Don’t hang out with Diet Cig if you’re not willing to risk arrest or have your exploits immortalized in song. That’s not to say that every night the self-proclaimed “slop-pop” duo spent on the road over the past two years ended in flashing lights. It simply means that as in life, anything can—and will—happen.
“I just wanna get cool, let’s go swimming in a swimming pool / Show you how to hop the fence and meet you there in a few minutes,” Alex Luciano sings on “Pool Boyz,” from the band’s 2015 debut EP, Over Easy. “Had no idea the cops would cancel your tour / Pay your bill in merchandise sales / Let’s have a slumber party tonight in jail.”
“That was a really big bummer that we turned into a silly song,” Luciano recalls.
With a playful modus operandi, these moments of unpredictability are where Diet Cig shines, thriving amid life’s dichotomies. Sure, your 20s are messy and full of roadblocks, but they’re also exciting and ripe for adventure. Where there’s overwhelming uncertainty, Diet Cig finds freedom. “I don’t have any kitchenware / but I can walk ’round in my underwear,” Luciano sings on “Breathless.”
With Luciano on guitar/vocals and Noah Bowman on drums, the band is a byproduct of the same burgeoning DIY scene in New Paltz, New York, that spawned indie breakouts like Porches and Quarterbacks. The two met at a house show where Bowman’s band, Earl Boykins, was playing. Between songs, Luciano asked Bowman for a lighter and he handed her a bottle of wine instead.
“Now that I am a performer, I feel like I’d be so irritated with anyone who, like, asked me for anything as stupid as a lighter during my set,” Luciano muses. “So he was really gracious and kind about that.”
They formed a fast friendship and began noodling around on instruments together. Released on Father/Daughter Records, the resulting five-song EP took off, leading to a steady stream of touring gigs and a 7-inch follow-up, Sleep Talk/Dinner Date.
“I started playing guitar in high school. I learned three chords and learned some Bright Eyes covers and didn’t do anything with that,” Luciano says. “But then when I went to college, I had seen my first couple DIY shows and I was really impressed by people who were just like me, young kids in college just playing simple songs that were still poignant and, you know, meant something.”
Although Diet Cig songs clock in at a brisk two and a half minutes or less, they pack a punch. Tight, straightforward compositions highlight Luciano’s funny, incisive commentary. “I’m going through these phases of people and places / And the turkey is tasty, just like the shit that you’re talking,” she declares on “Dinner Date.”
While Luciano writes all of the lyrics, she credits Bowman with arrangements. Having played in bands since he was a teenager, he expands on the technical side of things.
“I actually don’t think Noah knows any of the lyrics to any of the songs but he knows the melodies,” she says. “Noah’s super helpful when we’re writing with finding good hooks and just integrating the lyrics rhythmically into the song.”
Bowman also comes up with all of the song names.
“[He’s] so much better at naming the songs than I am,” Luciano says. “I just think about it too much. His brain puts together phrases nicely.”
And when they needed a band name for a show flier, he came up with Diet Cig.
“It was really just a spontaneous jumble of words,” she muses. “But we like to say that we are addictive but not bad for you.”
It’s true: One taste of their live show and you’ll be coming back for more. As a performer, Luciano is spunky and buoyant, spending as much time in the air as she does with her feet planted on the stage. Reminiscent of a sprite, she kicks and twirls and jumps off amps. Her excitement and energy is infectious, propelling the crowd to dance right along with her. But, as she explains, her magnetic stage presence is something she had to work on.
“It really took me a long time,” say Luciano. “I was so nervous. I had performed before but I had never performed my own content to other people on stage.”
With Bowman providing encouragement from the drum kit, Luciano got through a four-song set. She then developed a strategy to help her deal with her nerves.
“I started really moving around a lot on stage and dancing around almost as a way to deal with the anxiety of being on stage,” she says. “Because one of my biggest anxieties stems from not being the best musician technically, and I would mess up a lot and I was really nervous about that. But I figured if I was dancing around a lot and having a lot of fun then I wouldn’t feel so bad about messing up.”