That nostalgic intro riff from The Strokes song “Last Night” was always my immediate reaction to reading or hearing the band’s name, given it’s release during my memorably rebellious senior year of high school. Memories of Reno’s and Coronitas in Juarez, hot box cruises in my junked out Grand Am, and unsupervised summer pool parties collect dust with my old Strokes CD cases.
Today, that power chord strum has evolved into CRX, whose debut album New Skin takes guitarist Nick Valensi’s tablatures into an array of rock genres that define the Strokes lead guitarist’s new project.
In the new album, produced by Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) Valensi amps up his signature guitar performance with lead vocals, supported by old friends and new band mates Jon Safley (bass), Ralph Alexander (drums), Richie Follin (keyboard/vocals) and Darian Zahedi (guitar).
It took a little self-talk before our phone interview to make sure that the c/o 2002 too-cool-for-school teenybopper wouldn’t burst into giggles from the giddiness of a party-line session with Valensi (from the STROKES!) Thankfully, 15 years of adulting does wonders on inner child self control and I managed an appetizer Q&A session for new CRX fans and those curious Strokes followers ahead of Wednesday night’s show.
Meet me there for some Coronitas, and we can listen to his new adventure together. CRX makes their way to El Paso’s Lowbrow on December 14, with openers Streets of Laredo to kick-off the show at 10pm.
Q: What motivated you to take the leap from the lead Strokes guitarist to this new frontman project?
A: The initial motivation was having extra down time and wanting to go on tour. I was wanting to have a project, a band that could tour more and be a really strong live entity. Initially, that was kind of the catalyst to get the thing going. Eventually over time, as it evolved and as the band came together, it’s become something more for me, which is cool. I’ve realized that it’s really valuable for me, for everyone, to have an outlet creatively where you can just kind of vent and do things more your own way. Certainly makes it more constructive.
A: There’s so much through the years, it’s tough to pick one thing. I think that everything that you do, everything that you experience, everything that you’re exposed to influences what you do and how you think in some way.
So for us with Sab and Andrew and Nikolai and Albert, it’s just been so long that we’ve been doing stuff together so, I feel like we grew up together and learned about how to do a lot of things about being in a band, about writing music, about recording music.
We kind of learned that together, so it’s tough to say definitively what I picked up from Julian as a frontman, but for sure there’s an influence there somewhere.
Q: What’s the energy like on your debut tour from fans, from shows?
A: It’s been great! We’re having so much fun. The crowds have been awesome, man. It’s been a couple of weeks now, and I just want to keep it going for as long as possible. You know I’m really lucky because a lot of Strokes fans have come on board with it too, and we have such awesome fans. We’ve got kind of a built-in audience already and I’m very grateful for that.
Q: What genre would you say you’d find yourself in iTunes?
A: Rock has so many sub-genres…I was talking to someone and they pointed out to me that they were doing a search for CRX, I think it was on Spotify, and they mentioned all of the genres that were tagged for CRX. It was Indie Rock, Alternative Rock, Hard Rock, Desert Rock, Stoner Rock, Power Pop, Pop Rock, it just went on and on and on. So, I don’t know which category we actually fall under, somehow we fall under all of them. I guess the best way to describe it is Melodic Guitar-Driven Short Songs. Short Songs that are Melodic and Guitar Driven, I guess?
Q: Tell me more about the name CRX, I mean, was it perhaps the first car you drove/owned?
A:It wasn’t the first car I drove, but I did grow up thinking it was a really cool car. When we were recording the album, we used a drum machine from the 70s called a CR-78, and we were f***ing around with that a bit during the recording process.
Josh Homme, the producer, he kept on referring to the drum machine as a CRX; we started talking about the car, and we were working on this one song called Walls and he got this image in his head of -it sounds weird but- this punk rocker guy with a tall mohawk riding a CRX through post-apocalyptic Tokyo all deserted, and he’s drifting through.
It was kind of this weird cryptic image, almost like he was pitching a music video. And we just went with it. It went on the short list of names and it just ended up feeling right. It does kind of come from a car. It’s a mix of a car and a drum machine.
A: (chuckles) No, that was just some artwork – I feel in love with this guy Boneface, he’s a UK artist. Actually, Josh had worked with him before, had a bunch of art of his at the studio where we were recording. It was kind of an intermingling of music and this dude’s art, and it felt right to have him create something for the cover.
Q: As a musician that started very young, what would you say to the starving artist scene in El Paso in terms of balancing talent and the obstacles that come with trying to make it?
A: That advice that I would give to someone in El Paso trying to make it in music is not to different from the advice that I would give to someone living anywhere making music. And that would be to just keep going, and to not drop the ball, keep moving forward. A large difference between the people who are successful and the people who are not is the people who are successful just don’t stop trying. There are a lot of people who do stop trying. So yeah, just don’t give up.
Q: What’s your take on El Paso as a city?
A: The Strokes have played El Paso several times, I love coming to El Paso. The Strokes have always done awesome shows in El Paso, I should add. It’s actually one of the cities that we talk about as one of our favorite cities in Texas to play. This is true. We have a lot of really awesome fans in El Paso, we always have for years now. So I’m excited to bring CRX there for the first time.