Posted on July 26, 2018

Interview

Cigarettes After Sex, from Texas, is one of the most popular ‘viral bands’ of the moment. The biggest reasons for their new found popularity are undoubtedly their very personal lyrics, neutral vocal style and rich ambient sounds, that seem to create a feeling of floating in space. However, their curious band name as well as their eye catching imagery, may just have something to do with it as well. Ahead of their show at Holiday Land Festival this weekend (July 29th) we talked to singer, Greg Gonzalez about their music, global success, and inspirations.


 

# A lot of people are understandably excited about the prospect of seeing you guys perform in Korea. Is this your first time over here?.

Yeah, it is actually. We have been to Asia a few times but it’s our first time in South Korea so we are really excited to get over there and play a show. We’ve been to loads of other places in Asia: Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Taipei, Jakarta. We’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong as well. Out of the big cities in Asia we are missing Manila and Seoul.

 

# Will you have any down time while you are in Korea?

Actually, it is so rare that we get down time on tour because we’re just trying to play as many shows as we can. But this time when we get to Seoul we have a few days off after the show, so that's even more exciting, as we’ll get a chance to discover the city.

 

# I see from previous interviews that you’re a big movie buff, I wonder if you’ve seen any Korean movies?.

I know some movies; one that comes to mind is The Host and some other movies by that director. Some of the horror films. Oldboy is another; but yeah, I have quite a lot to learn still when it comes to Korean films.

 

# You mentioned The Host and Old Boy; is there anything in particular you liked about those movies compared to Hollywood movies? .

They are all so stylish to me. I love it when in cinema you get a really exaggerated sense of reality. Some of the sequences in both those films feel so stylistic; kind of eye-popping.

 

# Speaking of movies, I was wondering if there’s a popular or well-known movie that you feel like your music would be a good fit with?

The director that I keep coming back to that I like a lot is Wong Kar-wai. A lot of the movies he did, like In The Mood For Love and Chungking Express, they just kind of suit us. Our songs have the same kind of romance that you get in his films. It is very modern yet very nostalgic and very classic. So, yeah, I think that Chungking Express or In The Mood For Love are movies that I could see our music being a part of in some way.

 

# I read in an interview that you said you take pride in your music’s ability to soothe people to sleep and that you have “a medicine cabinet of records” that help you get to sleep. What are the top songs that you listen to when you want to get to sleep? Do you listen to your own music and does that help you?

Ha ha. I’ve never really done that (listened to my own music); that would be funny. It has changed through the years. Kinda Blue by Miles Davis, that has always been a record that has been by my bedside and it’s always calmed me down. That’s the big one, since  I was in high school. Nowadays when I want to sleep I often reach for a collection of Showtime piano songs. Also, there is a record by Harold Budd and Brian Eno called The Pearl. It has become one of my favorite records of all time. It’s one that I definitely put on all the time and it helps me relax. Also a Steve Roach record called Structures from Silence.

Those are all pretty big ones, all very ambient music. I guess our music has that ambient quality too; it is pop music the way I see it, but it also has that lulling ambient quality that a lot of my favorite ‘sleep records’ have, too. They have this ambience to them that is really calming for some reason.  

# I was listening to an interview with Liam Gallagher recently and he said that John Lennon's music helps to boost his confidence, and it helps to stave off depression. Do you have any music that you would turn to for help with mental health as well?  

I guess the music that feels like it reaches through to me and really gets to my soul is that ambient music. But I still put on old Metallica records and things like that too. There is that band from Japan that came out, Babymetal. That’s another one I thought was just really fun, clever and exciting. There is really nothing else like them, so that’s a band that really inspired me over the last year. Every time we go to Tokyo we get to talk about them because I guess they are incredibly huge there. In the US, it is more of a cult audience. That is one band I really respect.

 

# They opened for Metallica in Korea, which I think is a really interesting juxtaposition.

That would have been awesome, I’d have loved to have seen that show.

 

# OK. Back to Cigarettes After Sex. You’ve been around for over a decade, but it is relatively recently that you’ve hit this new level of success. What do you think changed to ignite this new level of popularity?

I think for one, it is just that the style finally became good. I’ve been making records with Cigarettes After Sex since 2008, but there was no real identity to it. We were just kind of trying out random styles. Around 2012, I guess all the influences and all the songwriting kind of came together. It felt like lightning struck and some kind of identity was finally born for the band and for my writing. A real identity that was better than anything I had done before. That was the main thing, and after that it was just a matter of harnessing that energy and harnessing that sound and figuring out how to refine it. I think that’s what we did with our LP. What really changed for us was ‘Nothing's Going To Hurt You Baby’ going viral on Youtube. It was pretty random; it’s hard to explain exactly why that happened. It feels like there was a really small cult audience building around the world for us and a few years later some kind of spark happened and it changed everything for us. It is like night and day.  

