Diet Cig on their accidental lockdown album: “When we get to tour again, my soul is gonna explode”
Back in March, Diet Cig were gearing up to release their second album ‘Do You Wonder About Me?’. The acerbic pop-punks, originally formed upstate of New York City in the artsy town of New Paltz, were both champing at the bit to get back on the road after taking an extended break from touring to write, and their new record seems tailor-made for a sweaty basement crammed with singing hordes.
Filled with Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman’s now-trademark wit, ‘Do You Wonder About Me?’ – recorded long before the coronavirus crisis hit – also contains its fair share of accidental lockdown anthems, detailing days spent unable to leave the house, sending love letters by priority mail, and putting forward the message that it’s valid to be both thriving, and struggling.
When the lockdown came into play, the duo knew they had to press on regardless. “We’re excited to just be able to share the album with people,” Alex says, “and hopefully we can give them something nice to get through all of it.” NME caught up with the pop-punk duo on FaceTime to find out more.
Where are you both locked down at the moment?
Alex: “We moved to Richmond, VA right after our debut record came out. It’s super-chill, and there’s such a great art community. I started screen printing and working at Studio Two Three – a nonprofit studio – after we got back from tour, and through this I’ve been making masks there. They have a really safe, big area for making PPE masks, so we’ve been doing that.”
Noah: “It was pretty fun moving here, because we didn’t really tell anybody. We didn’t tell our label. We didn’t even tell our parents! Within 48 hours we had signed the lease in Richmond, got a U-Haul and brought all our stuff down. It’s a lot more calm than Brooklyn.”
You have quite a few accidental quarantine anthems on your new album. Has that felt strange?
Alex: “It has been really interesting listening to the album back now, yeah, given the current circumstances. The first verse on ‘Broken Body’ says, “I can’t even walk one fucking block from my house.” The lyrics are so relatable!”
What is that song actually about, then?
Alex: “I tore my knee ligament on stage in 2017. I was just doing the normal silly punk bullshit, and when I jumped off the drums – which were on a riser – I landed wrong. My knee just went the wrong way. The next summer I finally got surgery, and the recovery was intense – I couldn’t walk for six weeks without crutches. My leg was a full-length locking brace. I was super depressed, and really questioning who I was without my physical ability to walk and jump around. I feel like I placed so much of my self-worth in being this active person and it really made me question, ‘Why I do that?’.
“I just tried really hard to celebrate the version of me that was broken, even though it felt bad, and I tried to combat the internalised ableism that I had been dealing with. It was a really challenging time and I came out of it with a lot more self love. It was definitely a learning experience.”
On your debut album, you sang about how you can’t keep your houseplants alive on ‘Barf Day’. Here, on ‘Worth The Wait’ you’re singing about taking pride in caring for them instead. Have your gardening skills improved?
Alex: “I’ve gotten so much better. Touring is really bad for having houseplants. When we were writing ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ we were on tour a lot, so the houseplants were not thriving! We wrote this one while we were home. I think it’s a good barometer for what we were doing when we were writing…”
Noah: “I planted an avocado pit like two years ago. It’s huge now. I like to feel like a proud dad. I nurtured you, and changed your pot! I’ve changed your soil! It won’t have any fruit for like, 15 years, but I don’t care.”
Other than the state of your houseplants, how did the experience of making this second album differ?
Noah: “With the first record, we were kind of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Now, after touring so much over the past three years, we’ve learned our strengths. We tried to be more intentional with our decision-making.”
Alex: “All the kind of shorter songs – the little vignettes on the album like ‘Priority Mail’ or ‘Make Out (Interlude) or ‘Worth the Wait’ – those are the kinds of songs where I think maybe in the past we would think: ‘we have to make this a full band song’. Big drums, guitars that come at you. And on this record, we really wanted to serve the mood of the song more and not be so afraid of showing that kind of vulnerable, small moment. It was about leaning into the idea that these small moments can be as powerful as the big loud driving ones.”
Talking of big, driving moments, though, ‘Flash Flood’ definitely fits into that latter category…
Alex: “Yeah, definitely. When we wrote it, we wanted to have a fun punk song to play live and have fun with like. Going into this record in general, we were thinking a lot about what songs we want to play live for the next couple of years, or however long. ‘Flash Flood’ was one where we were like, this one is gonna rock.”
Noah: “That one was fun to make, because we didn’t really have it fully written when we went to record. It’s just drums, guitar and vocals. We were thinking, should we put bass in, too? And then we thought, ‘Nah – fuck that. We’ll just leave it raw.’ This is who we were when we first started Diet Cig. It was just the two of us, and this is a kind of an ode to that.”
Alex: “We did it in three takes. It’s supposed to feel like you’re at some basement show.”
Do you think it’s fair to say that this album has a certain campiness about it?
Alex: “Oh my gosh – for sure, in a lot of these songs. “I promise not to kill you in my sleep” on ‘Night Terrors’ – it’s sung so sweetly, and is almost unhinged in a way, It feels like the borderline musical theatre part of my brain. Our mastering engineer sent me this, ‘Who are you?’ moodboard, and it was all these like video clips from old musicals. Y’know, ‘I’m gonna watch that man right outa my hair’ [from South Pacific]. It was so spot on. I grew up doing theatre, and I love dramatic, campy lyrics. Ours definitely have that element of bringing the melodrama and really leaning into the emotion shamelessly.”
Are you into musicals?
Alex: “Noah’s not. I love musicals, though. Grease is an all time favourite movie of mine. I think of the way that songs are written in musicals – they’re storytelling as they’re singing. Growing up watching all of these musicals has probably really influenced the way that I like to write.”
Obviously gigs are off the cards for the time being. Do you have a mental image of what the first show back might be like?
Alex: “It’s gonna be so blissful. I think everyone’s gonna be so happy to be there, and we’re gonna have so many tricks up our sleeves. We’re gonna have more time to really hone in on all the things we were planning for the Spring tour: we’ll have some synchronised dance move situations happening. So it’s gonna be awesome, I think and really joyous.”
Noah: “As soon as the day comes, I feel like my soul is just gonna explode.”