Listening to Cigarettes After Sex is always an experience, one that began in 2012 when they released a first EP that in just 18 minutes could take you through a melodic slow burn that could only be compared to a kiss on a cloudy, rainy, sensual night. The visceral desire that such an adventure had a second part was inevitable, and this year we received the debut album by Greg González and his band, who are undoubtedly one of the few groups that deserve to be called heirs of the sonic landscapes of Mazzy Star, Cocteau Twins or Slowdive, especially since they don’t seem to be caught up in the echo of everberant guitars or in the nostalgia of a chillwave revival. If it sounds provocative, fret not: at the end of this year you’ll be able to see them in Chile at the En Órbita festival.
Since last September, Greg and company have been visiting fans on United States and Europe, gracing them with a melodic gray haze and lyrics that get under your skin. One Friday in November, Greg answers the phone from Amsterdam hours before the band climbs onto the stage of the Melkweg club, where 1500 people will be waiting for them within the next two hours for an emotional hit in slow motion. He sounds relaxed, a little surprised to have so many fans across the Atlantic, but he can’t wait to seduce the audience.
“I think everything’s now much stronger, having a group of people in the band now that understand exactly what to play. It’s just become very focused and very powerful, I think, to play now compared to before when we were a bit more scattered and random. I think that now with the band the sound just gets better and better as it goes.”
One of my favorite things about the music of Cigarettes After Sex is that the songs feel like these deep, raw, intimate confessions, like secrets you only keep to yourself. People have connected a lot with you guys because of this, how does it feel to have such an intense response from the audience?
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. I love the fact that thay can sort of relate to these things that we’re saying. Obviously I’m talking about very personal, intimate stories that happened to me, but the very nice thing is that people seem to see themselves in them and they seem to live the same kind of experiences that I’ve been through and it’s nice, you know? When you kinda can be honest about something and someone else can say ‘yeah, I understand what you’re saying’. It’s great that they can understand the kind of feelings behind this music and really identify with it.
Does that make the shows even more intense sometimes?
Yeah, it does because there’ll be times where you’ll be really, really moved by the music. Maybe the music has been there for the fans through some really rough times, and you can see that with the people at the shows.
Do you feel that the way you write changed after you moved to New York?
Not much. I think what I did in New York was that I just kinda said, ‘ok, this kind of writing I really like’ and it was the moment I wrote very personal songs like Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby and I’m A Firefighter. So I just thought that was good and I thought that was my identity as a writer. To tell these stories, to talk very personally, and I just decided I’d just follow that through. When I got to New York… I think all the songs that you hear now come very much from that. That mood that started on our first EP.
What does the song Affection mean to you? It marked a before and after, because there was something in that one that connected with a lot of people who started to pay more attention to you after it was released.
That song was a departure. That was the first song we did with this new lineup of the bend, which became the lineup of the band. And also personally that was the first song I released since I went to New York. It was about the first major relationship I had since I went to the city… so you know, it was like the longest relationship and it lasted just a little while. The story of that song is very personal and special.
Talking with Greg about his favorite artists is an exercise in control: you feel you could be talking about records, songs and memories for hours. Like his music, cinema has been an important part of his life: if the band had not worked, he would have gone to film school, and perhaps today we would have seen some of his films. However, Cigarettes After Sex has done so well, that even when he’s always had the idea of making a video or a short film with the band, he’s been too busy to make it happen.
However, he believes that he may end up composing the score or the soundtrack of a film in the future. We imagine a nocturnal scenario, mysterious and sensual with intimate dialogues and billowing smoke, but above all, a lot of romance. Greg says that he recently saw the 1945 French film Children of Paradise, written by the poet and playwright Jacques Prevert, where a courtesan and her four lovers teach us about love. “If you’re a romantic and you see this movie… you will definitely get it. It has one of the best scripts about romance that I’ve seen in my life.” So taking advantage of this passionate statement, we immerse ourselves in the inherent cinematography of his music, the one that comes to life when he closes his eyes and daydreams.
Can you tell us a bit about your influences? The band is sounds dreamy yet dark, like Julee Cruise or Cocteau Twins, but it feels like deep blues, too. What would you say are the artists that have shaped your sound and your soul as a musician?
Yeah, that’s a great question and I think you’ve nailed a couple big ones right there: the Cocteau Twins just have this otherwordly sound about them, they truly sound like they’ve come from a different planet or something and everything they do sounds very distinct and very unlike anybody else. I love their sound and just thought there’s something really striking about them that I always wanted to bring into this band, their otherwordly quality. There’s also a surrealism which you get in the Cocteau Twins, especially in the song titles and lyrics, which are very strange, they actually feel strange. I think Lorelei was one of the songs I shared with the band before we started recording the first EP in 2012.
Now about Julee Cruise… I think Floating into the Night is one of my To 10 records of all time. I just think that record’s perfect and it has this kind of 60’s pop sound to it that makes it surreal and makes it really dark and strange, but there’s also sweetness to it when you hear songs like Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart. I think The World Spins is the song that’s really important and influential to this band. That kind stillness of that last song on the album is probably my favorite.
