Dynamic DIY Duo Diet Cig Shun Scenes and ‘Just Wanna Dance’

Photography by Amanda Silberling

Is there a formula to instant indie stardom? Diet Cig doesn’t think so – but if there were a formula, the New Paltz garage pop duo would be its pioneers.

Outside of Cake Shop in Lower Manhattan, Alex Luciano jumps up and down, skips back and forth, and dances around. “I’m so hyped! I have so much adrenaline!” says the singer and guitarist of Diet Cig. She waits on Ludlow Street for her bandmate, drummer Noah Bowman, to park the car so that they can unload their gear for their first of six shows at CMJ, BreakThru Radio‘s day party – but when Bowman arrives, the two bandmates decide to grab some signature Brooklyn dollar pizza before heading into the venue. Once on stage, Luciano’s boundless energy doesn’t wane – she jumps off of Bowman’s drumset, gaining serious air, and glides several feet across the stage. Diet Cig embodies the lightning bolts that decorate Luciano’s guitar strap – they’re hyperactive, and it’s impossible to predict their next move.

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Diet Cig at CMJ 2015 in NYC

Twenty year-old Alex Luciano never planned to drop out of SUNY New Paltz to tour the country, let alone join a band at all.

“I’ve never been in a band – I feel like I’m literally learning to play guitar right now,” says Luciano. “I was really scared, but Noah convinced me to do it, and if I can convince other people who are, like, too scared because they don’t think they’re good enough or technical enough – whatever! You can do it! People will still like it!”

After Luciano and Bowman decided to record the Over Easy EP for fun, Diet Cig’s punk-infused pop got picked up by Father/Daughter Records, an independent, family-owned label. A year later at CMJ’s 2015 Music Marathon, Diet Cig established themselves as the band to talk about, impressing their crowds with their high-energy, entertaining performance. In early October, the two bandmates relocated to Brooklyn so that they can play more shows and reach more fans.

“There are a lot of bands in Brooklyn,” Bowman explains. “You’ll find out about bands that you’ve never even heard of yet, but they have such a huge following. And we’re only two hours from New Paltz or Philadelphia,” Bowman notes, knowing that he and Luciano have months of touring on the horizon – they even announced this week that they will tour the UK in January, which will be their first time overseas.

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Diet Cig performs at Goldilocks Gallery in Philadelphia

Less than a week after their last CMJ show, Diet Cig drove through New Jersey (to Bowman’s frustration – he hates Jersey) to perform at Goldilocks Gallery in Philadelphia for a one-off show. Shari Heck of Cyberbully Mom Club and OÓR put the gig together, showcasing Philly locals like Hello Shark and Sachi alongside New York favorites Fern Mayo and Diet Cig.

“Philly’s always so much fun for us,” Luciano says. “I played spin the bottle for the first time in our friend’s basement with maybe fifteen, twenty people? Everyone was kissing everyone!”

At the Goldilocks Gallery, a DIY art space in Old City, a niche genre of music becomes a central focus – Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos is as well-known as Beyoncé in this space. When the first act of the night Sachi covers “Leonie” from Frankie Cosmos‘ album Zentropy, and nearly everyone in the room sings along with incredible passion as though the song’s lyrics are as intuitive as the National Anthem. It’s an emotional moment for the crowd to share their cult-like enthusiasm for artists who aren’t too well known beyond the DIY sphere – but as Luciano notes, though the group-mentality and collective fanfare can be enrapturing, it can also alienate those who are new to a certain type of music.

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Diet Cig performs at Goldilocks Gallery in Philadelphia

“I don’t think we’ve necessarily aspired to be in a scene. I think we’ve always kind of had the mindset of like, we want to be a band in the world,” Bowman says. “We want to meet as many people and bands as we can.”

Bowman and Luciano aren’t just talk – before their set at Goldilocks Gallery, they make an effort to hang out in the pit, rather than backstage, acting more like fans than headliners. “In high school, there’s always that kid who hangs with the jocks, and the nerdy kids, and the goths,” says Luciano. “I feel like our dream is to be that kid. We want to float around and feel the community sense wherever we go. ”

Though most bands and venues associated with DIY music tend to encourage inclusivity – some house venues even display public signs encouraging respect of all people – DIY scenes aren’t always easy to maneuver, so accessibility becomes a paradox. “Scenes totally suck,” Luciano says, harking back to Diet Cig’s debut single “Scene Sick,” where she sings: “I’m sick of hearing about your scene/I’d rather talk about something more exciting/I don’t care, I don’t care/I just wanna dance!”

And, Alex Luciano sure can dance, even though she thinks she dances “like when you’re at a wedding with your family.” When “Dancing Queen” by ABBA plays before her set, she jumps around in the pit, encouraging people she has never met to join her, and once again, the crowd breaks into a group sing-a-long of the classic 70’s pop hit.

If the same group of people can shout lyrics by both Frankie Cosmos and ABBA, maybe scenes aren’t always so insular. As is obvious at the Goldilocks Gallery show, Luciano tries to make her shows inclusive by flaunting her outgoing, upbeat personality, talking to new people and making friends. “You kind of have to try to make the best of [scenes], and our way of dealing with it is to see what’s going on in all of them,” she says. “We don’t want to be pigeonholed into one scene, because scenes do suck. Everyone knows it. No one’s saying it, but everyone knows. But it also has its awesome parts.”

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Diet Cig at CMJ 2015 in NYC

When Diet Cig gets on stage, no one’s thinking about looking cool. By the time their set starts, past midnight, the crowd is more wild than they’ve been all night. When a mosh pit starts to form, Luciano says between songs, “Wow, no one’s ever tried to mosh at our shows before – obligatory statement, please be careful!” And, though the moshing dies down, the energy rages on, and Luciano even runs through the crowd – her guitar still plugged in – to hype her fans up more and more.

In the middle of the set, Diet Cig premieres a new, untitled song, which Alex Luciano claims to have just written. It’s a song about dating someone also named Alex in high school, and how “it was weird, moaning [her] own name.”

“I think my lyrics are super, super personal, because I’m the type of person that feels like I can only write what I know,” Luciano says. Over Easy hits a climax on its final song “Harvard,” where Luciano sings about an ex-boyfriend who dumped her for a girl at Harvard. In an angry, yet remorseful refrain, she writes, “Does it feel better to be in an Ivy League sweater?”

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Diet Cig performs at Goldilocks Gallery in Philadelphia

Unlike the road to Over Easy, the writing process for Diet Cig’s next album will be more conscious of how listeners will react. Diet Cig established a much larger audience after their first EP – “We didn’t even expect to put out Over Easy,” Bowman notes. But he and Luciano and Bowman still want to retain the diary-like, emotional vulnerability that defines their first EP. “I try to keep my songs honest, because I think people like the honesty about it,” Luciano says.

The Goldilocks Gallery show was one of Diet Cig’s last shows of the year, and they plan to write songs for their first full-length album before they leave to tour the UK in January.

“I feel like we’re in a good spot right now. We’re okay. We’ll see in like, a week or two,” Bowman says, laughing.

Dropping out of college to go on tour seems crazy, but that’s not a problem for Diet Cig – their adventure is just beginning.

See all the photos from NYC and Goldilocks Gallery in the slideshow below!

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1 Comment

  1. Bryana Natale

    November 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Diet Cig’s lyrics: “I’m sick of hearing about your scene/I’d rather talk about something more exciting/I don’t care, I don’t care/I just wanna dance!” is my new mantra!

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