With five albums, a pair of EPs, and five million records sold, The Strokes are inimitable, and widely credited as leading the early-aughts rock ‘n’ roll revival. And as their popularity expanded, so did the ambition of its members, who embarked on various side projects. For a while, there was a lone holdout—lead guitarist Nick Valensi—but he’s since come around to the idea. These days, Los Angeles-based Valensi is the lead vocalist and guitarist for a new five-piece band, CRX. Their debut album, New Skin, not only offered creative freedom, but also helped to “solidify what we have as The Strokes,” he says. We had the chance to catch up with Valensi just a few days after the release of New Skin, an album that combines Strokes-like dual guitar arrangements with power-pop vibes. It is both familiar and experimental—a combination that is typically winning for side projects.
I’ve always loved your work in The Strokes. I think this album is similar in ways—such as with the dual guitar arrangements—but it’s also its own thing stylistically. Was that intentional?
When I started putting the album together I wasn’t sure exactly what I was aiming for. I had a pretty simple goal at the onset of this: put together as good an album as I could, and take it on the road. I was pretty open-minded at what it could be at first. It wasn’t until I started writing the songs and demoing them, just making these rough recordings on my laptop, that the direction of the album started to take shape.
At only thirty minutes long, it’s a tight album. Those are usually my favorites—the succinct ones that you can really get to know and appreciate every song.
Oh, for sure. I don’t think I like overly long…things, in general. Whether it’s a movie, or an album. I’ve got to trim as much fat as possible. I’ve always had that mindset: ten songs, thirty minutes, that feels, to me, pretty classic. There was talk of even making it nine songs—Josh Homme, the producer who I worked with on this record, he was pushing for nine. We spoke about these classic records that we love, and some of them are eight songs, nine songs, ten songs. A lot of Tom Petty albums are that short. It was a conscious thing to make it as lean as possible. That’s always an intention of mine.
This is your first album and project as the frontman/vocalist. What were some of your influences?
It’s always been hard for me to say what was influenced by whom, because I don’t really know. It’s more like after you create something, and you write the song, you record the song, and you step back for a moment and you listen back. It’s not until then that I start to hear the influences that pop out. I listened to ‘Ways To Fake It,” for example, and I hear The Cars in there for sure. But when I was writing the song, that certainly wasn’t at the forefront of my consciousness. Maybe it was buried in there somewhere, subconsciously, but I’ve never sat down with the intention of “I’m going to write a song that sounds like this today.” That’s never happened to me. You don’t really realize until it’s over and done with.
Yeah. Like, you listen back, and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that.’
Yeah. For sure. In terms of writing the lyrics, there were things that I would read that would get me going, but it was usually very simple, whether it was Charles Bukowski, or Leonard Cohen lyrics really speak to me a lot. Trent Reznor lyrics. All the old Nine Inch Nails records from the 90s, I would go back to that a lot. Trent Reznor has always been one of my favorite lyricists. I feel like he stays thematically in the same wheelhouse, but it speaks loudly to me.
“I HAD A PRETTY SIMPLE GOAL:
PUT TOGETHER AS GOOD
AN ALBUM AS I COULD, AND TAKE IT ON
THE ROAD. I WAS PRETTY OPEN
MINDED AT WHAT IT COULD BE AT FIRST.”
Do you ever talk to Julian [Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes] about some of the lead singer stuff?
We had a brief conversation about it—it was more me just acknowledging how difficult it is, and a newfound respect and empathy for what it takes to be the lead singer, from a performance and also from a writing point of view. It’s one thing to write music and to put together tracks and just play riffs. But when you’re writing words that are ostensibly coming from the deepest, darkest places of your soul, and then stepping up to a microphone and singing them to an audience, it puts you in a place of vulnerability that just playing guitar, drums, or bass doesn’t quite do the same thing. There was a sense of discovering that there’s a little more to it than I thought there was all these years, and we did have that conversation, and that made Julian laugh a little bit.
Yeah, step into his shoes a little bit. Maybe he’ll be the guitarist and you guys can swap stories again.
I really doubt that’s going to happen, although it would be cool! Julian’s a pretty good guitarist, so if he joined another band as the lead guitarist, that would be a funny reversal of roles. He could do it though, he’s pretty fuckin’ good.
I’ve got to ask about new Strokes stuff. Have you guys been working on anything?
We’re working on stuff. I don’t know when it’s going to come out, because it’s hard to put a deadline on an album that’s not fully written yet. I’m so grateful for it; It’s so amazing to be part of a band that people are always curious about, and always asking questions about. Just me saying “Yeah, we’re working on something, we might have an album next year,” I feel like there’s excitement around that, and it’s really cool to be a part of something that people get so excited about. I wish I had more definitive answers for people as to what to expect and when to expect it, but the truth is we’re just in the middle of trying shit, and throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. We’re really in an early phase right now, so I don’t want people to get too excited.
It’s coming eventually.
It’s coming, man. We’re working on it, it’s coming, and we’re in a really awesome place personally and creatively where everything’s going really well. ♦
Photos by Amanda de Cadenet