That’s what some fans tell Diet Cig, but others just want to talk about a certain Food Network host
The Brooklyn duo behind Diet Cig is still getting used to fans lining up after shows to say its music has changed their lives.
Alex Luciano made the brave decision to pull back the curtain on her private life when writing songs for Diet Cig’s debut fulllength, Swear I’m Good at This. It’s to be expected, then, that fans at the Brooklyn duo’s live shows aren’t shy about getting personal when they line up to talk at the merch table afterwards.
“Things get heavy sometimes,” the frontwoman says, on the line from Missouri, where she and bandmate-drummer Noah Bowman have just had a Super Bowl–centred tour offday. “There are folks who tell us our music has really impacted them, so they want to talk about how they can really relate to our songs. We’ve had people come up and literally say ‘Your songs have changed my life.’ That’s crazy, but amazing.”
That Swear I’m Good at This has proven inspiring makes sense. Start with the album title, which one might read as Luciano giving herself a heartfelt pep talk. For years, she dreamed of starting a band, but lacked the drive and focus. After she met Bowman at an all-ages show— when Bowman was on-stage and she asked him mid-set for a light—the two began a friendship. That led the older Bowman to push the singer to stop writing songs for herself and start sharing them with the world.
“Noah is a doer—someone who gets shit done,” Luciano says. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of ideas, but usually my head is in the clouds, which means I don’t always get a lot done. He’s the kind of guy who’ll go, ‘That’s a great idea— let’s do it.’ After meeting him, and having him go ‘These songs are cool,’ all of a sudden I was like, ‘Whoaaaa—i can actually do this.’ ”
Swear I’m Good at This finds Diet Cig progressing from the scrappy DIY garage pop of its 2015 debut EP, Over Easy. The album’s 12 songs draw on ragged ’90s-vintage college rock (“Bite Back”) and Pacific Northwest grunge (“Leo”). The pair knows the power of a duo cranking the amps (the savage “Bath Bomb”), but isn’t afraid to get vulnerable with the acoustic guitar, as on the wounded standout “Apricots”.
Luciano is proud of the way that she’s progressed as a guitar player since Bowman convinced her she had something to say, and she’s thrilled at the way fans have connected with her lyrics. She acknowledges taking a risk on the record, starting with the kickoff track, “Sixteen”, which begins with her going at it with a boy also named Alex in the back of his truck, and then shifts to town, where he’s telling everyone she sleeps around.
The payoff for the singer, who hails from the New York backwater of New Paltz, can, again, be measured by the lines of fans waiting to meet Diet Cig after club shows. And as heavy as things can get, they’re not always so.
“It spans the spectrum from deep, intense conversations about emotions to, sometimes, ‘Oh my god—here’s a picture of Guy Fieri, because I know you like him.’ ”
That’s right—guy Fieri is something of an obsession. Sometimes on tour you have to do more than rock.
“I like his show, but he also seems like a good dude,” Luciano says. “I like his attitude and energy and that he’s a goofball. After we play we go to the hotel, throw on the Food Network, and watch Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It’s just cool.” > MIKE USINGER
Diet Cig plays the Cobalt on Saturday (February 10). Mary Timony had to relearn her Helium songs to play them on tour
As the indie and grunge rockers of the 1980s and ’90s approach late middle age, hatchetburyings and band reunions are becoming almost an everyday occurrence. But what happens when aging songwriters revisit their younger selves? Does getting into the head of an angry young woman when you’re pushing 50 demand a degree of leather-clad role-playing? Or is that vexed 20-something still there, deep inside the subconscious mind?
Those are questions Helium’s Mary Timony has been wrestling with, to some degree, ever since the Matador label embarked on a program of reissuing the group’s 1990s recordings, which include the albums The Dirt of Luck and The Magic City, the No Guitars EP, and a new collection of singles and rarities, Ends With And. Timony has been quoted as saying that she used to write out of anger, but the person who answers the phone at her Washington, D.C., digs is unfailingly sunny—and ready to laugh at her earlier self. “It was an interesting process to go back and go over those songs again,” Timony reports. “I was approaching songwriting from a really different place at the time, in my 20s. But I’m not always thinking about the meaning of the words when I’m singing them. I’m more just listening to melodies, and thinking about connecting with the band. Maybe there are a couple of songs that I just don’t really like doing, ’cause I was in kind of a darker place when I wrote them. So maybe we’ve tweaked the set around a little bit so it’s pretty fun to play—and I generally have a fun time, playing live. I guess I don’t really have to do the role-playing thing.”
