Diet Cig's Alex Luciano remembers the first time an electric guitar buzzed to life in her hands.
“We went and tried to practice and (bandmate Noah Bowman) plugged me in. It was kinda like, ‘Whooooaaaa,'” she says. “I just felt so powerful, like I could rock.”
Bowman remembers that moment, too.
“Her jaw dropped. Drool came down her face,” he says, with Luciano cackling in the background. “I think her whole body melted.”
These days, Diet Cig—a budding young band based out of New Paltz, New York—is becoming known far and wide for its ultra-catchy pop-rock, penned by Luciano and powered by punk energy and the ennui of early adulthood. But there was a time when Luciano's songs were simply bedroom wonders, written on an acoustic guitar but with nowhere to go.
“I didn't really know what I'd do with them,” says the 20-year-old Luciano. “I really liked them and I liked writing songs and I knew I wanted to do something. But I wasn't sure what.”
The duo's first meeting is already a thing of indie-pop legend: Bowman was playing a house show with his band Earl Boykins, and Luciano interrupted to ask him if he had a lighter. They hit it off; Luciano started hanging out with Bowman and his band, and her eyes were opened to the joys of playing music with other people.
“I never really thought being in a band would be my thing,” she says. “But being around other bands and going to more shows…made me realize that anyone can do it if they really want to. And it's so much fun.”
Eventually, Luciano shared her tunes with Bowman, who suggested new arrangements and more volume.
“He structured our songs so they're fun to dance to,” Luciano says. “I'm totally gonna dedicate a chapter to him in my memoir.”
Bowman, 22, is nonchalant about the whole thing. “It was really more of just, like, we needed something to do. She already had the songs,” he says. “Honestly, this whole thing was never a plan. It was just, like, let's write some songs and maybe play some house shows and have a good time. But now we're where we are now.”
When Diet Cig talked to CityBeat, the duo was in Olympia, Washington, nearing the end of a two-month road trip before their first national tour, which kicked off Sept. 1 in Seattle. Their route zig-zagged them from New Paltz to the South to Chicago to New Orleans, across the Southwest and the Rocky Mountains (where the scenery made them “feel very small in a good way,” Luciano says), then down to Los Angeles and up the West Coast.
Diet Cig plays September 8 at The Hideout
“Our leases ended at the end of June and we knew this tour was gonna happen,” Bowman says. “We could either get a place and pay to not live there or we could go on the road and travel and see a lot more than we would see if we were on tour.”
The band's actual, musical tour coincides with the vinyl release of its new “Sleep Talk”/“Dinner Date” single, which follows the five-song Over Easy EP released in February. That's only seven songs total, but that hasn't stopped big-time publications from heaping praise on Luciano and Bowman. Stereogum declared Diet Cig a “band to watch” while premiering the band's first-ever tune to be released to the public, and Rolling Stone praised the song “Scene Sick” in print, right between Kanye West and Kid Rock.
No doubt about it, Diet Cig's sound is likeable. All seven of those songs spill over with jangling guitars and charming melodies, as Luciano sings of infatuation, indifference, breakups and boredom, the absence of kitchenware in her first apartment and hopping a fence to go swimming, and never wanting to hear about your band again. She delivers it all with a world-weary perspective and effortless cool that belies her age.
And she comes by that naturally. “It's definitely all me. It's all in my head. Which is why it was scary at first because it was like, ‘Oh my god, these are all my personal thoughts happening right now and everyone's listening to them,'” Luciano says. “I feel like I can only write about what I know, so all the songs are things that have happened to me or feelings that I've felt. Which makes me feel like I enjoy playing them more because it's all me.”
Which is not to say Luciano doesn't take a bit of artistic license here and there. How else, then, could she paint such a convincing picture of 1994 in “Breathless,” in which she hopes you'll come over and watch The Simpsons on her floor—just ignore her DVD box set, she notes in the lyrics, because DVDs didn't exist back then.
Neither did Luciano, of course. “My mom was like, ‘I graduated high school in 1994!
What the heck? You weren't even alive yet,'” Luciano says with a laugh. “I mean, I was the next year. I always thought it was a cool time. But mostly it just rhymed well.”