Loud Indie Rock Confessionals: An Interview with New York’s Nick Cianci

Nick Cianci © Ben Zucker
Nick Cianci © Ben Zucker
NYC artist-to-watch Nick Cianci talks to Atwood Magazine about his indie rock sound and ever-changing style, New York’s inspirational music scene, his thrilling new music video, and more!
“Goodnight, and Happy Birthday!” – Nick Cianci

A stormy electricity engulfs Nick Cianci’s music: His songs, though few in number, are all raw and full of heat,  as if they were born in a cloud of pain and passion, super-charged energy and emotion. Based out of Brooklyn, Cianci’s solo career is only just beginning – he’s a relatively recent NYU grad and full-time guitarist in the band Del Water Gap – but as with so many artists, Cianci’s early releases are telling of the multitudes within him.

This is one artist you want to have on your 2020 radar.

Goodnight, and Happy Birthday! - Nick Cianci
Goodnight, and Happy Birthday! – Nick Cianci
Carved out of lust
Is this what I’m reduced to?
I’m a natural romantic
But I’d self destruct before I use you
I burned all my luck
Faking it at parties
Until I finally was forced to see
The spiders crawling from my head
Oh my dear, it’s alright
If you just wanna be alone tonight
– “Goodnight, and Happy Birthday!,” Nick Cianci

Debuting in mid-2018 with the rollicking rock jam “Sparkling Jenny” and his subsequent EP High Fidelity Depressed, Cianci  immediately set himself apart through thoughtful, reflective storytelling lyrics. He followed that up this year with two new singles; in premiering his song “The Night We Crashed Your Dad’s Car” earlier this past April, Atwood Magazine praised his tender hard rock edge: “Armed with an electric guitar and earnest, expressive vocals, [Cianci] delivers something of an alternative blend of John Mayer and Bruce Springsteen: His low-key blues rock style and classic form of storytelling separate him from his contemporaries, giving his songs a depth we seldom hear in modern music.”

Released at the top of the year, “Goodnight, and Happy Birthday!” presents Nick Cianci at his grungiest: Polished and clean, yet dirty all at once, the song finds him reconciling an existential conflict while out at a party. “The guy in the song is trying to reconcile his own worth with the unrequited crush he has on someone that’s floating around the scenes,” the artist explains. Heavy guitars and pounding drums a la Father John Misty set a dramatic scene, out of which the healing and catharsis may finally begin.

Flash on my face
The pale light in the picture
Glows on you like moonbeams
Though I find it makes me sicker
Just one more drink
Reluctantly I’m counting
Your dead lovers float around us
On the river that you drowned them in
Oh my dear, it’s alright
If you just wanna be alone tonight
Nick Cianci © Ben Zucker
Nick Cianci © Ben Zucker

Cianci recently released an exciting music video for “Goodnight, and Happy Birthday!,” and it’s as intense as the song itself. Directed by Dillon Moore and starring Maya Hawke (Stranger Things), singer/songwriter Samia, and Camrus Johnson (Batwoman), the film is a “ghost story a la A Christmas Carol” in the artist’s words.

Atwood Magazine recently spoke to Nick Cianci about his indie rock sound and ever-changing style, New York’s inspirational music scene, his thrilling new music video, and more: Get to know the artist-to-watch below, and stay tuned for more Nick Cianci music coming soon!

Here comes that dude
A slightly different species
Dipped inside an inkwell
And fast like food that’s greasy
Your eyes explode into a million pieces
I’ll sweep them up and cash my luck
For a meditative walk back home
Oh my dear, it’s alright
If you just wanna be with him tonight
If you just wanna be with him tonight


Atwood Magazine: Thanks for catching up, Nick! So far, you’ve released two songs this year. How would you describe yourself musically at this juncture?

Nick Cianci: I’m still trying to figure it all out, as we all are I guess. I’ve been writing a bunch of new stuff as of late… I’d say it lands somewhere on the giant, intersecting planes of indie-rock, singer-songwriter, pop… etc. etc. All terms used loosely.

Your musically is definitely rock inspired. What music did you grow up on? How do you feel about the state of rock music today?

Nick Cianci: I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock and blues music. I originally just wanted to be a guitar player and I was obsessed with all the electric blues legends like BB King, Buddy Guy, Clapton, Hendrix, ect. It wasn’t until I got into high school that my tastes began to lean more songwriter oriented. My Springsteen obsession began to bloom, I discovered Jeff Buckley, and I was really into classic sounding modern rock bands like Dawes and Dr. Dog. And yeah, I’ve listened to the music of John Mayer maybe once or twice…

But then when I moved to NYC for college my musical tastes began to take a more diverse form and I was listening to all the indie rock stuff happening. There was/is so much of it happening right in NYC too so it was impossible to avoid. I’m really into Big Thief right now and Mitski and Alex G… I don’t know how to describe those artists with a label, but I guess it’s rock to a degree? There’s guitars so rock on I guess.  I think rock music is in the best place it’s ever been. There’s so much to draw from and be inspired by since it’s been a genre for like what, 65, 70 years? All the genres are pretty blended together now, so it seems like there’s an infinite amount of rock sub genres. There’s something for everyone – it’s great!

What inspired “Goodnight, and Happy Birthday!”?

