If you missed the Cigarettes After Sex show at Baby’s All Right in January of last year—right around when Rolling Stone called them one of “10 New Artists You Need to Know,” or at last October’s show at Webster Hall, their next shows for a hometown crowd are coming up. And they’re sold out.
Their “dream pop” cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” helped catapult the band into notoriety on the internet, and they’ve been putting in the hard work in meatspace, touring relentlessly in the last two years. Their full-length debut dropped in June; one blogger called it “‘Pet Sounds’ for the shy and introverted.”
Cigarettes After Sex was founded in El Paso by songwriter Greg Gonzalez, who enlisted keyboardist Phillip Tubbs before moving to New York and rounding out the lineup with musicians also playing in other bands on the Williamsburg scene, like bassist Randy Miller, of Color and Hemi, and drummer Jake Tomsky, also of Hemi.
Tomsky also happens to be a writer (we appeared together at a panel discussion produced by Bedford + Bowery) who turned his years of working in the hotel industry into a tell-all, Heads in Beds. Before CAS started touring heavily, he decamped from Williamsburg to Los Angeles, putting an end to his long-running happy hour nominally devoted to his story-of-the-week club, Short Story Thursdays. Regardless, Cigarettes After Sex may be the first rock band to tour three continents— including Tokyo, Jakarta, and Slovenia, plus opening for Garbage at sold-out shows —with a New York Times bestselling author on the drum riser.
Despite a blistering schedule, Gonzalez was able to answer some questions via email in the lead-up to next weekend’s two-night stand at the Bowery Ballroom.
El Paso, Texas is where it all started, but Brooklyn is where it actually became something. It’s where we finally received any attention and also where the lineup of the group finally solidified into what it is now. Regardless of everything we’re doing currently, it does really still feel like a Brooklyn band and even more specifically a New York band.
“Keep On Loving You” is definitely part of the initial attention we received on YouTube a few years ago. I wouldn’t necessarily call it more of a standout for most fans I’ve talked to than anything else we’ve done at this point, but it is still a favorite and I luckily still love playing it every night on tour.
You’ve said that you started out emulating Madonna’s ’80s sound. Do you ever cover any Madonna tracks?
Years ago, when the band had more of the electro sound owed to her ’80s singles we actually did a cover of “Dress You Up” briefly. Haven’t covered anything by her since, but it’s definitely a possibility. She’s one of my favorite singers and her singles discography is one of the best.
I’d really love to try working on film scores as they’ve been such a huge influence on me throughout the years. There’s also a lot of working directors I could see doing something with if the chance ever arose. Paul Thomas Anderson, Derek Cianfrance, Nicholas Winding Refn, Yorgos Lanthanimos, Guy Maddin and Paolo Sorrentino are all current directors I really admire.
Can’t say it’s changed at all, honestly. It’s really just tougher to do while on tour since I’m constantly distracted by everything that goes along with it. The writing’s remained solo also, as it’s always very personal to my own experiences.
I first read [Tomsky’s] book, Heads In Beds, around the time he joined the band and couldn’t put it down. It’s excellent and Jake’s an amazing writer all around. As far as writing together, we have such different voices that we haven’t quite worked together yet, but he’s been essential with the feedback he’s given to me regarding the lyrics and definitely made my writing a lot stronger with his input.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Correction: The original version of this post misidentified the week of the Bowery Ballroom shows.