Diet Cig are the 'radically soft' New York punks making political statements one embroidered patch at a time

Sometimes, the best way to get a message across is to strip it of any embellishments and get straight to the point. That’s exactly what New York duo Diet Cig – aka Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman – do; after releasing a 2015 EP, ‘Over Easy’, that referenced adolescent anxiety and breaking into swimming pools, they’re back with a full-length album that offers a deeper insight into singer Luciano’s brain.

Videos full of fiercely political embroidery and cutesy album artwork give an even more relatable edge to music that already sounds like a diary entry, and it’s no wonder Luciano reckons they’ve struck a chord with teenagers. “They get it like we get it,” she says.

That’s not to say that Diet Cig are dealing in fluff: the message of their music and their visuals is vitally important in today’s political climate. Objectification and female erasure feature heavily in the lyrics, and solidarity with minorities is declared through Luciano’s embroidered badges and props (which she’s also been selling on Etsy to raise money for charities like the National Immigration Law Center, the Trevor Project and the ACLU).

We spoke to Luciano ahead of the release of Swear I’m Good At This, which drops on April 7.

You’ve described your music as ‘radically soft’ punk, and you sing about personal topics, like experiencing harassment as a woman, in very straightforward terms. Did you intentionally approach songwriting this way, or did you just write from the heart and that’s how it turned out?

A little bit of both. I think being soft can be just as punk and political as being aggressive, and we definitely have a lot of energy in what we do. It’s OK to be empathetic and show your feelings and listen to other people’s feelings. It doesn’t make you any less punk or less strong, I actually think it makes you more punk. Caring about people at your shows is way more punk than just moshing and not thinking about anyone else. I think we realised you don’t have to be really aggressive to be really punk. It’s a thing we’re trying to promote, listen to your friends and care about people. It isn’t the craziest concept. It’s not uncool to care about stuff.  

In your latest single Tummy Ache you sing “finally it’s time / to make my words count / in a way I haven’t quite figured out”. When did you first realise you wanted to make music with a message, and which artists inspired you?

It wasn’t until I was in college and getting involved in the DIY scene that I really started realising the importance of women in music. I was inspired by a lot of current musicians like Hop Along and Frankie Cosmos, just women who were using their music to talk about their feelings. I wanted so badly to just do the same thing and make people feel like they’re not alone. When we were writing this record I was like, ‘oh my god, people are listening now, but what do I have to say?’

Where did the idea for the charity Etsy crafts come from?

I’ve always been super into craft. I started selling patches last year, and the week of the election I was like, ‘oh my god, I don’t know what to do with myself, I’m so stressed out!’ So I just went and made a bunch of crafts, and we used some of them for our music video. Then I had the idea of putting them on Etsy and donating the funds to a different charity every week. I want to show to people that even if you don’t have the funds to donate to every cause, if you can give your time and emotional and physical labour, that can be just as helpful.

You’ve got bands from the Girls Rock Camp [a worldwide initiative of music workshops for girls and female-identifying people] supporting you on your upcoming tour. How did that come about?

I’ve always been inspired by the Girls Rock Camp movement, I think it’s super badass and I wish I’d been a part of one of those camps when I was younger. We wanted to use our platform to help them and shine a spotlight on what they’re doing. Their major values revolve around social justice and confidence-building for these young girls, so we just reached out and said we’d love for [them] to open our shows. They’re the future of art; these girls are going to be the next amazing up-and-coming musicians.

What do you think of the assertion that punk will be better under Trump?

It’s a weird thing because you’re saying, ‘I’m so excited for the awful things happening because punk is going to be good’. I think a lot of privileged people would say that; a lot of people are scared for their lives right now, who aren’t thinking, ‘oh good a catastrophe’s happening but we’re going to have good punk music’. I also think that political times have created some of the most incredible music, but there’s also incredible political music happening all the time. I don’t think that just because Trump is president that there’s going to be this great punk movement. I think it’s kind of insensitive to people actually affected by it. And I also don’t like people kind of crediting Trump for an amazing music revolution, because it’s not him. We would have been making political music regardless.