Feature: Bowlin' with Diet Cig
Text and photos by Julia Leiby, Music Director
Alex Luciano is an Energizer Bunny. She hops around onstage, a wide grin across her face, while her bandmate Noah Bowman hammers away at the drums, composed, precise and determined. The two create earnest, funny and honest pop songs as the band Diet Cig, and they’re in the middle of a month long tour. It is their third this year. I caught up with the pair before their set at Mahall’s, the Lakewood bowling alley/venue, with Sheer Mag. When asked about the band’s newfound buzz, Luciano expressed how their success has let them be part of a community of musicians they had once only admired from afar and said she’s lucky to be involved.
When mentioning their NYC based label, Father / Daughter Records, Luciano lit up, referring to its founder Jessi Frick as a good friend “and a lifeline,” saying she texts her five or six times a day.
Diet Cig formed at the very end of last summer. Luciano, 20, is from outside of Albany, New York, and attends school at SUNY New Paltz, now taking a semester off to tour. Luciano discussed how she felt that Albany “was not her place” because of the hardcore scene and how it didn’t quite mesh with her ideals. She also said Diet Cig, despite New Paltz being the first DIY scene they were involved in, “doesn’t love New Paltz the way we’re supposed to.”
She paused and said, “I’m almost scared to talk about it. We just didn’t feel entirely welcome. We started playing more in New York City.” She said, “New York is much more supportive for female musicians, but in New Paltz, our female-fronted, poppy two-piece was not taken seriously.” She said she felt Diet Cig “didn’t get the same level of respect other bands got,” discussing some local “dude bands” who were staples of the scene.
Once Diet Cig was off the ground and playing beyond New Paltz, however, they found confidence and a supportive community. Luciano is boisterous and bouncy, while Bowman, 22, who fronted the New Paltz band Earl Boykins before he met Luciano, is more aloof, quietly sure of his words. Luciano said that as a child, she was “overexcited about everything” and “the center of attention.” Bowman, a fraternal twin, says his twin was the more outgoing one. Luciano said, “I toned down as I grew up and developed more social anxiety. When I started playing electric guitar, I felt like I didn’t have to yell anymore. This will do my yelling for me.” She says of their first shows, “I was so terrified, every show was like I had an out of body experience because I had so much anxiety. It took me months to get over it.”
She remembered playing their first show and said, “Noah was repeating, ‘Just two [songs] left’ from behind the drum kit.” Bowman said, “I knew she could do it,” and they laughed as Luciano said, “My dancing [around on stage] is my security blanket, my stage cactus” – referring to a band they saw who always brought a cactus on stage with them.
Luciano talked about playing a newer song, entitled “Alex,” about anger felt at an old boyfriend when she was 16. She said, “Singing is one of my only chances to feel cathartic about expressing anger. I usually push it away. As I’m playing the songs I bring up the anger,” she said, smiling, “and I smash it...I have to do it, because it’s what I’m feeling.”
On Diet Cig’s new 7”, during the final song “Dinner Date,” Luciano sings, “I had the lamest date to the daddy daughter dance,” with mocking bitterness in her voice. She said, “It’s basically about how my dad sucks. I ended up performing it when he came to see us play, and I was worried about how it would go,” but went through with it anyway.
At Mahall’s, the band runs through a quick set to a mostly quiet audience, but by the time Luciano sings “Harvard,” a standout from their 2015 EP Over Easy, she is glistening with sweat and shredding guitar while her back is on the ground and her feet are kicking in the air, and people are swaying along. I can see why Diet Cig’s music appeals to many teen- and college-age girls who are finding their place in the world through heartbreak and anger and feeling misunderstood. Luciano and Bowman voice these fears and feelings in such an accessible and relatable way--simple songs, power chords and emotional lyrics. Diet Cig is a plaintive and empathetic new friend to listeners, especially women, who otherwise wouldn’t have someone to yell with.