A multiple eargasm heard ‘round the world aroused by none other than El Paso’s own musical talent, leaves a melodic overflow of butts on the bedside ashtray. The magic smoke swirls gently up the neck and tickles the lobes of any vulnerable listener leaving them aching for a slow dance.
It took Cigarettes After Sex four years of online foreplay before the EP, ‘I.’ (Roman numeral one) would sway more millions of fans worldwide, now selling out shows across Europe as the band embarks their first international tour.
And here I was, frantic inside a booth at Tippi Teas, hoping the band frontman Greg Gonzalez would show up late to our interview because the brewing contraption wasn’t straw-friendly and I’d made a matcha puddle all over my notes. At least now the whole table would smell like pomegranate incense. Who needs interview notes anyway.
He strolled in just in time for me to get my sh*t together. The spice of his cologne paired well with the fruity green tea I let him sample, and he ordered the same. I’m not sure why or what caused the initial interview jitters but the familiar voice that floats regularly through my Spotify playlist soothed it right out.
It was the same Greg I had interviewed for a broadcast journalism piece four years ago. A humble and floaty smooth talker that could turn my sometimes excitable current of conversation into a refreshing creek of good old fashioned catching up.
It was a stroke of luck that Greg was visiting his hometown of El Paso, who recently made his way back from the icy grips of Brooklyn to visit family and friends and prepare him for his first international show in the Czech Republic in early March. (Prague!) It will be the first of a string of shows across Europe through 2016 that will only further catalyze the sweet hypnotic power of his almost decade-old project, Cigarettes After Sex.
The Cigarettes trance first hit me at Hoppy Monk back in 2012, and the band was an immediate candidate for a segment I used to air with a local news station every first Friday of the month. I found it…and still find it necessary to showcase the raw beauty of El Paso’s musical poets.
Hopefully by now, a larger scale of residents have embraced the fact that the artistic expressions birthed in our valleys of the Franklins are world class.
Upon its release, ‘I.’ hardly had the puppy love effect with fans in its early stages. Though the band did have some local support, those smoke signals hardly reached past the Chihuahuan desert and their national fan base was “scattered.”
”People just didn’t know us,” Greg said. “And I feel like things would have kept repeating if I stayed in El Paso.”
A guitar, suitcase and 2,200 miles later, Greg left behind the affordable sunshine living for the icy hustle of winter in New York. He rang in the 2014 new year at his new home of Brooklyn, soon to be the launch pad of his musical career.
He didn’t abandon the Southwest soul of his music thankfully. The nourishment of ‘I.’ comes mainly from the severed love connections with El Paso sweethearts.
The EP encompasses the swirl of romance and heartbreak that makes you dizzy and sad, turned on and breathless, sleepy and energized. The silvery nostalgia could play through the tears of fresh teenage heartbreak or pacify the angst of a midlife crisis. ‘I.’ is the memoir of a love life conceived under the Franklin star that would shoot through the skies of YouTube one day, and turn a musician’s dream into a viral reality.
“Greg are your ready for this?!”
My enthusiasm..and overly forward-leaning body language began showing borderline signs of girl-gone-groupie. But it really was just the excitement and pride welling up inside me knowing that Greg had unlocked an invisible bolt I’ve seen shackle down the ambitions of too many talented borderland musicians. In Brooklyn, he developed a perfect cocktail of modern music business sense and creative commitment to a style concept and brand for Cigarettes After Sex. The rest is a historic punch drunk love in the making.
You see, Cigarettes After Sex has been fantastic from the get go. All that was missing was a stronger fire than what’s provided by the music industry of El Paso, and it took a bold journey halfway across the country to light that cherry.
“I love it here,” he said of El Paso. “But there’s more adventure in New York.”
The adventures for Greg began as hour-long subway commutes to work a movie theater (and we complain of rush I-10 traffic) while developing a friend base in the populous, 2 million + resident borough. Mix in dreams to make a living off of a music career and the starving artist goes into survival mode for the soul.
“You get hungrier,” he said. “It was kind of a grind, but things got better and better.”
He joined other bands, not in search of a new mission in music, but as an undercover interviewer looking for the right energy for the New York version of Cigarettes After Sex. And so began his new network.
Another native El Pasoan, Phillip Tubbs remains in the band on synth as an original member. Randy Miller, a Brooklyn transplant from Los Angeles plays bass, and drummer Jake Tomsky of Brooklyn leads the heartbeat. It’s Greg’s vocals behind the mic, and calloused fingertips on the guitar.
By late Fall of 2015, the Cigarettes were playing more regular shows throughout Brooklyn dive bars and stages. Listeners were still only trickling in to catch their performances initially, but it was the online fire on social media channels that catapulted their name throughout New York, and eventually, the world.
The name, Cigarettes After Sex does have a way of forcing a double-take, and perhaps inciting a spurt of dopamine in the pleasure and memory center of one’s mind. Nostalgia is after all, the framework of Greg’s lyrical progeny.
“It’s all little sweet moments,” Greg said of his writing.
Cigarettes released ‘Affection’ while the internet momentum was still hot, and for many, it was love at first sound. Collectively, the tracks on ‘I.’ have been replayed more than 10 million times on Youtube, with comments reminiscent of the bathroom stall romance graffiti later scribbled about in drunk diary entries.
Or maybe those are just my own tattered Moleskines. Nonetheless, when it comes to Cigarettes’ fans, obsessed is an understatement.
“All the fans are the best I could ever ask for, just how much the music seems to mean to them, that’s pretty crazy to me,” he said. “I’ve gotten letters where they tell me it’s helped them deal with things, pretty deep things.”
For Greg, it’s the greatest compliment that the truthful and occasional emotions of insanity embedded in the soundtrack of his past love life has become a form of therapy for many. He’s returned the favor that music played through his personal ups and downs.
”It’s always kind of a gift when you’re living life and your feeling deep emotions. And you write about it.” he said. “It’s exciting. You can help people.”
It’s no question that the therapeutic, sultry roller coaster delivered by the Cigarettes After Sex is the gift of storytelling in its purest form. U.S. fans can expect to ride that wave with some national shows upon completion of their expedition through Europe.
“I’m just anxious to go already,” Greg said, realizing take-off was only a week away. “I’m excited to see what comes of it.”
Meanwhile, as we anxiously wait for Cigarettes’ next El Paso show, locals should make a regular habit of peeking their heads into the dives and coffee shops of El Paso. The music scene’s still popping out babies that will soon grow out of the Sun City serenades and end up selling out shows across the world where music appreciation runs rampant.
Support local artists. Dance at their shows. Buy their merch. Stream them on your car speakers, headphones, computers, and tell your friends about them. Discover and appreciate what’s within reach before they go up in smoke.
Join the chainsmokers. Follow Cigarettes After Sex here: