Why did you start a rock band in New York in the 21st century ?
Julian: To hear some good music at last and also to meet people. There was no plan, no certainty. Just the need to find ourselves and it takes time to overcome our shyness. Anyway, in spite of all that has happened around us, it’s still hard to talk to girls.
Today, is life easier on stage than outside?
Albert: We could actually start to wonder. Everything is so intense on stage, we can neglect ourselves. But, if we had these adrenalin rushes permanently, it would end in an OD. It’s hard drugs, you know, it would make me crazy. But a perfect day ends, to me, with a concert.
What you’ve done in 1 year is amazing. Do you feel in control of everything that has happened to you?
Julian: It’s like driving a fast car; Okay, you go very fast, but we hold the steering-wheel tight. We are pretty good drivers. And though, every evening, before going on stage, I wonder, “Why do I deserve to be here? Why should people be interested?” I think I’m very normal, a voice without interest. I don’t believe a single word of what I read about us. All these eulogies are so exaggerated. I know where we come from. I didn’t forget the years when we were nothing. Why the same songs, that everybody ignored in those days, should be so successful now?
Nick: There is a strange cohabitation in my body between who I was before and who I am now. It’s very strange to go back home after a tour and to be with my family and my friends .
Nikolai: That’s why neither our friends nor we believe what the press says. We all see these “Strokes of magazines” as creatures completely separated from us. We look at them with distance and amusement. If I really become what is said in the press, my elder brother would kick my ass.
From anonymity to fame, how do your bodies react ?
Nikolai: Today, we are, I hope, out of this mess after having been through exhausting moments. After the release of the album, we have toured too much, we fell in with all possible excesses. We wanted Rock ‘n’ Roll, well we had it. And going through these tough and exhausting moments together brought us closer. There were too many “unsaid” things, we had to burst the bubble and to have a rest, that was vital.
That’s why you seriously abandoned Europe to concentrate yourselves on the US market?
Nikolai: We had to go to some US places where we had never been. And people in Europe were upset about it. Especially British people who reproached us for letting them down. The British press thinks they created The Strokes, and that we should be more thankful. Touring in US, for us, is less exhausting, funnier and more relaxing.
Have you been able to write new songs in the past year?
Nikolai: We’ve done only 2 songs since the release of our first EP, in more than 1 year… We can’t wait to go back to New York to polish them up, to get back to our rehearsal room, our references points. But I already know that it will be hard to make an album after Is This It because our requirements are far higher. Not only will the songs will have to be better, but also recorded differently. The Strokes must progress.
Do you miss the time when you were writing your first album, when you were not famous?
Nikolai: I miss those days… We did that for a whole year: rehearsing again and again, always the same songs until we could play them perfectly. No one expected them, it was only for pleasure. But now, we know we have to make an album for other people.
Why are The Strokes so successful today?
Nick: Impossible to know how our passion and the public got connected. I used to watch a lot of educational TV programs like Discovery Channel when I was a kid, I would feel like being one of those journalists if I try to analyze this. It would be like saying to the camera , in the middle of the jungle, :” So, this is how the gorillas, that we’ve been observing for months, behave”. I don’t know why we are successful, but I do know I would pay to go to see The Strokes. We would be my favorite band.
Fab: We deserve it, we worked so hard, rehearsed so much to be where we are, to strengthen our wall. And looking from the audience, it seems a real, passionate and controlled show.
Nikolai: The public welcomed us so warmly, because it felt like it wasn’t fake, that we are as casual, simple and gracious as our songs. There’s no second degree in us, that makes us more accessible.
With your image, you created a fashion that spreads widely from the rock scene, how does that feel?
Nikolai: We recently played in Birmingham, and in the crowd, while we were playing, I saw our drummer, Fabrizio. The guy was dressed like him and had the same hair cut. There, it begins to be scaring. But, well, we won’t take the fatherhood of this image. There were ties before The Strokes. (laugh) …
Before The Strokes, did you rehearse your pop stars’ roles in front of the family mirror?
Julian: I used to answer interviews under the shower “so how do you think we can save the planet?” “Well, it’s very simple…” (laugh). I was only dreaming about that, to be on stage, to play in a band, since I was 8… I was watching Michael Jackson’s videos and telling myself: “I would give anything to be at his place”.
Nick: When we were kids, we were all dreamers. For me, it was a full time job. It’s good to dream.
Signing with the London label Rough Trade is very symbolical: the label discovered groups to which you are compared, from the Smiths to the Feelies. This choice can’t be innocent.
Nikolai: I would like to say it was part of a big plan but it happened by accident. Before they contacted us, we never heard about them. But their enthusiasm, much more than their past, has seduced us. They had to be courageous to believe in some kids from New York without any reputation. We had the chance to choose the people with which we work , without accepting any asshole in our circle.
Julian: We’ve never been keen references. I just listen to songs without caring if the singer is cool or not. I don’t even know who sings on many songs that I love, and which are mixed on tapes, and I don’t care. I even don’t look at the notes on the covers of the albums. Event if I always hang out with real music fans who knew everything. But I was ashamed, I used to stay quiet on my side. I couldn’t take part in the conversations.
Did you personally negotiate your contract ?
Julian: We couldn’t delegate, we absolutely want a complete control on every artistic decisions. We arrived with a lawyer, who was our spokesman, but with the firmness and the expertise that we don’t have. We had seen too many bands get fucked with a big amount of money and who became prisoners of their record company. They all become, little by little, accomplice of this business, they start to believe what is written about them; imagine they are artists; untouchable ! The idea of musical progress, of musical challenge don’t even come to their mind. We shall never forget this rule : progressing and improving. We all count on each other to remind us, if one or many of us forget it.