But also The Paris Sisters is one of my favorite groups. They’re a girl group and they’re really sweet, very very slow, gentle songs. Their main song is called I Love How You Love Me, which is one of my favorite songs of all time. They have these songs called like Yes, I Love You, which is a great song, and yes, very 60’s but they’re like the slowest girl group, and represent more what we do.
How do you feel your process as a musician and songwriter has evolved in the past few years? This album took a long time to make — about 5 years — and it shows in the way the songs develop, the sonic landscapes, the lyrics, the way the feelings surround you.
I think that with this music, I first approach what I like to write which is usually very quick! I don’t know why this album took so long to do because many of the songs were written very quickly! (laughs) But really, the reason it took so long is that I moved into the city and I was trying to figure out what direction the songs were going to take, even with the sound of the band at some point and actually getting the right recording of these songs it took a long time! For example, a song like Flash was written immediately after the 2012 EP but it never sounded right, it didn’t have that purity I was looking for. So finally we finally tried it again after we made the album sessions and we found the simplicity needed in that song.
I write the music really quickly but the lyrics take longer. I love sitting in front of the computer with my guitar in my apartment at night, just kinda come up with these things and you know, I’m kind of just… hunted at night at this point, it’s when I feel more focused.
You used to run a movie theater on the Upper East Side, which I’ll go ahead and romaticize assuming that the style of the band has a lot to do with that, because the singles art and album art reminds me a bit of those old Smiths records that always made you think because they were so unusual and iconic and different with the black and white photographs. What movies have made a mark in you? Which ones come to you sometimes when you close your eyes?
There have been quite a lot of films… like I said, they’re as important for me as the music and the band. I kinda try to bring the films into the music and into the band somehow. For example, you see this great mood and feel in a movie, you kinda want to translate that into the music which I try to do quite often. You mentioned black and white but actually my favorite film is The Red Shoes and it has a lot of ideas that I think are in the band, I think: it’s about passion and there’s a lot of magic in that film.
The whole ballet sequence is fantastic and very strange and real and powerful. The first time it blew me away and I can never get it out of my mind, it’s always there whenever I need a rewatch. It just feels very sensual and erotic but it’s also mysterious, it has exotic locations, a female protagonist… I think that film has a lot to do with the sound of the band. We have romance and sensuality; it really has a lot of things that we want to portray in our music.
To listen to this band is to penetrate in a world where the melodies surpass the atmosphere of the songs, one in which the voice of González sounds addictive, androgynous and powerful, and the echoes and the sonic haze dissolves to give way to themes that sound visceral and raw, like hypnotic elegies with irresistible pop hooks, and that feel like confessions that end up giving you goose bumps: in a way, they are universal themes about how violently love can be felt when the heartbeats reach the tip of your fingers in an electric shock.
With this new line-up, Randy Miller‘s bass seems to vibrate accompanying the heart of Gonzalez’s lyrics, while Phillip Tubbs‘ guitar arrives in soft waves that break in a dawn that arrives after you’ve spent the night drunk with memories, with songs that cover you like a stellar mantle. You end up suspended in the tempo and the ticking of Jacob Tomsky‘s cymbals is an endless metronome, one that bewitches you until you’re floating in sensation.
You’ve said that when you write you’re usually connected to specific memories. Since the songs feel super emotional, but also visual and even kinetic, do your memories feel like that, too? Almost too close to touch?
I think it does, yes. The songs are always closer than the memories that I had when I wrote them. But there’s this passion in them, so my memories… I can always see them really clearly when I perform the songs, and get again the feelings that I had writing them. How things felt. A lot of my songs come from that: seeing and feeling a memory and try and put them into paper.
Do you feel that the songs sometimes change your perception of a memory?
Yeah, they definitely do because they just get tied in fear during a performance (laughs). Especially now, it’s very weird because you can write a song and it’s ok. And then then that song can mean something to someone else, so if it was about an old romance it becomes about a new romance, it’s like the songs acquire more and more and more memories as time goes on.
Next month you’re going to be visiting us around here in Latinamerica: you’re going to be visiting Chile, Brazil and Argentina, and Mexico next year. What are your expectations for those gigs?
I just get the feeling that the fans in Latinamerica and Mexico are very intense. They’re very early fans too, they started following us when the band took off, they’re very loyal. Fans from latinamerica are very responsive and it’s great. I can’t wait to meet them in Chile and Argentina and Brazil and get to go to Mexico City too and see how everyone reacts. Coming from an hispanic background too I know for example that Mexican fans are also huge fans of music in general and very, very passionate so we’ll see how it goes. Fingers crossed.
Now, to finish, I’d love to play a little word association game. Just tell me whatever comes to mind when I say these words.
Sex? Would you like some?
After reading, what did you think?