Bands like Cigarettes After Sex are incredibly far and few. The ambient pop four-piece have spent the past couple of years producing some of the most beautiful, dream-like slow jams of recent memory, racking up tens of millions of views well before dropping a debut full-length and winning over a substantial, increasingly-growing fanbase. With their debut self-titled LP set for release next month, Cigarettes After Sex looks set to switch from word-of-mouth phenomenon to established favourites almost as quickly as listeners fell in love with them.
In line with the unveiling of latest album cut Each Time You Fall In Love and ahead of their sell-out slot at London’s prestigious KOKO, frontman Greg Gonzalez debriefs us on influence, intimacy and an unlikely cure for sleep deprivation.
How has the UK been for you so far?
It’s been great, actually, as some of our best fans are over here. Last night, we did a show in Birmingham which was really rowdy.
There’s also a sense of a cult-like following for the band in the UK, especially London…
We’ve got one of our biggest fan bases in London, I think. KOKO is definitely one of the biggest venues we’ve ever played, too.
The band formed in El Paso, Texas which is interesting when you look at city’s heavier, rock music history. What kind of influences did you specifically pick up for there?
I went to college there and it had some really interesting scenes going on at the time, lots of DJs and EDM music. Also, believe it or not, there’s an old, country scene influenced by Ryan Adams and Wilko going on there but I was never really a part of that. I always felt Cigarettes After Sex was a random band that didn’t really fit into a scene at all so we were a bit different to everything else going on. I was definitely looking at outside influences more so than local ones.
It’s pretty hard to read something about Cigarettes After Sex where the ‘romantic’ or ‘intimate’ element to your sound isn’t brought up. In terms of the record, are these personal romantic stories or much more fictional?
K is definitely one of the more personal ones, the song acts as a memoir for me. Every line in that track is something that really happened. Then we have other tracks where it’s a much more imaginative scenario, like Apocalypse is one I didn’t actually live but is totally influenced by girls I know. Every song has a personal backstory, some just more personal than others like Sunsetz or Sweet, but none are too invented.
Was it easy adjusting to knowing that, all of a sudden, a vast amount of people are listening to your personal stories and feelings?
I think so. I was just being myself and people like that so it’s been pretty easy. It’s just so nice getting compliments from people, especially when you can see people are loving it in the crowd. We did a show in Manchester and I began singing Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby and I could see some of the crowd crying which was really emotional for me to watch. Just being myself is what got me here so there’s been no need to change. I feel very welcomed to be this personal in front of everybody, that’s my motive for writing.
I read that people have told you that the music has been key to them overcoming anxiety and sleep deprivation…
Yeah, that’s actually been a theme throughout the time as Cigarettes After Sex. Even right back at the start before the band blew up, I was getting those letters explaining how we’d be played in order to calm nerves or relieve anxiety. As time has gone on, we’ve been told more and more that the music is like therapy. I know that when I’ve had rough times, I’d put on a record to fall asleep to or to take all the noise away from my mind so this feels like circular. The fact you can be influenced by something and then someone can be influenced by that is really great, I think.
We touched on the idea of intimacy within your sound which, on paper, seems ideal for smaller, indoor venues. How have you found the music has translated when playing festivals or larger stages?
Really well, actually. The strange thing has been that, even though we play very mellow and slow music, the crowds have been really rowdy and really into it. Clapping and cheering along which is completely counter to the music we play. The crowds are what make the show, we just play wherever we are put. We’re actually very strict about making sure the music sounds as it does on record so the audience really takes care of everything else for us. They give you all the energy you need for a show.
Many of the single and EP artworks have been Man Ray [surrealist visual artist] photographs, what drew you to his work specifically?
That was really all a coincidence. I love the single artwork for The Smiths’ singles as they’re all so unified, the record covers were curated to make the band even more iconic. I wanted something similar to that and then I saw the Man Ray artwork and just thought it was perfect for capturing the band and what we were trying to get across. That really set the template for the artwork we’ve used since those.
Have you seen any other art by coincidence and thought that it’d work well for a Cigarettes After Sex track?
Not really, I’m yet to find anything that works as perfectly as the Man Ray images. Usually, I’ll see one piece of art and think it’d work well for us but then the other pieces don’t fit, so it’s hard to find something that would work cohesively. I think the Apocalypse and K single covers are both amazing and shot by amazing photographers. We saw a photograph by a Japanese photographer that we thought would work really well and we might use, though he’s a little stricter with the uses of his artwork.
I hope I’m right in assuming there’s a number of film influences within your sound, given the overall defining, cinematic quality to what we’ve heard from you…
Totally, being a huge film geek was a big part of my teens. For the record, the big influences were The Double Life of Veronique, a mysterious, erotic Polish film that’s really visually striking and quite eerie and that’s reflective in the mood of the album. L’Avventura, the 60s film, was also a big one for me which is another passionate love story. Those are the two I think of when I hear our record.
What about your all-time favourite then?
It’s definitely The Red Shoes. It totally knocked me out when I first saw it, there’s a really surreal ballet scene right in the middle of the film which I just love. I cried when I first saw it as it’s just so beautiful.
Keeping with the idea of the image, another difficult thing to avoid reading about when discussing Cigarettes After Sex is androgyny, specifically when discussing your vocals. Is that something you have always been conscious of?
I only really started to think about it when people began pointing it out. It makes sense to me as I’ve always preferred female vocalists and perhaps I’ve been trying to subconsciously emulate that. My speaking voice is so deep and singing voice just isn’t, slightly disconnected I feel, so I often get people wondering if it’s actually me singing. I think it must come from my love of Julee Cruise or Françoise Hardy so I think my wispy singing voice must stem from that.
There’s a brilliant lyric on the record, “You’re the patron saint of sucking cock,” which highlights a lesser-seen, light-heartedness to your music. What’s the reasoning for these brief, almost humorous moments in amongst the sombre intimacy of the record?
I think it’s great to include bits like that, especially when thinking back to The Smiths and the joke- moments scattered throughout the songs. That song, Young and Dumb, is actually quite sarcastic and about being close enough to someone that you can tease them with it being out of love. Little shared jokes like that between lovers crack me up and that’s important to romance for me. The humour is a big part of it.
You recorded the majority of the album over the course of only three days. In contrast, only one new song appeared from you in 2016. Do you thrive when the recording process is as speedy as possible or do you find taking your time works far better for you?
What happened with that was I was simply trying to make the new music sound as good as what we’d released, which I found really tricky to do and I couldn’t even equal it. Then this whole last year has been crazy with touring, recording and deciding which label to go with so that was all a bit of a mess. We got so swept by everything that we just never got a chance to make time to put anything out. From now on, it’s all going to be far steadier with releases as I think that’s what we’re best at.
What are you hoping the listener can take away from their first listen of the record?
I guess if anyone can gain any happiness or peace or empathy from the record then that’s the best thing that could happen. That’s why I love music so much, listening to a record and knowing someone else understands you and resonating with that. That’s the goal.
Each Time You Fall In Love is out now. Debut record Cigarettes After Sex is out 9 June. The band play Camden’s Roundhouse on 20 November with tickets available from here.