In the beginning of the Strokes’ career most of the songwriting credit went to frontman Julian Casablancas, but Angles and the new record Comedown Machine have shown more of a group effort. How have the band’s songwriting dynamics changed over the years?
It seems like a natural progression, but Julian was always ahead of us. He never let anyone play him anything; we had to like it in the end. He had this thing and we were all attracted to it. It was powerful, and we helped in every way we could. It was his brainchild. And then as we became better musicians as time went on, it became more of a writing process between us. It’s a learning curve to throw that into the mix after having defined a sound from one person’s head.
The Strokes’ sophomore album Room on Fire celebrated its 10th anniversary this past October. How do you feel about that record now?
I loved it then and I love it now.
What memories, whether it was from recording or touring the album, stick out to you the most?
What I remember most was that it was frustrating, because I thought we made something better than the first one. The music to me sounds different and the songs are great, but people kept comparing it to the first one and saying we didn’t challenge ourselves. It was just frustrating.
It was always funny to me that critics weren’t saying the album sounded bad, just too similar to Is This It.
It doesn’t to me. It didn’t then; it doesn’t now. It sounds uniquely on its own. And what’s funny is to hear everyone say that, and then you do change, and hear everyone say, “Why can’t you be like that?” [Laughs] I don’t think people know what they want. I think that’s what I’ve come to learn.
One thing that was always cool to me about Loaded was that even though Lou Reed was the front man who wrote all the songs, he handed off lead vocals to bassist Doug Yule on four of them because Doug could hit a higher octave. As a singer, you can reach notes that Julian can’t. Have you thought about switching up the vocals on the next Strokes album?
Yeah, for sure! It’s just, the politics of the band and everyone who has gotten so comfortable with Julian. But I’ve talked to Julian about me getting to sing a song on a record. Obviously I’ve made solo records so it wouldn’t be that weird now [laughs]. But yeah, there’s a possibility for everything. If you continue through the challenges of life you can end up doing some pretty cool stuff.
A major music mentor for you during the Strokes’ early days was JP Bowersock. He was even credited on the sleeve of Is This It as the “guru.” What’s an example of him pushing you to do something better?
JP would always say, “It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with what you know.” I think he’s always tried to instill confidence in me. Cause when I first met him, I just wanted to learn some lead guitar stuff for fun, because I didn’t see myself as a serious lead guitar player. I didn’t know it then, but his goal was to change that. In early Strokes stuff, I ended up doing a lot of lead work and that instilled a lot of confidence in me.
I remember writing the “Last Nite” solo and we were figuring out something, and JP helped write the last part of it. But he was an all-around teacher. You could talk to him about music history. I remember him showing us the Mississippi Sheiks’s “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You.” He showed us a different insight. You could take what you wanted and leave the rest behind.
Going back to your solo work, the AHJ EP is your first release in five years. Is there a full-length LP coming out in the near future?
I’d like to not make LPs anymore. They get a little old-fashioned. So I’m going to try to release enough songs to add up to the length of an album in a year. That’s the way press and television works; you don’t get too much attention. It’s a little bit of a bummer.