Alex Luciano embraces her status as a late bloomer when it comes to performing—and she’s still only 22. Nonetheless, the past few years have been a whirlwind for the singer/guitarist, crisscrossing the country with drummer Noah Bowman, her counterpart in the buzzed-about New York pop-punk duo Diet Cig.
“We still feel so fresh and new to all of it,” Luciano says as the band’s tour van pulls into Toronto, though it’s been even more of a novel experience for her. “I was in musicals growing up, but singing was never really a thing I took seriously,” the Albany-area native says. Although she learned “a couple of chords on the acoustic guitar,” Luciano also didn’t really take up the instrument until college when she wrote a few songs of her own, inspired by DIY bands in New Paltz, where she attended the State University of New York.
Bowman, 25, played in one of those bands, and after she approached him onstage to borrow a lighter, they forged a connection that sealed their fate. At first she was going to film a video for his band in a tour-documentary style, says Luciano, who majored in digital media production. But soon they began fleshing out her songs.
“I wanted to be on the other side of the camera, and I had a drive to be the performer rather than the person recording the performance,” she says. “That kind of sparked that feeling of, ‘I think I can do this. And I want to do this.’ ”
Luciano found a fitting foil in Bowman. “I’m like the daydreamer, and Noah’s the guy who gets shit done—it’s very complementary,” she says. In 2015, they recorded the EP Over Easy, and went from playing sweaty basement parties to heavy touring, leaving graduation for another time and media production likely altogether. “I don’t see myself returning to school for the same thing,” Luciano says. “Right now, Diet Cig has kinda taken over our lives, in a really cool way.”
As she sings in “Road Trip,” from the band’s April 2017 debut album Swear I’m Good at This, “I lost the map. No going back.” Fans clearly responded to Luciano’s candid, wit-wrapped songs about coming of age and dealing with teen ambitions and frustrations, from feeling lonely and impatient to deflecting dead-end dudes.
“It was pretty awkward when I sang ‘Sixteen’ to my mom in the audience for the first time,” Luciano says of the album’s lead track, where she shifts from wistful reflection to fuzzed-out resolve as she sings about “moaning my own name” in the back of a truck with a sleep-and-tell boy also named Alex. She tackles irksome gender dynamics in other songs like “Link in Bio,” which addresses the pressure on young women not to be too loud or proud. “I’m done with being a chill girl,” Luciano sings. “I’m trying to take over the world.”
“There are certain emotions that I’ve grown up feeling are OK, and if I show myself being angry or horny or any emotion, that would make people uncomfortable. I was making myself smaller to fit into this box of what other people thought was palatable,” she says. “These are a lot of my honest parts that maybe I wouldn’t tell you if we’re friends, but I’ve kinda gotten to unpack them on the record.”
Those songs are then translated on stages like the Brighton Music Hall, where Diet Cig plays March 2 (as a four piece with added bass and synth players to fill out the sound). And while much of the band’s audience is high school and college-age, the singer adds that the demographic at shows stretches to middle-age fans.
“It’s cool to see someone like yourself rocking out to the songs, but it’s especially cool to see someone you didn’t think you could relate to singing along to songs that are so personal to me,” Luciano says. “Maybe these feelings of trying your best and feeling not good enough and figuring it all out don’t always go away when you just grow up. Those feelings are relatable, regardless of your age.”◆
Diet Cig plays the Brighton Music Hall on March 2.
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