Pop-punk duo Diet Cig graced D.C.’s Rock And Roll Hotel last week in front of an eager sold-out crowd. Front-woman Alex Luciano, known for her contagious energy and sweetly provocative lyricism, left no one disappointed with her hyperactive splits, kicks and jumps while drummer Noah Bowman held down the fort by keeping time.
Diet Cig’s latest release Swear I’m Good At This made up the majority of the set, grabbing the audience immediately with “Sixteen,” then progressing through hits like “Maid of the Mist”, “Barf Day” and “Tummy Ache.” Woven between the new material were classics “Harvard” “Dinner Date” and “Sleep Talk.”
Diet Cig was supported by Seattle-based rock group Great Grandpa and Scottish queer-punk band The Spook School for a night of powerful rock and roll, laughter and occasional intimacy.
WMUC had the privilege of talking to Diet Cig before the set, affirming that the cheerful persona Luciano and Bowman maintain while performing, is a reflection of their authenticity even off stage:
Jordan: This show brings you to the last leg of the tour! How does this compare to tours you’ve had previously?
Alex: It’s been really different because we’re traveling as a four-piece, so playing as a four-piece has been probably the biggest change, which has been super fun. It’s still the same songs and the spirit of Diet Cig is the same, but it’s just more stuff.
How has being a four-piece affected your normal dynamic?
Noah: It’s definitely a fuller sound. It feels like we can actually do a lot more of what the record sounds like—like having the synth lines on the record that we couldn’t do before, having the bass to fill in the low end—it feels really powerful now.
Alex: I have to be more careful on stage to make sure I don’t kick anyone.
Noah: The first couple shows, you and Anna hit headstocks.
Alex: I knocked myself out of tune. But it’s been really fun to have more people on stage to goof around with.
And this isn’t the first time you’ve been to D.C. You just played an NPR Tiny Desk not too long ago. How was that?
Noah: It was wild. It was one of those things where you’ve seen it so many times and then you’re there and you’re just like “whoa.” Kind of an out-of-body experience.
Alex: We were so excited and honored to have a Tiny Desk performance, and so we wanted it to be perfect and so good. I think we were pretty nervous because we love and respect it so much, but it ended up being really fun and cool. We’ve never done anything like it before so it was really special.
—It looked like you were having a lot fun standing on the desk. Has that happened before? Did they say anything?
Alex: I don’t think so…maybe like one time before.
Well that’s an honor then, you should get a plaque for that.
Alex: Yeah haha. And for not breaking the Tiny Desk…
This is random, but I was reading around and learned that Avril Lavigne was one of your favorite artists growing up.
Alex: Yeah, I love Avril! That was my first concert ever.
In what ways do you think she inspired you?
Alex: I think the thing with Avril Lavigne was she was the first rock artist that was not a white-cis male. And I don’t think I necessarily currently take a whole ton of inspiration from her music, but I think as a kid it was really important for me to see a femme person rocking out and doing their thing unapologetically like that, and I think that was like very formative.
Speaking of your music, Swear I’m Good At This got an unusually negative review from Pitchfork. How do you respond and bounce back from opposition like that?
Alex: Honestly, it definitely sucks, but we have such incredible, sweet fans of our music that their support means more to us than anything a publication could write. Even when we get great press and people are like “Oh my gosh you got this write-up in The New York Times you must feel so validated!” Honestly, the press is not the thing that validates us. It’s really cool, but the real stuff that makes us feel good is seeing our fans at shows and interacting with them.
The Pitchfork thing was a bummer, but we don’t do it for the press because we love our fans and we love making music, and that interaction is the most validating part. So we just brushed it off and were like “Okay, cool, let’s go play a show and be with our fans who are on the same page as us.”
Have you noticed a change in your fanbase from when you started making music to currently?
Noah: I guess it’s just growing. More and more people are coming out and more people know the words. The cool thing is what songs resonate with different cities. Sometimes “Bite Back” will be the song that everyone is yelling, and then “Sixteen” is always the one everyone misses the cue.
Alex: Everyone always beats me to it…it’s really funny. It’s been really cool to watch our fanbase grow. It feels so wild and amazing to return to cities we’ve been to and sell them out, and meet folks who like our music from the very beginning, and meet folks who are like “I found you on Spotify three days ago and I’m obsessed with your band.”
Noah: Or the ones who are just like “I found out about you just now. My friend brought me here, and I had no idea and now I’m a fan.” That’s awesome.
