Fabled New York City rock quintet the Strokes garnered critical accolades for their immensely successful debut record Is This It in the fall of 2001. The young band and its gritty but melodic tracks drew critical comparisons the Who, Velvet Underground, Television, and Tom Petty. Their sudden stardom, which even included a tribute in the mainstream news-weekly Time, left its young members—aged 20 to 22—slightly bewildered but nonetheless pleased. They, along with a few critics, were perplexed by the media hype surrounding their debut release, such as this tribute from Kevin Hopper of the Albuquerque Journal: “[T]here’s something inherently new about the Strokes that has seemingly ushered in a wave of rock that closely rivals the freshness Nirvana introduced only a decade ago.” San Francisco Chronicle critic James Sullivan noted, “the Strokes are also wholly original. They can play, and they can write a happening rock song. What else is there?”
The Strokes were formed in New York City in 1998. Lead singer and songwriter Julian Casablancas, the son of legendary Elite Modeling Agency founder John Casablancas, had known guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr., from their boarding-school days in Switzerland. Hammond, a California native, had moved to New York
Members include Julian Casablancas, vocals; Nikolai Fraiture, bass; Albeit Hammond, Jr., guitar; Fabrizio Moretti, drums; Nick Valensi , guitar;.
Group formed in New York City, 1998; released EP, The Modern Age on Beggars Banquet, 2001; signed to RCA Records, 2001; released full-length LP, Is This It, October 2001.
City to attend film school at New York University. He and Casablancas had a chance meeting one day on the street where they both lived, and as Hammond recalled in interview with Len Righi of Allentown [Pennsylvania]’s Morning Call paper, Casablancas “told me about his band and that they needed a guitar player. I went to audition, but later Julian told me I was in even before I tried out.”
Casablancas had already started the fledgling band with friends Nikolai Fraiture, Nick Valensi, and Fabrizio Moretti, each of whom he had known since they attended the Dwight School, a private high school in New York City. Valensi had been playing guitar since the age of five, and at 14 had encouraged Casablancas to try it as well. Hammond, on the other hand, had not considered a career in music, even though his father, Albert Hammond, Sr., had recorded a soft-rock hit, “It Never Rains in Southern California,” in the early 1970s. He told Righi that his father strongly discouraged him, recalling that he had been “very tough on me when he realized I was going to join the band. He said, ‘Don’t think I can help you. Look at what happened to John Lennon’s sons.’ It almost turned me off.”
Undaunted, Hammond, Casablancas, and the rest of the Strokes persevered, spending nearly a year writing songs. Their first performance came in the fall of 1999 at Spiral, a New York City bar on the Lower East Side. It was, by the band’s admission, an abysmal show, and one they later claimed just three people paid to see. They returned to rehearsing, and within a year were playing weekly at New York’s famed Bowery Ballroom. Word of mouth on the band soon spread, and a December gig at the Mercury Lounge introduced them to booking agent Ryan Gentles, who convinced them to cut a demo record. “After it was finished I looked over at [Hammond] and said, ‘Dude, this is gonna get us signed,’” Casablancas told Teen People journalist Tom Lanham. True to his prediction, the record was picked up by the Rough Trade label in England, and was released in Britain in January of 2001. The band played several shows in Britain to promote it, and also won supporting slots touring with Guided by Voices and Doves.
The Strokes also took that EP, The Modem Age, to the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in March of 2001, and gained a slot on the festival bill. A headline in the Austin American-Statesman review of that show read “The Strokes Offer a Peek at Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Future,” and critic Jason Cohen declared that “the band’s pounding, grimy, hard-spiked minimalism comes in a candy shell of instantly memorable pop songs. They sound like everybody, but they sound like nobody.” The Modem Age EP, bolstered by their live shows in Austin and Britain led to a bidding war among major labels to sign them. RCA emerged the victor, and the band headed back into the studio to record a full-length album.
Is This It was released first in the England in late August of 2001, where it entered the charts at number two. British critics were especially effusive in their accolades and the band even appeared on a famed music show, Top of the Pops. A journalist for the Belfast, Northern Ireland paper News Letter, Jeff Magill, declared that “Every band churned out of America these days seems to be nu-rock, Californian hip-hoppers attired in over-sized shorts and wearing tights on their head, but the Strokes are distinctively New York chic. Tight-fitting retro suits, thin ties and army jackets is their favourite apparel.” Critics also gave the debut itself strong praise. “Is This It’s 11 songs are ruthlessly efficient,” declared a writer for the London Guardian newspaper, Alexis Petridis. “Every track makes its point within four minutes, then stops dead. Thrillingly, in an era of over-padded, CD-filling marathons laden with hidden bonus tracks, interactive videos and CD-ROM games, the entire album lasts just over half an hour.”
The buzz from England spread to America in the weeks just before Is This It was released, but its appearance was delayed by two weeks when RCA decided to pull one track, “New York City Cops.” It was a love song, but contained the refrain: “New York City cops, they ain’t too smart.” In the wake of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, in which many public-safety officers lost their lives, the label feared unfavorable publicity if the track remained. Another song was substituted, and the October 9, 2001, release was greeted with an almost unanimously positive response. Re-viewers seemed besotted with the Strokes’ sound. Rolling Stone writer Joe Levy opened a review by declaring, “This is the stuff of which legends are made.” Levy commended the Strokes for bringing together so many seminal musical ideas, and its frontman’s delivery across the eleven songs, which he also compared to Jagger, as well as to John Lennon and Bryan Ferry. “Casablancas uses distance to communicate passion,” Levy noted. “Half the time, he seems to be singing through an intercom, like he’s buzzing at the door asking to come into your life, and his greatest trick is a pleading tear in his voice that lets him slip around the songs, crooning one second, leering the next, then exploding into a throat-shredding shout.”