Nick Cianci: I was at this birthday party and I was really caught up in my head–or out of it– for some reason.  I felt like I was observing the action around me from outside of my own body. So I went home and started to write this narrative about a dude stifled by an existential conflict at a party. The guy in the song is trying to reconcile his own worth with the unrequited crush he has on someone that’s floating around the scenes.

“Goodnight” has quite the grungy sound to it; was this element a conscious effort on your part or something that came unexpectedly?

Nick Cianci: I was listening (and still constantly listen) to a lot of Elliott Smith, though he wasn’t a grunge guy he definitely had his heavy moments on those later records. I also love all of those unexpected, windy chord progressions he was able to compose, so I sorta tried my hand at that.

Your new music video is fantastic! What inspired the storyline, and how involved were you in its creation?

Nick Cianci: Thanks so much! I teamed up with my buddy Dillon Moore who is a very talented writer/director and has shot music videos for some friends of mine. He typically likes to work on film, so we shot the whole thing on a Bolex Super 16. We wrote the story together and when we met up we knew we wanted to do something different than just mirror the narrative of the lyrics, though the spooky imagery in the song is what inspired us to make a campy B-movie horror mini-movie. We thought a ghost story a la A Christmas Carol would be a funny thing to do, so we just went with that.

We thought a ghost story a la A Christmas Carol would be a funny thing to do, so we just went with that

Nick Cianci
Nick Cianci

With Maya Hawke and others, I must say: What a cast! How did this crew come together; what was your experience like working with them, and how do you find they picked up the elements you wanted to shine through in the video?

Nick Cianci: I thought that if I was gonna make a music video, I might as well get some real actors to enact the story. It just so happened that a few of my friends are super talented, professional actors, so when I mentioned I was making a music video and looking for people to be in it they jumped at it! I was really touched by how enthusiastic and willing they were to do it. They made the experience so much fun and shooting it was a day I won’t forget anytime soon. Also a heads up, they’re all great singers/songwriters/musicians in addition to being stellar actors.

How do you feel the music video adds to the experience of the overall song?

Nick Cianci: I think it really brings out the tongue-in cheek aspect of the song. There’s angst coming from the narrator, but he sees how ridiculous and maybe unjustified his angst is, toiling around at a party in his little insecure bubble. We’ve all been there, but the melodrama here has a face and it’s winking. The video is kinda creepy but it’ also campy; you have a spirit Samia dancing around Maya with a ladle and a Camrus spirit waltzing with her. I just wanted to wear clown makeup because I thought it would be funny. Shout out to Charlotte Bravin Lee for doing all the makeup/prosthetics on us.

We premiered “The Night…” earlier in the year; how would you describe your relationship with that song?

Nick Cianci: I wrote that song at a very confused/vulnerable moment in my life. If I hear that song now I kinda think, “Whoa, I’m glad I’m not there right now.”

Why did you follow-up with “The Night”, and what’s your songwriting process like? Does it take months to perfect a song, or is this merely a slow build?

Nick Cianci: Ideally it doesn’t take months for me to finish a song, and I don’t know if I ever really perfect a song. The few songs of mine that I like are written more quickly. At some point you get out everything you want to say, even if you’re not crazy about how it sounds, but you know it’s the only way to say it because it feels most true. And if it’s not true to you in some way there’s no point in putting it out. It’s also fun to be an actor and put yourself in the shoes of someone else and tell that story. I think you can be truthful still in fiction. It all comes from your personal experiences or subconscious anyways.

Nick Cianci © 2019
Nick Cianci © 2019

How would you define your songwriting style, if you had to describe it?

Nick Cianci: I’ve half-jokingly described the stuff I put out the past year or two as “pop songs about people having bad days” but the songs I’ve been writing recently are more confessional and I’m drawing inspiration from the more mundane, or easily overlooked moments of my life that speak to a bigger picture. Then again, I don’t really know how to describe it… I like to play guitar loud and yell too.

What are the songs like that you’re writing right now? Do you find your style to be changing at all?

Nick Cianci: I think my style is always changing. I think that’s a natural thing for anyone in any artistic field. I’m just trying to get better at figuring out what I want to say, and better at saying it in the most meaningful way. I try not to get bogged down too much by what my “sound should be.” It’s hard enough sometimes to just stay excited and curious and passionate about it. I just want to continue to have fun and hopefully understand myself better at the end of the process, and hopefully one day make something that’s great. I guess that’s a tall order though.

What are you most excited about for you, as we head into the end of this year?

Nick Cianci: I recently recorded a new song with my band that I’ve been wanting to track for a while now. I think it’s an appropriate first song to lead me down the new path I wanna go on. I’ll probably put that out soon, before I finish the EP or record I’m working on.

Lastly, who else do you think should be on our radar? Who’re you listening to at the moment?

Nick Cianci: There’s this guy Charlie Hickey who is one of the most talented songwriters I know. Also on that list: Harrison Whitford, Sofia Wolfson, JR Atkins, Raffaella, Tarune, and Annika Bennett… all make beautiful music and are wonderful people. And the three actors themselves: Maya Hawke, Samia, and Camrus Johnson. Check em ouuuut!

Right now I’m listening to that Clairo record a lot. I’m blown away by Brittany Howard’s new album. And the latest official release from Springsteen’s live vault, a fully mixed recording of his historic concert on September 19th, 1978 in Passaic, NJ from the “Darkness” tour has been keeping me awake at night for weeks. I think I should see a doctor.

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Moving On with Nick Cianci’s Driving “The Night We Crashed Your Dad’s Car”


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