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Julian Casablancas talks solo album


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  • 2 months later...

Six weeks before the October release of Phrazes for the Young, Julian Casablancas' wonderfully familiar (that voice!) and far-out (those synths!) solo debut, the erstwhile Strokes frontman is sitting in his publicist's downtown Manhattan office, gently disagreeing with the notion that he's been keeping a low profile. "I've been around," he mumbles, as elegantly disheveled as you remember, his shampoo-proof brown hair, untied white Nikes, and black trench coat all displaying grimy variations on their original colors. "I know it may seem like I've been quiet, but I've been busy. I'm happy to feed the illusion that I'm a lazy recluse."


Though the singer didn't quite go full Garbo after the 2006 release of the band's last effort, the underwhelming First Impressions of Earth, his scant output (a Converse commercial, a couple of guest vocal spots) appears positively stingy when compared to his fellow Strokes' fecundity. But to hear the 31-year-old tell it, the last few years have been full of hard work, as he's struggled to find a fresh, radio-ready sound for Phrazes and get a new Strokes album off the ground, all while maintaining his sanity and sobriety. "The music business is a pretty shallow game," Casablancas says. "But I've learned how to get what I want from it." Yeah, he's been around.


Welcome back to the machine. Are you glad to be doing this kind of stuff again?

It depends on the hour. I go through long periods of excitement and shorter ones of anxiety. I guess I just hope that what I'm doing is good.


Some of the synth-based songs on Phrazes will sound pretty strange to Strokes fans. Was the idea to surprise people?

To be totally honest, I would've gone weirder with the music, but I wanted to be smart. I didn't want people to say, "Okay, this is his weird abstract thing," and dismiss the album. I worked too hard on it for that to happen.


Are you aiming at a pop hit? The choruses of songs like "11th Dimension" and "Out of the Blue" wouldn't sound out of place in the Top 40.

It was nice to just try stuff -- "Ludlow St." is weirdly futuristic and old-timey and never would've fit with the Strokes. But it can be hard to experiment when you're in a band. You finish a song and someone will say you have to change it. With Phrazes, I wanted to be crazy original and bridge the gap between traditional music and modern music. And if that means there are a lot of big choruses, then so be it. If the choice is between doing something supercool and having no one hear it and doing something equally cool and tricking people into putting it on the radio, I don't think the second option is some big sellout.


Is the idea of selling out or not the kind of thing that motivates you?

I don't know. I don't have to dig very deep for motivation. It's not like I've won a bunch of Grammys. It's funny -- I don't think people even understand what I did with the Strokes.


What don't they understand?

I think people were like, "Oh, he just sings. Does he play an instrument?" The challenges I'm facing with this album are real. I could fail miserably. I could run out of money. It's not like the band sold ten million records. Motivation is not an issue.


What were you listening to when you were making the album?

I actually made a mix CD of songs that I wanted the album to sound like. Thom Yorke's "Atoms for Peace" was on there. "Bohemian Rhapsody." Some '80s synth weirdness. "Beat It." Mostly it was just mega-hit songs. That was the vibe I was going for.


What did those songs teach you?

That it's a lot harder to make a keyboard sound not-cheesy than a guitar.


The other Strokes released new music before you did. It was easy to interpret that productivity as the result of their feeling free. Why did you wait so long?

Songwriting is hard -- it's so easy to fall into the same traps. It's not like I wake up and songs flow out of me. The timing was tricky, too: It took me at least six months to recuperate from the last Strokes tour. The problem with touring isn't the traveling and the shows, it's the vegetal state you get into. The thing I like most about this whole career is coming up with ideas, and the road robs you of the chance to do that. A couple of years isn't a long time if you have to rebuild completely.


What was your original vision for the Strokes?

I realize now, my idea was always to take undergroundish, cool music and make it mainstream. That was my goal, and we haven't achieved it. We got to the top of the underground, but we never got as big as Green Day or Creed or any of the bands we were supposed to be replacing in 2001. So, in my mind, here's still a step to take.


Do you think you still have the opportunity to take that step? Has the culture moved on?

I hope we can do it. But who knows? I spent two years writing Strokes songs and waiting for a new album to happen before I realized that the band as a unit was not ready to record.


What was the problem?

I don't know. I don't want to get into it. It's all circumstance.


That's often true, though, isn't it? Didn't the band benefit early on from being in the right place at the right time?

People always ask me what it was like to be in that whirlwind eight years ago. I guess everything felt very exaggerated at the time -- whether it was how big we actually were or whether I was a control-freak maniac or whatever. But I drank a lot back then. I don't even remember that time so well.


Really? It was that bad?

[Laughs] Partly. I know it didn't feel like success happened that fast. We sucked for years. I sucked for years. It wasn't like we played the Tonight Show and suddenly were on the cover of magazines and winning Grammys and selling millions of records. We played shows for 60 people, then 100, then more. Then we toured. It was always incremental enough that I never felt like I forgot who I was.


Did that come later?

It's embarrassing to admit, but yeah, especially when Is This It started to get attention, that kind of thing probably happened. Egomania takes over. We felt like we had to walk into a room and kick a able over. It's like in conversation, if you make a joke and someone laughs, you tell another joke.


Was drinking a result of that, too? Did you feel like you had to play the role of the wasted rock star?


Read Julian's answer, plus loads more in the Nov. 2009 issue of SPIN, on newsstands now.

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  • 1 month later...

yah i dont know what happened to it. i posted in it during the summer. didnt seem to be enough strokies / jules love around so i guess it just died :shrug:

anyway i do love his new album and the new shows the strokes have coming up. :wacky: i guess i just dont post much in the WoM section on here. :disappointed:

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