The Strokes Go Solo: A Discography Review
A look at the history of side projects related to the Strokes, from Casablancas to Moretti.
In 2006, The Strokes’ First Impressions of Earth was released to a generally underwhelming reception. Critics and fans alike seemed unimpressed with the album that they had waited for since 2003’s Room on Fire.
Naysayers wondered pessimistically whether this band would ever fulfill the promise that began with Is This It. Was this band finished? Had their time passed? Were their fifteen minutes up?
The Strokes would not release another album until 2011. Some fans new to the NYC band may be disappointed in their limited output since 2001. Yet, this is merely an illusion, as they are one of the most prolific bands of the 2000’s, just not together, but individually.
Since 2007, each member of the band has released at least one album as a solo artist. Here is a look at the history of side projects related to the Strokes.
Albert Hammond Jr.
Hammond Jr. was the first member of the Strokes to release solo material. In October 2006 (UK) and March 2007 (US), he released Yours To Keep.
He had wanted to make an album for years, but not all of the Strokes were supportive. As soon as the others heard leader Julian Casablancas was offering his support, the other members backed Hammond’s debut effort.
Reportedly, one of the reasons that led him to a solo album was that the Strokes rejected many of his songs. The album was recorded at Electric Ladyland in New York City. Yours To Keep featured several musical guests including Sean Lennon, Ben Kweller, Strokes manager Ryan Gentles, Jody Porter of Fountains of Wayne, Mooney Suzuki, and Casablancas.
On this album, Hammond Jr. reworked earlier instrumentals originally written for the tour video, In Transit. Bass player Josh Lattanzi and drummer Matt Romano provided the backing band as Hammond played lead guitar. The first singles from the album were “Everyone Gets a Star” and “101.” He also released videos “101” and “In Transit.” The latter was directed by Joaquin Phoenix.
In late 2006, he toured his new album, opening for Incubus on the Light Grenades tour. He also opened for Bloc Party the following year, along with shows at smaller venues in two separate North American tours.
In August 2007, Hammond Jr. announced via Myspace that he would be going back into the studio to record his second album, Como Te Llama. The album would later be uploaded to Myspace and streamed when it premiered in August 2008.
The first single was “GFC” and a video was also made for the song. After a North American tour in the summer of 2008, Hammond Jr. supported Coldplay on their fall 2008 European tour. The album did not feature as many guests this time around, but Lennon did pitch in. Interestingly, the two first met while attending boarding school in Switzerland in their teens.
Hammond Jr. did not release any new material during the next five years as he struggled with drug addiction. He also continued to work his day job, which was the Strokes with the release of Angles in 2011 and Comedown Machine in 2013.
His drug addiction, among other things, had created a rift between the band members since the 2005 Strokes set First Impressions of Earth, and that required some healing.
Hammond Jr. returned in 2013 to his solo career with the five song EP, AHJ, which was released by Casablancas’s label, Cult Records. Casablancas also served as co-producer.
This work served as an important turning point in his career, as it was the first work he had done entirely sober. Hammond had entered rehab in 2009 for drug addiction. He told Clash Magazine that the release was a breakthrough personally and professionally: “After I got out of rehab, I was just so slow. I might have been clean, but I was just, like, fucked, so that took a while. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and you also start doubting… You’ve held off so many thoughts for so long, you start doubting everything you’ve done, and try to do something new, just to stop being in this [other] world, and then you kinda gain back yourself, and then the situation of a better self. I didn’t even know I could exist. I guess with such a worse self I got the opposite from it, which was nice.”
In June 2014, Hammond Jr. posted on Facebook a photo of him in the recording studio with the caption, “the start of something new; LP 3.”
Momentary Masters, inspired by a Carl Sagan quote, was released in July 2015 via Vagrant Records with the single “Born Slippy” being made available immediately for streaming. This album introduced a new backing band for Hammond, including guitarist Hammersing Kharhmar (frontman of Mon Khmer), guitarist Mikey Hart (Bleachers), bassist Jordan Brooks and drummer Jeremy Gustin (Delicate Steve, Marc Ribot).
