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Interview: Cigarettes After Sex's Greg Gonzalez on their first NZ show, their next album, and The 1975.

Interview: Cigarettes After Sex's Greg Gonzalez on their first NZ show, their next album, and The 1975.

Having stunned critics and fans alike last year with their self-titled debut album, Cigarettes After Sex continued to impress with their first ever New Zealand show on a Monday night at the beginning of 2018, bringing their nostalgic romanticism to life at The Powerstation.

We spoke with the band’s Greg Gonzalez backstage at The Powerstation before their show about their next album, songwriting, and The 1975…

...that’s what I respond to in music, this mysterious element, almost like a supernatural thing that exists. Some songs have it, I don’t know what it is.

COUP DE MAIN: So it’s now 2018, which marks the 10 year anniversary of Cigarettes After Sex. Do you have any plans in particular to mark this occasion?
CIGARETTES AFTER SEX - GREG GONZALEZ: It’s amazing. It’s so strange, because the band started then, but it had almost nothing to do with what it is now. I think philosophically, the songs were about relationships then, and they were supposed to be sexually open and divulging personal details, which is what the songs do now, but the style was this electro-pop that had more to do with Erasure and New Order, stuff like that. <laughs> So the real anniversary of the band is going to feel like [from] 2012, when we did the first EP - it felt like that became the band, and it became legitimised at that point. Before, it was kind of like a dress rehearsal or something.

CDM: Having been a band for such a long time now, what do you think are the most important things you’ve learnt about the music industry and being a musician?
GREG: Persistence is the main thing. Luckily for me, I just couldn’t stop - I feel like a lot of musicians that really want to do music, they’re really dedicated to it, but for me it kind of just happened spontaneously. I would write songs spontaneously and they would just come out naturally, and there was no other option for me, I had to do music and I had to write songs. I didn’t have a choice, it just happened to me that way. That made persistence a lot easier for me. I think it’s such a big thing, and also just conviction. I think they kind of go together anyway.


CDM: What to you, marks success for Cigarettes After Sex?
GREG: Success for me, is just making great records, and records that I believe in and that are honest to me. Part of it is that you want people to like the music so that you can do more of it - obviously we’re here right now because we have fans in New Zealand, but I strictly just do it for myself though. If I like it, I like it, and that’s all that really matters. I feel like that became even more instilled with me in that EP in 2012 because that came out and no-one cared for it at all. It fell on deaf ears, even my friends didn’t like it.
CDM: That’s so sad! You’re meant to always be able to rely on your friends to be fans.
GREG: The stuff I was doing before [the EP] was more uptempo, so I think they were like, ‘This stuff sounds really boring now, you got really slow and I have no idea what’s going on.’ My dad was like, ‘I like your old stuff, but this new record I’m not really liking that much,' and just people I knew around town that were friends that kind of liked the band were like, ‘This is really boring.’ But for me, I felt like, ‘This is the first thing that I’ve really done, that EP in 2012, that felt really real, and really good,’ and I just knew that there was something there. It’s nice when years later, I felt like, ‘Okay, I was actually onto something with this.’ It took off, even though it took three years, and I think moving to New York was a big part of it.

CDM: Does your dad like your music now?
GREG: Yeah, that’s the thing! He always puts it on for-- he always did back in the days too, but I think he didn’t really get that EP at first.

CDM: Have you been working on the next Cigarettes After Sex album?
GREG: A little bit. We did a bunch of recording sessions over the last two years - we did one in a church, and we did some in a house in Spain. So there’s a bunch of melodies that are done, but I have to go back and write the lyrics, which usually takes the most time to do. It requires the most focus for me. I think I’ve been writing songs for longer than melodies so I can just kind of go like that and they’re done, but the lyrics have to usually go through a hundred drafts or more of lyrics before I really get something. It’ll start on having nothing to do with what it becomes. That usually takes a little longer and it’s a little more challenging for me.

CDM: Are you able to write when you’re on tour, or only when you’re home in New York?
GREG: I was trying to write on the road because we’re always on the road, but I just can’t do it. I can’t write lyrics on the road. I can write the melodies, but there’s just too much noise in my head around touring, you’re always in transition. You’re like, ‘Oh, I gotta do this now,’ you’re always social, you’re always doing things, you’re a little kind of spent I think. I just need to calm down and have that space to stretch out, which I was used to, before. We’re going to take two months off from doing any touring or anything like that for February and March, and we’re going to try to take the stuff that we did and see if we can get anything new out of it, like lyrics. So that should be cool.

CDM: I loved your Tiny Desk Session - watching you perform felt like I could see you remembering the memories that inspired these songs. Do you find connecting with those memories an important part of the live experience?
GREG: Totally. It’s something that I feel very grateful for with this music, because I’m always going to have fond feelings for these memories. They made me the person I am, and they’re just sweet memories - even the sad ones are good, just because they opened up my heart, and opened up my mind. So it’s nice to think of these songs, and I can actually see what the rooms look like, and remember what the sky looked like, or people that I miss. It’s a nice thing, every night, and it can get pretty overwhelming. What happens too, is the distance between the two points gets bigger and bigger, and so when we play ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’, I’ll think of the room I was in with my girlfriend at the time that the song was about, and it’s just funny to think about that room, us two in those room, and obviously now, when I’m on-stage in New Zealand.

