Nick Valensi of the Strokes on the Anxiety of Starting a New Band of His Own
Nick Valensi (center) is the lead guitarist of the Strokes, but he makes the transition to lead singer in his new band, CRX.
Amanda de Cadenet
Nick Valensi hadn't planned to start another band. As the guitarist for the Strokes, who could blame him? But as band members Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr. began to invest more time in their solo careers, Valensi found himself with more free time than he liked.
“A couple years ago, I found myself at home with a little extra downtime while the other guys in the Strokes were doing solo things," says Valensi. "I found myself really wanting to be on stage more often. I thought, ‘Let me see if I can get an album together, so I can get a band and go on tour.”
Escaping the shadow of one of the most prominent indie rock bands of the mid to late 2000s is no small feat. “What if I try my hand at this, and it’s something I don’t enjoy doing, or I don’t get the results I want?" he asks. "So for awhile it was just me at home, with a guitar and drum machine in my underwear, really honing the lyric writing and singing. That’s where I felt I had the most catching up to do."
Between 2008 and 2013 Valensi had hunkered down in his new home in Los Angeles, so he could be with his wife and raise his children. “I was really grateful to have the opportunity to be at home with my kids, be around them, and help to raise them during their more ‘formative’ years, or whatever you want to call them," he says.
But now that they're a bit older and in school for longer hours, he has time to work on his new project. “The time felt right for me to try to get back in the game and to put a record out and get on tour, y’know?” he says. At first he kept his cards close to his vest, and recorded quietly in his home. “It’s interesting, because at the onset of the project, I worked basically by myself, kind of in secret for almost a year.”
Valensi says that writing for the guitar was never a concern for him, as he has spent the bulk of his music career, and even his life, arranging guitar parts. “I’ve been doing that shit my whole life. The issue for me was that I realized, ‘Oh shit, I’m gonna have to write these lyrics and sing them,' and that’s just something I have very little experience doing, despite being in a band for nearly 20 years. It’s just something Julian always did."
It didn’t come easily, either. At some point, the words stopped flowing and lack of direction began to set in. “After about a year, I kind of lost perspective a little bit. I had hit a wall," he says. "I had done good work and liked everything I had done and had achieved so far, but the progress got really slow and I was having a tough time finishing."
He attributes the stagnation to his past experiences songwriting with other people, where they would build on ideas together and bounce ideas off of each other. "You can kind of play ping pong with an idea with your friends, and really quickly the idea can build itself out into something with legs.”
He almost lost hope altogether, but found it within himself to reach out to his friends and start to put together a whole band with musicians he really trusted. “I would send demos to people, and just say, ‘Tell me what you think of the direction I’m going in.’ But very quickly it turned into a collaborative thing, where I had friends to help finish this. Once I opened the door to having people come in and help me, and was open to collaboration, that’s when the project really began to pick up steam.”
Among these friends was Josh Homme, of Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age fame, who came on to help produce the record and has experience transitioning from the role of lead guitarist to singer. “He’s great as a producer, and a guitar player and a songwriter. Basically everything I’m trying to do.”
After gleaning much constructive criticism and insight from Homme, Valensi decided that he wanted to ask him to help produce the record. Homme agreed without hesitation, and thus CRX was born. Valensi attributes the success of the project to his lack of expectations. “Everything with this band has been very natural, I think because I had very little preconceptions about what it would be and what I wanted it to sound like. I didn’t even know what I was doing; I just wanted to get back in the game.”
CRX will perform 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, at Trees, 2709 Elm St. Tickets are $15 at treesdallas.com.
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