Lead vocalist of Cigarettes After Sex, Greg Gonzalez, isn’t here by accident.
We move to sit under low lights in the closed-off bar of Nottingham’s Rock City, the gothic charm of plush red leather seats at ease with the backdrop of fairy lights. Doors aren’t to open for another hour yet a long line of fans wait eagerly outside, their devotion to this band clear.
“My whole life was music,” he tells me, his voice deeper than I expected from the androgynous croonings in his music. “It was very much wished for and very much planned so it didn’t happen by accident… music and I have been interwoven my whole life, all the time, and that’s all I was planning for. To travel the world and play the music I wanted to make.”
Forming in 2008 the band were a slow-burner. Their first EP, released in 2012, flew under the radar for three years until they suddenly gained momentum in 2015. Spreading through word of mouth they organically generated interest in a way that is bound to have left many artists envious. “Persistence is more important than talent or anything,” Greg explains, “if you love something you just keep trying for it.” Now promoting their debut album on a world tour he reflects on getting his first guitar at ten years old and finding himself writing compulsively.
“When I got a guitar it was like having a pencil, I just wanted to see what kind of sounds I could make” he tells me with a smile. “In high school I found an explosion of the kind of movies that shaped my point of view… mind-expanding movies like ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ or something like ‘Midnight Cowboy’ or ‘Clockwork Orange’. I think these films showed me this kind of adult world that was out there… this other mood I wasn’t aware of.” This influence can be heard in the sweetly nostalgic yet raw nature of Cigarettes After Sex’s music which Greg sums up when discussing ‘Young and Dumb’, the final track on the self-titled debut.
“It seems like a very real song to me… It’s bluntly sexual but it has a sweetness to it and if you look after the sexual part there’s a very sweet ‘I drive your car to the beach with this song on repeat’ that kind of accomplishes a lot of what I wanted to do with songwriting.”
Recording their first EP in a stairway at Greg’s alma mater it seems the band have been meticulous in creating the perfect ambience to tell their nostalgic narratives. When asked ‘where next?’ Greg laughs, “This is gonna sound kinda silly but the next place I want to record is honestly just an indoor swimming pool. It would have an interesting ambience to it and it’d be kind of cool if you could hear the water splashing around. It’d have to be at night too, it’s more superstitious than recording in the day.”
On his other interests outside of music he tells me; “I’d like to start directing or screenwriting. Film and music are intertwined as passions for me. Film has had just as much of an impact on me.” The band’s music plays like the soundtrack to the intimate moments of life, which isn’t surprising when each song is a deeply personal one. “All the songs are memoirs” he tells me. “‘K’ is a memoir, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ is a memoir. Every image in that song actually happened. I didn’t make anything up, it’s just real moments that happened… all the imagery are real things”. In bearing his soul to an audience Greg has left fans across the world nostalgic for heartbreaks they themselves may not have experienced but can still place themselves within. This ability to conjure so vividly emotional vulnerability is what undoubtedly makes Cigarettes After Sex’s music so enchanting.
“One of the coolest things to do on stage for me is to close my eyes and go back to when the song took place, mostly because I’m so far away from that now,” he explains, smiling and leaning back into the booth. “I’ll be playing a show to 2000 people somewhere and I close my eyes and I’m back to this room with one person and it’s like a million miles away from now. It’s sweet though, they’re all sweet memories. I look back on those memories really fondly. It’s a gift to have those moments that affected you and kind of shaped you, literally. They’re really intense like that.” This evocative fondness seems to be at the centre of the new album with Greg explaining “One image I love and think of with this record is kind of like a night time beach with a bonfire. I’ve always loved the feeling of waves and the fire next to each other. It’s night and the stars are out and you’re with whoever you like… someone special.”
Whilst their music has a sense of grandeur in the heavy reverb and repetitive hooks Greg describes himself as being low key. “I’m not one to jump around and be excited about things, I’m kinda mellow… and repressed,” he adds with a laugh. “What puts things in perspective for me now is when I meet an idol of mine and my idol loves my music… the biggest one was Francois Hardy.” In an article for Talkhouse the French-singer described Cigarettes After Sex’s music as ‘what I’ve been looking for my whole life’. “It’s surreal” Greg enthuses, “I still can’t really process it. But just seeing that blew me away.” He describes her album, La Question, as a big influence on him he tells me “It’s really mysterious. It kind of like portrayed a landscape which I loved. I think the kind of music I want to make is music that feels elemental, it feels like it’s some force of nature when you boil it down and that’s what her record feels like’.
It is quite a feat that the band have retained such a humble nature when their music is now affecting the artists that inspired them but it is surely this sincerity and honesty in their music that has drawn thousands of fans across the world to their music. With the arrival of their debut and shows recently announced for 2018 that will take the band across Australia, Mexico, America and back to the UK, Cigarettes After Sex are a testament to what persistence can achieve.
Words by Amy Albinson