In the same Clash interview, Hammond was quoted as saying that this album was different than his previous efforts because of the chemistry he had with the band. The album was dominated by a theme of looking back at darker days. ”Maybe that’s in my personality,” Hammond said. “I like the idea of things tugging at your little heartstrings, when you get goosebumps – I like to create that feeling – but I also like the other [more positive] feeling, so maybe that’s just the duality in the songs.”
In March 2018, he released his fourth album, Francis Trouble, which was preceded by the release of the single, “Muted Beatings,” one month prior. The album was named after his miscarried twin making it a very personal album.
The album also served as an example of a newfound burst of creativity that began with Momentary Masters. “Sonically, I just felt like it was the story of where I had been in the past,” Hammond told SF Weekly. “There were a lot of things I didn’t see through because I was more absorbed with getting fucked up. Drugs were just something I enjoyed, and then I wasn’t able to be tremendously creative.”
In 2009, lead singer and frontman Casablancas released his first solo album, Phrazes for the Young. The title and lyrics were partially inspired by the Oscar Wilde book Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young.
The album was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska and New York City. The album has a heavy reliance on synthesizers to convey its new wave and electronica sound. The first single was “11th Dimension.”
He summarized his intentions during an interview with SPIN at the time: “I would’ve gone weirder with the music, but I wanted to be smart. I didn’t want people to say, ‘Okay, this is his weird abstract thing,’ and dismiss the album. I worked too hard on it for that to happen…I wanted to be crazy original and bridge the gap between traditional music and modern music.”
To celebrate the album’s release, Casablancas performed in residency at the Downtown Palace Theatre in Los Angeles. (That’s the theatre that begins the Michael Jackson “Thriller” music video.) His live backing band was known as the Sick Six, which included Jeff Kite (keyboard), Nelson London (synthesizer), JP Bowersock (guitar), Danielle Haim (percussion) and Alex Carapetis (drums). He then toured behind the album until the summer of 2010.
The album came about because the other members of the Strokes were working on projects of their own. As Casablancas told the Independent, “The Strokes were kind of suffering a little bit of how to get everyone interested. I wanted to get back and get to work. Then it came up that Albert was doing another record and then Nicolai [Fraiture, bassist] was doing a record and hadn’t mentioned it. Everyone was doing something and weren’t in The Strokes 100 per cent. I don’t know… I kind of felt that I had to do something. Everyone was stepping outside the box. I respect that. I felt like I needed to do the same thing.”
This album also coincided with his decision to quit drinking. Casablancas felt that his drinking was affecting his ability to write, produce, and perform music. He notes in the same interview with the Independent that he never drank while in the studio. “I’ve always worked sober, Room On Fire [The Strokes’ second album]… that was done sober. You know, drinking is what happens once the work is done. It wasn’t like I would sit in my room with a guitar and think, ‘hey, nothing’s happening… let me drink a bottle of whiskey and write a song.”
B-sides were also released for the album including “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” a former Saturday Night Live sketch. He would later perform the song on Jimmy Fallon’s show, who sang in the original skit.
Looking back, Casablancas doesn’t seem to hold a particular fondness for the album. In a Vanity Fair interview in 2018, he said, “I realised that I would rather do what I wanted to do, because that was more where my heart was. I really forgot. I lost sight of that. Because one of the rules I had early on always was just to do something that I thought was good.” He went on say that was where the album went “off track.”
In 2009, Casablancas founded Cult Records, a label that released his solo debut. This was originally intended as an imprint to release his solo material, but it soon began to release material from other artists.
Cult currently represents The Growlers, Har Mar Superstar, Songhoy Blues, Rey Pila, Karen O, Promiseland, The Strokes, The Voidz, Exhibition and Cerebral Ballzy. The company has also released album from Hammond Jr., The Virgins, Reputante, INHEAVEN, Exclamation Pony and Nelson London (C O L O R).
Casablancas has co-produced a few of the albums including The Growlers and Hammond Jr. In 2014, the label entered a services agreement with Kobalt to handle distribution in the US and UK.
