Interview: Julian Casablancas

By Will Oliver, November 24th 2014 — with 4 comments Interview

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(photo taken at Governors Ball 2014)

Julian Casablancas is a man that needs no introduction. When he’s not fronting a little rock band known as The Strokes, he’s singing along with Daft Punk or doing his own solo work with his new band The Voidz.

He’s currently on tour with The Voidz in support of their debut album Tyranny. They’re dropping back into New York City tomorrow night for a homecoming show at The Hammerstein along with Shabazz Palaces and Blood Orange. (Tickets are on sale here)

I had the honor and privilege of chatting with Julian over the phone last Friday night, right before he performed with The Voidz in Toronto. We spoke about the new project, life on the road, what success means to him at this point in his career, as well as the goal of his label Cult Records.

Find our conversation posted below.

Will: Hey Julian, hows it going up there in Toronto, did you run into any of that snowstorm in passing?

Julian: Not the one on the news but we had some scary moments on lonely mountains in Montana. White out conditions that had us worried about us missing parts of the tour, but we powered through.

W: So how’s the tour been going?

J: It’s been awesome, its been cool. I just played a little soccer match with Cerebal Ballzy.

W: Very cool. Is that your pre-show ritual?

J: No, I wish it was. I’m always bothering people to play soccer. People in the band, people in other bands. I’m just like “Hey, you wanna play?” I’m like a kid that no one wants to play with. “Get out of here kid!”

W: I saw you guys at the Cedar Street Courtyard show at SXSW in March, as well as Governors Ball this summer. Now that you’ve got quite a few shows under your belt since then, do you feel like you guys have grown tighter as a live band?

J: We’ve come a little ways I think. You saw us at our first show ever, and those were all like rehearsal shows. I think we’ve finally come together. What we can do in a tiny room together, I think now we can convey that to a large audience. It took a little while but I think we’re there. It feels good, feels fun, the shows have been cool. All the audiences have been great. It’s been rad. It’s been wonderballs!

W: So you must be excited for the New York homecoming show at Hammerstein next week.

J: Oh man, I’m excited in many different ways to come back. Yeah. I wanna be home! (singing)

W: The lineup is pretty insane. I saw Blood Orange was just added to the bill.

J: I’m honored. I’m over-honored. He (Dev Hynes) is the best. Did you see his Jimmy Kimmel performance? It’s mindblowing. Look it up. It solidified him on the baddest musician on the planet for me. He’s a special, special being.

W: Talk to me about Tyranny. It’s a much different record than Phrazes for the Young, which was very much a solo record of your own. This time around you had The Voidz along for the ride. How did they impact the sound and direction of the album?

J: I like having opinions, from people that I love the way they play. From their taste, as well as who they are as people. I guess they’re like filters, and I’m their filter. We filter each other. We take turns being each others little brothers. Everyone does so much cool stuff individually and when we come together we seem to somehow find a chemistry. I don’t know how, we are all so different. Theoretically it shouldn’t work, but it works like a puzzle in a special way.

W: Was the plan to always go in with them for the record, or did you originally set out to do your own thing solo and it came together that way?

J: I was definitely looking for a band vibe. Theres something about making a record and you playing it, and its not the same people who made the record. It’s just different. I’ve always wanted to collaborate, that’s always been the mission. Even earlier on when I did most of it, if not all of it (the writing), on some of the songs (with The Strokes). The goals always been to collaborate. I found that and its been cool. It took a while, it took a long time.

W: I read in another interview you did recently that the album was originally titled Qualia? Can you talk to me about that word, it makes an appearance in “Father Electricity”

J: Yeah, we thought it was a real cool name and meaning (the way you perceive everything or consciousness, beyond words, feeling things), but we thought it was too much of a word that no one would understand. Tyranny felt more fitting for the vibe and music, and sounded like an iconic title. I thought it would at least be something that people understood. I think there are different ways of using the word, and I feel weird when I hear people pronounce it differently. Maybe you need to see Pulp Fiction to hear Samuel L Jackson voice say “the tyranny of evil men.” I assumed that most people would know what it means. If you don’t it’s no big deal. So for people who think it’s a weird word, there was originally a weirder word.

And I feel that way about the music too. As much as some people use words that make it sound like we are being super weird, we’re actually trying to make music that we think is special and awesome and maybe more underground, and try to make it more accessible.

W: That leads in perfectly to my next question. At this stage of your career, I imagine it’s really important for you to take more risks and do things more so for yourself, than to please other people. I saw a lot of this in Tyranny. As the frontman of a band that (lets just say) quite a few people idolize, does it ever worry you about the reception to such a different/edgier direction? What does success mean to you at this point?

J: Hmmm…I want to make things that sound good. I’ve always had the same process, there’s nothing different. You do music half for yourself, half for other people. If not, then why would you even share it with everyone if you’re doing it for yourself? What I tried with this record, and went more with how I used to think when we were doing the first two (Strokes) records, if I do what I believe is good objectively in my heart, people would like that more in the long run than if I’m trying to just please people…if I’m trying to guess what other people will like.

