THE BEST OF 2017
One of our favourite twosomes – and former Upset cover stars, no less – Diet Cig are changing our world with their sense of fun and community.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
“When you’re feeling horrible, or you’ve had a hard day, you can get on stage and everything changes,” starts Alex Luciano. “Okay, we’re doing this thing. Usually, there’s at least one person in the crowd who is so stoked, so excited they’re dancing and singing. I just zone in on this one person, and even if I’m tired, I’m doing it for this person who’s so happy to be here.”
2017 has been hard work for Diet Cig. They released a record back in March and haven’t been home since. Today they’re seven weeks into an eight-week tour and “it feels like we’re floating.” They’re still the best of friends and still excited by absolutely everything. “It’s the people that come to our shows that keep us inspired; they’re so fun. It’s a whole room of people who get me,” beams Alex.
Their debut album ‘Swear I’m Good At This’, all community action, holding people to account and protesting for your right to safety, is a rip-roaring burst of energy, excitement and electrical charge. In real life, the pair are the same. Their live show starts with instructions about the evening being a safe space, inviting people who disagree to leave and pointing out who to speak to if you’re made to feel uncomfortable. The floor is littered with balloons the band have spent the afternoon blowing up, and Alex has to climb on a table to check if the ceiling is covered in real glitter. It is, by the way.
Despite being on tour together for at least five weeks, both Alex and bandmate Noah Bowman are in the crowd watching The Spook School, diving forward when the moment takes them. Their positivity is relentless. Their music, raw, powerful and change affirming.
“It’s so cool to meet people who have gone through the same stuff,” continues Alex. “This record has so many emotions, from happy to angry to lonely to stoked or furious; it has every feeling that I feel on it. Meeting people who say it resonated with them is super cool and super validating, especially ‘cos we wrote it just for us. To have anyone say ‘I love this song’ is like, you get me. It’s felt very special meeting everyone; this is why we do it.”
“It’s a very human record,” adds Noah. “You wrote about all these emotions, and if you’re a human, you’re going to have all these emotions at some point in your life. It’s easy to resonate with that.”
It’s hard to show the world who you are though, isn’t it? “A lot of artists are very poetic and metaphorical; I’m just honest and straightforward,” says Alex. “This is how I’m feeling, I’m going to write about it. When we’re recording, sometimes Noah will say, ‘Woah, the way you said that is pretty slick,’ but I don’t even think about it like that. I just try and make the lyrics relatable. I didn’t realise it was as good as everyone is saying it is. I try and act like I’m the smarty pants over here with my wise words, but it’s just me being honest. A lot of the things I’ve gone through, other people have as well. It’s real.
“When you listen to a song you haven’t written, you assign your own narrative or feelings to it, and that’s why it resonates with you. Honestly, I feel like our songs still resonate with me in different ways depending on how I’m feeling. I’ll be singing ‘Bath Bomb’, which is about certain feelings I had but it’ll resonate with whatever emotion I’m feeling that night. ‘Oh, I’m so tired or lonely’. It’s cool to be able to play the songs live, and they become even more powerful and emotional for us.”
Even the title saw Diet Cig trying to be positive in the face of self-doubt; ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ is a promise flecked with uncertainty. “Playing the songs has been validating,” admits Alex. “Yeah, I am good at this. The whole title was so real. I literally tell myself, ‘I swear I’m good at this. It’s good, I got this,’ every day of this band because there is so much self-doubt that goes into being so vulnerable and making music. As we’ve toured and met everyone who it does mean something to, it has made us more confident, but I don’t think that feeling ever goes away.”
“I’m nervous about the next record,” adds Noah.
“Some days I can’t believe I wrote this record,” Alex continues. “I’m so proud of it, and I love it, but other days I feel like, ‘God, I am such a fucking idiot. Why did I write this?’ It’s tough. No level of press or big shows is ever going to quell that imposter syndrome you try and push down. It’s definitely still there, and it’ll always be there I think.”
“That’s what makes it fun,” Noah grins.
“It makes me push myself,” Alex explains. “We push ourselves because we want to be the best at it. We’re our own worst critics, everyone is their own worst critic really, but we want to be our best selves.”
Being your best as the world tries to tear itself apart isn’t easy. 2017 has been an undeniable “shitstorm of shit” but ever the optimists, “it’s also been really cool to foster a safer space at our shows where people can come and have a cathartic release of joy and friendship with the people they’ve come with,” ponders Alex.
“If we weren’t touring this year, I’d go crazy,” she says. “Playing shows is the ultimate. You forget about all this bullshit. It’s a safe place in an allotted time where you can put all your worries and all that bullshit floating around in a box. You’ll come back to that box, but for a little while, you can just have fun, feel cathartic and feel heard – that’s so important, even for us. Getting to do this as our job feels so good. It refuels us so we think, ‘Okay, we can do this’. There are so many people out here who care and want to just have a human experience together, and I feel like it goes both ways; I am so thankful we have been touring this year.”
“It’s a release of all that pent-up anger or frustration,” adds Noah. “You get to do it in a place we get to create, where we are all on the same page, and if you’re not, you can leave. We’re all here together, and if you don’t stand for what we stand for, the door is there.”
“I talk about how our shows are safer spaces, and we want people to feel fun and to be able to get vulnerable with themselves and everyone in the room,” Alex explains. “If someone’s not about that, if someone’s not going to keep it safe or try and invade peoples personal space, they can fucking get out. It’s so radical to have fun at this current time; all these oppressive forces want you to be isolated and miserable so to be a night where you come together with other like-minded people and have fun and support each other and be there for each other, that’s so fucking radical. That’s cool as hell.”
“I don’t think our band is any more important than true activism,” continues Alex. “A lot of times, bands get pinned as this political thing. Y’know, these bands are activists, and they’re changing the world. There are real activists out there doing real stuff, but at the same time, I think our band is important for that release. Self-care is important. It can be seen as frivolous, it’s not needed to end oppression, but you have to take care of yourself. It’s important to have fun. Being able to express your feelings with other people and to feel heard, it’s so important. The fact our band can be that for even one person, I think that makes it important.”
When we spoke to Diet Cig two years ago ahead of their first ever trip to the UK, they boasted about their new friendship with a ten-year-old fan. “We’ve been emailing, and she got to come to some of our shows. It’s inspiring because she’s so young but so in touch with music,” Alex smiled at the time. Today, one of the best things that happened to Diet Cig was playing a show with her band.
“We had been working with Girls Rock Philly for our ‘Tummy Ache’ video and later on for touring stuff, but we first started getting involved in Girls Rock because of this girl Mia, who’d been tweeting us since our first EP came out. She’d be sharing covers, her mom was so nice, and we’d met her before shows, and we’d built this relationship with her. She’d gone to Girls Rock camp and would play our songs with other girls there.
“We played this show in Philly that was a fundraiser for Girls Rock camp, and they got to open for us. It felt really special. Our band inspired her to start playing music, so it was cool to finally play a show together. They were so excited. Her mom was like ‘she can’t believe she’s getting to play with one of her favourite bands’. We also got to raise a ton of money. They had so much fun, we had so much fun, and it felt really cool. This is why I’m in a band,” beams Alex. “That’s the embodiment of why we do this.”
Taken from the December 2017 / January 2018 issue of Upset. Order a copy now below.