The Strokes broke big in 2003 with songs like "Last Nite” and “Hard to Explain” from Room on Fire, but three years later, the NYC rockers avoided the sophomore slump with the massive First Impression from Earth. The album single “Juicebox” would become the band’s first U.K. chart-topper, and its mainstream appeal earned a spot on the more pop-driven Hot 100 chart in the U.S. The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas had just released the new album when he did this 2006 interview.
You have credited the three-song EP Modern Age with helping the band translate its music from the stage to the studio.
The cool thing was that we were writing songs to be played live. That was how we were going to get somewhere. We had to showcase our music, and it was made to sound good whether you were sitting on the floor of the rehearsal room or waiting to see some other band. We wanted people to be like, ‘Wow, what the hell is that?’ So translating it to record was definitely tricky, and [producer] Gordon [Raphael] really helped us with that.
Is there a particular show you recall where things did not translate so well?
I lost my voice at a show in San Diego and got really, really drunk. It was the first time I lost my voice, and I didn't really know how to deal with it. That show still sends shivers up my spine. I could barely even talk, like voodoo no voice, but I have a microphone in my hand and these people paid to see a show. I just drank a lot and acted like a fool. I read some of the reviews later on and… I'm trying not to be completely shattered right now. We made up for that show, but I am sure we lost a handful of people forever. Someone would have to land a spaceship in San Diego to overshadow that ridiculous show.
You titled the new album First Impressions from Earth, but considering it follows Room on Fire, this is technically a second impression.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the songs on the last album, but I am excited to take the music to the next level. In my mind that album was a bit of a springboard. It helped us move out of a mold that I guess other people put us in. I wanted to take it a little weirder and a little harder and even a little deeper, but I think I needed to do the last album first.
The new album has a cleaner and more pronounced vocal sound. Was this intentional?
When I tried to find a vocal sound in the past, I don't think I found something that sounded good clean. It always seemed that if the vocals were clean they didn’t fit with what we had going on. It’s like, if you put pristine vocals over a really shitty recording, the song will sound ridiculous, just awful. For this album, the clean vocals fit with what we had. We were going for a new sound, not a new sound, just an elevation I suppose. Some people might say more produced, but I like all kinds of music and I want to be able to sound like Queen if I want. Not that we did that, but the vocals just felt natural with the way everything else sounded.
Any other notable changes you see in the music?
I am always trying to get more specific [with the lyrics], but you can't be too specific, so it is a slow approach. I just recently shifted a little bit into the simplicity of say country music. You know, you tell a cool story or have something simple that comes together with a simple theme. I wanted something in between that and the vagueness of Nirvana or the Doors. The thing is, the best way to be universal is to be specific, but you can't… I'm trying. I'm working at it.