Greg Gonzalez from Cigarettes After Sex has been in Malaysia for over 48 hours and he has not had nasi lemak. “How do you spell that?” he asks, passing me his phone so that I can type it in for him.
He and the band are in Asia for the first time as part of Urbanscapes 2017, and they’re a few hours away from playing a sold-out show at The Bee in Publika. In the two weeks leading up to last Tuesday night my Facebook timeline and WhatsApp have all been inundated with messages of “Do you have an extra ticket for CAS?” Everyone wants to be at the show, and later on that night the lucky crowd sang each song back to the band, word for word. After the show, he tells me that’s only happened a few times ever. Malaysia, you done good.
Before the show, w sat with Greg played a quick game of 20 questions, covering all of the important things in life like where’s the worst airport, and do you like rice?
What do you miss most about home when you’re away?
Home being Brooklyn, it’s always gonna be friends. On the road, it’s a lot more random, you make fast friends, which is good, I love that. But yeah, all of my good friends in Brooklyn.
Do you consider yourselves a Brooklyn band?
Hmm… I don’t know, it’s such a tough thing to say. Jake and Randy [the drummer and bass player] are from Ashville, North Carolina and moved to Brooklyn around the same time. And then Philip [keyboard player] and I moved to New York around the same time. It’s an assortment, but I like to think of us as a Brooklyn band since we’re based there now.
What’s the latest wave of music happening there now?
It’s eclectic. Every scene that I’ve been in is so different. There’s a bar that I like going to called Baby’s Alright, and there’s a lot of groups but it’s hard to see a trend. Chill wave, new wave, electro … they’re all there but there’s not one single thing.
Has gentrification made it hard to be an artist in New York?
I think it pushes you out. I live in Crown Heights, which is out of the way a little bit. And I moved there because the rent was really cheap. It does seem like my friends that live in the nicer areas can’t just be artists, they have to have another career.
Who were the most influential artists you listened to growing up?
The ones that got me started … Thriller by Michael Jackson, that’s the first record that blew my mind and made me want to become a performer. Queen, when I first started playing guitar, I was obsessed with Queen. Same thing with Freddie Mercury was an amazing vocalist, and the music good was good.
There’s a lot of showmanship there.
Yeah, kind of the opposite to what we do. And maybe The Doors. I listened to them the most out of all of those bands and they had this danger to them, a sexuality and sensuality. The Crystal Ship and You’re Lost Little Girl are songs I still love today. Those three I would say were my early, early influences.
Best Mexican food outside of your hometown El Paso, Texas?
That is so difficult. I feel so snobby because El Paso is so specific, and it’s hard to get anything like it elsewhere. Probably LA, they seem like they have it together.
Greatest city to walk around in?
Istanbul, that city is just gorgeous. It feels like you’re being transported to another time.
Worst airport you’ve been to?
There are so many, they all kind of blur together. I actually hate coming back to JFK. It’s the hardest to get out of, and as soon as you pass the customs line, it feels like forever just to leave.
What do you think about Southeast Asia?
It’s beautiful so far. It’s our first time here. Unique… I’ve only gotten as far as Istanbul. This has a jungle atmosphere going on.
Ultimate song to pull to?
Maybe, I Only Have Eyes For You, by The Flamingoes.
Do you get recognized?
Yeah, actually I do, pretty often. [Editor’s note: Yes, he does] I feel very grateful. We have the best fans. Not fanatical, but always really moved and a lot to say about what the music meant to them.
Do you read the comments section?
Every so often I take a glance. Mostly it’s just people thinking that I’m a girl.
What’s the funniest thing that you’ve read about yourself?
There’s this song, K, about a girl Kristen, and someone wrote in the comments section “That girl Kristen, is a f-beep b-beep if she doesn’t come back man.” And that just made me laugh.
Greatest clothes shopping city you’ve been to?
Portland, Oregon. I got 2 jackets there I really liked.
Most surprising place you’ve been to?
Prague. It was our first European experience, it’s a gorgeous city. I’ve been there quite a bit there.
How do you eat locally when you’re on tour?
Yeah, all the time. Sometimes you’re forced to go to Burger King, but we try not to.
How has your last album been received in different places? Any nuance that you’ve picked up to?
Yeah, it seems that in Berlin there’s really polite audiences, and people are very respectful of the music. And then you go to Porto, Portugal and people are wild, fanatical. We couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized. Everyone is singing the songs really loudly.
How do you feel about malls?
It’s weird we keep going to malls, here in Malaysia. Like we’re in a mall now, and last night we went to a bar in a mall. But I also grew up in malls, so I kind of like them.
How do you feel about rice?
Love rice. I basically lived on it when I moved to New York.
What do you think of spicy food?
I love it too, being from El Paso. All we eat is chili.
If you’re willing to complain about traffic, then you can maybe be Malaysian.
That’s all it takes? Ok, sounds good.