Claiming Diet Cig as Our Own

The acclaimed ‘slop pop’ duo may hail from New York, but they have all the trimmings of a beloved Bay Area band.

What are the rules when it comes to a city calling dibs on a band?

Technically, the duo known as Diet Cig got their start in the college town of New Paltz, N.Y., where singer-guitarist Alex Luciano met drummer Noah Bowman in 2014. In 2015, they moved south to the bars and clubs of Brooklyn, before finally settling in Richmond, Va., last year. Despite how Diet Cig has never officially called San Francisco home, there’s genuine reason to question whether their bona fides don’t, at the very least, qualify them for honorary local status.

For one, the band has played all around the Bay Area. The success of their first EP, 2015’s Over Easy, and subsequent LP, 2017’s Swear I’m Good at This, has jettisoned them into a never-ending tour of the U.S. and beyond. In the process, Diet Cig has become a bit of a San Francisco staple, rapidly jumping from playing Bottom of the Hill to Brick & Mortar to their upcoming headliner slot at the Rickshaw Stop, where they’ll help the Hayes Valley venue celebrate its 15th anniversary.

“We’re super-honored,” Luciano says. “I think we’ve played the Rickshaw Stop twice before, and it’s the best venue we’ve played in San Francisco by far. The energy is so great and everyone who works there is so kind and cool. It really feels like an institution.”

Luciano’s effusive praise speaks to the role Rickshaw Stop fills in San Francisco’s music scene. Whereas older residents speak of the iconic acts they once saw at the Fillmore, younger music fans now brag about having seen Vampire Weekend or M.I.A. at the Rickshaw before they broke big. Given the success of Diet Cig — a band that serves fuzzy confections of lovesick malaise laced with sugar and punk — the day when similar boasts of “I saw them when…” refer to Luciano and Bowman may soon be at hand.

Bolstering San Francisco’s case for a Diet Cig adoption is the label that first took a chance on a garage pop duo from Upstate New York. Run by Jessi Frick and her father, Ken Hector, Father/Daughter is an independent label that blessedly still calls San Francisco (and Miami) home. In addition to Diet Cig, Father/Daughter has also signed acts like Shamir and Rose Droll as part of their efforts to develop up-and-coming musical talents. 

According to Luciano, the label deserves more than a little credit for the career Diet Cig is now enjoying.

“They’re literally the best label in the universe,” she says. “They put out our EP when we had no footprint anywhere. The work they put in for their artists is indicative of how much they really care about music. I feel like we owe so much of our success and happiness to Father/Daughter.”

Rounding out the reasons why Diet Cig is a local band by proxy is the all-important aspect of community. When Luciano and Bowman take the stage later this month, they’ll be joined by Karli Helm of the San Francisco band Pllush. Luciano credits Helm — who joined the band for a number of their 2018 tour dates — with allowing Diet Cig to open up their songs more.

“She plays synths and does auxiliary vocals,” Luciano adds. “With Karli, we’ve been able to actually execute some of the harmonies on our recorded songs, which has been a game-changer.”

Opening the Rickshaw show will be The She’s, a San Francisco quartet that shares two members in common with Pllush. Nothing speaks to a band’s Bay Area credentials like inviting local musicians from other acts to team up, making the Venn diagram of Diet Cig-The She’s-Pllush the final piece of evidence in favor of San Francisco’s bid to claim Diet Cig as our own.

Regardless of Luciano’s actual (or adopted) ZIP code, she and Bowman are currently focused on what comes after their Rickshaw Stop gig. Following two additional stops in Boston and New York, Diet Cig’s calendar is astonishingly empty — but there’s a reason for that.

“Our plan for 2019 is to finish writing and recording our next record,” Luciano explains. “We just want to hunker down and take a breather for a second. We don’t have a full record written yet, but we are in it right now. I guess that’s all I should probably say about it, but we are definitely in the creative zone.”

Thus Diet Cig’s upcoming San Francisco show will be both a welcome return and a bittersweet farewell. Naturally, the band is ready to rise to the challenge.

“I think these shows will be really special,” Luciano says, “because they’re going to be the last shows of this album cycle. We’re getting to step into this really amazing moment for both Rickshaw Stop and the Bay Area in general. We’re super honored to be a part of it.”

Diet Cig, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 8 p.m., at the Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St. $20; 415-861-2011 or rickshawstop.com

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