by Victoria Wasylak
Photo Courtesy of BB Gun Press
In the din of pre-soundcheck chaos at Chicago’s music hall The Empty Bottle, Nick Valensi can hardly hear our call. The Strokes guitarist—now on tour with his raucous new project CRX—describes his love for The Cars after mishearing our questions about whether or not he’s a car enthusiast (how can you not be with a band called CRX?) He rolls with the punches, though, and confesses that the Boston hard rock legends have been hugely influential on his work as a guitarist.
With CRX’s new album and tour in tow, Valensi starts with a new slate for his musical career—kind of. By starting CRX, Valensi is caught in the between bring the new kid on the block and having significant name recognition. And even with the insane—and what Valseni sees as unexpected—success of The Strokes, he still has plenty of ground to cover on the map. Prior to CRX’s show at the Brighton Music Hall this Sunday, November 20, the Buzz called Valensi to catch up on the project’s killer new album New Skin.
Victoria Wasylak: With CRX, did you feel like you were starting with a clean slate for your career, or is it more like an addition to a house?
Nick Valensi: That’s an interesting analogy. In a weird way, it does feel like starting over, although I’d be foolish to believe I was starting over from the bottom. I’m really lucky and grateful to be able to start, I suppose, a couple of rungs up from the bottom, because I have people who know what I’ve done already. You know, look—The Strokes have achieved a lot more than I ever dreamed we could have. Starting CRX— part of the coolest thing about it to me is the feeling of starting something new, introducing a new band to the world. It didn’t even dawn on me until we started doing it, but I didn’t have the opportunity to introduce people to something new to them since 2001 when we did it with the Strokes. This has been really fun! I’ve never been a singer before, or a lyricist before, so in a way, it is kind of a new voice people have never gotten to experience before.
Wasylak: Do you feel like with your fans for CRX, they’re all Strokes fans, or that they have discovered you organically?
Valensi: Well, right now, our album just came out two weeks ago, so judging from what I’m seeing at the shows and what we’re playing, there [are] definitely a lot of Strokes fans. We hope to make fans in other ways. We just finished a run of shows opening for Beck, and that was very cool for us, because we got really for the first time ever play music for people who had maybe even never heard of The Strokes, and it went down really, really well, we made a bunch of new fans. I look forward to doing more stuff like that in the future.
Wasylak: Are you trying to disassociate from the Strokes at all?
Valensi: No, not necessarily, no, not at all. I mean, look—I’m so proud of what I’ve done with The Strokes, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. No, I’m very proud of that association, and I’m not trying to run away from that at all.
Wasylak: On your new album, the artwork has a throwback feel to it. Where did you come up with the design for the album?
Valensi: The album cover was done by a U.K. artist named Boneface. He doesn’t really reveal his identity, I just know him as Boneface. I write emails back and forth with this guy, and I start the emails off saying “Dear Boneface,” so I have no idea what he looks like or what he sounds like. I reached out to him to do the album cover, and he had a series of animal heads on human bodies, and I wanted to do something like that. And then the rest of the layout of the album—Boneface did the cover, and all the rest of the layout – the graphics and the colors—were done by my friend Warren Fu, whom I’ve collaborated with in The Strokes for many years.
Wasylak: How did you pick the band name for this project?
Valensi: That was kind of hard for us. I don’t know if people know this, but CRX is a car, and there was a drum machine that we used, we were recording an album called the CR78, so over time, while we were recording, we started calling the drum machine a CRX, and then the CRX became the kind of sound we were trying to get with the drum machine. We ended up saying it hundreds of times during the recording of that album, so when it was time to name the band, in a weird way, it felt like it described the music to me. That makes no sense, and I’m probably the only person on the planet with that sense but, somehow CRX is descriptive of how this music sounds. I know I sound like a lunatic saying that.
Wasylak: Are you a big Cars fan?
Valensi: I am a big Cars fan, I’ve listened to The Cars my whole life. When I was a kid growing up, The Cars had hits on the radio, and I’ve been exposed to and influenced by that band my entire life. I love their arrangements, I love their hooks—they’re so hook-y—and I love the guitar solos in The Cars. They’re one of those bands that have the most memorable, melodic, guitar solos. It’s been a pretty big influence on my playing, and I guess above all, the thing with The Cars is it’s always really fun to listen to the Cars. If you’ve got a Cars record on, you’re probably having fun, or getting ready to have fun, they’re that kind of band, and I wanted some of that vibe to rub off on CRX. The whole point of this band, for me, is to have fun with my friends, and I want people to really get the impression that we had fun writing it, recording it. We’re going to be going on tour a lot, and above all, having a ton of fun performing to people.
Wasylak: Do you have plans to go to Europe? Right now you only have North American tour dates.
Valensi: Yeah, we’re defiantly going to Europe. We have plans to go to all over the place. We have plans to go to the UK. and Europe in February, and I really want to take this band to Japan and Australia. I just want to go all over the world with CRX. The point of this band was to have something for us to take on tour, to do shows with, and be able to get on the road in a simple way, and have fun with one another, treat it like a family vacation.
Wasylak: Is there anywhere in the world that you haven’t been before that you want to go with CRX?
Valensi: Yeah, there’s a ton of places that I haven’t been [to] that I’d love to go [to]. I’ve never set foot on the continent of Africa, which is odd, considering my father is from Tunisia, so I’d love to go anywhere in Africa. There are also a ton of Asian countries that The Strokes never got to go to; we never went to Hong Kong or China at all, never been to the Philippines. We went to South Korea with The Strokes once, but never went to Taiwan, never went to Thailand, never went to the Southeast Asian countries, never went to Cambodia. There’s a ton of places in the world I haven’t been. The Strokes haven’t even performed in all 50 states, we’ve never done Montana, we’ve never done Nebraska. I’m not sure that we’ve ever done Iowa, although maybe we did do Des Moines once, but I’m not totally sure.
Wasylak: That’s funny that you haven’t played all 50 states.
Valensei: I feel like you just quizzed me in geography. My mind is running over a mental globe.
Get tickets to see CRX at the Brighton Music Hall here.