Julian Casablancas: Stroking out on his own

March 16, 2010


With the Strokes missing in action since "First Impressions of Earth" in 2006, singer and songwriter Julian Casablancas took a cue from several of his bandmates and went the solo route late last year, stretching out in some unexpected directions on "Phrazes for the Young."

Though the Strokes are finally finishing album number four--as well as gearing up to play a headlining slot at Lollapalooza in Grant Park this August--Casablancas is in the midst of a solo tour that will bring him to the Vic Theatre on April 6. We spoke by phone from New York as he prepared to return to the road.

Q. Let's start with your decision to make a solo record. How did that come about?

A. I never really wanted to make a solo record. I gave my life, blood and sweat into the Strokes. But people [in the band] wanted to do solo things, so we weren't ready to make a record for a while. That kind of turned me. It's funny, because it's not like I've been trying to relinquish control; I've been trying for it to be a collaboration for a long time. But some people felt like they needed to go out on their own, and I understand that.

In the meantime, I still felt like doing stuff and writing music. Basically, it brought me back to the early days of the Strokes, when I was more involved on all levels.

Q. Now you've decided to tour behind "Phrazes for the Young"?

A. We haven't really toured for the record; I only played in five or six cities. I figured I had some time, so I might as well do it right. Every time we played a town, we felt like we made a big impact. People weren't sure what it was at first. When they see it live, they see how everything on the record gets played and how it works. It's pretty exciting.

Q. Is it different playing these songs on stage versus playing Strokes songs?

A. For me, it's not different at all. I think there is a little more interworking, polyrhythmic stuff going on.

Q. Was experimenting with the rhythms a goal on the solo disc?

A. Yeah, definitely. It was one of the primary things I was clear on: I wanted to have drum beats going on at the same time, where they wouldn't overstep each other, and wouldn't sound cluttered. They would be cool on their own, but together they would make a kind of super groove.

Q. The fourth Strokes album has been in the works for a while, so I assume you were writing Strokes songs at the same time as solo songs. How would you differentiate the two?

A. I guess at this point, if I have a clear thought of every detail of the song and how I would like every note to be, I thought I'd do it alone. The general melodies and parts that are vague and I'm not sure of, that could end up many different ways, those I would leave for the Strokes.

Q. Are you excited about working with the band again?

A. Well, I think musically, everyone is finally bringing stuff to the table, and that's nice for sure. I can't speak for everyone else, but I had wished they would bring songs to the table for years. And that's happening now. Basic tracking has begun, and I think the record should be ready next year or in the fall.

Q. Will you be road-testing some of the material when you play at Lollapalooza or any of the other summer gigs?

A. I don't know, actually. We haven't talked about it.

Q. What about another solo record?

A. Well, I've had thoughts, but I haven't made any decisions. I think [the first solo record] was a learning experience, and I did almost everything alone. I think there is a way to do it yourself that wouldn't be quite so hard. And there's a lot of weird stuff that I would like to bring to the world.

Q. It's been nearly a decade since the Strokes burst on the scene with "Is This It." For all of the Machiavellian scheming ascribed to the band at the time, you always made the point that there was no master plan--that you were just friends making music together. But the group is still here, and it's headlining some of the biggest festivals in the world. How does it feel to have stood the test of time?

A. I'm happy that people... I'm just happy, period. I'm a happy guy. I get confused sometimes; I get torn. There is a little bit of me that almost feels that the same thing is happening with the solo record that happened in the beginning with the Strokes, to be honest. I could basically make a Strokes record and release it as my own, and I feel like people would not care if it had my name on it; they would just want to hear the Strokes. It doesn't bother me; it just makes me laugh, I guess.

Mostly I think you take what you can get, and it's awesome that we're still a band. But at the same time you're into what you're working on at the time. And I think it's going to be fun, to go tour the [solo] record and see how it does.


Julian Casablancas, Funeral Party

7:30 p.m. Tuesda, April 6

Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield

Tickets $26

(312) 559-1212; www.ticketmaster.com