Somewhere on the east side of Lawrence, Kansas, tucked into a little storage closet at the White Schoolhouse, I sat down with the energetic and glittery pop-punk duo Diet Cig. Over the sound of The Spook School shredding in the venue below us, we reflected on a year of touring on their debut LP and the treachery of UK Taco Bell.
What was your mindset when writing Swear I’m Good At This?
Alex: There were a lot of things I wanted to say in regards to my experience as a woman in music and as a non cis-het dude. That’s a really strong theme in our album, but it was a lot of unpacking personal stuff that inherently became political because existing the way I do is political as a woman in music and as a person who has sex with other people.
It was really interesting getting vulnerable with all of that, especially because we were on tour the whole year we were writing it. We’d come home, and we’d be tired from tour and it would be like, ‘Oh shit! Time to get vulnerable.’ You try not to let a lot of your emotions out on tour and then you come home and it’s time to get real. We wrote a lot of the songs in the studio. For ‘Link In Bio,’ I wrote the lyrics as we recorded them. It’s really personal, and honest, and I feel like we put all of our guts in it.
Noah: We took a lot of time. The EP was great, but we felt like we were really ready to put this out. It was something we felt good about and agreed on and we had more of a goal. It was more intentional with what we wanted it to say and how we wanted it to sound. We wrote half of it in the studio and it was cool because we really got to pick each others’ brains and get into each others’ heads.
Who did you write this album for?
Alex: Firstly, we wrote this for ourselves. We needed to write this record and we wanted to do it so bad. We wanted to break down these emotions and turn them into something, like to reclaim them almost. A lot of the album is about bad experiences, and to be able to take those and turn them into something joyous and positive was really important. But I think we knew the fans we were writing it for. At that point, we’d put out the EP and we had an idea of the folks that liked our music. Even though we were only touring on seven songs for a year, they would still come to all of our shows and they were still so in to it. It took us a while to write this record, so we really just wrote it for everyone who’s been with us the whole time. We have so many incredible fans that have shared experiences with us. It’s for all of the fans who go through this shit and who still aren’t really sure of who they are.
Have you had a lot of conversations with your fans about songs that you’ve written?
Alex: Yeah, totally! They’ll be like ‘Oh my god, you get me!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god, YOU get ME!’ It’s a cool exchange of feeling like we’re not alone, and for everyone involved to feel heard and for shit that feels shitty to be turned cathartic.
Alex: Sometimes it changes and some places it surprises us which songs resonate with the crowd.
Noah: It really changes. Some nights you’ll go in and “Bite Back” is the one where everyone is really going in, and then “Link In Bio” is a favorite we play a lot.
Alex: Yeah, I think that’s our favorite. Especially with the new four piece. It really drives that song home. There are really cool harmonies and it’s really powerful. Everyone in the room is just screaming ‘Don’t tell me to calm down.’
Noah: Yeah, but it really changes. Some nights you don’t expect a song to feel as good and it surprises you.
Alex: When I’m really pissed off, “Dinner Date” is the one I really feel and I can get it all out.
Noah: “Barf Day” is mine, because it goes through building of getting bigger and bigger and by the end of that song it just feels like, finally you’re getting your point across and we’re pushing it through.
Has there ever been a time when touring on this album where you’ve had an experience and thought, ‘Oh my god, this is what I was put on this Earth to do?’
Alex: I have those feelings a lot. The other night, we were playing “Breathless.” And we recently added a keys player (Karli Roberts-Helm of Pllush) and she plays these notes at the end that we never had gotten to play live before and for some reason it adds this depth. But she hit them and I was just like, ‘Uh! Yes!!’ And I started to tear up as we finished the song. It just felt good. A lot of moments don’t seem significant, but you just FEEL it.
Noah: I like looking out at the crowd and seeing that one person who’s just like, they’re losing their shit in such a good way. They’re so happy and they’re so excited and that’s all that matters. We’re making an impression on this person, and this person is just releasing all of this stuff. We’re giving them this positive energy and they’re giving it all back. Or you’ll see someone that’s sobbing but you can tell that they’re happy that they finally got a place to release this. Our whole thing is to take our 45-minute to an hour set to say ‘Fuck all that other shit that’s going on.’ Let’s do this, we’re all in it together, we’re all right here. We’re looking at you, you’re looking at us, and we’re gonna do all this together.
Alex: Anytime we dance to Cher, I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.
Noah: It’s been amazing. It’s been the two of us, and we always knew that we were going to do this at some point but we were waiting for the right time. We met the right people. Karli and Anna are such good people and we have such a great relationship with both of them and they were willing to do it. We’ve gotten to do things live that were on the record that we haven’t been able to do. Hearing the mix on stage, and you’ve got their vocals and harmonies.
Alex: The other night I played the wrong chord because I was so caught up in the harmonies and I was like, ‘Oh fuck, pay attention.’ It’s been giving the songs new life to us, like the synth parts that we stuck on the album and forgot about. We never listen to our own record recorded. It made me re-appreciate the art that we made.
Swear I’m Good At This has been out for a year, and you’ve toured extensively with it. How do you feel looking back at the songs now?
Alex: It feels really good. I feel really comfy with it, like I could play it with my eyes closed. Adding the four-piece breathed some life into it for us.
Noah: We got to the point where it felt a little rob-tronic. Like, we get up and play the same set and before you know it, we’re done.
Alex: We knew we needed to spice it up, because we’d been doing the same thing for so long. [Having Karli and Anna on the tour] reminded us why we believe in the record that we made and what made it so special. Seeing it resonate with them in a way that’s even deeper than with the audience is so cool. It’s been cool to share our record with someone in that way. It’s inspired me for our next record and it’s got me juiced on writing again. After touring so much on our last record, it had me feeling a little weathered and beat down about the whole songwriting thing.
Where does the name Diet Cig came from?
Noah: We were almost called Lebron James Franco and we nixed that, so we went with Diet Cig.
Alex: I feel like that was a really bad name. Just like co-opting two other people’s names. It’s not the coolest thing. It was hard to Google.
Alex: It was HORRIBLE.
Noah: I didn’t even eat it.
Alex: I love Taco Bell and we eat it all over the country. We’ve had shitty Taco Bell, we’ve had good Taco Bell, but over there it tasted like cardboard and cigarettes.
Noah: It’s because they have so many health laws.
Alex: Okay, normally I get the cheesey gordita crunch and they didn’t have that. And we normally get black beans instead of beef but they didn’t have black beans so we had refried beans, which in my opinion are gross. But I got a crunchwrap with refried beans and there was no sour cream in it.
Noah: I was sitting there watching her eat it like…this is bad.
Alex: I tried to tweet at them. Like US Taco Bell, put your cousins in line.