How one indie rock band created a new language of collaboration
Published on January 17, 2019
“The thing that took us the most time.. was the language of what we were doing. Cause I didn’t grow up with a music background.” —Alex Luciano, singer/guitarist, Diet Cig
Co-creating isn’t easy for any team. It takes a lot of patience, compromise, and willpower to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And when your team is a band, you can hear right away when there’s harmony, and when there’s dissonance. For a lot of bands, the challenge comes from a clash of egos.
But for indie rock duo Diet Cig, it was more like a language barrier. Drummer Noah Bowman had years of experience in bands. Singer-guitarist Alex Luciano had just started playing music. So how did they learn to deal with these tensions, communicate ideas, and translate them into songs? We sat down with Alex and Noah to find out.
How did you meet and begin making music together?
ALEX: We started hanging out because I was going to school to make videos. I was like, “I’ll make you a music video for your band.” So we started hanging out. I was doing some recordings for his band, and going to the shows. I was like, “I could do that! I wanna jump around on stage like a whacko.” We started playing together just to see.
We had been friends, so it didn’t take us long to trust each other and have that spirit of, “Okay, we can work together. We can do this.”
NOAH: We also didn’t have any expectations, so it wasn’t like “We can't do that because of this.” It was like, “We’re gonna do it because we’re doing it. Why not?” So, our trust was just like…
ALEX: …Kind of built-in to how we were doing it.
NOAH: This is definitely the first time working with someone that hasn’t had a whole background in it. When I met Alex, it was like a clean slate. She doesn’t have all these things like, “I have to do it this way because this is how I’ve done it.” It was more like, “We’re doing it now, and I’m learning how to do it, and it’s exciting and fun.”
ALEX: I had never performed solo before our band started. I started writing these songs and not knowing what I was gonna do with them. I didn’t really wanna be a solo artist. I kinda had the idea, but I never thought that being in a band was… in the cards for me. The idea of that was so intimidating to me until when I met Noah and he was like, “No, it’s chill. Here, just do it. Plug in. Doesn’t matter if you sound good or bad. Just do it.” It wasn’t until we started working together that I really believed, “Oh, I can totally do this. It doesn’t matter. I can mess up my guitar chords and be a goofy idiot on stage, but it’s okay 'cause that’s why we’re doing it, 'cause it’s fun.”
"I never thought that being in a band was in the cards for me. The idea of that was so intimidating to me until when I met Noah."
With such different backgrounds, how do you find common ground musically when you’re working on new songs?
ALEX: The thing that took us the most time writing together was the language of what we were doing and communicating the ideas. Cause I didn’t grow up with a music background. I’m like, “Okay, the part where I’m like, “Duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh.” And he’s like, “What?” It took us so long to get on the same page. Just the communication. Cause I’d be trying to express this idea in this whole new language that I’m just learning and figuring out. I’m just like, “I don't know how to tell you what I want. I’ll show you.”
NOAH: Yeah, it’s like, “Do that, but when you do the boo-buh-duh-bop-bup-bop-bop-da-dop-bop, then do this.” Then you're just like, “Oh yeah, I get. Now I understand what you're saying.”
ALEX: Now we are on the same wavelength. That definitely took us the longest, though.
How does your process begin? Do you keep a journal?
ALEX: Oh, my God, I have a crazy notebook. My songwriting process is so all over the place. (Laughs) I have like…
NOAH: It’s just scattered everywhere. The van is full of notebooks.
ALEX: Maybe when I’m famous someday, someone will scan the pages and be like, “This girl was all over the place.”
NOAH: I feel like I still find some of your notebooks from earlier (Laughs) just under like… we’ve been moving a lot and everything’s been in bins the last couple of months 'cause we’ve been touring. The other day, I was moving stuff and I found one of your earlier notebooks, and I was like, “Oh, my God, I haven’t seen this thing in like, two years. [I didn’t] even know that this has been missing.
ALEX: I feel like I just free-write in this journal if I’m having a really intense, emotional feeling. There's stuff that’s underlined. I’m like, “Okay, turn that into a line. Like, make that rhyme… That sentence captures exactly what I’m feeling.” It’s a lot of writing and writing and writing, and then circling chunks of it and being like, “This!” So hectic and all over the place and kind of stream of conscious-y. It’s fun, though.
