It’s also been empowering as a feminist, just seeing what my voice as a woman in music can do. I’ve been super empowered to support the causes we align with and super empowered to speak our minds. We have a platform. We have a voice. We should use it,” declares Alex. “I would never have felt so strongly about vocalising what I believe in without this band.” It’s an awakening they want to share.
“Being a woman is inherently political,” Alex reasons, and across the record, she twists, toys and plays with this idea. “It was deliberate, but at the same time, it’s who I am. I was just questioning what it means to be a woman.” There are sweet smiles as she repeatedly demands “Fuck off”, a sing-song warning that “I am bigger than the outside shell of my body and if you touch it without asking then you’ll be sorry,” and the unfair idea that “it’s hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt.”
“The expectations that are put on you as a woman or a femme person in this world right now are fucking overbearing sometimes. Sometimes it feels really good just to toss the fucking table on it and be like, ‘Fuck that; I’m not going to follow your rules’. It’s weird, I feel like I’m constantly walking a line of embracing my femme self and pushing it away, I’m more than that, but it is such a part of my identity.” Blokes in music can say what they like; they’re encouraged to have Big Opinions and Strong Views. It’s the norm. Women, though, they’re ‘outspoken’, ‘loud’, ‘boisterous’. “I feel like women are taught not to be so loud, overbearing, emotional and to bottle up our feelings. I hope people listen to our record and learn that you can speak your mind. It’s okay to be loud; it’s okay to be overbearing. It’s okay to say no. Scream your feelings and don’t let anyone tell you what you have to say isn’t important, because it is.”
Despite being fearless and in your face, “that goes back to just being honest. We’re just in your face kinda people,” Diet Cig’s record is also sweet, fragile and delicate. It reflects the pair entirely. “If I’m feeling a feeling and we’re in the same room, you’re totally going to know it,” grins Alex. “This record is a total no-bullshit, in your face, raw emotional thing. I feel like we’ve almost been faking it the whole time and now all of a sudden, it’s so real. Can we be this band that everyone wants us to be? There have been so many times where we’ve got all these incredible opportunities, which should make us so happy, but they’re tinged with some form of anxiety or self-doubt. Can we do this?” Collecting everything that’s happened, ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ is a culmination of different emotions. Some of the feelings are silly; some are bummed out, angry and frustrated. Every one is important, though. “It’s not just something to write off; it’s important that we all have every type of feeling.”
“It’s pretty rebellious,” smirks Alex. “It rebels against the standards that patriarchal society has set for women, and it rebels against the idea that women should just be pretty and chill and not share their feelings because they might make other people feel bad. It’s pretty much my ‘fuck you’ to the idea that women, or femme people, should be any specific way and which emotions they should or shouldn’t respond with. Fuck it; I don’t want to be your manic pixie dream girl. I’m going to be emotional and moody and bossy, and all of those things wrapped up in one human being because we’re more nuanced than ‘Oh, she’s really cool’.” Done with being a chill girl, Alex wants to take over the world. “Fuck you, we have every emotion, and you should listen to it.”
The world is a confusing, scary place but Diet Cig are figuring out where they belong. Sorta. “We want to be a band you can rely on,” declares Noah, without a moment’s hesitation. “You can agree or disagree with us, but at least we’ll make you think. It’s difficult; I don’t want to say we know who we are because we’re still constantly trying to figure it out and we’re just going with the way the world is.”
“It’s all trial and error,” agrees Alex. “The more people we meet, the more we’re realising who we are.” Conversations happen about songs, experience and inspiration and “sometimes it feels like other people know more about who Diet Cig is than we do. It’s such a cool and exciting thing because other people get our feelings. There are fucking thousands of people out there who are this big, weird reflection of myself.” As much as ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ is utterly and completely Alex and Noah’s record, it’s an album for sharing. It reflects them as much as it reflects the world the want to live in. There’s hope, positive action and determination for change. Diet Cig are no different.
Debut albums are A Big Deal. You only get one. And Diet Cig are as single-minded as any other artist; it’s just that their mind is thinking bigger. Beyond releasing a soundtrack of change, the band are using their platform to make gains other than their own. Alex has an Etsy shop – “I just love crafts, I’m such a ho for some good crafts” – that sells handmade brooches and patches with messages like “Muslim Lives Matter”, “Not My Prez” and “Immigrants Welcome”. The money goes to a different charity every week, including The Trevor Project, The National Immigration Law Centre and The Southern Poverty Law Center. Once band commitments got in the way of crafting, so the duo donated their own money to the ACLU instead. There’s no grand plan at play or good publicity to help sell an album, “I just needed to do something ‘cause I’m panicking right now, and it feels good to be able to use our platform to help causes we believe in. You might not always have a whole tonne of money to donate, but if you have your own time and effort, it’s just as valuable to these causes. You can make things and sell them online, you can volunteer at a homeless shelter, or you can host a benefit in your house as a potluck for a charity you like. I think that it’s really easy to feel hopeless now, but I want people to feel like they can do something too.”
That encouragement is also mirrored by the support for Girls Rock Philly and Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. Not only did Diet Cig give them centre stage in their video for ‘Tummy Ache’, but they’re taking Girls Rock Camp bands on tour with them. “I’m super excited about that,” beams Alex. “Girl Talk is such a radical organisation, they are not only teaching these girls music but about these awesome social justice issues and empowering them. I wish that I could have been in one of these camps when I was a kid. It’s about trying to help the representation of women in music. People still book all-male tours ‘because we couldn’t find any bands with women in’ – that’s bullshit; there are so many incredible women and femme musicians out there. But it’ll help to nurture the younger femme musicians coming up. We really wanted to share our stage with these inspiring young kids who are doing it even though the world is telling them they’re not important because they’re a girl. People constantly make fun of teenage girls and the music they listen to, but they’re badass.”
All things considered, Diet Cig’s ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ feels vital. “It’s important in the way it’s giving us all a voice, but I think it would be important at any time,” reasons Alex. “It feels weird to use the current political climate to make our record seem more or less important than it is, because it’s a very scary time for so many marginalized people who are genuinely afraid. I do think our record will resonate with a lot of people right now, though. It’s going to help and make it clear we stand in solidarity with people who aren’t afraid to feel their feelings. We stand in solidarity with femme folk and other marginalised folk. I hope that it can make some people feel less alone and make them feel like someone out there understands them. They can have fun and say ‘fuck you’ to their oppressors by doing that and feeling their feelings.”
Somehow Diet Cig are positive despite the world around them. “It is hard with everything going on to not feel hopeless, but I’m just really inspired by all the people around me who are busting through and kicking ass no matter what. The world is falling to pieces, but I’m surrounded by people still making their art and still chugging away saying ‘Fuck this, I’m not going to let this define me’. I’m just constantly fangirling over my friends. There are all these bands who are using their platform for more than their own personal gain, and that’s so refreshing and exciting. I feel like the world wants to pit everyone against each other and make it seem like it’s a dog-eat-dog world.” It’s not, though. “Despite the fear that our oppressors are trying to instil in all of us, everyone is still going out of their way to join forces and help each other. It’s just fucking badass. We’re all in this together. We’ve got each other’s backs. We got this.”
Diet Cig’s debut album ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ is out 7th April.