Cigarettes After Sex’s self-titled debut album of this year has quickly become one of the year’s most beloved - receiving critical acclaim from The Guardian (“…one of the debut albums of the year”), Pitchfork (“an album of love songs, tempered with a millennial ennui that gives the songs an extra layer of relevance in 2017”), and Clash Music alike (“an ethereal quality, bringing love songs and ambience together in one dreamy swoop”).
It’s an album which is softly spoken, the band’s frontman Greg Gonzalez sings about past relationships with a sense of nostalgia, while also acknowledging the pain that goes along with them - in ‘Sweet’ singing, “And I will gladly break it, I will gladly break my heart for you.”
Coup De Main spoke with Cigarettes After Sex’s Greg Gonzalez about playing their New Zealand show next year, their album, and other important matters of the heart…
You go into love, and you’re pretty much going to get hurt at some point, it’s just kind of the way it is. But if admitting that the person is worth it, that they’re worth the pain, they’re worth the trouble and it doesn’t matter because you just want them, and anything else that comes after that is another side? I really believe in that.
COUP DE MAIN: So it’s just been announced that you’re going to play your first ever headline show in New Zealand next January - and we’re so excited. What can people expect from a live Cigarettes After Sex show?
GREG GONZALEZ - CIGARETTES AFTER SEX: Honestly, what they can expect is we like to keep it very pure in regards to how we sound, and how the show goes. So we pretty much like to present a set of very straightforward versions of what we believe and loved about the music initially, so it’s very much just us playing songs very faithfully. We like to keep it very simple.
CDM: “You say all of the words they wanna hear / It isn’t real,” you sing in ‘Each Time You Fall In Love’. Do you think there’s too much, or not enough importance placed on the word ‘love’?
GREG: It seems to be about right maybe, just because love makes the world go around basically, and it’s the thing that I care about the most, and it affects me the most deeply. I think in that song it’s sort of saying you can cheapen it if you use it in the wrong way, and throw it around a bit too casually. So maybe in that sense, when it gets thrown around too much, it can be a bit too casual sometimes.
CDM: Do you think that the concept of love, and how we think about love, changes as we grow up?
GREG: Yeah, for me it feels that way. My concept of love is always changing based on whatever relationship I’m having at the moment, or whichever one I’ve just had. Seems like whatever lessons you learn in each relationship you go through end up giving you more experience - they give you more viewpoints - and it seems to change more as time goes on, especially for me.
CDM: Do you tend to write poems and prose which then develop into song-form, or do you tend to start with melodies first?
GREG: For me, it’s always the melody first. I’ve been writing since I was about ten-years-old, so I feel like I can basically write songs in my sleep, so nowadays it’s the easiest thing for me. But lyrics are the things where I feel like that makes a difference in the writing of and portraying the experience of talking about-- It usually takes me a bit longer to craft the lyrics and make them make sense, and also to tell the narrative that I want to tell. My lyrics are very narrative-based, for the most part, they actually tell a story.
CDM: What do you think is the strongest human emotion?
GREG: Besides love, I would have to say it’s empathy. When you can understand where someone’s coming from, and they can understand where you’re coming from. I think that’s something you get in music, music really gives that to the listener - and that’s why music is so important, because you might be having a really rough time, and then you put on a song, and you notice that someone feels the same as you, suddenly it just makes things so much better, you don’t feel alone anymore. I think it’s a really important quality and important emotion that we have.
CDM: Do you think that music has the ability to change a person’s mood?
GREG: Usually it’s from certain songs that I’d put on when I was really sad that I needed their sadness to help bring out the emotion in me, something like ‘What’ll I Do’ by Johnny Mathis is a song that always makes me cry when I put it on, or ‘Where Is My Love?’ by Cat Power, a song that brings out the sadness in you. But also, there’s songs that I remember putting on, and you just can’t be sad to because they’re so happy - a song like ‘Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)’ by Swingin' Medallions. It’s just funny to me that music has that ability where it’s hard to be sad when a song is extremely happy and hopeful. I like that, it’s nice.
CDM: In ‘K’, you sing, “Think I like you best when you're just with me.” Do you think there’s a tendency in relationships to shut out other people, except for the one person who you’re in a relationship with? Do you think this is a good or a bad thing?
