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Cigarettes After Sex is Your Late Night Soundtrack

Originally published on STATUS Magazine, August 2018.

Tugging on the human desire for amorous familiarity, CIGARETTES AFTER SEX is staying true to the message of their name.

Lose yourself in the ardent haze of Cigarettes After Sex. Pairing tender-hearted lyricism with atmospheric instruments above simple drum patterns, their ambient-pop sound is an ode to the quiet, intimate moments shared between lovers. “I think the soothing nature of music like this is why it means so much to me and why I choose to mostly write in the style. It’s the music that allows me to relive the beautiful moments in my life and also calms me when my mind is filled with negative emotions,” founder Greg Gonzales explains.

Formed in 2008 as a solo project by Greg, he released his first EP I. in 2012, recording the four tracks in a stairway at his alma mater in El Paso, Texas. After a YouTube video of their track “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” unexpectedly went viral four years later, the band was quickly pushed into the limelight. “It was very intense honestly, like being struck by lightning. You wait your whole life for something like this to happen and when it finally does, you’re mostly in disbelief, but still unbelievably excited,” he recalls.

Today, he’s joined by Phillip Tubbs on keyboards and electric guitar, Randall Miller on bass, and Jacob Tomsky on drums to complete the band’s lineup. With a full-length album proudly on display, Cigarettes After Sex moves forward while maintaining their distinctly smooth tunes. “I love all kinds of music & have been experimenting with writing in so many styles since I started, but I feel I’d rather be an artist like Erik Satie or Serge Gainsbourg in the way that they keep a very characteristic sound.”

The band was formed back in 2008, but you didn’t release your debut EP until 2012. At what point within that time frame did you develop your signature sound?

It really happened in 2012 with the first EP. Before that, I was recording all the music by myself in my home studio, playing all the instruments & trying out a bunch of different styles. At some point I became frustrated with what I was achieving & knew I had to start utilizing the power I could get from other talented musicians to create something much better than me alone. During the same time my writing became much more personal & simple. I thought of the influences I felt most deeply about & looked to create a sound that gave me the same feelings as them. We went into record the first EP with all of that in mind & that’s what came out of it, it was a long journey there.

The topics you write about in your songs are evidently very personal, and you’ve mentioned previously how, generally, you aren’t very vocal about these types of emotions. How did you come to realize that music was the best avenue to express these thoughts?

It’s like writing a very specific letter to someone. You want them to know how you feel & you need to also get those emotions out of yourself so they don’t drive you crazy. I really just found that I needed to write about these moments to either get my mind off them or to truly appreciate them.

Would you say your music writing process has grown or changed throughout your career?

It’s probably gone from A to Z. The first complete album I ever recorded was an instrumental death metal album when I was about 13 years old. After that I started to write more pop based songs with lyrics that felt more personal to me, but they took more twists & turns. I feel like I learned something I kept with me through every phase of writing though, whether I was writing chaotic avant garde music or something very simple.

What’s it like playing such intimate music for smaller crowds versus large arenas? Is there a difference at all?

It feels very natural to me. We really don’t do much on stage except play the songs they way they are on record so the audience ends up really setting the feeling of the show, big or small. Some audiences seem very intent on listening in a more meditative, closed eye way & the show might feel more focused, more like a classical performance maybe or we get an audience that are more outwardly energetic, applauding certain moments within songs & the show ends up feeling more lively, more rock & roll.

Stylistically, could you explain the inspiration behind your monochromatic image?

I just think there’s something powerful to black & white. I wanted the images of the band to feel special like the way I feel when I see a Smiths album cover. They’re all very cohesive, recognizable & they were selected for very personal reasons. I wanted to use that as the foundation of my thinking for the kind of record covers we would put out & then noticed that black & white suited the music particularly well.

A year since the release of your self-titled debut, you came out with a new single, “Crush”. Could you talk about the song?

The song was written in late 2013 when I had just moved to New York from my hometown, El Paso, Texas. An ex I keep in contact with had sent me a photo of a new swimsuit she had bought & I became obsessed with the photo, writing the song about that feeling & also the other feelings I had about our past relationship.

Are there any memorable shows or moments from the tour so far?

The most memorable moment from the last months of touring for me has been being able to meet my favorite singer & idol, Francoise Hardy, for the second time in Paris. It’s so amazing to me to know she loves the music I make & to just to be able to share a conversation with her about her life & her music.

Your music has helped a lot of people through rough times, whether it be emotionally through a heartbreak or mentally and physically for people with sleep anxiety. Did you ever foresee your music having that kind of impact on its listeners?

I definitely wanted my music to have that quality to it, in the same way that the music I’m most passionate about helped me through the grieving process or through heartbreak many times. It’s my favorite compliment when someone tells me a story of how the music helped them through a tough time emotionally.

You said earlier in the year that you’ve been creating and recording a couple of songs that will be compiled into a new LP. When should we be expecting it? Could you give us an idea of what it’s going to sound like? Will it be much of a departure from what you’ve previously done?

We’ve recorded a lot of music over the last few years that we’re going to compile into a second LP when we have some time away from touring. Hoping to actually release it next summer if all goes as planned, but we’ll see. As far as the sound I’d say it’s a very small change, all I wanted to really do with this material was think of some different influences like newer hip hop & 90s tejano, start with that & then create the style of music we make with them in mind. I think it gives the music a new dimension while keeping the certain feeling I like about our past records.

Written by Sophie Caraan
Photographed by Ebru Yildiz