As lead guitarist for New York City rockers The Strokes, Nick Valensi has toured the world, topped critics lists and sold over 5 million records. Away from the band he has collaborated with everyone from Kate Pierson of the B52s to Sia.
For his latest project, the band CRX, Mr. Valensi moves front and center as both lead singer and guitarist. In advance of CRX’s show District at U Music Hall Wednesday, he discussed the new band and the future of The Strokes.
Question: How did the band CRX come together?
Answer: A couple of years ago I was at home in between Strokes albums and found myself with a little bit of extra downtime. I started writing songs with the intention of putting together an album that I could take on tour. I got this feeling about three years ago that I really wanted to get on stage and start performing more in a way that I was not able to do with The Strokes.
Q: Why not push The Strokes to tour more?
A: I was reluctant to push The Strokes because The Strokes have kind of gotten to a place where we’ve gotten past all the drama we went through six or seven years ago. We’re in a really solid, functioning working place now. We’re writing good songs together and enjoying each other’s company. Feeling really good about what we do together. No one wants to throw a wrench into that plan.
The idea for me was to have this project (CRX) that I could pick up and go on tour whenever I wanted to. It started out as something I did by myself. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a band or a solo project.
Q: When did it evolve into a full band?
A: I worked by myself for about a year writing songs on my laptop. I started having writers block. That’s when it dawned on me that I was going to need help to finish. Not because I felt like I couldn’t do it on my own, but because I’m the kind of person who is used to having this band dynamic — having people to bounce ideas off of. I was pretty certain that if I could create that, I would end up with a much better album.
Q: Was it important for the band to have a different sound?
A: It was not something I consciously thought of. Early on in the process, I just throw everything at the wall. See what sticks. I think it’s important, especially early in the process, to not be close-minded about what it is you’re trying to create. That whole critical editing function of your brain is better served later in the process. The guy in your brain who can sneak in and say, “Oh, that sounds too much like The Strokes.”
He’s only gonna [mess] you up if he shows up early. I was looking for something to get excited about.
Q: Any pressure in taking over lead vocal duties?
A: That was probably the thing I felt the most pressure about, because I know how important the vocals are to a song. You can have a decent song or a mediocre song, and if there is a really good vocal performance on it, that can elevate it to great. I also know you can have a great song but with a sh**ty vocal performance on it, it’s not great anymore.
I did feel a sense of pressure there, and it was something I wanted to get right. I had to figure out what to do so when I heard my voice played back, I didn’t cringe.
Q: What do the initials CRX stand for?
A: It’s actually a car, a Japanese hatchback from the 1980s. Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) produced the record. When we were recording, we used a drum machine called a CR78, and he started talking about a CRX.
We talked about how the songs were driving songs. They make you wanna get behind the wheel and drive really fast. Josh kept saying, “All I can picture is a CRX in the deserted streets of Tokyo with these songs blaring.” That image stuck.
Q: Are The Strokes working on a new album?
A: Phrasing it that way, we might be getting ahead of ourselves a little bit. We’re getting together every few weeks and doing kind of “show and tell” parties. We share things that we wrote, work on them a little, jam on some ideas, maybe record a demo or two.
We are working on an album, but we are so early on in the process that sometimes I am wary of talking about it because people get really excited about The Strokes.
That’s so cool for me that I’m part of this band that just the mention of us working on new material gets people excited. That’s really cool, but I don’t want people to blow their load early.
Q: How will you balance both bands?
A: I’m doing it. I’m juggling The Strokes, CRX and my family. I’ve got my wife and kids back in L.A. To be honest, that takes priority over both bands. I’m just kinda getting the hang of it.
Q: What is the one item you need with you to stay sane on the road?
A: I take this stuff called “Wellness Formula” that boosts immunity so you don’t get sick on the road. Being in the middle of nowhere on tour and being sick turns you into a baby.
Also, the one thing you never wanna pass up on tour is a good laundromat. If you see a good laundromat, just go!
Q: How will you spend your downtime in D.C.?
A: Hopefully not in the laundromat. [laughs]
D.C. is a cool town. I don’t have plans yet, but I’m sure that it will involve a nice meal before the gig and some nice cocktails after the gig.
CRX plays at U Street Music Hall Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 by going to Ticketfly.com.