In 2013, Casablancas began to pursue a new project, The Voidz. Originally dubbed, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz, the idea was to create music that could be both aggressive and complex.
The band featured Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter and Amir Yaghmai on guitar, Jacob “Jake” Bercovici on bass and synthesizer, Alex Carapetis on drums and percussion, and Jeff Kite on keyboard.
Casablancas was partially inspired by the Middle Eastern scale of music, which goes beyond the traditional seven note Western scale. He has called this an exploration of “in between music,” which seeks to explore music from the margins.
In 2014, The Voidz released their first album, Tyranny. The record includes the 11-minute track, “Human Sadness,” which was originally written for a documentary about Casablancas’ stepfather, artist Sam Adoquei.
The album was released by Cult Records. A music video was released for the track, “Where No Eagles Dare,” featuring grainy footage of the band in New York City. The album is much more political than anything the Strokes have done.
Casablancas would say in an interview with GQ, “The record’s called Tyranny, and that’s sort of what it’s about, rapacious oil companies and a not-so-free press and environmental depredation. Money. Health care. Nightmares. The moon. It’s not very sexy to talk about these things, especially in a place like America, where things are, like, the best. But it just feels like we’re inside that Versailles bubble, you know?”
The album was applauded by critics for its experimentation, but long-time Strokes fans seemed to find it just a bit too weird.
In 2018, the Voidz released a second album, Virtue, which took an even greater political stance than its predecessor. A key theme throughout the album is understanding the distinction between lies and the truth in the midst of a fake news world. Casablancas asked how does one find the truth when confronted by multiple perspectives?
The original inspiration for this interest in politics was the reelection George W. Bush in 2000. Casablancas argues that institutions in this country have become more important than democracy. This relates to the music business, in that, it has become too commercial and focused on capitalism. In his view, like the country as a whole, the music industry is not at all interested in quality anymore.
The singer would go on to tour Virtue throughout 2018. The album received mixed reviews as some have found the messiness within the album either fun or loathsome. Juliana Hatfield called it her favorite album of the year.
In 2018, Casablancas dropped his name from the band as they were now referred to as simply The Voidz. He said it was to avoid any awkwardness between band members. “It was kind of like insurance. I guess I wanted to avoid the problems of bands, so we wouldn’t have weird fights or something,” he said in an interview with Billboard.
The latest member of the Strokes to release new solo material is lead guitarist, Nick Valensi and his band, CRX. The band released its debut album, New Skin in 2016. The first single, “Ways To Fake It” was followed by a video release.
The rest of the band includes Ralph Alexander (drums), Richie Follin (guitar, keyboard, backing vocals), Jon Safley (bass) and Darian Zahedi (guitar, backing vocals).
The formation of the group was a surprising move by Valensi: in the past he had said that he was not all that fond of side projects. The genesis of CRX began after Comedown Machine was released because the Strokes did not tour behind that album.
Valensi really wanted to be in front of a live audience on a tour again. He told Guitar World, “I’ve been on so many big festival stages. I missed being on a small club or theater stage.”
The album was produced by Josh Homme, from Queens of the Stone Age, who had also produced Arctic Monkeys. The album was recorded at his studio in Burbank, California.
The sound of CRX is a combination of New Wave pop and hard rock. There is a heavier feel to the album when compared with the polished sound of the Strokes. Valensi has said that some of the influences for this album were the Cars, Cheap Trick, and Elvis Costello. The band name originated from a drum machine (Roland CR-78) used on some of the tracks.
In 2016 and 2017,CRX toured the album in smaller venues, but also opened a few dates for Beck and played summer festivals like Lollapalooza.
Valensi said in an interview with Glide magazine that, “Last night we were in San Diego and we played a club called the Casbah that I played in 2001 with the Strokes. It’s 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.”
The guitarist also lends his voice to CRX, which may surprise some Strokes fans. Talking to NME, he said: “It took a little bit of time for me to figure out how my voice sounded the most natural and, to be perfectly honest, at first I really hated my own voice. I could barely stand to listen to it and I obviously didn’t want to feel that way so I just woodshedded with the singing and figured out the different ways I could sing and how I could sing in a way that wouldn’t bug me, so it did take a little while.”
