“People shit on ‘Room on Fire’ because we’re not sucking dick” : The Strokes launch their comeback at Oxgen – with a set to match their fighting talk.

Tonight’s gig at Oxgen is a big deal for The Strokes. It’s their most important major outdoor show since their confusing headlining slot at Reading in 2002; in retrospect they seemed overawed by the size of that gig. It’s their first since ‘Room On Fire’ was released to a muted response and disappointing sales. The acclaim of ‘Is This It’ is becoming a faded memory and Franz Ferdinand are leading the charge of fresher, younger acts keen to prove they are the beating heart of music right now. The nonchalant boys from New York need to prove they can be winners. At this racecourse in the middle of Ireland they have to get the bit between their teeth and charge for the line.

Until very recently Casablancas’ mental and physical well being has been topic of much rumour and suggestion. Today he is in rude health, sitting down with NME and shooting the breeze with less than ten minutes to go before The Strokes are onstage. This gig might be a real litmus test for where the band are at, but there’s a relaxed air backstage. Drew Barrymore and Amanda De Cadanet are floating around, Nick Valensi is adding last minute names to the guestlist and everyone is nursing hangovers after a night with Kings Of Leon. Albert Hammond Jr joins his band’s frontman for the interview.

NME : You’re great fans of The Cure. How do you feel about opening for them?

Julian:
“I’m good, man. I’m excited. I’m glad The Cure are playing after us. It makes it all a little less intense”

What have you been doing back home in New York?

Julian:
“We’ve built a studio and started work on the new album. We’re just working on the new stuff then we had to come here for this. It hasn’t been long enough to have any interesting information”

Albert: “We’re figuring out how it’s all going to work, making demos, being in a studio together”

Do you have a target for releasing the new album?

Julian:
” If it was done in a week it’d be good for me. The sooner the better! We haven’t set ourselves any deadlines. It’s too early to even talk about titles. We’ve just recorded three demos”

‘Room On Fire” wasn’t the success people had hoped for. Were you disappointed?

Julian:
“No, personally, I was happy with it. I thought it was cool but we probably didn’t play the game enough. People’s expectations were that we’d do something different, but we felt like it was 22 songs across two records. We tried hard not to make a typical second record where you talk about the tourbus, and the company being against us. There is a struggle when you think you’re doing something good but people shit on it because you’re not sucking dick. It evolved but it didn’t evolve as insanely as people desired. So we’re going to go back to work and try to do something better”

Albert : “Everything feels new to me. In the new studio, it doesn’t feel like we’re making our third album, it feels like we’re starting from scratch”

There was such intense pressure on the last album, did any cracks appear in the band?

Albert
(Incredulous): “No!”

Julian (More circumspect): “Hmm, well, I think you always have your ups and downs. Always, at the end of a tour, its tough having a bunch of people stuck in a small place doing a bunch of crazy stuff. It’s tough on your mental health”

What are you doing on the new record that is going to be so different?

Julian:
“When we recorded the second record we had almost all the songs almost done with just a couple incomplete, but here we are starting the rehearsal process and recording while we do it”

Albert: “Now we make demos, let the song breathe a bit and see what happens. We never did that before”

Will you try out with another producer?

Julian:
“No it’s Gordon, Gordon all the way. Gordon helped us build the studio”

Will you be dropping new songs into your festival set?

Albert:
“No. If you start playing new songs when you are at this stage you regret it”

Julian, you seem much happier than you have in a while. Is it because you got married recently?

Julian:
“No, I’m not married”

A lot of people say you are; people who might be expected to know

Julian:
“No well… no private talk. For the next year, we just want to work on finishing the album, to evolve and finish a record”

Live tonight, The Strokes are peerless. The sound, which has been muddy for everyone else, is razor sharp. The songs have extra bite too. From opener ‘Reptilia’- which now sounds like a meaty stadium filler – they are all turned up a notch. And some of the excess from ‘Room On Fire’ has been trimmed in favour of older songs. ‘Barely Legal’ makes a welcome return. They even throw in a cover, The Clash’s ‘Clampdown’. And it works

Julian runs the game. If there were ever a time for a captain’s match winning performance, this is it. His voice is on the money and he’s charming and effusive, playing convivial host all night. He has never been more chatty between songs telling the Irish how much he loves them, crossing himself, complementing the Irish girls and saying things about “those good looking boys” in Kings of Leon. He even talks about his heroes, The Cure. He’s halfway between the lazy shrug of Dean Martin at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and the vicious bite of Robert De Niro in Mean Streets.

Albert and Fab are still the cool kids, Nikolai with his sweatband and sunglasses appears to be turning into a character from The Royal Tenenbaums and Nick is starting to look properly comfortable as a guitar god. Its all here; what more could you need? Franz Ferdinand and Kings Of Leon might be nipping at their heels, The Libertines, Razorlight and The Killers may scent blood, but The Strokes are still ahead of the pack. Crisis averted – The Strokes return. And this is just the start of it.