Here’s the first thing you need to know about New York “slop-pop” duo Diet Cig: they hate Burger King’s Mac n’ Cheetos.
“To be clear, I took one bite and almost gagged in my mouth,” says Alex Luciano, the band’s 21-year-old singer/guitarist and one of the liveliest sprites ever to grace a stage. “It was nothing like the advertisement! I had so much hope for it, and it totally disappointed.”
For Luciano and her partner in crime, drummer Noah Bowman, good road food has been vital for more than a year now. It feels a little weird to call this a “Best of What’s Next,” given that Diet Cig’s standout debut EP Over Easy came out in February 2015. But in the intervening time, Luciano and Bowman have been touring almost nonstop, steadily building a reputation as one of the country’s best live acts. I first saw the band when they came through Chicago in February; my Paste colleague Adrian Spinelli caught them three times at SXSW; we each left similarly euphoric and jubilant.
It’s pretty much impossible not to fall in love with Diet Cig within the first five minutes of seeing them live. Some bands are fronted by other-worldly gods or goddesses, people who understand us and our emotions because they’re omniscient and omnipotent. Alex Luciano is the exact opposite: she is us on stage, rocking out the way you’d play the air guitar in front of the bathroom mirror. Her lyrics concretely depict the mundanities and anxieties many young millennials share—Diet Cig’s excellent but very limited catalog of seven recorded songs ranges from the bitter, rollicking breakup song “Harvard” to the adulthood-fearing “Breathless”—but when she’s belting them out while high-kicking and jumping around like a maniac, the audience has no choice but to tell those worries to fuck off and join in the ecstasy.
“There’s such a difference between listening to something on your own and then going to a room full of people who are feeling the same feeling you’re feeling, letting it all out,” muses Luciano. “I think the live experience punctuates those feelings, adds the exclamation points, puts it in all caps, makes it real.”
Sometimes, things get a little too real. Once, Luciano recalls, she began a show by kicking her leg up so high that her shoelaces got caught on her tuning pegs. “So my leg is literally connected to the guitar in the air, and I’m hopping on my one foot, panicking, thinking I guess I’ll do this,” she laughs.
“I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more often,” adds Bowman. He’s got a point; after all, his bandmate used to practice her frenetic stage presence by jumping on her bed with an unplugged electric guitar.
The two met at a DIY show in late 2014, and even though they’ve outgrown the basements and house shows from whence they came, Diet Cig still maintains the aesthetic. Their songs are short and loud; their performances are raucous and sweaty; in interviews, they still come across as your fun neighbors who happen to be in a kickass band.
“The first DIY show I ever went to was Quarterbacks, Radiator Hospital and Free Cake [For Every Creature], and I went to it because I saw “Free Cake For Every Creature” and I was like, yeah, free cake, that’s adorable, I love cake,” says Luciano. “And so I went, and there wasn’t cake. But that was the first DIY show I went to, and it was so eye-opening…they were playing simple chords and writing simple, meaningful songs, and it was like, I could do that.”
Luciano had only been playing guitar for a couple years when she and Bowman formed Diet Cig, and she had never even played an electric. So, like The Ramones and other punks before her, she started out with technically easy, power chord-driven songs. Adding in Bowman’s hard-driving beats and her proclivity for writing catchy little melodies with honest lyrics resulted in the solar flare of Over Easy, which put the band on many critics’ radars. Looking back on it, the band feels like the recording process was a bit rushed—“eventually were like okay, these are the tweaks and the little things we probably should’ve thought about in advance,” admits Luciano—but given the warm reception the EP received, how much fun they had making it, and the ability it gave Diet Cig to take their time on their forthcoming debut album (expected early 2017), there’s little about which to complain.
One way in which the band hopes to grow as they craft their first LP and continue to hit the road is by increasing the depth of their sound. As loud as Diet Cig gets, there’s a limit to what you can do with just a guitar and drums, something Luciano feels acutely when she watches a band like Diarrhea Planet—with its four-guitar attack—dominate a stage. “I feel like we are constantly, we keep trying to get our sound to that kind of level,” she says. Bowman tells me the band is going for a “wider sound” with its next record, which encompasses everything from recording in a bigger room to Luciano amping up the confidence and aggression in her voice—she finds herself light and breathy on Over Easy.
But no matter the adjustments in the studio, Diet Cig’s signature live show should stay raucous and unforgettable, even as the band graduates into bigger venues. Luciano points to a recent tour opening for Front Bottoms as crucial for her stage persona. “It was really weird, because there was a barrier between the audience and the stage…it was the first time I really had to work with the crowd without being right up in their faces,” she says. Fortunately, all it really takes to dance to Diet Cig’s music is watching Luciano dance to Diet Cig’s music. She’s that charismatic.
Hopefully, the band’s rising star is accompanied by better novelty fast food along the way.