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The Strokes

The Strokes


The "Can rich kids Rock?" question is not facetious. Rock has always been about desperation because anyone with options would never choose to drag their carcass around, along with some heavy equipment, to play dank clubs in hopes of catching a spark. They only do it because they have to. Music was the only way out.

Over time that sense of desperation has developed psychological and political, as well as economic strands. A key to a Rock group's success is a singer (they usually write the lyrics), who is ten years or so older than the music buyers, with the ability to articulate the audience's reality - fears, concerns and escapist dreams. Sure, why not? The vocalist has already lived through it.

These days everyone, including the upper class (to say nothing of the shrinking middle class), feels stressed and put upon. It's hard having money, and things - the burden of it all. So why not have a band that understands that? That's where The Strokes come in. Singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas, lead guitarist Nick Valensi, bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti attended private NYC prep schools.

Casablancas, whose father ran a top NY modeling agency, added another guitarist, an old friend from L.A., Albert Hammond Jr. The two met when they attended Switzerland's famed (or so they say) L' Institut Le Rosey (great name).

Hammond's dad was the guy who wrote and recorded the lame, not to mention inaccurate, '70s pop pap "It Never Rains In Southern California." Refusing to leave well enough alone, Hammond Sr. penned one of Leo Sayer's most annoying ballads (and Sayer specialized in annoying ballads), "When I Need You." The capper came when he wrote the Willie Nelson/Julio Iglesias karaoke disaster "To All The Girls I've Loved Before." Considering the old man's track record, young Hammond correctly deduced that no one in L.A. was going to give his music the time of day, so he wisely split to New York and film school.





After playing NYC clubs and building a solid reputation, The Strokes released a three song EP, "The Modern Age" that was also available in the U.K. The British music press fell over themselves proclaiming The Stokes as the "next big thing" or even more dubious "the new Oasis." The Strokes launched an extensive tour with both U.S. and U.K. dates.

Considering how much was made of the group's image and style, it was odd that it shook out the way it did. Fraiture was the latest in a long line of nondescript bass players. Moretti fared only slightly better. Casablancas, for all his vocal freshness, was too staid and predicable on stage. While Casablancas' looks were guaranteed keep female fans interested he lacked any real charisma and was easily eclipsed by the group's guitarists. Hammond was reminiscent of Eric Clapton, circa his Cream days (long before Albert was born), right down to wedging a lit cigarette in the guitar strings next to the tuning pegs. He had an abandon Casablancas couldn't touch. Valensi had a lean, angular frame possessing a captivating intensity. He appeared truly lost when not playing and totally focused when he was. As much as anything those two provided the group with a large does of its appeal.

In October of '01, "Is This It" was released. In the U.K. the cover featured a nude woman's backside with a leather glove resting on her hip. Woolworth's and HMV stores had a problem with that so the cover was changed, with the group opting for an abstract drawing. The album was to have a track entitled "NYC Cops" but after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 the derogatory song was dropped. Not a good time to be dissing the law. The Strokes follow-up LP "Room On Fire" featuring the hit "12:51" arrived in '03.

On the strength of their first two albums and successful tours, The Strokes became a major Rock group. Many bands release an album prior to the holiday shopping season to catch the retail wave. But not The Strokes. They make their own waves. So their third LP "First Impressions Of Earth" became the first major release of '06.

Often a group takes a break to recharge. Only there's one member who is either a workaholic or would rather follow his own vision, now that he has the means to do so. Usually, it's the lead singer. But in The Strokes case, Hammond decided to make it a working vacation. "Yours To Keep" was released in the fall of '06. Unlike many guitarists who produce a solo album, this was not an instrumental venture. Hammond handled the vocals though he did get a bit of help from Casablancas. That effort seemed to go well, so Hammond issued a second solo album, '08's "Como Te Llama?" When the dust settled from Hammond's projects, Moretti stepped out with his own venture, the eclectic Little Joy.

With The Strokes' fourth album still nowhere in sight, bassist Nikolai Fraiture, not wanting to be left out of the side-project derby, launched Nickel Eye (a pun on his first name). "The Time Of The Assassins," was the group's '09 debut.

Considering all this activity it was inevitable that Casablancas would finally be heard. His album, also issued in '09, was titled "Phrazes For The Young."

The solo projects were OK but fans kept expecting The Strokes to regroup and ramp up their career. As time passed, the band seemed more like truant children who'd gone out for recess and never returned. But in early '09, school was back in session as Valensi and Casablancas started writing songs together.

An album planned for a late '09 release was shelved due to disagreements over songs and production. In the meantime, Casablancas founded Cult Records, for his solo album "Phrazes For The Young" and releases by Karen O (Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs) and bandmate, Hammond, Jr.

The Strokes brought in producer Joe Chicarelli but the relationship didn't pan out. Chicarelli's production style was deemed too staid as The Strokes were looking for something in the Arctic Monkeys/MGMT vein. So the remainder of the album was recorded at Hammond, Jr.'s home studio in upstate New York with engineer Gus Oberg.

Meanwhile, Casablancas recorded his vocals separate from the band. This was done to force the group to take control of the creative process rather than relying solely on him.

"I won't do the next album if we make it like this," said Valensi. "No way. It was awful- just awful. Working in a fractured way, not having a singer there." A second obstacle was Hammond's drug abuse and rehab. Reports stated that it all stemmed from his breakup with model Agyness Deyn.

"Angles" landed in March, '11, over two years after work had begun on the album. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 with entry week sales of 89,000 units, a shade more than the first week sales of "First Impressions Of Earth." The album also topped both the Billboard Alternative Albums and Rock Albums charts.

Casablancas collaborated with Daft Punk on their '13 album "Random Access Memories" contributing lyrics, vocals, and a guitar solo to "Instant Crush." Also, leftover tracks from the "Angles" sessions plus new material made up "Comedown Machine," The Strokes fifth album.

Like "Angles," "Comedown Machine" was recorded, according to Fraiture, "with each member bringing in their own ideas and putting them together in the studio." The lead single was "All The Time."

A year later, The Strokes performed their first U.S. show in three years at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. But several months down the road Julian Casablancas + the Voidz, a band consisting of Jeramy "Beardo" Gritter (guitar), Amir Yaghmai (guitar), Jacob "Jake" Bercovici (bass/synthesizers), Jeff Kite (keyboards) and Alex Carapetis (drums/percussion), released their debut album titled "Tyranny."

So with time on his hands once again, Hammond Jr. issued his third solo effort, "Momentary Masters." The guitarist said the '15 set was inspired by poet Anne Sexton and astrophysicists Carl Sagan.

After all this freelancing, The Strokes presented their "Future Present Past" EP. The '16 set was the group's first since "Comedown Machine."




The Strokes Discography

Albums:

2001 Is This It
2003 Room On Fire
2006 First Impressions Of Earth
2011 Angles
2013 Comedown Machine
2016 Future Present Past (EP)

There are three elements to The Strokes success - a pair of driving guitarists in Valensi and Hammond, Casablancas' passionate yet off-the-cuff vocals and a tight rhythm section - in that order. They keep it lean, simple and compact as Casablancas explores the standard fare - sex, love and hanging out - with a tempered world-weariness. There is a seemingly nonchalant, un-practiced nature to his vocals.



 

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