Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi missed playing live music in front of crowds, so he started his own band, CRX. Stepping out from his support role in the Strokes, Valensi has adapted to his lead role as writer/singer/frontman incredibly well. His new album, New Skin, bears the unmistakable mark of producer and QOTS front man, Josh Homme. New Skin ventures beyond Strokes territory and into harder, rougher, dirtier riffs that have their own unique charm. We caught up with Nick on tour as he makes his way to Austin for Saturday night’s show at Stubbs.
I know after the last Strokes album, Comedown Machine, you were unable to go on tour. How is it being back on the road?
It’s been so much fun to be honest with you. We are having a really good time playing cool clubs that I haven’t played since our first early Strokes tours. Last night we were in San Diego and we played a club called the Casbah that I played in 2001 with the Strokes. Its cool pulling into these clubs, I find myself walking in and feeling like this is exactly why I wanted to start this band and this is exactly what I want to be doing right now.
How did you bring the guys in CRX together?
It was something I started on my own, almost in secret, with a feeling that I wanted to put something together. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sing on it or front the whole thing. I was desperate to get back on stage and get back on tours. I basically started writing songs at home on my laptop and spent the better part of a year doing that. I got about three quarters of the way through and then hit a wall and kind of lost perspective a little bit. I had a feeling that I was on to something good, but I needed help to finish it. So I reached out to some friends that I had a lot of respect for musically and had trust in. I reached out to them, played some of my demos and got some positive feedback. That feedback turned into collaboration pretty quickly and before I knew it I had these guys helping me finish writing this album.
You’ve said this album has a grungier, heavier feel than Strokes songs. Are you a closet metal-head?
It’s no secret. I am not in the closet. I’m not trying to hide it. One of the first bands that I loved that my parents didn’t expose me too was Guns & Roses. I’ve always loved early 80’s thrash stuff and British metal. I don’t think it’s a guilty pleasure. I’m not embarrassed to admit I like music like that. Even bands like Mastodon or System of a Down, there are still bands out there making awesome, heavy shit.
Josh Homme produced your album. I hear he is a bit of a perfectionist, how was it working with him?
It was great. I’m really grateful to have gotten him onboard with the record. He was so instrumental in shaping the sound of it and making it what it is. It was great person for me to reach out to because he wasn’t the singer in his first band, he was a lead guitar player that reluctantly transitioned to a lead singer, and that was what I was facing as well. So there was no one better to reach out too and get insights than him. To be honest, he was one of those friends I reached out too at the time when I needed help finishing the record. At first I was just looking for feedback, but his response was really positive and we started talking about all these ideas around production. One thing led to another and I just asked him to do it and he jumped on board.
Did he have any unorthodox tactics in helping you record?
There was one song we were working on- I can’t remember which one. We were having a tough time nailing the low end of this song and it was a mixing thing. He just wanted this modern hip-hop vibe. He said I want you guys to listen to this and I’ll be back in 45 minutes, and then he put on Missy Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On” and didn’t return for several hours.
On one hand, you don’t have all the expectations that come with a new Strokes album and on the other this is you stepping out on your own. Do you feel a higher degree of pressure being that this is your own project?
Look I want people to like it but I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. I started this thing because I wanted to be playing music more. I wanted to have fun with music and I think that I’ve achieved that. This band was never about me trying to prove anything to anyone.
I saw that you are a big fan of Hamilton the play, have you ever thought of crossing over to entertainment. Like film, plays, or television?
It’s never been on my radar but I would never be opposed to doing that. I love doing music in any capacity. I would love to do movie soundtracks or anything like that
You’ve got kids now and touring is pretty different than when you first went out with the Strokes in 2001, what is the best part of touring now?
That’s a good question. My favorite part of touring is the same today as it was in 2001, its just getting to do the show every night. That makes the whole thing worth it. That’s why I’m sitting in a van with eight men right now, which to be perfectly honest, that part is not fun. Driving six or seven hours everyday in a fucking van, that sucks. But getting to do a show every night for people who love what you do and who are there to see you, that’s why I do it and I love that.
2016 was a rough year in that it saw a lot of musicians pass. If you had to teach your kids about one of the musicians who passed, who would it be? Who had the greatest impact on you?
Its tough to pick favorites, we lost a lot of legends. I mean I listen to Bowie the most-he would be in my top five artists of all time. In terms of teaching my kids, its not that hard, I have really cool kids. It was my daughter’s birthday not long ago, and she made a birthday gift list. It was the coolest request from a ten year old girl. First on her list was a record player and she wanted me to start her vinyl collection with Beatles, Bowie, Prince, and Nina Simone records and the Hamilton soundtrack. I got that list from her and I just thought how lucky I am that I have the coolest kids on the planet.
I ran into Albert Hammond Jr. in Austin a few months ago. Do you ever come to Austin on vacation?
I do, I have visited Austin for personal reasons for many times. We recorded part of the new CRX record in Austin. I got to go to Arlyn studios in South congress area and worked on several tracks with Gus. Shout out to Arlyn studios!
Morning or Night person? Morning
NYC or LA? LA
Beer or wine? Wine
Cars or Pretenders? The Cars
Is this it Or First Impressions? (Laughs)Don’t make me pick
The Ramones or Sex Pistols? The Ramones
Talking Heads or Blondie? Blondie
NY pizza or LA tacos? NY Pizza
In their prime: CBGBs or Mercury Lounge? No one can touch CBGBs in the 70’s. Absolutely no question
Lee Ackerley (Interviewer)