In the span of just over a minute, ascendant band Diet Cig’s frontwoman and guitarist Alex Luciano declared that a world under her rule would both address climate change (“like real human beings”) and appoint Guy Fieri to a governmental Flavortown position. Even in the latter’s shamelessly fun ideology, she observed that Fieri’s flagship enterprise,
Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives is dedicated to helping small businesses. That my conversation with Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman contained these thoughtful, joyous multitudes is no surprise to those pulled into the band’s orbit of effortless guitar pop, first exhibited on 2015’s debut EP Over Easy and polished on the sleek album Swear I’m Good at This, released earlier this year.
Swear I’m Good at This packs 12 songs into its 28-minute run time, deftly shifting from fiery anthems (“Link in Bio”) to swooning ballads (“Maid of the Mist”), all in the process of keeping sharp lyricism and movement-inducing rhythms constant. Opener “Sixteen” is, in effect, a two-parter, separated by an energetic “Ready?!” that, to paraphrase a played-out meme, is the powerhouse of the album. Elsewhere, there’s a track named in homage to a classic Mariah Carey quote, and the album closes with the thesis-statement “Tummy Ache” and its vital vulnerability (“And it’s finally time / To make my words count / In a way, I haven’t quite figured out”).
While speaking with Luciano and Bowman, we discussed the link between their album and live show, the opportunity and benefits of traveling the country as young creatives, #brand partnerships when you’re friends with the #brand, and, of course, their favorite sandwiches.
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Are you aware of the podcast Who Weekly?
Luciano: No, I’m not!
Oh, darn. The title of the song “I Don’t Know Her” is something they say on the show because it’s a Mariah Carey quote–
Luciano: Yes! She said it about Christina Aguilera. Actually, when we were writing that song, we asked our friend who produced our record to come and listen to some of the songs that we had been writing and get some feedback, and so we played that song, and he was like, “This one’s really good, but-“, he was telling Noah to get an idea for the rhythm and the beat for it, to listen to some Mariah Carey songs because he wanted to reference one of the rhythms [of a Mariah Carey song], and so we kept calling that song “Mariah Carey”. But then we were like–
Bowman: We can’t name it that on the record because she’s gonna not know us!
Luciano: And so we decided to call it “I Don’t Know Her”.
To go back to the start of the album, what I like most about [“Sixteen”, the opening track] is how you do the ad-lib of “Ready?!” that feels like a separation between some of the slower stuff you did on Over Easy and the more fast-paced work you did on this album.
Luciano: That part of the song was very indicative of how our live show has shaped our sound from the slower, more chill stuff on the EP, going into this record and being more fast-paced. I say [“Ready?!”] live — and so when we were recording it, we added that in and it was almost a nod to our live show and how the live show has shaped our songs on this record.
Bowman: I thought it was a great idea to have it for the first song of the record, too, being like, alright, you have Alex alone with the guitar, and then it’s, “Okay, now we’re in the record, let’s go full-throttle.” It’s a cool break I think we pulled off.
Talking about your live show, you’ve talked about before how touring a lot, you’ve seen one another change. And so, less about changing and more about the aspect of just traveling: speak to the impact of going out and seeing the country at this age.
Luciano: I think it’s really cool and special and I think it’s shaped us just to meet so many different people in so many different places and to be able to connect with people in cities that we’ve never been or places we never thought we would go. And just to find people there who also get you and get what you’re saying is really special and made me feel like there are so many people out there who understand what I’m going through: the picture’s a little bigger than the one city I’m in.
That relates to one question I always ask, and I guess this would be a good time to put a little variation on it: if there was one thing you’ve done, anywhere you’ve been, that you would recommend to somebody, what would it be?
Bowman: Whoa, man, that’s hard. Oh! Recently, we went to the City Museum in St. Louis [agreeing crosstalk]. I didn’t expect it to be what it was, it’s this giant building that’s been kinda flipped — what’s the whole thing they used?
