Deliberate Things and Happy Accidents: An Interview With CRX
CRX. Photo: Darian Zahedi
CRX — the new project from Nick Valensi, who is also a member The Strokes — have landed with their feet ready to run. Only a couple of years old and already on a headlining tour, Valensi and Co. are excited to show you that this new project — a different sound than anything you would expect to hear from one of indie rock royalty — is the best to see live. Prior to their show at Warehouse Live on Monday, Free Press Houston spoke to Valensi about the new record, how it differs from The Strokes, and his ultimate goal for the band.
Free Press Houston: Your debut album “New Skin” was released back in late October on Columbia records. Before even listening to the record, I was intrigued with the cover, as it looks very punk, almost like something Black Rebel Motorcycle Club/Gorillaz would put out. Who designed that and was it the original concept?
Nick Valensi: It’s by an artist from the U.K. named Boneface. I know that’s an unusual name. I have actually never met him, so I don’t know his real name and I don’t know what he looks like [laughs]. The album was produced by Josh Homme, who had an album (…Like Clockwork) designed by Boneface, too. In fact, he has done a lot of work with that band. So at the studio where we were recording, they had a ton of his art up, so while we were recording and looking at the art, all of the shit was kind of intermingling. It felt really appropriate to beg him to design the album cover. All of the layout stuff - the graphics, colors, etc. - even the first music video that we did for ‘Ways to Fake it’ was done by someone I’ve worked with in the past.
FPH: Speaking about Josh Homme, this record has many people associated with them, including some of the lesser-known credits like Mark Rankin as the engineer. How did all of those similarities happen?
Nick Valensi: Oh, yeah. Mark Rankin is great. When I linked up with Josh - the thing is we’ve been friends for a long time, and when I approached him, it wasn’t really to ask him to produce the album, per se. It was more to just get his advice on the direction we were going in. We really just wanted to get his take on it. He later listened to it and got really excited about it and had all of these awesome ideas. The production was something we started to talk about, and once he did come on board, I kind of just let him - he wanted to record at his spot, and we spoke a little bit about going to the Desert, specifically the Joshua Tree, to record, but we chose to stay in Los Angeles. [Josh Homme] started to talk about his awesome team, such as Mark Rankin, who he had worked with on the previous Queens [of the Stone Age] album. He really talked them up a lot, and we just went with it. They have a really good rapport together, and Mark really knows how to decipher Josh’s more - what’s the word - esoteric ideas. Mark knows what to do when Josh says stuff like “make the bass sound more purple.” He understands that. It was great working with him, he has crazy fucking talent.
FPH: Is choosing people further down the liner notes a super conscious decision? As in, does it get to a level, in general, where bands are like “anyone qualified can do?”
Nick Valensi: I mean, there are instances where things happen by chance, and they just work out really well. There was someone else who engineered something on the record, who I didn’t really know. We just linked up through friends that, in this case Andrew Chavez. I didn’t know him, and never worked with him, but we were put in a room and I really liked what we did together. A lot of that stuff made it onto the record. But there was also stuff I worked on that didn’t make it onto the record as well, so I guess it’s a mix of deliberate things and happy accidents. Everything that actually ends up on the record is deliberate, if that makes sense. When you’re making the album, you’re experimenting, You’re trying shit out, you know? You can’t be deliberate with everything you do while you’re being creative. But in controlling the result, and what you hear on the record, everything is hand-picked with great care.
FPH: For those unaware of this new group, you are the latest member of the Strokes to release a solo record. With that being the case, and that the other members have released stuff earlier back, why did you feel like right now was the time for a band, especially one like CRX?
Nick Valensi: I guess I just went through a long period where I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel the need to do stuff outside of the Strokes. Creatively, I was feeling fulfilled. Also, it was around 2007-2008 when the Strokes started to do less, started to tour less, and when we started to let a few years go between album releases. That coincided, for me, a time where I started with a family and moved to Los Angeles. The downtime from the Strokes was actually a welcome for me, because I was really grateful to stay home and chill with my newborn kids, and to be a part of their lives as they grew up and went to school. I really value being able to do the family thing, it is very important to me. So while Albert was starting his solo career, while Julian was doing his first solo album, and while Little Joy began, I was happy to watch all of that from home, taking care of my kids. Now, my kids are a little older and are now in school everyday, so I felt like it was the right time to get on the road and have fun. It was time to get back to where I left off.
FPH: I think it is fair to say that there are tracks on this record that are heavier than people would expect being related to the Strokes, though each member’s group also sounds different. Was everyone in the band always open to side projects? Does the band like to stick to certain boundaries and leave other sounds to other projects? What about other bands?
Nick Valensi: I guess it is up to the individual. For me, for a long time, when Albert first started, and then Julian, later all of these guys, except for me, I went through a time where I was a little miffed about it. It didn’t thrill me for a time, but now I’m doing this and I’ve come to realize that it’s better to all have these creative outlets outside of the main thing. We can go in a different direction, such as touring as much or little as we want, play wherever we want, and to just be free individually. When we come together, our time is more productive and fun, for us. We can have the experience to do stuff with other people and when we get to the main thing, we can have the opportunity to miss each other.
FPH: Besides being a heavier group than people would expect, another thing that grabbed my attention was how “pop-artish” a lot of your images were, including the cover and press shots that I’ve seen. Was the purpose of that combination to be a bit ironic or contradictory, per se? A different look to a different sound, I mean.
Nick Valensi: No, it wasn’t to be ironic.
FPH: In terms of your touring gear, is this all of the same equipment that you use with the Strokes?
Nick Valensi: It is basically a new guitar. Actually, I should say a different guitar that I use from the Strokes. I am using slightly different distortion pedals, and stuff like that. The setup is pretty much the same, at least for me, personally. I think instrumentation wise, the biggest difference from the Strokes and CRX is the addition of the keyboards we have in CRX, which is something we don’t do in the Strokes. Aside from that, it’s two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. So yeah, just the keyboard, which is fun.
But that’s not to say - I don’t know, the Strokes does its thing with the two guitars, drums, bass, and vocals. CRX might evolve to something different in the future, that’s what’s cool about it to me. I am happy to see this thing evolve and not be bound to any genre, instrumentation, or vibe. I think it will be cool to just do more records with CRX and explore. We will do different shit and see where it takes us.
FPH: You play Houston on December 12th and your tour ends on the 17th. Following that, what are the plans for the band? Is it straight back to the studio?
Nick Valensi: We’re just going to be touring a lot more, all throughout the next year. We are planning to go to Europe, the UK. We’re just planning on going all over the place, really. We are already thinking about new CRX music. We are actually working on some new already, so that’s exciting.
FPH: Also, could you update fans on progress of the Stroke’s new record?
Nick Valensi: In between all of the work with CRX, I am finding time to make as much time as I can with the guys in the Strokes to chill and write songs. We are in the very early stages of writing and demoing songs right now, which I’m not sure exactly where that will take us, because it is so early right now, but it should be good.
FPH: I wanted to conclude by asking what your ultimate goal of CRX would be? Are you trying to be bigger than Honda?
Nick Valensi: Oh, that is what I thought you said [laughs]. No, but that’s a funny question. I think Honda might be one of the largest automakers in the World. But that would be great, and I’m not going to say no, but it’s not something we’re setting out to do just yet. Baby steps.