GREG: It’s strange for me, because I’ve thought that you get to a point progressively, you kind of work in relationships-- I’ve had some others that have been interesting, that have been good. But in that song, it’s like when you first really want someone, you want to see them all the time, it’s a very addictive thing. It feels like it kind of has to happen like that. You might not be stuck like that, and it probably won’t be because you’ll have to live your life <laughs> and do other things, but when love takes over I think there’s this initial period where you just want that person around, you just want to hibernate with them, and like I said, shut the world out.
CDM: The line in ‘Sweet’, “And I will gladly break it, I will gladly break my heart for you,” is a really, really beautiful line - do you think for a relationship to truly work, people have to be open to having their hearts broken?
GREG: I think so. I think you have to know - and that’s what that line is about, obviously - that I’m probably going to get hurt going into this. You go into love, and you’re pretty much going to get hurt at some point, it’s just kind of the way it is. But if admitting that the person is worth it, that they’re worth the pain, they’re worth the trouble and it doesn’t matter because you just want them, and anything else that comes after that is another side? I really believe in that.
CDM: Love is seen as something so necessary and desirable in society, but it often ends in heartbreak, and despair - it’s the thing that gives us so much happiness, but so much pain at the same time.
GREG: Yeah, it’s funny how it’s built into it - it wouldn’t bring you happiness if there wasn’t pain built into it, and sadness. It has to have that.
CDM: Do you believe in love at first sight, as you sing about on ‘Opera House’?
GREG: I do. I’ve felt it before, and for me it didn’t necessarily last, it wasn’t lasting love, but I do believe that you see someone and that there’s something about them, you fall for them in a way when you just want them. Seeing people around for the first time, and I thought, ‘I want that person to be with me.’ It’s a very bizarre thing but it’s happened.
CDM: Haruki Murakami believes that there’s a “100% perfect girl and boy” for everyone, do you also echo that sentiment?
GREG: I feel like I’ve read that short story. I was actually really influenced by Murakami, especially ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’. It’s from his short stories, right?
GREG: I think I have to believe in that. I also believe too that maybe there’s different companions for different times, but I think that may be true, but I think there’s also truth that you could find the exact right person for you at some point in your life, and that’s that - you are with them forever. I think it’s a very intense concept but I hope that that’s true.
CDM: In your Interview Magazine interview you’ve said you have your medicine cabinet of records that you fall asleep to - what are your top three albums to fall asleep to?
GREG: Those are the most precious records, the ones you put on before you go to bed that help you get through the night. One of the main ones is ‘Structures From Silence’ by Steve Roach - I think it’s his first record, but it’s one of the greatest ambient records ever made, and it’s too bad that it’s very unappreciated, you don’t hear about it like Eno’s records. It’s one of my favourites. Also ‘Floating Into The Night’ by Julee Cruise, that’s a great one, it’s the greatest night-time record probably that I can think of.
CDM: It’s funny how certain albums have a certain time of the day where they’re meant to be heard.
GREG: Oh yeah, exactly. It’s strange how that works, you never know how or why some things sound like night, or day. Or some things sound like Summer or Winter. It’s intriguing. I’m trying to think of one more record to fall asleep to. There’s also a selection of piano works by Erik Satie that I listen to all the time. His piano pieces are great.
CDM: You’ve spoken a lot about film. Is directing a film something you’d ever want to get into yourself?
GREG: Oh yeah, I’d really love that. I’d love to be a director someday. I think about it daily, just because I idolise directors the most. I think about Scorsese, and Kubrick, I think there’s some sort of magic that a director has that’s extremely powerful in art, and for me, it’s at the top of artistic expression. They control music, and image, sound, dialogue, it’s a very powerful medium, so I’d love to be a part of that someday.
CDM: What are some of your favourite film scores?
GREG: I love ‘Enemies, A Love Story’, it's a great one, it’s very simple string quartets, things like that, it’s a beautiful score. Also ‘Amarcord’ by Nino Rota is my favourite - that’s my favourite movie of all time. I really love film scores.
CDM: Your songs are mostly written in the first person, except for ‘John Wayne’, which refers to ‘he’. Was the song written from your point of view, or someone else’s?
GREG: It was written from my point of view, but it’s addressing the keyboard player of Cigarettes After Sex [Phillip Tubbs], it was about him and this girl he was in love with, it was basically commenting on him and the situation he was going through. It was written about him, kind of like a friendly gesture.
CDM: Do you find it easier to write songs using ‘I’, from your own point of view?
GREG: Usually about myself, it’s pretty rare that I write about others.
Cigarettes After Sex play Auckland’s Powerstation on January 8th - click here to purchase tickets.
Listen to ‘Apocalypse’ below…