We imagined you would be unconcerned and laid back. We didn’t imagine you’d be so serious.
Julian: This idea of the lazy wealthy kids from a wealthy family …. No we’re not that. On the contrary, we are hard workers, even obsessive. We spend so much time playing and rehearsing in our underground studio, that it can end up becoming silly. During entire days, we don’t know if it’s day or night. It demands so much work to sound so “unconcerned” and simple.
Albert: Fortunately, there’s always our guru with us in studio, JP. He is a musical encyclopedia. So he looked after the whole recording of the album, he was the only one who could find the words to translate our ideas. He is a link between us and our producer, we couldn’t understand or be understood by people outside of the group. We use our own language, our own signs, our humor. It’s the only way to decide who will be part of our world. We are not many : we fold up more and more with the same friends.
How did you become friends at first?
Julian: Two of us arrived in a private school in Switzerland. I felt I had nothing in common with the others. They were so different from people I knew in New York, they were obsessed by clothes Haut Couture. I missed New York so much, it’s really a part of my soul. Meeting Albert was a relief. At last, someone with whom I could talk. There was immediately something, a feeling of complementarity. We talked a lot of music, of our band plans. We gave ourselves 2 years to create a band or to bury this dream. After 2 years, we gave ourselves 2 more years, (laugh).
Albert: We have no secrets between us. Everything has been shared for a year. I know exactly how the ass of the 4 others look like. (laugh). We are so close that our private life nearly doesn’t exist. We couldn’t even keep a relationship secret: impossible to prevent us telling the others every personal or indelicate details.
Is there in your success a kind of revenge?
Julian: It is a joyful revenge on people to whom I said – or dreamt to say -, when I was 13 or 14, :”One day you’ll see and you’ll regret it”. I knew that one day, I would prove them that I would do something personal and worth-while. Today, we are in magazines and loads of people still look for something bad in us. Nothing changes.
Can we say there is a gang spirit between you?
Nick: It is not really a gang, much more a love story. We sleep together in the same bed (laugh)…From the first rehearsing on, we felt something special happened, something which needed to be looked after and brought up. It was even a bit scared : we didn’t expect that, we thought we couldn’t do anything interesting. The beauty of it is that we all learned together, from each other.
Albert: It doesn’t mean we don’t argue, often some very dirty personal stuff. It usually ends in wrestling. We tell the others to fuck off and 30 minutes later, we kiss, we hug as brothers.
Reactions to some legendary people and places from New York Rock’n’ roll with Nikolai Fraiture
CBGB: We never knew New York before Julian, we were too young but everybody tells us the city was wild then. It’s more organized, safer today but ineluctably cleaner. Ten years ago, you could smoke pot in Central Park without being arrested. Thus, from the CBGB, we only know what this mythical place became: a bar without any interest, nearly a museum! But we managed to play there once, the pleasure of being on this stage, between a rap band and a metal band, a very sad experience. The place just went back to what it was: a crappy club. Because, this name comes from Country, Blue-Grass & Blues : the kind of music they had. Until one day a guitarist convinced the boss to let him play on Sunday evenings. It was Tom Verlaine with Television , which made the CBGB the mythical concert place at the end of the seventies.
Tom Verlaine: Pure beauty, a fantastic man. We’ve learnt 2 or 3 things from him. JP, our guru, made us discover those guitarists who know how to express very powerful things in only 2 or 3 notes. Jon Spencer is one of them, he only needs a guitar and a drum to create pure rock’n roll.
Joey Ramone: We already miss him. A great guy, a real dude. Fucked up. Ugly. For us, punk rock didn’t start with the Ramones but with Nirvana. We’ve been to sources only later on. As the Velvet, they arrived at the right time, just before the music turns into something pompous or nice. Even if I don’t regularly listen to these records, nobody escapes New York. That’s where we grew up, our music too. The city made us and manipulated our songs. They have in themselves this mix between tension and relaxation, a very new-yorker feeling.
Blondie: She is marvelous. I’ve always preferred her concerts to her records : on their albums, you can’t imagine how a real great band it was. Rough and raw. When we were kids, we were exchanging a lot of records. I remember Albert or Nick running to my place with a CD in one hand, “You must absolutely listen to this incredible thing from the late seventies.” We listened to the music together.
Johnny Thunder: The real Johnny, a symbol of cool. It’s a pity that all those drugs have damaged his creativity. He deserved so much more. I was lucky to have an elder brother who was fond of rock’n’ roll, he collected all that stuff. When I was a young kid, he bought me a Sonic Youth album and the best of the Velvet Underground for Christmas. Since then, I tried to learn more about Johnny Thunder, by listening to the New York Dolls for example. But there’s nothing to do: I don’t get into it. It’s not the kind of records that my parents had, we used to listen to Marley, the Doors or the Stones at home. And Serge Gainsbourg or George Brassens, whom my mother adored.
RZA, from WU TANG: A huge man. We don’t mess with the Wu Tang Clan. Julian dreams to play chess against him. Among all of us, Albert owns more records, he has the wider taste. But he owns so many records that he has been robbed many times. He is our supplier. After 6 years of friendship, I haven’t been through his whole collection yet.
Lou Reed: I thought you had forgotten him ! We could be very upset to always be compared to the Velvets, but we don’t care. I take it as a compliment, not as a shame. I like the way he took the opposite way to the hippies in the late 60s. Few years ago, he was signing books in a library. Julian queued, he hasn’t forgotten any of the comments that Lou Reed told as he was signing. Arriving in front of him, he couldn’t help it, he said, “it’s not for me. Can you sign it for The Strokes?”