An Interview with Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex chat band name and YouTube

Listed number one on Rolling Stone’s “10 New Artists You Need to Know: January 2016”, Brooklyn ambient-pop band Cigarettes After Sex is one to keep your eyes and ears peeled for. The group’s melancholic pop noir reared its exquisite head in 2015 when its top tracks garnered millions of YouTube hits, and propelled the band into international spotlight. Impressed by the band’s unique sound and their enrapturing live performance on their recent UK tour, we sat frontman and founder Greg Gonzalez down for a chat about CAS’ distinctive name, identity, and possible future plans.

Hey Greg! How did the band name come about?

Greg: “I was dating this girl a long time ago, I think it was 2008, and she was kinda into smoking. After we got together, she got me into it as well – I’d never really smoked before – and one night we were together, smoking after we’d been, you know, together all night, and the name just flashed through my head. It was basically what we were doing that night. The name’s inspired by a real life thing!”

Who or what would you say were your major influences?

“For the first EP (I), we were inspired by primarily the Cowboy Junkies. They did a record called Trinity Session – I love the sound of ‘Sweet Jane’ – and I figured out when I read about the album that they recorded over the course of just one night, live, with just one mic. And I thought it was great, and that we should do a record like that. I began doing it that way because I felt like I was wasting too much time in the studio overdeveloping stuff and I just wanted to do something live and just have it over with. I in a sense was totally spontaneous, and that’s become the style of the band – we always record live now. It was kind of a happy accident. So that was a big stylistic one.

I was also listening to ‘Fade Into You’ by Mazzy Star a lot, and revisiting Red House Painters’ ‘Katy Song’, along with a lot of 60s records, like the Paris Sisters’ ‘I Love How Your Love Me’, music with that really romantic kind of feeling. Françoise Hardy is a big influence too because of how soothing her music is and how it’s really mysterious and beautiful. Those are the main ones; you put those together and you kind of get what we’re doing. We’re a good mash up of those and, oh – Cocteau Twins – that was also a good one!

Lyrically I was also inspired by Richard Brautigan. He had this collection of poems called The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster, and our lyrics are kind of taken from that vibe. It’s in how he says somewhat bluntly sexual things, but manages to find a way to make them kinda sweet and kinda funny, so that was a big thing. I was also inspired by romantic films like L’Avventura, or French New Wave films, like A Woman Is a Woman – the feeling in those films was the feeling I wanted for our music.

How has your music developed from the first EP, and do you feel like you’ve grown as an artist since then?

“It took ages to make something after the first EP as it felt like we couldn’t really top it for the longest time. I was trying different methods to top it too, going back to recording in different ways. The same way with a new band ended up working with Affection [second EP], when we did that. But I think it’s a pretty close sound, just a refined version somewhat. I didn’t want to go too far off, so I suppose it hasn’t changed much. That sound has become my identity and I’ve just been making it tighter and sharper and as good as I can. As a person, I think I’ve just changed through seeing more of the world and the music’s brought that about. I feel like maybe I’ve gotten better at dealing with some things… but that I’m probably more detached too, cause it’s harder to have relationships and stuff like that if you’re on the road. Before, I had more long-term relationships, now on the road there is more of having to manage a long-distance kind of thing. Touring changes a person that way.”

You’re very popular on YouTube – ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ has garnered over 30 million views – how would you say online platforms have affected your career?

“YouTube’s the main one, definitely – it seems to have made all the difference for us. We kinda get confused actually as to how that happened, because the EP came out in 2012 and it was online, we toured for it, but no one really cared about it much. There was just a really small cult of fans I would talk to – maybe every month someone would send me an email saying the music changed their life, or that it was really helpful for them. But then someone took it upon themselves to post our music on YouTube (as I wasn’t really involved in it at the time), and when we finally announced Affection that was something of a catalyst that made everything take off. It seems like it was a sort of word-of-mouth thing. People said they got to our music through recommended videos on YouTube, sometimes even through music that hasn’t got much to do with us – through Black Sabbath and Nirvana and the like. It’s quite a mystery. But YouTube definitely made us.

What’s the favourite song you’ve written, and your favourite song to perform?
“It’s probably ‘I’m a Firefighter’. That one took a lot longer than usual, and it feels really cinematic to me – in the sense that while each image is about falling out of love, it’s elaborated upon in a way that is much more imaginative. The other songs are more like retellings of real stories. Take for example ‘Affection’ or ‘K’ – those kind of line by line describe things that have happened to me. In them I’m telling the story almost 100%, like a memoir. But ‘I’m a Firefighter’ uses an emotion and turns it into some kind of story. I really like that aspect of the song; it’s different from the other stuff. It’s actually based on a really true feeling; a break up I was going through. So I like that one. I also like singing it too, because the way it was written, it feels like it’s a really good place for my voice. I like the way the two work together – the lyrics and my vocals.”

Where do you see Cigarettes After Sex in 5 years?

“Pretty much doing the same thing, just more traveling the world and more recording, in bigger places and hopefully more exotic places, too. People seem to want us to tour to India and Japan, so I figure maybe we’ll go to those places. Hopefully this time next year we could do Singapore, South Korea, Tokyo and Thailand. We meet a lot of fans from Thailand at our shows in the States. Basically it’ll be just an extension of how it is now for us – I really love how things are going at the moment, so I just want it to build into a stronger, more powerful version of itself!”

Cigarettes After Sex’s single “K.” is out now. For more from the band, head to Facebook.com/cigarettesaftersex

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