It’s not easy to grab the attention of jaded, badge-sporting industry types attending South By Southwest. The annual music conference is a non-stop party for attendees and a grind for fledgling bands hoping to be noticed amid endless drafts swilled under the hot Austin sun.
But in 2016, Diet Cig, a virtually unknown tandem, pulled ears courtesy of its personal, humorous and poignant single “Sixteen.” The catchy but quirky track was inspired by vocalist-guitarist Alex Luciano’s experience.
“The song is about a problem we have today, which is slut shaming,” Luciano says in a phone interview from Wyoming. “It’s also about the double standard for boys and girls. If a girl sleeps with a guy, she’s a slut. If a boy sleeps with a girl, he’s cool. When I was 16, I was growing up in a small town outside of Albany and I broke up with a boy and afterward I was slut shamed. It felt bad at the time, but I got a song out of it.”
“Sixteen” helped Diet Cig get noticed at South By and beyond. They’ll perform at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Feb. 27.
It was evident that Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman have a way with crafting clever, irreverent and rebellious songs. “Swear I’m Good At This” is filled with rousing, wry tunes.
“We write the way we want to write,” Luciano says. “There is nothing calculated about what we do. We just go for it. Nothing is off limits. We have songs that are funny, and I love that, because humor is a great coping mechanism.”
The material comes from an honest place. Luciano writes from experience. The brief but intense “Bite Back” deals with anxiety. “There’s something nice knowing everyone feels helpless,” Luciano belts out.
“Everyone is flawed,” Luciano says. “Not every young person realizes that. So many people suffer from anxiety.”
“Apricots” is a nice change up. It’s a pretty acoustic song that packs a punch. “We don’t want to just make one type of music,” Luciano said. “We’re eclectic.”
“Tummy Ache” is a plea for gender rights and equal pay.
Even though it’s been nearly a year since “Swear I’m Good at This” dropped, Diet Cig isn’t writing new songs yet.
“We’re not quite at that point since we’re focusing on this tour,” Luciano says. “We have some time blocked out. We’re listening to a lot of pop music and indie rock from this century. We’ll see what kind of impact that has on us when we start writing.
“The other thing is that Noah and I haven’t been doing this for that long. We’re still learning how to write together. We have a long way to go. We’re going to be discovering certain things. But the cool thing is that we click. I’ll come up with a guitar part and he’ll follow with a drum part. We create pretty easily. Maybe that’s so because there are no limitations. Anything goes and I think that’s so healthy.”
It’s been nearly two years since Diet Cig made its debut at South By, and so much has changed, Luciano says.
“Any time you play South By Southwest, it’s a blur,” Luciano says. “When we played there, no one knew our songs. We had to try and get their attention. That wasn’t that long ago, and it’s so different and cool when we play and people are singing along to the songs like ‘Sixteen’ and ‘Tummy Ache.’ We couldn’t be happier with where we are now.”
Who: Diet Cig. Great Grandpa and the Spook School will open
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 27
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
Tickets: $13 in advance and $15 day of show.
Info: 919-967-9053, catscradle.com