Luciano: It’s basically reclaimed materials from the city to build these enormous, adult-sized, metal jungle gyms. It’s like Chuck-E-Cheese made out of reclaimed materials for adults. And there’s a bar in there, a couple bars, it’s huge! It’s in this enormous warehouse, and there are inside and outside spots, and a giant, ten-story slide. Museum is an understatement; it’s an adult–
Bowman: — playground!
Luciano: — playground!
Luciano: I think, honestly, though, for me, [were] the National Parks. You can get a park pass, get it for the year, and you just take a trip and go to those National Parks — I was so in awe of those places. I was like, “I can’t believe those are real!”
Food seemed to be a prominent motif throughout the album, so how did that inspire different portions of the album?
Luciano: Even while recording and in our life, I think a lot of what our existence revolves around is food — I mean, everyone, obviously — but we, when we were recording, we would make dinner every night or bake brownies and cakes and stuff every night. Our recording process is food-centric, which is good and bad. [laughs] I mean, our EP is called Over Easy, which, we would get eggs at this one place in New Paltz every single day that whole summer we were writing it, and it was such a part of our routine.
I think that our interactions and the way we connect with so many people revolve a lot around food and I feel like when you’re sitting with someone and eating, that ceremony of mealtime or whatever is really important in a way to connect with people, and I think we channeled that into the record — I don’t know, we just fucking love food! [
Bowman: Especially on tour, it could affect your whole day. If we don’t get to eat breakfast, I feel like, during a day on tour, that could shape our whole day on being either bad or good. Or if we could find a place that’s a good breakfast spot, we’re like, “Yeah, cool, we scored this food — I don’t know where we are in the country right now!” And just planning this awesome, awesome breakfast, and everyone’s happy, and it shapes the whole day.
Luciano: When I go to the grocery store, that’s like my zen space. And I love to cook at home, so I love going to the grocery store. I like going alone, and it’s kinda this ceremonious, in a way, special me-time I have; I love to cook, and that’s my one space where I can just have fun and cook food; it’s so relaxing to me. So I feel like that is important, emotionally to me, going to the grocery store, which I think shapes some of the lyrics in our record a lot. [Maybe they] came to me during the grocery store, or about being in the grocery store.
The question that always comes about, then, is: What’s your favorite sandwich?
Luciano: We have the same favorite sandwich.
Luciano: Roast beef, [static] cheese, lettuce, onions, pickles, mayo, mustard, on a hard roll?
Bowman: Hard roll, or multigrain, or something.
Luciano: Yeah, classic deli. We just moved away from New York, and we’re having a hard time finding the perfect deli sandwich. And so, we’ve been on the search. I’m excited to get back on tour just to like find somewhere to eat a really good roast beef sandwich.
You have the “Link in Bio” hat with Antler & Woods. How did that come about?
Bowman: Antler & Woods is a good friend of mine that I grew up with. We’d been hanging out, and I’ve helped model some of the clothes with them, and in conversation one day they’re like, “Why don’t we do a collab and do something fun?”, and we were all on the same page and thought, this is only going to help both of us and is just an easy thing, so [we] kinda jumped on it. I think, actually, Jessi, our manager, was like, “You should put [“Link in Bio”] on hats!”
Luciano: We had Kelly Ryan, who did our album art — she designed the text for it. So it was cool to be able to work with a lot of our friends. And Michael, who helps run Antler & Woods, has been like getting on us, like “You have to make hats, you have to make hats, people love hats!” So we’re like, “Fine, you know what? We’ll make hats! Let’s collab on it”, and so it was this fun thing we got to do with our friends — they’re awesome, [Antler & Woods] is based in Brooklyn, they’re super worth checking out. It’s one of our favorite songs on our record, too, so we were like, this is perfect, we have to put this on a hat.
What is the secret to finding the balance [of lyrically-aware songs that can be danced to]?
Luciano: When it comes to the instrumental parts, we just make music that we want to listen to and dance to, and when it comes to adding the lyrics, it’s natural, whatever emotions are there. I think it’s easy to write a song that is kinda heavy lyrically and content-wise, but have it be a fun song rhythmically. I think that’s a lot of what we do: taking songs that are about shitty situations and tough emotions and reclaiming those feelings and turning them into something that can be celebrated.
