“OH MY GOD HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN HOLES?! THE MOVIE WITH SHIA LABEOUF??” I’m sat in the hollow dressing room of The Old Blue Last and Alex Luciano, Diet Cig’s diminutive singer/guitarist is yelling with disbelief at an uncomfortable volume.
“OK, his name is Stanley Yelnats, but Yelnats is Stanley backwards, he’s like Stanley Yelnats the fifth…” She’s explaining a joke made by pop singer Halsey when asked who she was wearing, but as I’ve learnt over the course of our brief chat, to understand Diet Cig you need to bring a kitchen sink of pop knowledge along for the ride.
“It’s been like, very culture shocky for us travelling with Bruising and learning lingo and everything.” She assures me, nodding to their Leeds based tourmates. “We played Cards Against Humanity, UK version…”
“There’s all these references to actors and celebrities, and we’re like who is this? Who is this person?” interrupts drummer Noah Bowman from the other side of the bench.
“I’m like, ‘Who’s Ed Balls?’” shrugs Alex, as Noah replies, “And who’s the guy, like he can fix it? Jamie?”
Moving swiftly on.
Diet Cig formed just over a year ago in New Paltz, a college town two hours from New York City and home to SUNY - The State University of New York. Alex tells me the town is cute, but caters more to wealthy weekender tourists visiting from The Big Apple than it’s own college kids.
The duo met at a house show where Noah was playing guitar in Earl Boykins, a band named after the second ever shortest NBA star, not some beardy lead singer. “All my friends were like, ‘Oh, is Earl coming over?’” Alex laughs, “And I’m like, his name’s Noah!”
Alex was studying video production, Noah was good at stick and poke tattoos. A friendship formed about before you could say, ‘Does this look infected?’, Diet Cig had released their first single, the cutting and instant Scene Sick.
The charm of Diet Cig’s short, bright pop punk comes from Alex’s honest and relatable introspective observations, all hooked on romance, insecurities, and growing up. Delivered with a saccharine sheen vocal and a two-fingered gut punch of bratty smirk, it’s a little bit of Lemuria, Swearin’, and Speedy Ortiz, but with a dose of early 00s nostalgia and fuelled by the dynamic crush of Noah’s unrelenting drums.
Releasing Scene Sick almost a year ago to the day, it was picked up by Rolling Stone in their Playlist section and the fuse was lit. US tours, international attention, and an EP followed swiftly. “My mum, she has a lot of friends who play music, and they’re like HOW THE FUCK IS OUR ALEX IN ROLLING STONE? WHAT THE FUCK?” she screeches. “And my mum’s like trying to be cool like, ‘I don’t even have to brag about you, I’m just like real casual, like whatever, I raised them right.’”
Twelve months later they’ve touched down in the UK for their first London headline at The Old Blue Last. And the best part of this journey? “I just like that I can go into a bar and drink, because I’m only 20,” smiles Alex. “That’s been very weird but we’ve had a lot of fun because I can finally go out with everybody.”
With three US tours already done, I ask if they had any trouble with the drinking age at 21 when playing bars or venues. “It depends who’s there at the time,” explains Noah. “Because we’re on load ins we’re usually early, before even the door guy would be there, so you just kinda walk in with all your stuff and then you just kinda stay there and they just assume, oh, you’re already in here, you must be of age to drink, and it’s not a problem.”
“It depends on the place. Even just generally in the US, sometimes I can get in easily and sometimes it’s an issue, and sometimes they’re dicks at shows and sometimes they’re not, so really it’s venue by venue,” finishes Alex.
But the silver lining in the US' higher drinking age is the prevalence of the DIY house and basement party scene. The kind of parties where Noah and Alex met. “That’s true, I never thought about that.” she smiles. “I guess I’m grateful for that in the US then because house shows are so great and it’s really fun, like that whole quintessential high school/college house party. It’s just natural, it’s just like a thing, it’s how every band starts.”
Noah continues, “I’ve done tours with Earl Boykins, we’ve done tours, house show tours across the East Coast and it’s so different because you don’t have soundcheck, there might not be a PA, or one of the microphones is through a bass amp or something and it’s so jenky, but then it makes it really fun because everyone is welcome, you bring your own drink, and you just party.”
“It’s a really nice place to learn to play.” Alex offers, as Noah expands. “Or how to troubleshoot. Like, if something goes wrong, how to get through a show, like, alright that just blew up - how do we keep going and not stop? Or someone’s like throwing up on your gear or something - how do you get through it?
“You learn how to deal with a lot of crazy people. Because there’s no security. You’re usually stuck in a small basement and you’re trying to get through a whole set with fifty people crammed in a room.”
“Yeah, we had that situation with CMJ. It’s like, you show up for your set, the sound guy is so pissed because he had to do like six shows that day, and you’re trying to get your gear in and your drummer might have left his snare on the sidewalk, and you’re like FUUUUCK. It’s chaos,” reflects Alex, omitting the part where they got rave reviews for said chaos.
“I guess house shows just showed us how to make it work,” she shrugs.
While we can’t help you with tickets to Earl Boykins’ living room or Stanley Yelnats’ basement, we can recommend you check out their forthcoming London dates at Servant Jazz Quarters and The Lexington. Pack your red plastic cups, Ivy League sweater, and get ready for some Bart Simpson style chaos. Diet Cig want your heart on a Juicy Couture sleeve.