The Strokes, New York’s newest rock bad boys, fresh from the depths of prep school in Switzerland and the Bourgeois streets of SoHo, put out their first album in September, 2001 in a swirl of hype that could have destroyed them but has since propelled them into full-fledged Indie rock gods.
The band’s bassist, Nikolai Fraiture, was gracious enough to chat with Charles Wasserman over the phone and spoke about the bands upcoming album, the media, and most importantly, the music.
Do you feel that your band has affected this whole new trendy rock style, which includes Avril Lavigne, Pink and Nick Carter?
Nikolai Fraiture: I don’t think that we started it; I think that rock ‘n roll has always been there and there’s just been a resurgence into the mainstream with us and bands like The White Stripes and The Hives.
Right… so you feel like you guys have become mainstream then?
Nikolai: Well these other artists (Lavigne, etc.) have picked up on it and tried to milk it as much as they can, but we’re not completely in the mainstream, no. If it becomes mainstream then it’s out of our hands, but we didn’t compromise just to become mainstream, you know?
Yeah, but do you think that it’s bad to become mainstream or do you think that if you really have talent and can prove that you’re really talented musicians and have a great band, that you deserve the recognition of actually becoming popular and selling a bunch of albums and being remembered 20 years down the road?
Nikolai: I think that what’s important to remember is that if you do become mainstream, who knows if that is going to happen to us, but that you have to remember that it’s about music. The mainstream usually has a tendency to commercialize music in a bad way. Then you start writing for the wrong people instead of for yourself and for your band.
And do you actually think about your fans when you’re writing your music, or are you guys doing it for yourselves and hoping that your fans will appreciate it afterwards?
Nikolai: We really write music for ourselves. That’s why we started, you know. We used to get together after school and just play. We don’t write specifically for our fans, but we are still happy that they appreciate it.
Some critics are naturally critical of you guys, as it is with any band that is getting so much press; but, one thing that I can’t really seem to find anyone to dispute is the fact that you guys are primarily a live band and that you put on a great live show. How important is playing live for you?
Nikolai: Well, to us, first of all, the music is a priority; it’s what lasts the longest. After the award shows and the newspaper articles, it’s the music that’s still standing. We’re from New York and if you don’t have a good live show you don’t make it in New York. If you’re not able to perform well live then New York is very unforgiving. I mean, you have to have the songs, then you’ve got to be able to perform them- really well- in front of lots of people.
So what’s it like playing in bigger places?
Nikolai: The places that we are playing right now are not that much bigger. You know in Toronto it was an arena but cut into one corner of the room. We’re not actually playing arenas or stadiums on this tour.
What about playing the big music festivals in England?
Nikolai: Those festivals, it’s just weird being up on stage. It’s just an entire mass of people that at a certain point you can’t tell how many people there actually are. It’s a little crazy. It’s great, though; there’s a bunch of cool bands there and it’s always a lot of fun to play.
Looking at old interviews with you guys, before you put your first album out, you had done quite a lot of press. It seemed like you guys were being both criticized and praised but no one had even heard your music yet, and there was all of this hype going around, obviously this wasn’t exactly fair treatment. Did this make you weary of the press, and if so, are you still weary of them today?
Nikolai: You have to always be weary of the media because they’re there only when it’s going good, and not when it’s not. It’s kind of half and half, you know, because it’s a tool for us and we’re a tool for them.
I saw you and Fab (drums) on Much Music the other day, and it seemed like you weren’t exactly having the best time there. You seem to be a lot more talkative today. Do you find it a lot easier to do magazine interviews, or is it just the cameras or the phoniness of doing TV that throws you off?
Nikolai: Well they didn’t really prepare us all that well for that show. I didn’t know that it was going to be a large audience in a studio. I thought it was just going to be a quiet interview. So yeah, I kind of got thrown off, but I thought it was ok. It was just the atmosphere there, I wasn’t exactly intimidated but it just reminded me of TRL in the States and I don’t really like those kinds of shows.
Tell me about your songwriting process does Julian (vocals) write all of the songs or is it a group effort?
Nikolai: Julian comes in with a melody and we all work on it together. It’s just us five talking about it and working together on every part of the song.
Are you guys feeling the pressure for your second album? The sophomore jinx? You are already showcasing some of your new songs and they seem to be going over pretty well. Does that relieve you?
Nikolai: It’s not really a relief, we’re just happy that the songs that we’re writing are good and that our audiences like them. We just feel that it’s important to progress musically and to not stagnate with one style.
Can you relate to why people are getting excited about your band? You guys are clearly on the other side of things , but say that there was another band like yours, who came out of nowhere and were proclaimed to be the new saviors of rock and all that. Do you think that you would get excited about them or would you hang back and wait to see if all the rumors were true?
Nikolai: We don’t really listen to newspaper articles that’s not why we like the bands that we do. You know, we would probably hate ourselves if we weren’t in The Strokes and we had heard of a band like us.
Is there a tentative date for your new album?
Nikolai: Well there’s a tentative sort of area. We’d start recording in January. The production usually takes a couple of months, so the album will be out then.
Are there any current bands that you guys have been listening to lately?
Nikolai: The Realistics. They’re friends of ours from New York. The singer’s got a great falsetto.
How about Har Mar Superstar (opened for The Strokes in Toronto)? He was pretty funny- any comments about him?
Nikolai: Yeah he’s cool. We saw him play in New York at the Mercury Lounge and we asked him to come on tour with us.
Do you guys feel happy with where you’re at right now, or do you feel that things could be improving for your band?
Nikolai: Right now, things are going great. Everything we’ve hoped for and more is happening. We have creative control over our record company and we’re doing exactly what we want to do.