Cigarettes After Sex's Greg Gonzalez on the band's intimate lyrics, and recording in a stairway
Cigarettes After Sex founder Greg Gonzalez talks about writing lyrics which have an intimate, personal quality to them, their cover art, and recording music in churches and stairways
'Erotic lullabies' is how Greg Gonzalez, the founder of Cigarettes After Sex, describes the ambient pop band's musical style. It seems to be the most apt description of the songs created by them, which have a mellow, sweet sound but intense lyrics with the ability to tug at the listener's heartstrings.
This four-piece ambient pop band is all of nine years old, and thus far, they have released one EP and five singles. Currently, they are on a multi-city tour, and one of the gigs is at India's own NH7 Weekender Pune. "The biggest challenge lately is trying to finish new music while constantly being on tour. It’s something I’m still trying to get the hang of," Gonzalez says.
The lyrics of Cigarettes After Sex's songs frequently explore themes of love, longing and raw emotions. In 'K', for example, the narrator talks about how he realised he was falling in love with a girl called Kristen, with whom he had a no-strings-attached relationship, while they were at a restaurant waiting for the cheque to arrive. Gonzalez says that he simply writes about what he knows. "Writing about real experiences & real people I’ve know seem to bring the best out of me," he says. His biggest influences are French pop singer Francoise Hardy, jazz musician Miles Davis & composer-pianist Erik Satie.
Listen to 'Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby' or 'Affection', and you'll notice that the words of their songs have an intimate quality to them, almost like the secrets you'd whisper to a lover. Does this make performing these songs a revealing, difficult experience? "Maybe since I’ve been playing music so long it doesn’t really occur to me & I don’t really have any anxieties associated with the writing itself. It’s a good feeling to sing about things that matter to me," says Gonzalez.
Not many know that Cigarettes After Sex's first EP was recorded on a stairway. "I would always walk through this stairway in the music building at the local university in my hometown. I found that it had such a huge, echo-y sound to it and wondered what it would sound like if a band played in it. One night we just set up a bunch of microphones in the stairway with the band and recorded what ended up being the EP," recounts Gonzalez. Since then, the band has recorded music in a variety of locations, from a rehearsal space in Brooklyn to another stairway at a Manhattan movie theater where Gonzalez used to work to a villa in Mallorca, Spain and even a church in Germany.
Apart from their music, another facet of the band which fans find fascinating is the minimalist, monochrome artwork, whether it is the visual of a woman's naked body and the skull placed next to it, or the hand with the plant that seems to be growing out of it. The first EP & cover to the song 'Affection' are Man Ray works which they licensed to use. "I found that Ray's work seemed to suit the music perfectly with its surreal, beautiful and sensual feeling to it. Since then we’ve used a variety of newer photographers whose work has that same feeling to it," Gonzalez says.
When asked what direction he thinks the band will take, Gonzalez says that he is certain they will stay true to the sound they have created. "I love artists that have a very cohesive sound to their music," he explains. As for the genre of ambient pop, he says that there seem to be a lot of great, interesting artists making music today. In particular, he mentions singers like Enya, the Cocteau Twins and Chet Baker, as well as English rock band Slowdive, which he says is back with new music.
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