The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas talks to Kim Taylor Bennett about being inspired by Oscar Wilde
Time Out Bahrain staff
It’s been three years since The Strokes released their third album, First Impressions of Earth. And in the interim, three out of five members have released solo records – but what has frontman Julian Casablancas been up to? Well, for one thing, he’s got a baby on the way…
Hello Julian! First off, we’d like to say congrats on your impending fatherhood… Thanks. It’s weird – I love something I don’t know! In recent years you’ve released collaborative songs such as ‘Little Girl’ for the Dark Night of the Soul project with Danger Mouse, which includes pictures by David Lynch. Brian [Burton, aka Danger Mouse] sent me the song and asked if I wanted to sing on it. I said no, but I sang this melody over it and said, ‘Here, you can use this; if you want to have someone else sing it I’m fine with it.’ But he kept calling. I only saw the Lynch pictures after they were done and they were weird. I don’t think he does things that aren’t creepy.
You also sang on Saturday Night Live trio The Lonely Island’s Boombox [TLI are responsible for such classics as ‘D*** in a Box’ with Justin Timberlake]. I actually had a song on the side for them. I always loved their thing, but, musically, it was all R&B, which I don’t really like – although other people love, obviously – but I helped out with the melody.
You’re currently in LA ahead of your month-long weekly live residency. How are the nerves? I’m only nervous because we’re trying to do these silly, over-the-top shows that I’m going to go broke doing and might end up looking ridiculous.
How do you find playing alone? It’s not that weird, it’s just different. With [the band] everything you do has to be discussed. It’s nice to work with people who will respect your opinion.
Did the fact that everyone was doing solo albums make you want to go it alone? Some of these songs I originally showed to the band and they didn’t seem interested. Plus everyone was doing their own thing. The band’s a tough crowd to please, so if they want to get outside that circle I understand. I would have preferred it if they’d worked it out internally, but I respect their decision. I guess I felt like I didn’t have much of a choice.
On ‘Ludlow Street’ you sing that New York’s been overtaken by yuppies. Will you jump ship? I’m considering it. The weather [in Los Angeles] is a big thing. If you heard of a place where the weather was perfect every day, you’d think it was what heaven would be like. But I went back to New York recently. It was a Saturday night, I was doing an interview in a bar and I had to walk across the East Village to get home and it seemed so exciting. But that same thing that makes it so exciting, when you stay there for a long time makes it a little fatiguing.
Your solo album’s title was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young. What did you make of them? They were amazing and witty, more like punchlines than philosophies, like the stand-up comedy of the day. The point I got from him was that he thought we were totally superficial. I half agree. Maybe it’s corny, but I’m a bit more hopeful than that sometimes. Phrazes for the Young is available to buy online.
Casablancas is not the only member of The Strokes to venture outside the band. Some of the others have kept their hands in, too…
Albert Hammond, Jr The man with the greasy perm was the first to step away from the band with his highly acclaimed 2006 album Yours to Keep. Variously described as ‘Diet Strokes’ and ‘the best record The Strokes should have released’, the album benefited from Sean Lennon’s helping hand and owed a lyrical debt to The Velvet Underground. Follow-up album ¿Cómo Te Llama?, recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City, fared less well, though there’s enough talent here to suggest his solo career might be worth keeping an eye on in the future.
Fabrizio Moretti Drummers’ solo careers are a bit hit and miss (mostly miss, if you’re Ringo Starr), so Moretti’s decision to start a new band worked to his advantage: best to hide behind other wannabes than take the spotlight. Little Joy, a trio with strong connections to modern-day folkster hippy Devendra Banhart, put out an eponymous album in 2008. Released to generally favourable reviews, Nick Hornby (the British author responsible for High Fidelity) named it as his favourite record of the year. The band are currently touring Europe.
Nikolai Fraiture The Time of the Assassins by Nickel Eye (see what he did there?) is the brainchild of The Strokes’ bassist Fraiture, released in January this year and roundly panned for being massively substandard. The Time of the Assassins sounds a lot like a collection of dull Lou Reed outtakes, feeling as though those involved know they’re worth more. Even Fraiture sounds bored. Probably best avoided.