Search The Line of Best Fit
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Cigarettes After Sex lead 2024

Cigarettes After Sex want their music to be medicine

02 July 2024, 14:30
Words by Jay Mitra
Original Photography by Ebru Yildiz

With Cigarettes After Sex’s fourth album X’s continuing their tradition of navigating heartache and desire through entrancing dream-pop, Jay Mitra meets frontman Greg Gonzales to find out what motivates the band’s commitment to consistency

On a cool night in Marina del Rey, a coastal paradise in Southern California, a handful of stars shiver in the sky. Wave crests become shredded foil under the moonlight. The beach is empty barring two figures; side by side, a man and a woman walk parallel to the shoreline. Her heart feels like a clump of wet sand, but she doesn’t want to talk about it.

Earlier, she had asked her boyfriend to get her out of the house, to distract her, to get her mind off things. And so, here they are, strolling wordlessly on the beach, scored by the soft hush of sifting sand as their heels sink and lift with each step. They look out towards the waves a few feet away, absorb the vastness of the sea, and for a moment, their troubles dissolve in its salty triumph.

Greg Gonzales, frontman of Cigarettes After Sex, recalls this moment he shared with his ex-girlfriend that inspired the song “Hideaway”. “We’ll go walk in the marina like last time / to the beaches that no one else likes”, are the lyrics that first come to Gonzales’ mind from band’s new album X’s.


“There’s an energy to this sea that’s overwhelming, and you feel so small next to it”, Gonzales shares. “Thinking about what I wanted Cigarettes to feel like… it should feel elemental too. It should feel like a force of nature in some way. It should feel like a beach at night, with a bonfire.”

X’s is Cigarettes After Sex’s fourth album, unashamedly continuing the band’s tradition of sexual and romantic storytelling. Often, criticism around the band’s discography revolves around the point of one-dimensionality and sonic monotony. Ellen Johnson of Paste Magazine argued that the band’s second album Cry is comparable to a “drawn-out yawn”. To Gonzales, however, the music was designed that way. It was meant to put you to sleep.

“Honestly, it was really deliberate,” he tells me. “Going back to heartbreak, there were times where I was so distraught over someone, I remember my brain was going a thousand miles a minute. I remember being in bed, we’d broken up, I’d wanted them back, and I had no idea where they were. My head was like, where are they, who are they with, worried if they’re meeting someone new, getting really jealous. Your mind goes in these crazy circles. I didn’t know what to do so I would reach for albums that I had; really beautiful, mellow records.”

Cigarettes After Sex - Greg Gonzales 2 2024

Gonzales mentions Ennio Morricone’s With Love – a compilation of the composer’s romantic scores – were one of those records. “I’d put that on and my mind would slow down and I’d eventually drift off to sleep.” He also describes Erik Satie’s piano works, Julee Cruise’s Floating into the Night, Françoise Hardy’s La question, and even the video game soundtrack of Final Fantasy VI as records that “were like medicine” to him, that he’d put on when he was restless and couldn’t sleep.

Having started making music when he was just 10 years old, Gonzales had experimented with various genres and instruments, including the organ. He came to a point where he felt he had tried everything and yet still felt something was missing from the music he was making.

“I thought to myself: what’s the music you love the most? What’s the music that meant the most to you? What are your deepest influences? When I put it together it’s this music that I was talking about. I made a mix CD of everything that I thought was the most beautiful and thought about why it was on there.”


Gonzales came to the conclusion that he loved musicians that were “overly cohesive”, this laying the foundation for the trajectory of Cigarettes After Sex.

“If you want this one sound, you’d go to them and they’re going to give it to you. Coming back to the Erik Satie stuff, his stuff was always very similar. It’s all in this same kind of world: simple, strange piano music that was very beautiful. If he did one song, it’d be like the same song three times. Like “Gymnopedie” - there’s three of those and they’re all kind of the same. If you want something like us, you pick up any record by us and it's gonna be that deep romantic music that can be medicine.”

