Published Oct 24, 2019When Greg Gonzalez, founding member and vocalist of ambient-pop band Cigarettes After Sex, speaks, he does so in pictures.
Talking about his inspirations — he loves Françoise Hardy, Julee Cruise and the Cocteau Twins — he begins to tell the story of how he discovered each artist. When he performs, he closes his eyes, tilts his head slightly and smiles softly at certain words. He is, no doubt, seeing the pictures.
If we observe closely, we can see that Gonzalez is showing us what it means to be perfect, at least, in his definition, an honest and messy perfection. Gonzalez wants to help us be true to ourselves by feeling our feelings wholly. And Cigarettes After Sex's latest record, Cry, is here to get us to do just that.
"It's very hard for me to say how I feel in the moment many times in life," Gonzalez tells Exclaim! But "you can't bottle things up too much, or else something bad is going to happen. By being more honest in my music, and by trying to say exactly how I really feel in my music, that's how I start to feel good again."
Both Cry and the band's first self-titled LP deliver on sound that is meant to be therapeutic. Gonzalez, in his life, has experienced many wrenching heartbreaks that have left their mark.
"Heartbreak can really turn you inside out," he says. "And I think, since I had gone through all that, I just found that the music that I needed was this very gentle music," he says. "Music that was very peaceful, because internally I was going through such turmoil. The music that I make became a reaction to the life that happened."
Cigarettes After Sex have become known for lush, physical depictions of romance. In Cry's sweet, dreamy single "Heavenly," with its urgent synths and drums that shuffle softly in the way they do on Cruise's Floating Into the Night, Gonzalez, in a voice like scarlet silk, whispers "feel me on your lips." In "Falling in Love," Gonzalez paints a picture of two people separated by a great distance falling deeply in love watching the same movie — this is based off Gonzalez's experience of a long-distance relationship. "Holding my hand for the whole thing," Gonzalez almost gasps in the song.
The sensuality that Gonzalez breathes into his lyrics is important, not negligible and not unintentional. "It's really just the only way that I know how to write about romance," he explains. Because it is how he's experienced his relationships, and so he cannot leave those details out. It would be dishonest.
"We made [Cry] to just be a snapshot of a moment, to capture the feeling of something," Gonzalez says. "And it's flawed, but the fact that it's flawed means that it's an honest portrayal. And that's what is perfect about it to me."
The pictures that Gonzalez shows us with his lyrics, the authenticity he maintains in his performance — it's all part of his demonstration of a particular brand of perfection. He even maintains it in his unglorified account of touring: "When you perform, you're getting this rush of endorphins every night from playing in front of a crowd. Then, all of a sudden, you get off tour and it's taken away. You no longer have that every night, and you end up having withdrawal symptoms from it."
Through this authenticity, Gonzalez heals by allowing us to feel our full feelings, too. "The music that I love the most, that hits me the deepest, is the music that moves me to tears," he says. "And the music that I make, the idea is to bring emotions out of people that they need to get out," he says.
Cigarettes After Sex's Cry — its gently-plucked melodies, Gonzalez's haunting voice like the sound of your breath, all of it like driving through the city at night, seeing its lights shattered amongst raindrops on the window — is your medicine.
Cry comes out October 25 on Partisan Records.