Alex: I feel like the demographic of our fans isn’t necessarily changing, but broadening. It’s interesting to see the newer groups of people who gravitate towards our music. We’ll have moms come and be like “I love your music. I’m going to show it to my kids who can’t come tonight” or really young kids who love it, or bro dudes who are jamming to “Tummy Ache” and I’m just like “How does that even resonate with you?” But they love it, and it’s kind of a funny thing to see how so many different people have been coming to our shows and like having a blast all together.
You guys are from New York, right? How does it feel when you play back home—is it any different from your other tour destinations?
Noah: It’s just kind of a special thing because all of our friends are still there. We don’t live in New York now, we live in Richmond, so going back is a treat.
Alex: And our family comes.
Noah: It’s always a special show every time we go back to New York.
Alex: And most of the people we work with professionally are based in New York, so our whole team is there. It’s almost like when people at their wedding joke that they never get to talk to everybody. It’s almost like that. We have so many friends and people we want to talk to and hang out with, but it’s so hectic. It’s like a tornado of love.
Alex, you mentioned The New York Times earlier, and in their piece they released last fall about women making the best rock music today you mentioned how you feel that there’s a preconceived expectation placed on you as a “small girl” on stage. What are these expectations for non-male musicians, and how do you combat them?
Alex: There are so many expectations put on non-cis-male musicians, especially contradicting ones. Like, you can’t be too bitchy but you have to be tough. It’s like you’re never enough as you are. I think our record especially is super honest and emotional, and it really covers a lot of ground across the spectrum, and I think I wanted to show that every emotion and every nuanced bit of myself and others is important. Even the stuff that is not super powerful. Even the stuff that is gross and annoying and angry.
I think just being honest and vulnerable on stage and in my writing is a really radical way to combat this view that women and non-cis-men have to be some type of way. And it’s bullshit. Rock and roll is for everybody, and your feelings are valid regardless if they aren’t easy to swallow. I think being unapologetically yourself as you make our art is a really radical way to combat that sentiment.
On the flip side, Noah, what kind of things have you experienced on this topic from your perspective?
Noah: I feel like I’ve become more aware of what is going on now, having Alex be the front person and dealing with everyone around. I kind of hate dudes sometimes. I get really almost defensive and protective. The other night this guy came on stage while we were playing. I immediately stopped, and it wasn’t a malicious thing at first, but I was just like “I don’t know what’s going to happen because when a guy comes on stage, we’ve all seen the worst that’s happened.”
Alex: I feel like you totally have our backs in a really important way.
Noah: I hate too when people come to me to ask questions about what Alex is doing, about the guitars. I’m just like “I play drums. I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe you should ask the person who’s playing guitar.” It’s a lot of going to the guitar store and the guy’s talking to me and I’m like “I’m with her. You should ask her.” I hate that most men just go straight to the other dude. I don’t even play guitar, I can’t even have a conversation with why are you coming to me? Alex could talk you out the freakin door about guitars. I can’t. That’s what I’ve noticed.
What can you say about the community of female artists right now? Is it tight knit?
Alex: I think it’s tight knit, but not in a way that feels cliquey or anything. It’s super supportive, and the internet is really cool because we can all have each other’s backs even if we don’t live in the same place. Like Karli who plays keys with us plays in a band called Plush, who we’ve met through playing shows in San Francisco where they’re based out of. It’s really cool how connections like that have been forged by playing together and collaborating now because we’ve always supported each other’s projects.
What does the future look like for gender diversity and femme presentation in the music scene?
Alex: I think the future is looking so hopeful and amazing, and I think there has always been incredible femme musicians. I mean, women created rock and roll, and the presentation in the media and in major outlets will keep increasing. Women and femme folks will get more coverage in a way they’ve always deserved.
I feel super privileged to be making music in this time because of that, and am thankful for everyone who has come before me. I feel like it’s coming to a time where women are even more recognized for their achievements, not only as artists, but as team members: management, booking agencies, and the parts of the industry that you don’t hear a lot about. The ones that have been traditionally run by men at the top for a very long time, and I think changes are being made in big ways right now in the industry, and more women are running shit and more femme folks are taking over management and giving artists an experience that is inclusive and safe and I think that more than anything is going to change the face of music in general.
And just wrapping up, what are your plans for after tour?
Noah: We go home, and sleep in our own beds for a second, have a couple shows at some colleges, and then we’re pretty much writing our next record. So, that’s the next big thing we’re thinking about.
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Piece originally posted by WMUC FM 88.1 on February 2018.