"Oh my gosh, how did we get here? Why are people listening? Did we trick them?" Diet Cig vocalist and guitarist Alex Luciano is musing over the sense of imposter syndrome the self-proclaimed 'slop-pop' duo have been trying to shake since their debut record.
Listening to their self-assured second record 'Do You Wonder About Me?' and hearing Alex confidently coo "I'm thriving thanks for asking" on cathartic opener 'Thriving', it's difficult to imagine the pair feeling like they don't belong, but it's this vulnerability that makes the already charming Diet Cig all the more endearing. Like their unabashedly honest debut 'Swear I'm Good At This', their new record is just as human, and just as impossible not to fall in love with.
"Though that imposter feeling never fully goes away, I feel that with the last record we carved out a space for ourselves to be here and be heard by our fans," says Alex. "There's something about having your music resonate with people that makes you feel so much less alone, and it's genuinely because of that that we feel a little more confident."
Having spent most of their life as a band on tour, the New York natives decided to take their foot off the gas in 2019 to approach their next record in a more measured way. "We moved to Richmond, Virginia to hide out and make music," explains drummer Noah Bowman. "It's a nice change of pace being down in Richmond versus being in New York – it was crazier being at home than it was being on tour, so coming down here gave us a chance to slow down and figure out what we wanted to do for this next record."
The concept of the difficult second album still abounds in the music world, but Diet Cig managed to avoid the pitfalls of pressure by giving themselves plenty of breathing space. Compared to the chaotic recording of their debut which was bashed out in stolen moments between tours, making 'Do You Wonder About Me?' was pretty damn chilled.
"With the first record we'd come up with ideas on the road, come home from tour, sit in the studio for a week straight and bang out songs, then we'd be back on the road again. We were exhausted, but we had to make our limited off-time count," says Alex. "We wrote half of 'Swear I'm Good At This' in the studio," adds Noah. "We didn't even have most of the songs fleshed out, we just put our heads together and finished them while recording which was a crazy way to do it, but it was a fun challenge."
Given that 'Do You Wonder About Me?' is largely about growing up and reflecting on who you are, allowing themselves time to breathe and sit with their feelings was an invaluable experience for Diet Cig, and it really shows. Though their debut was an irresistible whirlwind of scrappy indie-rock, it felt a little hyperactive at times, whereas the new record feels much more considered and intentional.
"With the last record it was about how big we could make everything sound: big guitars, big drums, every song super in your face, though there were a few calmer moments like 'Bath Bomb' and 'Apricots'. Going into this record we wanted to be much more mindful," says Noah. "The last record was like 'Okay we've got these songs, we're playing them live, let's hit it, let's go, we've got this!'" laughs Alex. "This time we almost let the songs marinate, we had the time to really evaluate them and play with more moods."
Speaking of moods, a big part of what makes Diet Cig so relatable are Alex's intimate and acerbic lyrics. The prevailing message of 'Do You Wonder?' is that it's okay to be who you are, particularly on the soporifically sweet 'Night Terrors' which sees Alex explore her bizarre sleep activity and 'Broken Body' which is musically defiant despite Alex's struggles with self-loathing during a long recovery period after surgery.
"It's about reflecting on the people you have been and who you are now, reckoning with those embarrassing or uncool past versions of yourself. There are crappy parts inside of everybody, but it's about celebrating all the parts of yourself, even the ones that are not so attractive."
By her own admission, Alex has perhaps been a little too honest in the past. She giggles uncontrollably as she recalls 'Sixteen', the opener from their first album which sees her sing about dating a boy with the same name and how weird it was to moan her own name during sex. "I feel like I was more vague about who and what these songs are about, because when we released 'Sixteen' I had no idea how many people would listen to that song and now everyone I grew up with is like, 'Oh! That's who this person is!' I've had to find the balance between sharing honest pieces of myself but at the same time protecting myself emotionally."
As a tight-knit duo, it's almost inevitable that Diet Cig's second record is a much more self-assured piece of work, given that they've been playing together for almost six years now. Alex had never played in a band before meeting Noah, so the pair have forged their own bond and now work together in an intuitive way. "We're on the same wavelength in a way we weren't when we first started," says Alex. "I don't know music theory, so I really struggled with finding ways to communicate when writing music, but I feel like we have the language now. We have a lot of patience with each other, there's a lot of trust we've built together."
Looking back at how they've grown as musicians together, it's impossible not to take a stroll down memory lane back to the day they met and the fabled lighter story that seems to dominate most earlier articles about the band. "Oh my God, I regret that story!" screams Alex between laughter. "People always ask how we met, and it's boring really, so we thought we'd tell it like a fun little story, how it was a special coincidence that I didn't know Noah, but we had this small interaction that led to us becoming friends. It was such a benign thing, it was in-between songs at a tiny basement show that Noah's old band were playing, they were tuning up, and I asked him if he had a lighter; he said no but passed me a jug of wine, and then we chatted after the show. "People held onto it and blasted it into this huge thing of Alex stopping the show and interrupting the set just to ask me for a lighter," sighs Noah. "I wish we'd made up some other ridiculous story, like we met fishing in Antarctica…"
Taken from the May issue of Upset. Diet Cig's album 'Do You Wonder About Me?' is out 1st May.
Featuring PVRIS, Boston Manor, Dance Gavin Dance, Enter Shikari, Trivium, Angels & Airwaves, Diet Cig and loads more.