With Cult Records too, the slogan, the motto, everything, is trying to make quality mainstream. It’s not trying to be just artsy and like “I don’t care how this does,” we are just trying to reach as many people as possible, but we are not compromising it in order to do that.

W: That’s a great outlook, I wish more labels went out and did that with the same belief.

J: (laughs) It’s not a very good money making model, that’s the problem with that. It’s a very long term approach. There’s not much art in commerce. Commercial art is almost an oxymoron. But once in a while you have the magical thing that happens like Star Wars or Thriller, but things are usually commercial or artistic, and not usually both. But that sweet spot, that’s the goal.

W: There’s a lot going on sound wise on this record. For me, it took a few listens to really get a good solid grasp on everything and let it truly sink in. “Human Sadness” is a great example of this. It’s a song that has really stuck with me. From the structure to its length, it’s epic and ambitious in every way. What was the process like bringing that song to life?

J: I had these demos with these melodies, and I thought there was a weird pattern emerging with similar chord progression. I felt like doing a long song, I thought it was time to go there. “Paranoid Android,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “November Rain,” “Heroin,” “The End,” you know, great long songs.

Alex (The Voidz Drummer), he made the loop, the requiem chord (the Mozart thing), and he played that for me and that just elevated me off the floor. It really moved me, and I can listen to that for hours. I thought it was so cool and powerful. So I guess I worked on that song separately, and little by little things became apparent that some of the melodies from these other mega songs that I was saving. Then Jeremy was playing his critter guitari by himself in the studio when I walked in, I started singing over it and that became the breakdown bridge. The heavy part was a jam that we did at one point. So as it was developed I realized that this was going to be the long song. It took a long time to work it out. It’s the song we worked on the most. I never worked on a song that was that emotionally challenging, that made me feel like breaking down and crying before (laughs). It was really intense.

W: I’ve noticed out of all The Strokes songs, you’ve kept “Ize Of The World” pretty consistently in The Voidz setlists. Is this because it fits in thematically with the songs of Tyranny?

J: I think it fits thematically, also there was a thing that always bothered me about the verse, so we tried to fix it. I always had this idea for the verse of the song, so I thought it was a good outlet for that. I always preface it with “this is a cover song now.” Just the verse always bugged me, so we messed with it. It’s different, but subtle, so I don’t think people can notice. It was a reason to do it, and it does fit thematically, but it’s supposed to be thought of as a cover. Right now, we just fell into this set, it’s kind of working. I like doing 1, or 2, or 3, Strokes songs, cause it’s still stuff that I did, but it’s a new band, so I’m not trying to dilute it too much and make it the “Julian Casablancas hour.”

W: With that said, can you give us a little update on The Strokes? I’ve heard you guys may be getting together soon to record a new record soon if the vibe is right?

J: Yeah, you know its not like the door is shut or anything. It’s on the agenda for sure.

W: So what can fans expect to see at Hammerstein on Tuesday?

J: Is this the selling time? Emotional highs and lows. (laughs). Get there early for Blood Orange, you got Shabazz Palaces, who are the coolest, art hip hop? I don’t know what you want to call it.

W: They’re ahead of the game in some ways.

J: Oh my god, its sad. Its lonely in the future all alone. So yeah, expect a little glimpse into the future.

We were playing “Take Me In Your Army” at soundcheck (we may not play it) and Mel (from Cerebal Ballazy) walked in and said “It sounds like the soundtrack to the end of the world,” and I thought that was..a nice compliment.

W: Someone’s gotta play us out.

J: We’re doing the video for “Human Sadness” based on the “and the band played on theme”

W: Awesome, when can we expect that?

J: I’d say, two weeks, if we are lucky. A little early Christmas present.

W: Awesome, thanks for taking some time to chat with me, Julian. Good luck at your show tonight, and I’ll see you at Hammerstein. I’ll see you in the photo pit.

J: Oh awesome, you’re gonna be taking photos?

W: Yeah, I’ll be the tall guy there with a Yankees hat. You can’t miss me, I promise.

J: Oooh. I might knock that thing off your head though. (laughs) Just kidding

W: I’ll be ready

J: I’m just kidding..well we’ll see when you get there

Tickets for Julian Casablancas + The Voidz show at Hammerstein tomorrow night are still on sale. Head here to pick some up.

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[…] Alex [Carapetis, baterista] fez o loop, com os acordes de Requiem (aquela do Mozart), e depois ele a tocou para mim e isso me tirou do chão. Realmente mexeu comigo e eu poderia ouvi-la por horas. Eu achei tão legal e poderoso. Então eu acho que eu trabalhei nessa música separadamente e, de pouco em pouco, ficou evidente que eu teria que adicionar algumas melodias de outras canções que eu estava guardando. Depois disto, Jeremy [Gritter, guitarrista e tecladista] estava tocando guitarra sozinho no estúdio quando eu entrei e então comecei a cantar por cima e isso acabou virando… Read more »







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