“I mostly just want my audience to genuinely feel something—feel good, sad or get something out in a passionate way. Because the best feeling is to be passionate about something; passionately sad or passionately happy.” Greg Gonzalez is a tender soul. With Cigarettes After Sex, he makes music for pure romantics, transporting you back to long-lost times that seem so recently lived. Celebrating the band’s long-awaited album, we sit down to talk about Gonzalez’ love for music and film. The artist turns out to be the human counterpart of the music he makes: peaceful, slightly shy and, well, very passionate.
Can you tell us something about the band’s influences?
Our first EP was really affected by Mazzy Star’s Fade into You. It really defined the sound of the band. Although I didn’t know the song growing up, I became obsessed with it later. Another important influence is Katy Song by the Red House Painters. But I also looked back at the early 60s, like The Paris Sisters.
And what about the new album?
The song Unknown Legend by Neil Young, from his album Harvest Moon. That’s our new album, which has a slightly more driving sound compared to what we did before. A somewhat less expected influence is those really expansive doo-wop songs from the 50s, like I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos. That one sounds very bizarre, but so passionate at the same time. That’s what interests me: records that have a strange atmosphere to them, but are still pop. Pop songs that sound like a place you’ve never been to. I wanted the record to have that same sound and feel of a location.
The album sounds indeed very atmospheric and cinematic. Does it bare relations to film soundtracks?
Thanks! Yes, I’ve been obsessed with film music my whole life. Especially the Italian composer Ennio Morricone does it for me. His compilation Ennio Morricone, With Love bundles the sweetest, romantic music. The soundtrack to the film The Double Life of Veronique is great as well; it’s strange, yet classical. What I usually do, by the way, is put a movie on repeat while I’m writing music. The sound and the images give me some sort of rhythm to work to. When I look up, I see a certain scene and get inspired by what is going on, or by the mood of it.
So, visuals are also a source of inspiration?
Definitely. As a writer, I really respond to what I see. I used a similar method when I was recording the vocals for this album. I just had on a bunch of films, which I felt had the right mood.
You have some great lyrics. What’s your take on today’s popular music involving a lot of dirty lyrics?
I actually like it, because I feel like I’m doing the same thing, in a way. I rather talk frankly about sex. There are some dirty songs on this record for sure. But hopefully, the way I’m writing them is sincere. It’s important that my songs feel conversational. If I were to read them to you now, it would sound like I was telling a story or writing a letter to somebody.
Do you think people can relate to stories that aren’t theirs?
I think they can because the stories I’m telling can happen to anyone, or already happened to people in a certain way. My lyrics are very basic stories of relationships. A song like K, for example, is pretty much just about me dating someone. This person came to visit me for a week. We dated each other and went to random bars, stayed in my apartment. That’s a pretty straightforward romance thing. I think it’s not what the stories are about but the way I tell the stories that makes my lyrics unique. That’s the most important part. The subject matter is probably talked about a million times. However, it’s what you bring to it, as a unique personality, that no one else would do.
You don’t make music videos. Is there a specific reason?
I think it’s because I care about film so much. I feel like we’re not prepared to do it yet. Being as picky as I am about record covers, I like the music videos to thematically be similar and cohesive.
What music videos do you like?
There’s a lot I grew up with that I’m obsessed with. For example, the video for Take On Me by a-ha. My guilty pleasure video is Cool by Gwen Stefani. It’s really romantic. I also like Sledgehammer and Peter Gabriel’s clips.
What does the future look like for Cigarettes After Sex?
I’m sure I’ll keep making music, but I’d love to direct a film at some point. Those are the only things I could do, because as far as what I’m passionate about, music is on top of my list, and movies take in a close second.
What are your favourite movies?
The Red Shoes by Michael Powell, which is a really strange, technicolor film. It’s pretty old [from 1948], but it’s outstanding. It is by far the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. I remember watching it for the first time on a little TV. Then there was this ballet scene, so surreal and strange, but so beautiful that I actually cried. Not because it was sad. I was just astounded by how amazing it was. What the movie is about is great too; it’s about a ballet dancer who’s trying to be the best she can, but it’s tough. It’s about passion and about art. Another movie I love is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. He’s an important influence on our band too. Again, music and film are constantly intertwining…