Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
Photo by Colin Lane

When not busy fronting rock group The Strokes, writing new material for solo records, or running his label Cult Records, singer and songwriter Julian Casablancas is kicking ass with his new project Julian Casablancas + The Voidz. With the recent release of their debut album Tyranny, the band are currently touring North America and bring this experimental/psychedelic-rock gem to Toronto on November 21st. Earlier this week, we had the opportunity of giving Julian a call to discuss changing things up from The Strokes, running Cult Records, tips on writing good melodies, advice for young bands, and leather jackets. Dive into our conversation below:

AMBY: Hey Julian, thanks for speaking with me today. My staff and I are huge fans and really appreciate you taking the time.

Julian Casablancas: It’s my honour.

AMBY: [laughs] You created your solo debut Phrazes for the Young mainly by yourself. This new album, Tyranny, was more of a collaboration between you and The Voidz. What were some of the highlights you had when creating it?

Julian Casablancas: We had a lot of musical breakthroughs – I would consider those the highlights. I would say there were one hundred and fifty highlights [laughs].

AMBY: You’ve joked a few times saying that you were all listening to November Rain while creating Human Sadness. Which other artists were you listening to while making the new album?

Julian Casablancas: I’ve said that as a joke before and how it’s our November Rain. We weren’t really listening to Guns N’ Roses at the time. We all have though, I’m sure. We were listening to a mix of aggressive punk stuff, weird seventies stuff, African stuff, and different realms of the underground trying to help us play a different kind of style.

AMBY: Judging from what I’ve heard, it’s obvious that you like to change things up – you had longer songs on the album, didn’t record it alone, and created something more aggressive. With all of the change that’s occurred, what do you feel is the biggest difference between your work in The Voidz to The Strokes?

Julian Casablancas: I think The Voidz is my ideal collaboration and is what I’ve been striving for. I think we’re all on the same page; we bounce ideas off each other and have similar taste.

AMBY: You released the album on your very own Cult Records. Did that have an influence on how you released the record – having full control over everything and not having any real barriers?

Julian Casablancas: It’s never been about control… When you look at the first two Strokes records, even though I was doing everything, my goal or dream is that I actually wanted to collaborate.

AMBY: And that’s why The Voidz were an ideal outlet for you?

Julian Casablancas: I wanted to be part of the best band in the world and in a band where every instrument is played at a high level. I think something fell apart a little bit before and I was searching in the dark. I think I learned a lot of things and I don’t have any regrets about it. Now I’m happy I made it through and can work with some other cool bands.

AMBY: A quote I came across about Cult Records is, “anything that comes in and is awesome, we do”. You represent The Virgins, Har Mar Superstar, and Cerebral Ballzy to name a few. How has running a label and helping other bands had an impact on your thought process, when it came to making and releasing your own album?

Julian Casablancas: You’re always learning. I think I have the energy to do a lot of things and it’s nice to have that outlet. Earlier on with The Strokes, to be honest, I felt I would have all of these ideas and I think that people weren’t even willing to collaborate. There were different issues below the surface and it wasn’t just based on creativity; there were different things getting in the way. When it comes to this record and process and having the label, if I have twenty different video ideas, maybe one of them can now see the light of day. It’s great to be collaborating creatively. I don’t want to get my paws on everything; I just want to end up with something cool and for our music to be out there. If something is good, I don’t want to mess with it. But if there’s somewhere I feel I can help, I will put in my two-cents and try to not be too pushy about it. That’s basically what goes on. There are certain albums where I won’t touch a thing on its head [laughs].

AMBY: Something I wanted to bring up is how many of our readers are in small indie bands, so you can imagine how much of an influence your work has had on them. If you were to give advice to fans of yours who want a career in the industry, what would you tell them?

Julian Casablancas: Never think you’re too great. You can have a little celebration time, but some bands make something and love it so much that they get too comfortable. I think that when a band starts thinking they’re really great, they could start going downhill. It sounds simple, but it’s something to keep in mind.

AMBY: Since we’re speaking about fans, going into the interview we asked our readers if they had any questions for you, and our feed blew up with things they want to know. The first question we received was: “how does he pick which melody to use for his vocals? For example in Father Electricity he sings the guitar line first before it’s played. How does he determine which melody is the most suitable?”

Julian Casablancas: Years of writing crappy melodies.

AMBY and Julian Casablancas: [laughs]

AMBY: Have melodies always come easy to you?

Julian Casablancas: I mean, the ones I’ve kept are the good ones. I used to go to shows when I was a kid – not as much now as I only go to things I really want to see or friends’ bands – and whenever I was bored, I would try to pop a melody into my head. Melody is something you have to work on a lot. You have to understand that it’s not a line of notes, it’s power and the relationship to the other music that’s going on. I would say harmony is a complex thing and I would always listen to things that were powerful and moving. Some people just listen to crappy music in the background sometimes, which is a big pet peeve of mine. If it’s not great, I don’t like to spend my time around it. I think all of those forces and time… time after time [laughs]… resulted in having a couple of good melodies.

AMBY: Another fan question we had, which I thought was great, is: “how many leather jackets does he really own?”

AMBY and Julian Casablancas: [laughs]

Julian Casablancas: Ah, that’s funny. I think people would be surprised… You go through phases and I remember when three or four would be a lot. At this point, this is probably disappointing; I have about under ten… I would guess around eight.

AMBY: That’s not disappointing! To wrap things up, I wanted to say a massive thank you once again for chatting with AMBY today. It was such a pleasure and we look forward to seeing you in Toronto.

Julian Casablancas: I’m excited, I love Toronto. Thanks so much.

***

Thank you Julian Casablancas, for giving us your answers!

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Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

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