Today, everyone is talking about Raf Simons’ fairly epic Calvin Klein debut. But once upon a time long, long ago—i.e., last week during NYFWM—Simons sent his eponymous menswear range down the New York runway for the first time. The Belgian-born designer’s Fall 2017 collections, both for his own label and his inaugural offering at Calvin, celebrated the American spirit. More specifically, his NYFWM showing, which was held at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, was an homage of sorts to New York City, what with the various iterations of the “I heart NY” logo knitted into sweaters and appearing on caution tape-like belts. The lineup was simultaneously jovial and rebellious—parts of it were a nod to the British punk movement—and it was infused with the kind of hope New Yorkers (and Americans) could use right now.
Simons tapped longtime collaborator Michel Gaubert, the fashion set’s go-to mix master, to produce the sound for his first New York romp. Gaubert’s music of choice? Experimental rock care of ‘70s English band Roxy Music and melancholic pop courtesy of Brooklyn-based ambient group Cigarettes After Sex, whose moody, slowed-down rendition of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” played during the finale. “Who was that singing ‘Keep on Loving You?’ So good,” asked one Vogue editor on Gaubert’s Instagram. The track, which is one of two songs on Affection, the band’s second EP, was recorded in Bushwick two years ago after frontman Greg Gonzalez fell back in love with the ‘80s ballad and decided to give it a heady reboot. The hazy hymn has since garnered the band a cult-like following (it’s gotten over 10 million hits on YouTube), and now, with Simons’ Midas touch, the dreamy, four-man group, which was founded in El Paso, Texas in 2008, show no signs of slowing. Ahead of the band’s forthcoming European tour, which kicks off in April, we spoke with Gonzalez about the inspiration behind the band’s name (surprise, it involves a girl), what it's like to have their song associated with fashion’s golden boy, and what we can expect from their long-awaited album, slated for release this summer.
Hilary Shepherd: Did you know ahead of time that your song was going to be played at Raf Simons’ menswear debut in New York earlier this month?
Greg Gonzalez: No, we had no idea. It was totally a surprise. Basically, Shirley Manson [of Garbage] tweeted at us and told us. She was super excited. It’s amazing and it’s extremely flattering. It’s Raf Simons, who’s legendary. It’s nice to be included with someone who’s doing amazing stuff.
HS: Why do you think he and Michel Gaubert picked your song?
GG: A lot of fashion designers and models are becoming fans of [our] music, so it seems like it’s touched some kind of place in the fashion world, which I think is great. The style of the band is influenced by a lot of music and films, but it was also influenced by [fashion labels] like Guess and their black-and-white ads, which feel very '90s, especially with the kinds of models they use.
HS: What did you think about Simons' collection?
GG: I thought it was great. I finally saw the whole video today, and it was cool because they also played Roxy Music—actually, the song they played before [ours] was one of my favorite songs called, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” There was a lot of good taste going on there.
HS: Let’s talk about “Keep On Loving You,” which is originally an '80s ballad by REO Speedwagon. What made you want to cover it?
GG: It’s funny—I grew up with that song and it didn’t really have any kind of impact on me. It was kind of a joke. I was into, like, Belle and Sebastian or Nick Drake. [REO Speedwagon] wasn’t exactly the kind of band I was trying to check out at that time. I kind of missed out on it. And then, when I finally moved to New York, I heard it again by chance, and for some reason it resonated with me and I was listening to it all the time. After I fell in love with it, I started to practice it when I was warming up to write my own songs. I found that when I slowed it down a bit, it became this really sad song. There’s some sort of heartbreaking element to it, particularly the line, “I don’t wanna sleep / I just wanna keep on loving you." It’s a really sad line, like, when you’re totally obsessed with somebody. I had that idea for two years, and finally the band got together and we did a session and we said, “Why don’t we try this?” We did it on the first take and it worked.
HS: How did you come up with the name “Cigarettes After Sex”?
GG: A lot of our songs are autobiographical, and the name isn’t an exception. I had this friends-with-privileges thing with this girl and she would always smoke after we were together. I never really tried it until she showed it to me. We were just together one night smoking and the name flashed in my mind. It was literally just what we were doing at that moment.
HS: Does she know that she was the inspiration for your band?
GG: Yeah, she knows. Or she [tries to] forget. [laughs] I wanted to make a band that was going to talk about things bluntly and autobiographically and confessionally, so that was kind of the way to start it.
HS: You're based in Brooklyn, but you recorded your first EP, I., in a stairway at your alma mater in El Paso in 2012. Tell me about that.
GG: I. was recorded in a stairway at the Fox Fine Arts building at the University of Texas at El Paso. I already knew all the professors from the music program because I was in the music scene. I just thought, It sounds really crazy in this room. What if I get a band in here and record? That’s exactly how it happened. And then the next time we [recorded] was in Bushwick because it was really cheap to do it at this rehearsal space. We’ve recorded in a stairway at a movie theater in Manhattan for some of the stuff that’s going on our LP. And then we’ve also recorded at a church in Germany recently. The idea is to go to different locations—it’s kind of like location filming versus using a set. That’s the way I see it.
HS: Your music has been described as "elemental, hazy, and romantic." What kind of instruments do you use?
GG: It’s just me on guitar and vocals for the new stuff, and then there’s a keyboard, drums, and bass. It’s pretty simple. I want the writing to be really personal. I’ll write the song at home usually, all the lyrics and everything. And then I’ll bring it into the band and they’ll make the arrangement. That’s kind of the way that it works—it’s like, here’s the song, and everyone else adds their feelings to it.
HS: You’re releasing your first album this summer. What we can expect?
GG: It's cohesive and in the same vein of what we've done before. The songs are about real people and real experiences. If you liked K. and Affection, it’s going to be that kind of subject matter. I think the main difference is some of it’s a little more vulgar. It’s a bit more sexual than some of the stuff we’ve done before.
HS: How sexual are we talking? Will there be an explicit warning on some of the tracks?
GG: There probably could be with some of the lyrics. I’m a little curious to see how our fans are going to respond. But it’s also [vulgar] in the sweetest way—it’s not, like, mean or anything. But I think that kind of thing is missing from pop music. Hip-hop gets away with it all the time, but you hardly see it in pop music songs.
HS: You mentioned earlier that Cigarettes is heavily influenced by music and film. Can you elaborate on that?
GG: My favorite singer is Françoise Hardy. She’s very ’60s and she’s also fashion-conscious. She has this soft, beautiful voice—it’s just really staggering. That’s probably the biggest influence I have right now for this sound—her vibe. With film, there’s a lot. A lot of black-and-white films, like L'Avventura, an Italian film from the early ’60s.
HS: Do you pay attention to fashion? If so, what do you like?
GG: Balmain’s really cool. Yves Saint Laurent for sure. And as I said earlier, I like Guess and the types of models they pick [for their ads].
HS: What are you into right now musically?
GG: Actually, when I was in London recently, I was at a bar and there was this music in the background that was really lush. It turned out to be this guy named Nelson Riddle. I guess he had done all the arrangements for Frank Sinatra. It just had this really romantic vibe. He has a record called Sea of Dreams that I’ve been obsessed with. It’s all instrumental—really Hollywood and really dreamy.