Are there any artists who have influenced your work in a way that might not be immediately evident from what we hear?
Bowman: We’re really into painting and other mediums: just being around other artists influences you just by looking at something or making you feel a certain way.
Luciano: I think there are a lot of artists that influence us — musicians — that our record doesn’t sound like. Like, Mariah Carey, our songs don’t sound like Mariah Carey. [laughs] Her songs kinda influenced the way we looked at [“I Don’t Know Her”]. But also, growing up, listening to pop music influenced the way I make melodies with my vocals and try to create harmonies. I think I’m influenced vocally by the pop music I listened to while growing up. And, also, pop-punk music, which is a little more clear. N*SYNC, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears: growing up listening to those artists, you know, they’re a lot more influential than I think is clear through our songs.
Those kinds of early-2000s artists, for a long time, everyone would just roll their eyes, and be like, “Oh, that was
that thing. That was just pop in the 2000s.” As I talk to more and more people about it, everyone is more open to admitting that they are influential and super talented and very important influences in a lot of music that is coming out today. Pop music gets a lot of shit! It’s not fair to [those artists] because they are so talented and influential to other music than straight-up pop.
I Wikipedia’d N*SYNC because I’d never done that before and, you know, I figured I’d learn something new. And apparently, there’s this horror film called Dead 7 that was directed by one of the Backstreet Boys [n.b. Nick Carter] and stars like all these former boy band members. It just seems like such an odd, campy thing to watch them–
Luciano: Oh my God.
Bowman: We have something to watch later.
Luciano: Yeah, that sounds amazing.
One of the lyrics that stuck with me because of how frequently it gets talked about but not expanded upon is the line about wanting to take over the world [from “Link in Bio”]. So, what would a world under your rule be like?
Luciano: Well, we would address climate change like real human beings. I just read this really scary article about the actual effects that climate change is going to have on us, not just like, “Oh, it’s going to get warmer and polar bears are going to die.” No, people are going to burn alive outside in the next 50 years. [The article discussed was David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth” in New York Magazine.] What about you?
Bowman: Oh, gosh, there are so many things right now that I’d like to change!
Luciano: Be silly, too.
Bowman: I’d do something as simple as no more parking meters–
Luciano: No more parking meters!
Bowman: Yeah: just straight park where you want to park.
Luciano: I would appoint Guy Fieri into some sort of government Flavortown ambassador office. I would appoint a sector of the government to be Flavortown, and he would be in charge of it, and they would do all sorts of food-related government things. Like, government-subsidized Flavortown fairs!
Guy Fieri just is [a human meme], and I don’t think he knows it, he just does his own thing.
Luciano: I read somewhere that it makes him sad that he’s a meme because he tries hard to be genuine. I love him as a meme, but I also love him as a person. His whole show is about helping small businesses! It kinda makes me sad that he’s such a meme if it makes him sad, but I hope that he’s not sad about it and making more money and living his truth.
You talked about your live show before, so, for the upcoming tour, what’s that going to be like?
Bowman: Oh, it’s just gonna be live! [laughs] No, it’s going to be fun! We’re excited because we’re touring with Ratboys, and they’re such a great band, they just put out an awesome record like a week or two ago. We’re just super excited to tour with them and also keep touring our record because we haven’t played a lot of places yet since this record’s been out. Especially that we’re going overseas to Europe in the fall. Just to do it, and keep rocking and having a fun show.
Luciano: We are just slowly building our live show up to be the best it can be. And I’ve been adding amps, so I have this wall of amps! And Noah has his kit all outfitted. We’ve been adding fake flowers on stage and decorations and trying to be goofy and fun — we just want to have as much fun as possible and make the show as fun as possible for everyone because it’s such a privilege to get to play live. We want everyone to forget how shitty the world could be for an hour and just rock out with us!