The iconic rock band born out of New York City, The Strokes, released their debut album Is This It nearly 15 years ago. The guys regrouped in 2013 to deliver a fifth album, Comedown Machine.
Since then, all of its members have embarked on their own passion projects with an exception for their lead guitar player Nick Valensi, until now. His side project is called CRX; the group released their debut album New Skin on October 28th, and have been touring the U.S. for the past couple of months.
We caught up with Valensi as his tour bus for CRX was pulling into sunny Phoenix, Arizona for a show at the Crescent Ballroom. Valensi dished about what the transition from a lead guitar player to a lead vocalist has been like, how his fans basically chose the second single for CRX and how lately he’s been jamming to Marilyn Manson.
How did CRX come together?
NICK: I got the idea to put something together outside of The Strokes and just started writing songs with the intention being to eventually go on tour and start singing. I started working on stuff by myself at home on my laptop. I was experimenting with ideas for a little while until I hit a wall with it. I got about three fourths of the way there and then got a little stuck. I had to reach out to some friends for some help to finish it. I reached out to some dudes who I’ve jammed with and I respect their musical tastes and opinions. They talked me into finishing and the whole thing started to feel like a band pretty quick.
Did you ever have any doubts about the project?
NICK: When I first got the idea to do something and to sing on it, I was not totally sure it was something I wanted to pursue. It took me a little while to write enough music and to get comfortable enough writing lyrics, so I had to go through a lot on my own to see if it was something I wanted to do. I always knew I would be capable of doing it but there’s a big difference between being able to and actually wanting to do something.
That confidence became cemented when I reached out to my now band members. I played them my demos and they loved them. It was a big confidence booster- getting such positive feedback from my buddies.
You’ve been with the Strokes for nearly 20 years. How has it been adjusting to a new team?
NICK: It’s a different group of people with different personalities. We’re all friends and we’re all having a great time. I think everyone has more than one group of friends and it’s not the same hanging out with a different group of friends but that doesn’t take away from it. We’re just having so much fun.
Do you feel a different type of pressure working on lead vocals with CRX compared to lead guitar with the Strokes?
NICK: I think it’s comparable from the song-writing perspective. You start out writing a song and it comes from a similar place of messing around and stumbling on an idea that peaks your interest or turns you on and you decide to pursue it and refine it. That process is the same whether I’m with CRX or The Strokes or someone else. With CRX though, there’s this added step of having an idea and then molding it into a song. I had to take it a step further with the lyrics, which has never been my role with The Strokes. It was new for me, for sure. It took me a minute to adjust to that.
I would imagine that being a lyricist is probably a little scary. You’re really putting yourself out there in a much more emotional way.
NICK: For sure– being a lyricist absolutely forces you to be more vulnerable than being a lead guitar player. Writing songs is definitely the part that I have the least experience with but I think I’m putting out a pretty solid effort and I’m looking forward to developing my lyric writing more. It’s weird, I’ve played music my whole life and I’ve written music for a long time but I’ve never seriously attempted to put words to music.
What are your favorite songs to perform with CRX?
NICK: One of my favorites is “Monkey Machine”. It seems to go down really well every time we play it. There’s a song called “Unnatural” that surprised me. It’s an awesome song and I love it. I don’t know what it is about that song but we’d play it in rehearsal and I was skeptical that it would work live. Something weird happens though when there’s an audience in the room- it just comes alive.
That has to be a pretty amazing feeling- having your audience make your songs come alive.
NICK: Absolutely. Actually that relates a little bit to how we chose our second single. We put out the record and we had our first single, “Ways to Fake It.” When we started the discussion with our record company about choosing our second single, I didn’t have much of a preference and the guys in the band didn’t either. There’s this song called “Broken Bones” that had so many more downloads and streams than any other track on the albums so we went with that. Its kind of cool that the second single was chosen for us. We didn’t have to pick it, the label didn’t have to; the fans chose it.
How do you manage your time between two bands and a family?
NICK: My family and home life is pretty normal. I want to tour as much as possible with CRX however, I’m trying to avoid being on the road for more than two or three weeks at a time. I don’t want things to go well on the music side of things and to have the family side suffer. Also, finding time to meet up with the guys from The Strokes and writing music with them is really important to me. We’re going to be doing some shows a little bit later next year. We’re going to South America in March for some shows. Honestly, I’m still really new to having two bands. Talk to me in like a year and see how I’m doing.
What is a band or artist that fans would be surprised to hear you listen to?
NICK: I mean, there’s a couple of things that were hugely popular in the ’90s that I actively disliked but I have since, 20 years later, revisited and come to appreciate. I wasn’t a big Nine Inch Nails fan in the ’90s, and lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails. Same with Marilyn Manson. I know that sounds weird but I didn’t appreciate Manson back then. The records he made in the ’90s were all pretty kick-ass though.
Top image by Darian Zahedi