Different Strokes

Different <b>Strokes</b>
It's not easy being the coolest band on the planet and reviving rock'n'roll, only to fall out of the limelight when a number of copycat bands and burgeoning genre revivals steal your thunder. And yet from the looks of their jumbled but sharp attire and the sounds of the playful chitchat between them in a swank Manhattan restaurant, drummer Fab Moretti and guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. seem as though the Strokes never lost an ounce of their cool.

Discussing trends and fads in music, these three Strokes are certainly tuned into the cash-grabs that come with the ones that stick. "What happens with every resurgence is that fewer and fewer bands are having original ideas. It's becoming this formulaic, generic genre and people are copying things that were bad in the first place," admits Valensi. "The '80s are really popular right now, and there are bands coming out who literally sound like A Flock of Seagulls! Who's gonna base their sound on that? You watch — C&C Music Factory and MC Hammer are going to be a cool retro thing in the next few years. I'm not joking."

In their bid to avoid association with any kind of imitator, the Strokes regrouped in 2005 with fresh ideas that may not have fit the original mould. "It was never something we ever talked about, but I think everyone was on the same page that we were not going to make another Is This It/Room On Fire kind of record. We were all listening to more eclectic stuff and everyone brought more of a different style to the record," says Valensi.

A change the band found to be vital was moving on from Gordon Raphael's limited and far too similar production of their first two records, and finding a sound that speaks for who they are today. "Our first two records, although the songs were great — I think anyone can appreciate the songs as they are — the production sort of pigeonholed it into something only people who like certain kinds of music could like," adds Valensi. "Just by the sound of the new record it seems to me that we have made it more accessible."

The accessibility of First Impressions of Earth is largely due to the hand of the renowned David Kahne, a veteran producer who has worked with more pop-oriented acts like Sugar Ray and Tony Bennett. The unlikely collaboration seems surprising, but no less than to the band themselves, according to Moretti. "It's actually a fun story when you look back on it, how timidly we changed when Albert introduced us to David," he says. "I remember conversations with Albert where he was like, ‘Dude, I hope this fucking works out, man.' It was funny because we were all timid but we knew we had to make this step."

It may catch some fans off guard. "Juicebox" unleashes some pent-up hard rock aggression; "Evening Sun" could pass for the Pogues; and most shocking of all, "Ask Me Anything" sounds unmistakably like the Magnetic Fields. As the band are quick to point out, change is necessary to keep away from the pack of followers. "We consciously don't repeat ourselves and we try not to copy ourselves. We're trying to move forward, when I feel like a lot of the bands coming out with their debut album now are doing what we did five years ago," Valensi says. "In other words," Hammond jumps in, "we're saying it's going to be very hard to copy us now."