Given that the Strokes haven't released a record in almost four years, Julian Casablancas's debut as a solo artist is oddly timed. Band-mates Albert Hammond Jr., Nikolai Fraiture and Fabrizio Moretti have all struck out on their own during the group's hiatus (twice, in Hammond's case) and word is that the Strokes will be back in the studio come January. Fittingly, Phrazes for the Young is the most Strokes-esque of the group's solo outings, thanks in no small part to Casablancas's signature half-spoken croon. Thankfully, he puts a twist to song structures and chord patterns that rarely stray outside of the Is This It realm, employing drum machines and keyboards in place of guitars to great effect. Even his vocals get pushed to their limits on "Left & Right in the Dark." Lyrically, Casablancas makes fun of his image, with lines like, "Yes, I know I'm going to hell in a leather jacket/At least I'll be in another world while you're pissing on my casket" on lead track "Out of the Blue." Although the album does fall off after midpoint highlight "4 Chords of the Apocalypse," Casablancas has proven himself an adept pop songsmith without the help of his usual friends.
When you started writing and recording, did you have an idea of what you wanted the overall sound to be?
I had some ideas. I think it landed somewhere in between what I was planning and what it ended up being.
What did you originally want?
An album of super-songs [laughs]. It started with drumbeats; I had this idea of polyrhythmic stuff. I was trying to do something different. I had these specific, quirky, modern drumbeats and I wanted to figure out a way to make them interlock so that it sounded rhythmically complex, but in a slightly original way. Without being busy, just feel groovin'. But also enhance the melody because sometimes rhythmic or melodic, to get both is a tough thing. I felt really confident about the melodic side, but I had to work on the rhythmic side.
You seem to be poking fun at your image with some of the lyrics. I'm thinking of the "I'm going to hell in a leather jacket" line.
I don't know. Different people have different interpretations of things. I don't know. I didn't choose it; it chose me.
Do you see the way you approached this record influencing the next Strokes album?
I don't know. I won't push it but maybe other people will.
Are you frustrated by people asking you questions about the Strokes while you're trying to promote your record?
No. No I don't. I understand why people ask, of course. But, yeah, I just don't feel that I should talk about it. (RCA)