Cigarettes After Sex's New Album Is A Love Letter to New York

Cigarettes After Sex's new album is a heartfelt homage to New York City. Greg Gonzalez discusses the romantic inspirations behind their music, his personal journey, and how the city’s atmosphere shaped their sound.

By Vivien Lee

Photos by Ebru Yildiz


I often joke that at the end of every torrid love affair, I divorce entire neighborhoods in their wake. When I arrived in New York nearly a decade ago, I wanted to escape certain faces and places of my twenties and start my romantic history over. I was here to find true love, chasing boys and covering bands for magazines like NYLON. One of my earliest assignments was an interview with an up-and-coming dream pop band, Cigarettes After Sex, and their lead singer, Greg Gonzalez, who wrote songs about such love.

Greg and I met at Union Pool in the fall of 2015. We’d both moved to New York earlier that year and were living in Crown Heights. We talked about films and his hometown in El Paso. We talked about love and literature. By the end of the night, I’d forgotten to record our conversation for my interview. The assignment didn’t go as planned, but we began spending time together. When he wasn’t making music with his bandmates Jacob Tomsky and Randy Miller, Greg was managing a movie theater part-time in Manhattan. When Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out, we’d watched it from our own private auditorium, which I unfortunately don’t remember because I’d accidentally gotten too high. Back then, I was sporting bleached hair and partying at Output and Elvis Guesthouse with no thought of tomorrow—and Greg, well, he was a classic rockstar who more or less looked the same as he does now, a mysterious and stoic Texan clad in smoky leather.

Sometimes, I think of that era of my life, which hadn’t yet been tainted with embarrassing strings of heartbreak or the hang-ups of adulthood, and I’m reminded of the way I felt when I first listened to Cigarettes After Sex. Dreamy, lustful, hungry for attainment. Following a breakup with his last girlfriend of four years, Greg refers to the band’s upcoming album release, titled X’s (a wordplay of “exes”), as a means of wanting to look back fondly, never to write bitterly or take someone down, but to say that a special time with someone was had—a sentiment he shares about his time in New York since setting out for Hollywood Hills. As I’ve gotten older, I may not always find myself connecting to the environments, desires, or tempo that I have in the past. Yet, throughout the years, I still find comfort in Greg’s lyrics—words with an unhurried presence that, like our fondest memories, remain reassuringly the same.

Vivien: Hi, Greg. It's been so long. How’s life in LA? Do you miss New York?

Greg: Yeah, it’s been forever and ever. LA’s nice, but New York will always be my favorite city, so of course I miss it. I come out there pretty often, though. The band’s record label is there, and so is our publicist, Kip, and our drummer, Jacob. How are you?

Vivien: I'm good. I’m very much in love right now… been listening to your music a lot.

Greg: A new love?

Vivien: Yes.

Greg: That's nice. Especially because spring is in the air.

Vivien: And how’s your love life these days?

Greg: I haven’t been interested in another relationship since my last one. I’m in that phase of just wanting to enjoy my freedom for a while.

Vivien: How long were you together?

Greg: Let’s see. That started in 2019 and we broke up 2 years ago, but we saw each other for a bit afterwards. Mostly it’s been over for a year and a half, but it was an intense one, which this new record is mostly about.

Vivien: I was thinking about that because your new album is called X's. The song ”Tejano Blue” must be about your hometown, though. Right?

Greg: Yeah, I grew up with Tejano music in El Paso. El Paso’s population is mostly Hispanic, so Tejano's a big style there. I played bass in bands that incorporated a lot of Tejano, along with Cumbia and Salsa, but I never really cared for it. I was playing those gigs for money and the music that I liked or considered more “artistic music” back then was, you know, stuff like Portishead or Bjork.

When I moved to New York, I started listening to Selena who's the biggest figure in Tejano music, and I liked her songs. It felt nice rediscovering music that I heard in my childhood—which at first I didn't care for—but I could engage with, finally. Then I thought, what if there's a way to bring that into the world of Cigarettes After Sex? It felt like an interesting and unexpected idea, like Cocteau Twins-meets-Selena.

On this record, I was able to use the style for two songs, one called “Ambien Slide” and the other “Tejano Blue.” When my ex and I first became official, we took a trip together and she came to visit me in New York. Tejano Blue tells the story of the start of the romance that runs the whole record and those memories that I latched onto.

Vivien: It’s nice that your sound has stayed consistent throughout the years.

Greg: That’s the idea. I like artists who are very much in one kind of world.

“I like artists who are very much in one kind of world.”

Vivien: What’s something you learned from this last relationship?

Greg: It's funny, because every time you’re in a new relationship, it feels like you make the same mistakes, right? Like, you never really learn, or maybe you learn a few things, but...

Vivien: The eternal return. We used to talk about Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Greg: Yeah, there's some amazing stuff in that book. There were a few times when if I were falling for somebody, I wouldn't let it happen. Now, I let it happen, and if they're not right for me, I can get out of it quicker. The main thing is I can see that they’re not a good fit sooner and not waste time. Which was always the hard part before. I would fall for somebody and it would be so hard to… fall out of love with them.

Vivien: I hate wasting time.

