Rarely does a band come along that garners so much hype and so much backlash in a few moments. The Strokes are five normal guys from New York, with an upper-class background and a penchant for looking like they stepped out of CBGB”s circa 1973. Their debut record Is This It supports nearly every chubby ounce of the overbearing press” cellulite-chalked hype. “It”s beyond tired, but it really doesn”t matter,” bassist Nikolai Fraiture told The Michigan Daily. While the Strokes are the victims of the ber-trendy fashion police, the public”s perception of their image matters not to the band “It”s not contrived or formulated, we were all friends long before we started playing music, it was more we were influenced by each other. We”re just friends that play music,” said Fraiture. The Strokes are making music rock again and are bringing that rock to Detroit”s St. Andrews Hall.
Hailing from New York City the band had a collective mind to yank their U.S. release of their debut CD Is This It, because of a potentially controversial track in “New York City Cops.” The band”s decision to pull the track in the wake of Sept. 11 shows the Strokes consciousness as a band. The Strokes approach in choosing artwork mirrors their everyman status they stumbled across an image in an airport and then collectively decided to replace the racy U.K. cover for the U.S. release.
The Strokes” world doesn”t revolve around critical heaps of praise or how their album is holding on the Billboard the Strokes” care about their fans and their friends. “We care about what we think, and people who we respect, we care about what they think.” Despite the hordes of praise Is This It has garnered, Fraiture was relatively apathetic towards the critics and their opinions. “A lot of times, they probably don”t even listen to the whole album, don”t come to see the show they just write their review which they think is funny or good for them. It usually has nothing to do with the band.”
Beneath the underlying everyman characteristics of the band there is a romantic story. The band has said that if they could only take four people to a desert island that they would take the other Strokes with them. Nikolai Fraiture and Julian Casablancas have been friends since first grade. “When we were young, we”d build forts, play with thundercats, GI Joes, just like all the little kids used to.” GI Joes? Did you have a favorite? “Yeah, Snake Eyes was pretty cool, but Sgt. Slaughter was the man.”
Their debut album Is This It, hums somewhere between the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, although never completely rips either band off. Instead, the Strokes have combined their influences with urgency the urgency of a band who wanted a contract so much that they stood outside of Weezer shows handing out fliers. Their efforts eventually led them to sign on to a major label, after Rough Trade Records. Their Modern Age EP dropped on British soil in January of 2001, and stateside, a super-sized bidding war ensued.
The Strokes were eventually lured to RCA, who were in Fraiture”s words “the least of the worst. They were ready to commit to us and give us financial backing immediately.” Money wasn”t the lone factor in the Strokes big move to the major-label sector of the musical food chain. “It was very person to person, most of the people at RCA were really cool, everyone there is on a first name basis.” Their debut followed.
Julian Casablancas is the songwriter in the Strokes. There is no debate, there is no qualm, there is no problem. “He”ll bring in a main melody, like a guitar and vocal, or a bass and vocal or bass and drums, and from there we”ll just work in the studio usually until the sun comes up. That”s how we did all of Is This It.” One would expect that the other musicians in the band would have a problem with the internal-autonomy, but Fraiture insisted it was quite the opposite, “Each player, each person has their own individual place, and they know everyone of us know where we belong.” This type of team-mentale is something that several bands should take note of. It seems that there is no me-ism within the Strokes, instead they ride the five horsemen of the musical apocalypse.
Rock “n” Roll”s saviors the Strokes are not. They know it, they are comfortable with it and they like it. The Strokes maintain their everyman repute in the honesty of their claims, “We just do what we like to do, that”s all.” What they like to do is bang out three and four minute songs chapped with urgency and bounding along on an album that clocks in under 40-minutes. The songs explore a series of fleeting moments, moments which end all too abruptly like the album-stopping track “Hard to Explain.” Is This It”s tracks clip along, sans filler and full of punch.
Already, the Strokes have been inappropriately sitgmatized as a band caught too frequently engaging in fisticuffs. A recent article story detailed a squabble with the band and some guys on the street that was “blown way out of proportion,” according to Fraiture. While the band maintains that they aren”t a motley crew of pit fighters, when asked who would do the defending if a concert go-er took a swing at a Stroke, Fraiture said there would be no need for bodyguards, “We will definitely kick the shit out of you.”