"It took us so long to get on the same page. I’d be trying to express this idea in this whole new language that I’m just learning."
How do you go about turning random lines into songs?
ALEX: I’ll come in with a loose idea of what I want the song to be. One chord progression and a couple lines and a couple different parts. I’m like, “I don't know how this is gonna be a song. Noah, let’s come together.” He’s so good at building the song into something that’s a cohesive thing.
NOAH: Usually when she’ll come in and she’ll have something, before I even touch the drums, I’m just like, “Play through the whole song, whatever you have.” We’ll talk about it for a minute before we even get in. Then I can kind of formulate a plan. “Okay, I’m thinking’ this might work, this might work,” so it makes it flow better.
How has your process changed since you’ve been touring?
NOAH: On [Swear I’m Good At This], our style and writing is a little more intentional. The first couple songs, it was pretty much just word vomit. Just threw it out and saw what happened. We played maybe five shows before that EP came out. Then we were on tour and we were like, “We have to figure out who we are through touring and trial and error.”
ALEX: A lot of trial and error. A lot of failing loudly in public.
NOAH: Yeah, which was great 'cause it made us really have to get our act together. Through that, she’s definitely progressed so much in her guitar playing and in knowing what her strengths are. And she’s learning what my strengths are. Going into this new record was a lot of fun because we were like, “Oh, we can kinda push each other’s boundaries now because we know how far we can push ‘em.”
ALEX: When we recorded Over Easy, I could like barely play our songs. I was so new at guitar and I had barely a grasp on what I wanted out of it. On guitar day for recording, I was so nervous and so stressed, like, “Maybe I can't play these songs.” But on this record, we got to guitar day, and I was like, “Heck yeah, like all ready.”
"Kelly is such an intricate, incredible artist. I really busted out the mood board hard. It was so cool to collaborate on the artwork."
Do you collaborate with designers for album art and merch?
ALEX: We collaborated a bunch for all of our pre-orders and our merch for a new record coming out. There are so many amazing designers that we know and are friends with. We have these pink satin bomber jackets made out of this lustrous Japanese satin. It’s so beautiful.This amazing artist and designer, Tuesday Bassen, designed them and made them, and they're awesome.
She has her own line of the jackets. We hit her up and we were like, “Can we please collaborate on something for this. We’re obsessed with everything you do. Like, can we do something together?”So we kind of came up with this jacket design with her, and made it an exclusive run of fifty on our pre-orders. It was really exciting to get to work with her on that 'cause I love her work so much. I was just so excited to be a part of what she was doing.
Was it difficult to make creative decisions together without being in the same room?
ALEX: Oh, my God, sort of, yeah. We had a lot of e-mail chats of what we wanted. I think we went through about fifty different colorways before we decided on which one. We were sending stuff back like, fabric sample photos. I’m like, “Wait, can you put it in this lighting?” It was cool. She would send over sketches and we’d be like, “Oh, this is cool, this is not.” It was all through e-mail, which is crazy, and like, honestly Dropbox-ing designs and stuff.
NOAH: Nice plug, that was good.
ALEX: It’s really kind of exciting to be able to collaborate through e-mail. It was really fun and awesome to be able to instantly be, “That’s great, but can you try this and do that?” We love the design. Oh my God, we have so many collaborations with our merch for this record.
NOAH: Kelly Ryan did the artwork for the record, the embroidery. I’ve seen a lot of really great pieces of embroidery, but just the way she does it. She’s so fast at it, too. The colors that she uses and everything. The first EP we did, Over Easy, we did in embroidery and we had a friend do it. We kind of wanted to keep that same theme, but we wanted something a little bit more… I don't know how I would say it.
ALEX: Like polished in a way. Kelly, who did our art, is such an intricate, incredible artist. She’s so good…. That was when I really busted out the mood board hard for that one.
NOAH: It was like everywhere, it was floor and on the walls.
ALEX: There was an e-mail. It was like fifty photos of close-ups of the mood board. I was like, “This is our album cover. It has to be perfect.” I’m sending her pictures of her designs: “I want it like this and like this, but I want these colors and this vibe.” Sending her vintage postcards and stuff. It was really cool to be able to work with her 'cause she’s just so amazing at what she does and such a good friend of ours. It was so cool to collaborate on the artwork so hard.