Greg: Because then it gets painful, too. The painful thing about love is hope. When you’re hoping it’s going to work out with somebody, that's when it starts to feel bad and your confidence is wrecked. But I embrace it, and I’m thankful for all the love I've had, no matter what happened in those relationships. Good and bad.

It's like all of the memories I’ve put on this record. You can talk about a memory, but when you sing and write it into music, it gets to the heart of what that moment meant. I write it down so that how I felt in that moment feels true. So, it still feels perfect.

Vivien: I think “limerant” is a word people have used to describe Cigarettes After Sex and why people relate to your lyrics in such a big way. The yearning…

Greg: I’ve always liked that word.

Vivien: Do you believe that desire, or the wanting, is sometimes better than having?

Greg: Hah… No. I like to go through the whole experience. I know what you mean, though. Sometimes the desire doesn't match up with what happens later, or nothing could happen, and desire spurs from the mystery of the unknown.

Vivien: Yeah, the fantasy.

Greg: Ideally, reality would be so much better than fantasy when you meet the right person, right? Fantasy is nice though, because it sets you on the right course. Fantasy shows you what you want from life or a relationship, and when that comes true, life becomes… cosmic.

Vivien: Like, love in the movies?

Greg: Yeah. I mean, my favorite director is Eric Rohmer. Claire's Knee, My Night at Maud’s, Pauline on the Beach, all of his films just take place in beautiful, foreign little towns and they're all about romance and relationships and love triangles. There's something about them that feels so natural. In a lot of ways, I think of his movies as accompaniments to the band.

“The painful thing about love is hope.”

Vivien: Speaking of foreign, how have you been enjoying your world tour… I was shocked looking at your concert schedule from the last few years.

Greg: Several years ago, when you and I first talked, I was going through even crazier tours. We’d be in Tbilisi one day, Vancouver the next, and Bangkok or Brazil a week later. We have better routing now, at least.

Vivien: Remind me your star sign again?

Greg: Libra. September 28th, the same day as Brigitte Bardot. We’re all about balance, of course. I’m not one to be jaded about touring. It’s thrilling, honestly, and the audiences are wild. That's what's cool about it. Our music's very sensual “bedroom” music that people put on to go to sleep. But when we play live, there’s this contrast between how mellow we are on stage and the hysteria of people screaming the lyrics where there's a lot of intense, raw motion being thrown around.

Vivien: What's been your most memorable show so far?

Greg: Playing in Central Park felt emotional. We’ve done big shows in New York, but this one was special because I made a point to move to New York from El Paso. New York was the greatest city in the world to me as far as the architecture, filmmakers, musicians, and writers… and it still is, because of its history. Anyway, it took a lot of courage to move there, and then it all happened. The whole band came together like a lightning bolt when I was in my apartment in Crown Heights. I used to work in Central Park, at the movie theater…

Vivien: I remember that theater. We watched Star Wars with your coworkers.

Greg: Yeah, that was fun. When I worked there, I’d walk over to Central Park often. It’s my favorite park to this day, and when I played there, it felt like the stars aligned. Looking out from that stage felt like such a special moment. I’ve been thinking about that one a lot lately, especially because we’ll be playing in New York again soon.

Vivien: I saw that. In September.

Greg: It’ll be a nice present for me, too. I think the date was originally going to be on my birthday. Believe it or not, I don't like to play my birthday.

Vivien: Because of superstition, or because you're working?

Greg: I’m just shy about it. My introverted self comes out on my birthday. I try to have a super personal day, where ideally I’d just stay home and watch movies. I've had really big parties around it and that's cool, but on the day itself, I like to just exist in a nice, quiet spot. Playing a show means I have to be social.

“When we play live, there’s this contrast between how mellow we are on stage and the hysteria of people screaming the lyrics where there's a lot of intense, raw motion being thrown around.”

Vivien: You’ve been playing shows for quite some time. I think being an artist requires some level of spontaneity to fully enjoy yourself… a lot like how love works. Do you ever feel confined by the repetition of touring?

Greg: It’s hard for me to write on tour so that part is kind of a drag because I feel best when I’m writing songs. Touring is a bit of a creative vacation for me, where I like to have fun. If I’m playing music that I want to play, it doesn’t feel repetitive. I don’t want to be one of those artists who gets sick of their stuff.

Vivien: You better not pull a Morrissey on us 10 years from now…

Greg: Some artists get big for a song and then won’t play anymore. I don't want to do that. If you’re writing stuff that’s not personal, maybe it’s easier to get sick of it faster. When they come from experience, I can visualize those memories and sink back into them. Every night on stage when I play “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby”, I’ll step into the moment when the song was written, where I’m dancing in my living room in the house I had in El Paso with my then girlfriend.

Vivien: How long did this new album take you to write?

Greg: This one took forever. I started writing it in 2020, and I think it was mostly done in two years. This album is a bit different, whereas things were pretty much made live before but, you know, that’s the process of discovery.

Vivien: Aside from New York and your birthday, is there anything else you're looking forward to?

Greg: We're probably gonna record again this year, sometime in August, so I'm looking forward to that because I haven’t written anything in a while. As I was saying about relationships and needing to take a breather before, I feel like writing again, so that will be nice to do, finally.

Pre-save X's (out July 12th) here.

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