CDM: It must be a strange parallel between closing your eyes and opening your eyes.
GREG: Yeah. <laughs> It’s really touching to have that.


CDM: I find it really interesting that you’re inspired by certain video game soundtracks. If Cigarettes After Sex were to soundtrack a video game, what do you think the storyline of the game would be?
GREG: That’s interesting. I feel like I’ve thought about this too. In my mind, I had this weird image of a Super Nintendo game with our album cover on it or something. I’m trying to think of the game though. There’s those surreal dream moments... it would be a game where you just sort of wander through areas, like that game ‘Journey’ on PS3, or the game ‘Ico’ on PS1. I don’t think there’d be a story, and actually maybe ‘Ico’ is the best example, because it’s this game where it’s this kid with a helmet, and he’s leading this ghostly girl around this castle, trying to save her - it’s just them two. I think it’d kind of be like that, where there’s two people in the story and they’re learning to navigate a landscape together, but it’s sort of dream-like, surreal landscape. That’s what I would picture. I love games like that - you don’t get that as much, where you get a surrealism in video games, which I’d like to see more of.

CDM: Lots of bands release little games with their songs/albums, you should do the same.
GREG: That’d be great, I’d love to.

CDM: What’s your favourite Haruki Murakami book of all time?
GREG: It’s definitely ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’. He’s great, his short story collections are great, like ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ and ‘After The Quake’. I took a lot from ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ because his stuff feels very grounded in reality but it’s also slightly surreal in this really interesting way. But I just love the language too that he uses. I think that the storytelling and the things that you leave out, are really important in lyrics - there are certain images that don’t belong in the world of Cigarettes After Sex. I probably wouldn’t put certain words obviously, in any of these songs, and there are other worlds that are almost fetishes because I just like how they sound, like helicopters, or swimsuits, and the beach, all these images end up creating a style and atmosphere. And his books really feel like that, the language is really interesting, and it’s really well translated from Japanese, I guess.

CDM: I saw on Twitter you liked a tweet about Hayao Miyazaki’s birthday - are you also fans of Studio Ghibli films?
GREG: Yeah, for sure! I didn’t realise it was his birthday. I’m a huge fan of him, I think he’s a visionary. He’s one of my favourite directors, and one of my top ten films of all time is a Miyazaki film, it’s called ‘The Wind Rises’. It’s Miyazaki doing a romantic movie, it’s pretty sad too - it’s an amazing romance. It’s dear to me because I think it’s one of my favourite directors doing a romance film which feels a little more grounded in reality, and isn’t as fantastical, so it has more weight to me, compared to films like ‘Spirited Away’ - I love that movie though. This film just feels really special. Also, I first saw it when I moved to New York, and so it holds a really nostalgic place - I went to the theatre alone and saw it two times.

CDM: What do you think the difference is between a good song and a great song?
GREG: That’s a great question. I think there’s just some sort of magic that you can’t explain in these songs, that just cut through. It’s something that captures something unexplainable. A great song just does something and you can’t explain that X-Factor. When I think about my favourite songs, my favourite records, there’s usually this, ‘Oh I love this,’ and it defies my imagination to even explain about it. It feels like that’s what I want to do in music, and that’s what I respond to in music, this mysterious element, almost like a supernatural thing that exists. Some songs have it, I don’t know what it is.


CDM: After this interview, you’re doing a special Meet & Greet for Under 18 fans who were unable to come to the show since the venue's rules changed. Was this something important for you to do?
GREG: Yeah, of course. It’s such a shame that we have to turn anybody away because we came all this way to play for our fans, and all of a sudden it’s getting ruined, and people made all these plans. We really value our fans, we have the best fans in the world, I think, so we want to do anything we can for them. Every night we try to sign stuff and take pictures - the only reason we’re here is because of our fans. So if we can do even just that. I think we’re going to play a soundcheck for them too.

CDM: Matty Healy from The 1975 is a big fan of your band. We were wondering if you had a favourite song of his?
GREG: Yeah, he tweeted about us a long time ago. We share the same agents with them in the US and the UK. I got into The 1975 when I first moved to New York, I think it was late 2013, and I heard the song ‘Sex’ and I just felt like he and I at least were trying to write the same kind of thing. That song is just him with a girl that he likes, who has a boyfriend, obviously, it’s kind of the hook of the song. They’re just in their room. It’s a very simple talent for details like that. So I was really inspired by that song, and I just felt like, ‘Okay, there’s someone out there that understands exactly the romance that I’m looking for in music and lyrics.’ So yeah, I love that song, ‘Sex’, it’s the one that I listen to quite a bit.

Cigarettes After Sex’s self-titled album is out now - click here to purchase.

Watch the band’s NPR Tiny Desk Session below…

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