In July 2018, the band released a new single, “Love Me Again,” and recently have hinted on social media that new music will be coming soon.
One member of the Strokes, who has released solo material that flies under the radar is bassist Nikolai Fraiture. He started the side project, Nickel Eye, when the Strokes took a six-year break between First Impressions of Earth and Angles.
His backing band was the British group, South, who he met through a friend. Members include Joel Cadbury (steel guitar), Jamie McDonald (guitar) and Brett Shaw (drums).
His debut album, The Time of the Assassins was released in 2009 via Rykodisc. The album featured guest appearances from Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Regina Spektor. Fraiture provided both vocals and bass for it.
The album was inspired by some of his favorite artists including Neil Young, Frank Black, and The Kinks. The singles released were “Brandy of the Damned” and “Dying Star” along with two official music videos.
This album started when the bassist found some old poems he had written and began setting them to music.
In 2016, Fraiture returned with a new solo project called Summer Moon. His new backing band included Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins (drums), Uh Huh Her’s Camila Grey (keyboardist and vocalist), and The Airborne Toxic Event’s Noah Harmon (guitar).
The band came together in late 2014 when Fraiture was starting a new album for Nickel Eye. He had asked for assistance in recording it from a number of friends.
In an interview he talked about how it all came together. He told Pop Matters: “I had some songs that were going to be the second solo album for Nickel Eye, but then I kind of got lonely and decided to play with some other people.”
The band released their debut album, With You Tonight, in 2017, via Summer Moon LLC. The first single was “With You Tonight,” followed by a video for that song. The band’s sound has been described as post-punk, which Fraiture described as a “chaotic, thumping vibe.”
Summer Moon played their first show after the release of the album at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, as well as Last Call with Carson Daly and Petty Fest.
Lastly, many people may have forgotten that Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti participated in his own musical side project more than 10 years ago, Little Joy.
In 2006 at a festival in Lisbon, Moretti met Rodrigo Amarante, singer and guitarist for Los Hermanos. They decided to work on a project not connected to their current bands. Amarante traveled to Los Angeles while Amarante recorded an album with Devandra Barnhart. They soon met Binki Shapiro, who joined what would become known as Little Joy.
The three moved in together in Echo Park. The name originates from a local bar that was near their Los Angeles home. Amarante talked about how this supergroup all came together in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. “The plan was to hang out, not necessarily to write music. They all came about just sitting around a table.”
Their self-titled debut album was released in November 2008 via Rough Trade Records. Pitchfork called it “one of the sweetest, most listenable, consistently enjoyable records of the season.” Author Nick Hornby said it was his favorite album that year.
The band has been on hiatus since the release of that album, concentrating on their current bands, as well as other projects. Moretti has participated in a number of art projects since 2012, including a showcase of his drawings for Rag + Bone.
As for Little Joy’s sound, NPR in 2008 said this about the group. “Little Joy mixes a refreshing cocktail of concise ’60s pop songwriting, Jobim-esque ballads, and just a twist of upbeat Latin folk.”
Reflecting on the Strokes and their solo projects, some conclusions can be drawn, which hints at their legacy.
The prolific nature of their solo material speaks to the fact that they were not just hype. In 2001, their success came so quickly and immediately that some critics said they were a flash in the pan, more image than anything else. Yet, the solo discography can attest to the fact that everyone in the band truly loves music and worked very hard at the craft of creating new music.
Perhaps, this explains the uncertainty that existed for years as whether the band was actually still together. Upon any new solo release, they would be eventually asked: what is going on the Strokes?
Hammond Jr even said in an interview that he was tired of those questions. This also may explain the creative differences that the band has endured throughout its history. Not many bands have five members that have written songs for their own album.
It has also been said that Casablancas, from the beginning, was always the one in control. Allowing for input from the other members of the band required a compromise on his part. This compromise did not come easy to the talented songwriter.
The legacy of the Strokes is not just the albums they released for Rough Trade and the EP with Cult Records. Their solo catalog has everything to do with who they are as a band.
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