Q&A: Julian Casablancas on His Solo Album and the Strokes' Return

The frontman discusses songwriting and fatherhood

julian casablancas the strokes austin city limits
C Flanigan/Getty Images
Julian Casablancas of the Strokes performs at Austin City Limits.
By |

After a four-year break, Julian Casablancas and the Strokes are back, laboring away at a fourth album and prepping for a headlining gig at Lollapalooza. But don't expect Casablancas to sound superpsyched about it. "There's many different musical things I wanna do," says the singer, who released his first solo album, Phrazes for the Young, last November and is touring behind it. "And I'm happy to do the Strokes thing as well." After the Lollapalooza show – and headlining dates at Outside Lands and Austin City Limits – the band will return to the studio. "I know a lot of people are excited to hear a new Strokes album." Casablancas says. "So I'm excited to do it for them."

Fans are going nuts for old Strokes songs at the reunion gigs, what's that like for you?
For some people, the Strokes are just this fun memory – "Get wasted and party!" That's cool, but that whole, like, [in drunk-guy voice] "rock & roll!" thing – I just never was into that. It's all good and fun, but it's not where my head is at. I'm always on to the new thing, even if it's a new Strokes song. I'd rather play songs I'm working on at the moment, but who the hell would want to see that?

What led you toward the super-busy arrangements on your solo LP?
On the first Strokes record, I wanted stuff to be simple. This time, I wanted to make it complex – two different melodies, two drum beats. Kind of a rainbow, mega thing. I originally threw the kitchen sink in there, and actually pulled back 80 percent of it. Next time, I would probably go the other way, do it simpler. Maybe I offended some people's ears – "There's too many notes," like in Amadeus [laughs].

Did you present these songs to the Strokes first?
One song: "Ludlow St." It got a bit of a nonreaction.

So that nonreaction led to you doing a solo album?
I don't even know where to start. In the early days, I wanted to learn from the troubles of bands in the past and not bicker or be greedy, so the idea was that we'd share everything equally. I was writing all the songs, but I thought [sharing credit] would make us closer or make them appreciate ine. But I think it had the opposite effect: It caused a little bit of contempt, and that's where some of the problems arose. Things became a little difficult. The straw that broke the camel's back might have been the three solo records [from group members]. It wasn't an angry reaction on my part, it was a logical thing.

What's the situation with the band now?
It's in a good place now. In the end, 1 can't put forth my vision in the Strokes like I used to, so we're going forward as a collaboration – maybe that's better. The Crazy, random ideas – I can do that with solo stuff. I can't be happy if I have to dilute things too much.

Are you writing for your next solo project?
I'm always writing something. I've got so much stuff, I don't know what to do with it. Some of it will be Strokes, some of it will be I don't know what – stuff for pop singers. TV themes. I've got a jar stuffed with songs, all these ideas that are just me humming into a recording device. My next thing is 1 want to write the new TV theme song for the Mets. I'm totally serious – I have some ideas, I have to see if they like it. . . . I'd also love to produce a Pearl Jam song. That would be a dream, because I'm a fan.

Your son is six months old – have you figured out what kind of dad you want to be?
It's so funny with a baby. It's instinctual, not intellectual. It's not like you're rationalizing, "Would I jump off a cliff for my kid?" You just jump. You just want to be a loving and close family. But we'll see. Maybe I'll be a terrible dad [laughs]. What do I know?

After recording your album in Los Angeles and Omaha, you went back to Manhattan. Are you ready to move to Brooklyn?
Yeah, the cultural center – you're not allowed to be a new band if you're not from Brooklyn. It's cool and all. I dig the vibes there, but nah. I just can't do it.

This story is from the August 19th, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.


From The Archives Issue 1111: August 19, 2010