Setting The Year Alight
New York’s finest talk street fights, smoking and what they’ do if Fab fancied a drum solo…
We didn’t hear from them until October, but 2003 has been a great one for The Strokes. The weight of expectation surrounding second album ‘Room On Fire’ was heavier than all The Brand New Heavies put together (ie pretty fucking HEAVY), but they emerged triumphant with a record as bursting with energy and bumper-packed with tunes as we could ever have hoped. Which is why we invited them around to ours, to talk 2003.
NME: You spent most of the year in the studio. What was the secret to staying focussed?
Albert: “Keep your mouth shut and then go with the flow. The studio has a weird voodoo flow to it.”
Did you emerge as much of a gang as you always have been?
Albert: “Definitely. When bands have conflicts, a lot of the time it’s because they suck. So all they’re arguing about is this weird jealousy because they think other bands are better than them.”
It’s been a while since the last record. People were worried you’d return with a 70-minute concept album that replaced tunes with glockenspiel solos…
Fab: “We don’t let egos come into play. I don’t get people who say things like, ‘I would like to double my drums out and while we’re playing the beat, I’d like there to be congas.’ That just seems ridiculous and extraneous to me.”
Nikolai: “You can never say we’ll never do that, but only if it’s done tastefully. Like Queen. They have songs that go in that direction which are amazing. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for instance. You can’t rule out something just because it’s not cool.”
Was ‘Room On Fire’ a better record than ‘Is This It’?
Nick: “What do you expect me to say – no? Of course this was a better album.”
You’re still looking pretty sharp…
Nikolai: “Well, we never gave that much thought to our looks. It just happens that when you play music to people they wanna see something that’s nice as well. Most of your favourite musicians aren’t butt ugly, you know. It’s obvious really – all you can do is use that as an advantage.”
What’s been playing on your stereo through 2003?
Nikolai: “I enjoyed a few songs on Blur’s ‘Think Tank’.”
Fab: “I haven’t kept too up to-date but I think The White Stripes’ new record’s really good. And the Beyonce single is a fucking excellent song. It’s got fuckin’ great melodies – it’s a really exciting track.”
Julian: “I’ve spent this year listening to kind of random stuff like Bob Marley and Patsy Cline. She has a good voice – it makes me sad and happy. Especially when you’re riding your bicycle through the city and that’s playing.”
Was it hard resisting temptation when you were out on the road?
Fab: “Actually, work takes it out of you more than partying. But it’s also a hell lot of fun, as long as you do it properly. Just remember that you can’t lose sight of keeping yourself healthy.”
Nick: “When you first learn about sinful things, you sort of take advantage of it. I remember one time when I was very young – I think I was about 11 years old – I just overdid it with vodka one night hanging out with me older sister. Since then I haven’t touched a drop of vodka and that was 10 years ago.”
The video for ’12:51′ made the film Tron cool again…
Fab: “It’s such a beautifully made movie that we wanted to use some of those aspects in our music, or against out music. It’s so innovative, it’s like eye candy.”
What books have you read this year?
Julian: “A lot of biographies. I read a cool Johnny Cash autobiography. And I just found this book the other day about Bob Marley that was written by his mother. Some of the stories are really interesting.”
Fab: “I just finished reading Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald. It was really quite a fun book to read because I had just finished reading A Farewell To Arms by Hemingway which was great but also kind of depressing. Now I’m reading this book called The Safety Of Objects by AM Homes which is a collection of interesting short stories.”
The year’s big news story has been Pete Libertine’s prison spell. How would the rest of you feel if Albert burgled your flat?
Fab: “He wouldn’t be able to. I have an incredible security system.”
And for the rest of the band: this year, Fab told NME that one thing he’d never want to do was play a drum solo. If he changed his mind, do you think you’d let him?
Julian: “I don’t know. Maybe if he really had his heart set on it, but I don’t think that’s the kind of thing he would ask me.”
And finally, do the 2003 version of The Strokes still get themselves into street fights?
Nikolai: “We don’t go looking for fights but I’m sure it will happen again some time. We never throw the first punch. It’s always someone else who instigates it and then we have to deal with it.”
Fab: “Hopefully you can fix it peacefully and if not you might be sore the next morning. Fights don’t scare me, though, just because they’re usually picked when I have my four best friends behind me.”
Nikolai Fraiture, the most opinionated bassist in the world, cuts loose on the burning issues of 2003. There’s no holding him back!
Q: Which one of The Strokes do you think is handiest in a fight?
A: “It’s not worth talking about.”
Q: Were you outraged by the recent ban on smoking in public places in New York?
A: “I don’t smoke.”
Q: What records would you take with you if you were going away?
A: “Just what’s nice to listen to.”
Q: What about books?
A: “Whatever I’m interested in at the time.”
Q: What’s the worst it got being in The Strokes?
A: “It got bad, it got pretty bad.”
Q: Did 2003 have a high point when you thought to youself, “Brilliant! It’s all coming together!”?
A: “No, not really. Not yet.”
Q: Would you let Kate Moss pole-dance in your video?
A: “I doubt it.”
Q: Who’s the toughest Stroke?
A: “I don’t know, I have no idea, I think we’re all tough in our own way.”
Q: What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever had?
A: “What’s this got to do with music? I’ll try and answer this as best as I can. What’s my best Christmas present? I can’t think of that. Sorry, I don’t know.”