 

# Was there anything in particular that drove you to lock in that sound compared to other things you had been trying over the years?

At some point I thought, ‘I’m just gonna go for the music that I love the most’. I was looking at the most beautiful music and the things I love most in music, I put all those things together on a mix CD and gave it to the rest of the band before we did the 2012 EP. It feels like, by putting all the things I cared about most together, that is what made the sound really happen. Really just focusing on those things, leaving the other things out and just saying, ‘I love this music the most, let’s just do something like this’. The mix was all kinds of different things too. I had records by the Perry Sisters on that mix, but I also had music by a Japanese electronic composer. And also Bob Dylan and stuff like that. It was just this strange mix of things, but it was all my favorite songs put together. I think that is what really made the sound happen.

 

# So your music is an amalgamation of all your favorite songs?

I would say so, yeah. But by favorite songs, I mean the ones I care about the deepest. The ones that have stuck with me through the years.

 

# So, I have to ask this question; what is the story behind the name of the band?

What I like about the name is that it is just like a lot of the songs I have written, it’s autobiographical. I got the name when I was dating this girl over the course of the summer, around 2008. She would always smoke after we were together, and it was my first experience of that sort of ritual. One night, after we had been intimate, we were smoking together and the name just flashed into my head. It’s interesting, I like the name, I like how it sounds, I like what it means. It is very much what we were doing in the moment.     

 

# Since we are talking about lyrics and personal experiences, has singing about past relationships ever gotten you in trouble?

Luckily it hasn’t. I would like to think these songs are just very sweet songs. They don’t share any details that would put anybody at much of a loss. They are like inside details; in a lot of the songs they are details that only me and that person would know. If the girl I wrote the song about heard it, she would know exactly what it was, but it doesn't disclose anything too personal about them. It is still very mysterious.

 

# So, looking at the opposite side then, has there been anyone who called you up and who was excited that you had mentioned them and your experiences together?

I usually don’t show the song to the person I have written the song about until it has been released. I have had girls text me and say that they were in tears after they heard the song, and how much they loved it. It is nice to get that. I think the nature of the songs is that they are sweet songs, not bashing anyone. It is saying we shared this sweet moment together and now it is gone. Maybe we still care about each other, maybe we don't, but it is a little snapshot of a moment in time.

# Now that you have this much bigger listenership, do you think you’ll be able to continue writing such personal lyrics? Or will you be more guarded considering the reach your songs have now?

It feels the same to me, even back then (when we started out) it felt like it was gravitating toward lyrics that were a little bit more personal. It almost felt like I should not disclose anything, like it wasn’t supposed to be that personal. But ever since I felt that way, I was like, ‘you know what, you should just do it, because you have to break through that boundary’. I feel it is something that seems to make my writing better. Maybe in ten years I’ll be sick of writing memoirs and really confessional songs, and I’ll want to write something more cryptic. I really do like the style; it feels like it suits me and I still have a long way to go with it.

 

# If you did decide to change your lyrical style, is there are particular style you would move toward?

The most exciting lyrics for me are hip hop lyrics. Something like Travis Scott. The lyrics to me make more sense. Perhaps I would go into that and be a little more direct, a little less storytelling. More one liners. I think I would take a page from the hip hop artists, because those guys are the good lyricists right now.

 

# If you could collaborate with a hip hop artist, who would the ideal artist be?

I think it would probably be 21 Savage or Future. ‘Mask Off’ and ‘X’; both of those songs feel really dark and ambient, really drugged out, strange and exciting.  So, I think 21 Savage and Future.

 

# Have you found it easy to keep up with Future’s output? Have you listened to all the music that he puts out?

Not really. That is the thing with me, it’s rare that I really get to check out the whole catalog of an artist. Going back to Babymetal, I love them, but I still only know about three songs by them. It is like that for all the other stuff. I will find someone that I like, but will only really get into a few songs that really blow me away. It’s rare that i explore someone's full catalog. But I’d like to, I do like some of those Future songs.

 

# One thing I love about your music is that I don’t feel like I’d have to be up in the crowd jumping around with everybody, and instead I can hang in the back and be a bit more introverted. I wonder, what are the crowds and vibes like at your live shows?

