Valensi also gives an update on new Strokes music: 'We're also in the process of getting songs together for an album that we want to put out, hopefully next year'
The members of New York alt-rock quintet the Strokes have had a robust output of material outside of their primary project’s five albums. But one Stroke, 35-year-old guitarist Nick Valensi, has yet to go solo. He’ll remedy that in October, when he’s set to release New Skin, the debut album of his new band CRX.
“I never really had the urge to front a band, but something hit me hard and I wanted to get on stage,” Valensi tells EW. The guitarist was spurred by the Strokes’ decision not to tour behind their most recent studio album, 2013’s Comedown Machine.
To assist him with the project, Valensi recruited Queens of the Stone Age mastermind (and recent Iggy Pop collaborator) Josh Homme to produce. The two had met at a Strokes show in 2003 and became closer when Valensi moved to Los Angeles in the mid ’00s. “This was my first time out as a singer, first time out as a lyricist,” Valensi says. “There were definitely moments in this process where I could dip into second guessing myself. Josh was there every time to reassure me and to keep me on track.”
Read on for EW’s full conversation with Valensi and hear CRX’s first single, “Ways to Fake It,” below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you decide this was the right time to put together this album and this project?
NICK VALENSI: I just got the urge to start playing more. I didn’t have the urge for a long time and then all of a sudden I was like, “Man, I want to get onstage and I want to go on tour and I want to start performing again.” Like when Forrest Gump just got the urge to run and so he just started running and then running felt really good, so he just kept on running — I’m kind of in the beginning stage of that right now.
How did the project come together?
The idea was to get some music together, to get onstage, and have songs to perform. I started by myself demoing songs, working at home. For the first time ever in my life, [I was] writing songs with the intention of actually being the singer on the songs, which I had never done before. In the beginning it was me by myself, writing songs and learning how to sing and what I wanted to say. Little by little, I brought guys in one by one. The band kind of came together in an organic way. I’m lucky that I didn’t have to audition anyone to be in this band or anything — we’re all friends.
After so many years not singing, was it weird to hear your voice playing back on these recordings?
I’m not going to lie: It took a little bit of getting used to. It took me a long time to wrap my head around being a singer — and then teaching myself how to do it. Being able to [sing] is different from wanting to which is also different from being really good at it. I just wanted to take the time to woodshed. I didn’t want to come out not sounding great. It was a deliberate learning process for me.
It’s funny for me, because I resisted being a singer for a long time and I’m not even really sure why. Probably just because growing up as a kid I identified with Izzy and Slash. I didn’t identify with Axl.
GnR was a big touchstone for you, I take it.
I was like five years old when Appetite came out. It’s the first cassette I ever bought, the first album I ever bought, the first piece of music that I was actually into on my own. It wasn’t my parents’ thing, it wasn’t my older sister’s thing. It was my thing that I listened to on my Walkman incessantly. And in a large way it’s what made me want to play guitar, play rock music, and be in a band. Guns n Roses was a kind of formative band for me.
How long were the sessions? When did Josh Homme become involved?
It was an on and off process.The idea for this album came to me after the last Strokes LP. We didn’t tour it at all, we didn’t do any shows to promote it. It was at that point that I was like, “Man, I wanted to go on tour and I want to do shows.” That’s when I started writing songs. After about a year and a half is when I approached Josh Homme with about eight songs I had demoed at home. I felt like they were good, but something was missing from them, probably due in large part to the fact I had just made them at home. But I believed in them and I approached Josh for insight and advice. I knew that I wanted to work with a producer; I wanted to get his take on producers that I could work with.
I played him the songs and I was pleasantly surprised at how into the songs he was. I don’t wanna say he flipped out, but he was way more into the music than I expected. I threw it out there that maybe [he’d] produce — and he was on board right away.
What did he add to New Skin?
One of my worries with these eight songs that I approached him with was that they were incongruent. Half of them were power-pop leaning, like Cheap Trick or the Cars or Elvis Costello. The other half of the songs were a little bit more aggressive and a little bit more uptempo. I don’t want to say heavy metal, because they’re not really heavy metal songs, but kind of like a hipster-diet heavy metal. When I approached Josh, I was a little bit concerned about how the album might feel like two separate things, and he assured me right off the bat that that was one of the things that he loved about it. He wanted me to bounce back and forth between these two things. It was his idea to actually even highlight that more.
He was adamant that I wasn’t bringing him on board to make my record sound like Queens of the Stone Age. I think he wanted to push himself as a producer as much as he wanted to push me as the writer and the performer on the record. He wanted to do stuff that he maybe hadn’t done before and that people might not associate him with.
Can you give any update about new Strokes music?
Strokes are doing pretty great. They’re all pretty excited for me, super supportive, which feels great and I’m very thankful for. We’re also in the process of getting songs together for an album that we want to put out, hopefully next year, but we’re in the very early stages of just getting together and writing songs.