MU­SIC

That’s what some fans tell Diet Cig, but oth­ers just want to talk about a cer­tain Food Net­work host

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY MIKE USINGER

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).

Alex Lu­ciano (left) cred­its her friend and Diet Cig band­mate Noah Bow­man with push­ing her in the di­rec­tion of shar­ing her songs with the world.

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