“One should always be a little improbable.” —Oscar Wilde, Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young
Julian Casablancas is 31 years old. He is completely sober, married, and about to become a father. It’s been almost four years since the Strokes released their last album, First Impressions of Earth—an extended hiatus during which the affable frontman slowly wrote and recorded Phrazes for the Young, his first solo record. He was not, initially, enthusiastic.
“I never wanted to do it,” Casablancas admits, ringing in from L.A. “I kind of made the decision when I found out that Albert, Fab, and Nikolai were all going to make their own records. We’d all meet and work on Strokes stuff, but it seemed like they weren’t really that interested at the time. . . . I’m not saying that was the case. There was no animosity. And I have total respect for the fact that people want to do [their own thing]. But in some ways, I felt like I really had no choice.”
So now there’s Phrazes, a fast-paced toe-tapper teeming with ’80s synth-pop, copious overdubs, and electronic drumbeats. The lyrics are candid and personal, at times even apologetic: On opener “Out of the Blue,” Casablancas sings, “The ones that I made pay/Were never the ones who deserved it/And the ones who deserved it/They’ll never understand it/Yes, I know I’m going to hell in a purple basket/At least I’ll be in another world while you’re pissing on my casket.”
He is far less apologetic about the record’s rather obvious influences: “Left & Right in the Dark” prominently features the signature riff from A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away),” while “Ludlow Street” transitions from a chamber waltz into a bluegrass banjo workout. Does Phrazes sound like a Strokes record? Not really, save for Casablancas’s trademark drawl and the occasional Fender-friendly moment on songs like “Chords of the Apocalypse” and “Tourist.” But the LP succeeds in giving him an outlet to explore some of his own musical ideas in much the same way his fellow Strokes have.
Work on Phrazes began in the singer’s East Village apartment, but soon involved jaunts to both Los Angeles (to work with Jason Lader, whom Casablancas praises as “the best engineer in the world”) and Nebraska (homebase of Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis). But that was still far less collaboration than the Strokes frontman is used to: “It was nice to do things differently, but I did miss getting to try different arrangements with the whole band. Sometimes, that’ll give you a quicker sense of how long a song should be or what works and what doesn’t.”
Promoting this record will be a somewhat unfamiliar exercise as well. “I’m much more involved in the process now,” Casablancas says. “As far as actually delivering the music to people, that’s been taken over by this corporate entity that has questionable taste. But we’re working on videos, and we’re doing all this website stuff, and we’re working on these elaborate stage things for the shows. I mean, there’s still music and rehearsals to consider, but these days, there’s a lot of other work as well.”
To that end, he’ll spend the month of November playing regularly at L.A.’s Downtown Palace Theater, followed by some December U.K. dates and an eventual New York City residency in January (venue TBA). After that, the Strokes may finally reconvene.
“We’re ready to go,” Casablancas insists. “I mean, we’ve been waiting on certain things. And it’s hard to get everyone in the same spot. But I’ve been ready for years.”