More on her mind is presenting Helium’s music as well as she can. In this, she’s helped by the fact that her former bandmates are not onboard for her current Mary Timony Plays Helium tour, having been replaced by younger and harder-working musicians.
“The guys that I played with in Helium were amazing, but we were just kind of lazy as a band,” Timony says, laughing. “We had a little bit of a slacker mentality about practising, and I think I’ve gotten a little bit better about that!”
As far as reinvigorating her muscle memory goes, the guitarist notes that between her day job and the treasure box that is Youtube, she was able to piece her old songs together without much trouble.
“It was kind of daunting to think about relearning the parts, but it actually ended up being kind of a fun process,” she explains. “One of the things I do is teach guitar, so it just kind of felt like I was learning someone else’s songs. It really wasn’t that much different.
“There were a couple of songs where I couldn’t remember how the parts went on the neck—like,
where on the neck I was playing them—and I just happened to find some very random footage of us playing in 1994 or something, and figured it out from that. It’s not like there’s a ton of stuff on Youtube, but there happened to be one random show at a college somewhere, and that helped me.”
It helps, too, that although Timony has been somewhat out of the spotlight since Helium disbanded in 1998, she’s kept active in music, performing with Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein in Wild Flag and more recently with her own trio, Ex Hex.
“I haven’t really looked back that much in my musical career,” she admits. “This is the first time I’ve really done that, and it feels good!” > ALEXANDER VARTY
Mary Timony Plays Helium is at the Cobalt on February 21.
Hamasyan sought food for his soul in Armenia
Discrimination and pogroms forced the Jews of Europe into exile; slavery brought Africans to the Americas; land clearances and near starvation sent the Scots around the globe. Every diaspora has its cause, or causes, and what fractured the Armenian people was genocide, which killed millions and dispossessed millions more of their ancestral lands during the early part of the past century. Only a rump country remains, a former Soviet republic nestled in the Caucasus Mountains and bounded by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran.
Yet the lure of that place, coupled with family necessity, led American jazz pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan to undertake his own reverse diaspora, returning to Yerevan from California as an adult, and making a new life there surrounded by music and relatives and love. Comfortable as that sounds, though, it hasn’t always been easy.
“It’s really a different kind of world here, compared to Europe or the U.S.,” the 30-year-old pianist reports in a Skype conversation from the Armenian capital. “There are challenges that are different here, and the challenge isn’t like living in New York. But there is definitely a lot of culture that I need for myself, like the soul food that I need, which is mostly the reason why I went back. Also there’s some kind of freedom I have here that I don’t have in other places. There are things that I can do that I wouldn’t be able to do if, say, I was living in L.A. or Paris. A lot of it has to do with the people and their traditions, and the way they live their life here. And also just being able to wake up and drive for 15 minutes and end up in a seventh-century monastery in the mountains… These are the things and places that inspire me to create, I guess.”
Hamasyan didn’t always admire his roots. “Actually,” he says, “I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Later on I got into jazz, and I really hated Armenian folk music because all I wanted to play was bebop. But a few years later, some records came out on the ECM label—like Jan Garbarek records, Keith Jarrett records—and I realized that folk music can give you a different approach to improvisation, a different musical vocabulary you can use to improvise. So all these things led me into folk music in general, and to my own folk music.”
In solo performance, which is how we’ll hear him in Vancouver next week, Hamasyan mixes lyrical improvisation with Armenianinflected melodies and, sometimes, his own rich, flexible singing. In Armenia, however, he’s been working with larger forces—most notably the Yerevan State Chamber Choir, as heard on his 2015 release, Luys I Luso.
“I’m basically arranging Armenian religious music, church music from the fifth to the 20th centuries, for piano and a choir,” Hamasyan notes. “This was something where I really had to be able to stay here to get this project going, because I had to find the right choir and work with them for six months nonstop before we could record. So it was a long process, but it was a really beautiful project— and definitely a learning experience.”
The learning continues: Hamasyan is currently working on a large-scale commission from the New York City–based vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. In the as-yet-untitled work, the choir will interpret a 10th-century Armenian canto, or religious poem, with improvised counterpoint from the piano.
“I’ve gotten myself into a lot of trouble, because it’s a long piece and it’s complicated,” Hamasyan says with a laugh. “But I like a challenge!”
> ALEXANDER VARTY
The Armenian Cultural Association of British Columbia presents Tigran Hamasyan at the Vancouver Academy of Music next Friday (February 16).