It’s so random. There will be times when we play a show and it’s very mellow, it feels like the crowd is in a very meditative state, an eyes-closed emotional state. Then we play other shows where the audience feels really electric and really rowdy, like we’re some kind of metal band or something. It feels like we are Metallica on stage, and everyone’s screaming for guitar solos, the crowd singing along really loud. We played in Kuala Lumpur and I lost my voice a little so before the show began, I was a little freaked out. But it turned out the crowd were singing so loud you couldn’t really hear the band for the whole show. It was nuts. It is just so random what we get at shows, but we get the best of both worlds.

# Do you prefer one over the other?

I think, as a performer, I prefer when the audience is really hot and into it in a very outward way. It makes you feel really good and makes the show really exciting. As a listener I think I would prefer the shows where you can hear every note and band perform really well. It is such an exciting feeling to get on stage and have everyone singing your songs. I think I prefer that at the moment, as I haven't had so much of that in my life.

 

# Last summer you released your first LP, and earlier this summer we got two new songs with “Crush” and “Sesame Syrup”. Will you be playing any new material here in Korea?

We’ve been playing ‘Crush’ quite a bit, because it was doing really well on Spotify and it seems like people respond to that song. We’ve played ‘Sesame Syrup’ too, but ‘Crush’ is the one that has become more standard in our sets now. I usually don’t like to play anything new until it has been released. I’m a little superstitious in that way, I don’t like us to play a song that is not out yet.

 

# I’ve also read in several interviews that you have recorded songs in staircases. What is it about the sound you get from recording in a staircase that appeals to you?  

I think it is something to do with having microphones elevated high above you. That’s how they got the Led Zeppelin drum sound. There’s a kind of ambience you get from sound rising. For me it was that I would walk up the staircase back at my university--maybe I would be having a conversation with somebody--and once you entered the stairwell it would sound like it was from outer space. There is a crazy ambience in there, very church-like, very cathedral-like. I just thought, let's get a band in here and see what it sounds like. It is probably going to sound really crazy and go back to those Phil Spector records, you know? A really big sound. So we did it, and it worked out perfectly for our first EP, and then since then it has become a go-to for us.

The second staircase we recorded at was in a movie theatre I worked in, in New York. We did a song called ‘Each Time You Fall In Love’ on that stairway. So we have recorded on two stairways so far.   

# I have one more question before I let you go, about the artwork that you use. A lot of the imagery you use is in black and white, and you also use artwork by the late American photographer, Man Ray. What makes you want to use that particular imagery and why black and white?

 I had been looking for some kind of visual hook. I had seen record covers by The Smiths and they felt really special to me. You see a Smiths album cover and you  know it is the Smiths right away. It felt like there was something special about that band, with their records looking that way. They were so iconic, they were photos that Morrissey had used from his personal collection. I love that personal touch and I love the photography element. I love photos as opposed to illustrations for album artwork, going back to classic album cover photos, like Paul Simon, Miles Davis or Dylan. I just thought, I want to do something like that, I want a really cohesive look like the Smiths or Belle and Sebastian. I started looking around at different photos and thought maybe I would use photographs of old actresses, but around the same time I discovered the work of Man Ray. Right when I saw that I thought, ok, this is what it should be.

The photo we used for the first EP, there’s a lot of mystery to it; it feels erotic and it feels very surreal and at the same time it is romantic. That is everything I want the music to have, I want it to have all the qualities I see in Man Ray’s photography. Since then, I have looked at other photographers’ work and whenever something instinctually feels good, we will reach out to them and license their photo. That is what we’ve done since the first EP. We have used two Man Ray photos and the rest have been all different photographers. It is kind of a gut thing, I would say, in the end.   

We use black and white because I think it is more bold. Black and white is more dreamlike as well. It takes you out of reality when you see a black and white photo.

 

#  Like in movies when you have a dream sequence, they might film it in black and white. It changes the entire feeling of the scene.

Name: Yeah, totally. And also, it’s nostalgic. You think of black and white films, which a lot of my favorite films are.

 

# Well, I know I said it was my last question, but now I have to ask another. What is your favorite black and white film?

Name: That is a tough one. I guess I will have to say The Lady Eve. It’s a romance, and it’s one I could watch on repeat. It’s a great romantic comedy. It is one of my favorite romances and one of my favorite black and white movies too. There are so many more I could say! I could have easily gone for Children of Paradise too.

You can listen to the whole interview here:

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For more information on the band, check them out at the following sites :

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CigarettesAfterSex/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cigsaftersex/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CigsAfterSexx

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Interview : Anthony Baber 
Edited by : Rock N Rose

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