With a lot of his lyrics often being deeply entrenched in poetic images, how have poetry and literature impacted the writing on X’s?

“As a kid, E.E. Cummings was my favourite classic poet,” Gonzales says, mentioning Cummings’ "somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond" as a poem that he has carried with him. He recites a line from memory: “‘Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands’. I love the surrealism of that. I drew a parallel between E.E. Cummings and [Cigarettes After Sex song] "Baby Blue Movie". You could tell his stuff was really surreal and cryptic but then you could also tell that there's actually something sexual going on, in a romantic way. It’s coded, but it’s a bit dirty.

"There’s a storyline to “Baby Blue Movie”; it’s two distinct memories. I’m using coded language to tell those stories. It’s really a polyamorous song, a ménage à trois, an atmosphere of that kind of love. Sexually, it’s one partner with different partners around them.”

“Baby Blue Movie” is not the only track on the new album that refuses to shy away from discussing sex or relationships with multiple partners at once. Gonzales appears to be growing bolder with his songwriting, straying away from more conventional monogamous love songs such as “K” or “Sweet”, the titular track itself referencing being “deep within a threesome kiss.” Though he now identifies as heterosexual, he is very open about his journey with sexuality.

“As a kid I remember experimenting a bit. It was cool to try but it didn’t do much for me. For whatever reason, I’m definitely more towards women. I love the idea of freedom, if I felt one day that I was attracted to someone of the same sex. There’s a free spirit to it that ideally I have. If that opportunity arises, then it arises.”

Returning to influences, Gonzales notes that there were a few books he wanted to draw from and incorporate into Cigarettes After Sex’s music. The work of Richard Brautigan stands out, particularly his novella Trout Fishing in America, and poetry collection The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster.

“The poetry in that book was really influential in Cigarettes,” Gonzales admits. “He was able to be really dirty, kinda vulgar, but also very sexual. It’s also very gentle, romantic and there’s a sweetness to it.” The final two stanzas of “The Beautiful Poem” perfectly encapsulate Gonzales’ argument about the poet:

Pissing a few moments ago

I looked down at my penis


Knowing it has been inside

you twice today makes me

feel beautiful.

The final book he mentions is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, which he adores for its storytelling and exploration of relationships. The novel is partly an account of a disintegrating marriage, a theme also reflected in X’s’ “Dreams From Bunker Hill”.

“That song always makes me sob,” Gonzales confesses. “You have all this hope with somebody, you have all these fantasies and dreams of you together. That song is very specific to when I moved into the apartment with that girlfriend for the first time and the little memories we have together. It makes me choke up to talk about it. It takes me back to when everything was really sweet with that person.”

Cigarettes After Sex - Greg Gonzales 1 2024

With so many people reaching for Cigarettes After Sex records during times of longing and grief, and this new record recollecting moments surrounding Gonzales’ last breakup, what advice would Gonzales offer to anyone going through heartbreak?

“I always have to face heartbreak head on. That’s what I would tell someone to do. It's scary, it’s like having withdrawals from drugs. You can become a different person for a while when you’re going through very intense heartbreak. The saddest thing about that is hope. You have all these dreams of somebody; you make all these plans with somebody. You picture being with them forever, moving in together, having a house or having kids, getting married or travelling the world with them. The really painful thing is that when it's over all those dreams have to die. That’s what the hardest thing is.

“So even if you lose them and you’re not with them anymore, those dreams still stay with you, you want them back but you can’t get rid of those dreams. You have to finally let that go. If someone’s struggling with heartbreak, they have to let go of the hope they have of being with somebody.”

X’s is an album that encapsulates this bittersweetness. Despite what critics might say about one-dimensionality, Cigarettes After Sex offer us soft-spoken consistency in a tumultuous world. In their tender dream-pop, grief and desire stroll side by side on the shore of memory.

X's will be released on 12th July 2024 via Partisan Records

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