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Interview:
Strokes Singer Strikes A Solo Path
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Julian Casablancas is pleased to report that the incidents of fans yelling for Strokes songs at his solo shows has been minimal so far.

“They usually don’t — I should say one out of every eight shows, would be my guess, which is pretty good,” says Casablancas, who co-founded The Strokes in 1998 but released his first solo album, “Phrazes for the Young,” in October.

“I didn’t think about it too much,” adds Casablancas, who is playing the band’s “I’ll Try Anything Once” and “Hard To Explain” during his concerts. “You always kind of hope for the best, expect the worst, but it’s never come to that.”

“Phrazes” was probably the most highly anticipated of the individual Strokes’ solo projects since the band went on hiatus after touring to support 2006’s “First Impressions of Earth.” But in some ways, Casablancas was also the most reticent, or at least the most cautious, about stepping outside the confines of the group he formed with friends from private schools he attended in New York.

Not that the Manhattan native and occasional Elite fashion model (his father owns the agency) is a stranger to extra-band work. He’s guested on recordings by Santigold, Queens of the Stone Age, Pharrell Williams and Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse, as well as “Saturday Night Live” cast member Andy Samberg’s comic group the Lonely Island. He also appeared on Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s 2006 solo album “Yours to Keep.”

“My intent is always to make music,” says Casablancas, 31, whose wife, Juliet, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son named Cal, last month. “I feel like my normal band, which I was relatively happy with, was kind of going through a little bit of a transformation. I had stuff that I wanted to do, and I think the band wasn’t ready.

“I just kind of came to the realization of, ‘OK, why don’t I just take the opportunity. ... In the beginning, it was kind of a necessity, but at the end I really enjoyed it. I only did eight songs, but if I had to do 50, I probably could have.”

Casablancas says some of those eight songs on “Phrazes” — which debuted at No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and No. 19 on the U.K. charts — were first offered to The Strokes, but rather than push them on his disinterested bandmates, he opted to take them on himself. “I’ve been kind of relinquishing (control) in the band, anyway,” says Casablancas, who’s been the group’s chief songwriter to this point. “In the band, what we’re trying to do is be more of a collaboration. So this was a chance for me to go and work on every detail myself, which is fun, to be writing all the solos and bass lines and drum beats like I did in the early days of The Strokes.”

Fans were initially surprised by the heavy use of keyboards and synthesizers on “Phrazes” — especially its first single, “11th Dimension” — although Casablancas says they’re actually old hat for him.

“I write about 50/50 between guitars and synthesizers,” he explains. “But everything in The Strokes just gets funneled through guitar world, which I am a fan of and wanted. But for this go-round, things that were written on keyboards just stayed on keyboards.”

Though he started admittedly “light” in promoting “Phrazes,” with limited touring, Casablancas says his current run of shows “feels like we’re promoting it correctly, and it seems like it’s actually making a pretty big difference.” His North American run ends April 18 at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, and he heads to Australia in May and will play some summer festival dates in Europe.

Then, Casablancas says, it’s back to “Strokesdom.” The group has been working on its next album for several months and is actually doing some recording without its frontman while he’s touring. “It’s crawling along,” Casablancas says. “It’s crawling along, but it’s getting there. It’s in the works — that’s all I’m supposed to be saying. I’m excited to get my hands on it, and I think it will be good.”

A fall release is expected for the album, while The Strokes have signed on for some summer festival appearances, including Lollapalooza during early August in Chicago.

“When we meet with the band and talk and play music, it’s just a different level of ease and comfort,” says Casablancas, who nevertheless plans to release more solo albums. “Everyone’s more easygoing and everyone feels more confident and just trusts each other a little bit, so it feels like a good time for us.”



Julian Casablancas and the Funeral Party perform Monday, April 5, at Saint Andrews Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 313-961-6358 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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