Critics also wrote approvingly of the Strokes’ live shows as well. Sullivan, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that “the Strokes artfully straddle the gulf between hipster indifference and frantic nervous energy,” and commended the way in which Valensi and Hammond “played perfectly complementary parts, trading off antsy, new-wave-y lines and tense, dirty solos.” Writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, William Lamb found that Casablancas “sang like Lou Reed but looked much like Mick Jagger circa 1964, before the Stones’ frontman learned how to work a stage.” The Albuquerque Journal critique from Hopper succinctly summarized the paeans from others: the band, he claimed, “has given us something we have heard before, but it’s in a shiny new package.”
Is This It entered the Billboard charts in the United States at number 74—an impressive feat for a record that had received almost no radio airplay. Critics compared the Casablancas and the rest of the band to many other seminal rock acts, from Television to the Jam and even Oasis. Los Angeles Times writer Steve Hochman stressed that the Strokes’ debut displayed a certain originality, despite all the name-dropping from critics, including his own. “As a unit the band developed a melodic, energetic style with echoes of acts ranging from the Velvet Underground and New York Dolls to Tom Petty and the Jam. But the Strokes’ music is far from breaking ground of its own, and at this point lacks the dark mystique at the heart of the best of its models. Still, there is an earnest joy in the presentation—live and on record—that gives it potential for growth.” A London newspaper critic, Neil McCormick, visited New York and wrote about how difficult it was for any band to make it in New York City. His Daily Telegraph article noted that the city boasted a thriving underground music scene, one that was extremely creative and competitive. McCormick called it “a maelstrom of activity where only the hippest survive, like the Strokes, the city’s newest favourite sons: five pretty rich kids playing raw, perfectly distilled, lo-fi, dirty, arty rock and roll.”
Throughout the fall of 2001, the Strokes enjoyed playing sold-out shows—a far cry from their door earnings from just two years before. Remembering that first New York gig at the Spiral, Casablancas told the New York Post that the band was surprised by the sudden fame, having possessed the humblest of ambitions when starting out. “We wanted to play a better show and get signed to an indie label,” Casablancas recalled. Regarding the massive amount of press attention that greeted their debut, guitarist Valensi remarked to Time that as a whole, he and his bandmates “try not to pay too much attention to [the hype]. It could be a trap, to believe what people write about you.”
The Modem Age (EP), Beggars Banquet, 2001.
Is This It, RCA, 2001.
(Contributor) Spider-Man (soundtrack), Sony, 2002.
Albuquerque Journal, January 25, 2002, p. 13.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 26, 2001, p. 3.
Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX), March 18, 2001; October 25, 2001, p. 25.
Boston Herald, September 28, 2001, p. S4.
Daily Post (Liverpool, England), February 15, 2002, p. 27.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 5, 2002, p. 9.
Dallas Morning News, January 3, 2002, p. 21 A.
Guardian (London, England), August 24, 2001, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2001, p. F1.
Morning Call (Allentown, PA), November 10, 2001, p. A39.
News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), June 15, 2001, p. 34; August 31, 2001, p. 37.
New York Post, October 28, 2001, p. 45; December 20, 2001, p. 50.
People, December 3, 2001, p. 37.
Rolling Stone, October 11, 2001.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 2001, p. C1; October 15, 2001, p. B1.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 23, 2001, p. D10.
Teen People, February 1, 2002, p. 78.
Time, September 15, 2001, p. 30.
The Strokes Official Website, http://www.thestrokes.com (February 23, 2002).
"The Strokes." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/strokes
"The Strokes." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/strokes
Formed: 1999, New York, New York
Members: Julian Casablancas, vocals (born New York City, 23 August 1978); Nikolai Fraiture, bass (born New York City, 13 November 1978); Albert Hammond Jr., guitar (born Los Angeles, 9 April 1979); Fabrizio Moretti, drums (born Rio de Janeiro, 2 June 1980); Nick Valensi, guitar (born New York City, 16 January 1981).
Best-selling album since 1990: Is This It? (2001)
Hit songs since 1990: "Hard to Explain," "Last Nite"
Along with talent, hype has long been an essential component of rock and roll stardom. Few bands from the 1990s, however, were the subject of as much feverish expectation as New York's the Strokes. Anointed as the saviors of rock and roll by the British music press after releasing just three songs, the quintet's debut, Is This It? (2001), was greeted with waves of adulation for its compression of 1970s New York punk and 1980s arty new wave. While the album could not possibly have lived up to the buildup, the group was lumped in with the Vines and the Hives as part of the equally media-hyped "garage rock revival" of the new millennium.
Just one year after coming together in New York City in 1999, the Strokes were already being called the first significant rock band of the 2000s. The band had its origins in 1998, when singer Julian Casablancas (son of Elite modeling agency founder John Casablancas), drummer Fabrizio Moretti, and guitarist Nick Valensi began playing music together while attending the Manhattan private prep academy the Dwight School. Another prep school kid, bassist Nikolai Fraiture, soon joined, followed by a childhood friend of Casablancas from the Swiss boarding school L'Institut Le Rosey, guitarist Albert Hammond. The latter is the son of singer/songwriter Albert Hammond, author of the pop songs "It Never Rains in Southern California" and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before."
The band spent most of 1999 writing songs and rehearsing before making their live debut in September at the New York club the Spiral. The high-energy performance earned the nascent band a string of new bookings and a deal with the Rough Trade label, which released their three-song The Modern Age demo album in January 2001.
As a bidding war to sign the band was erupting in the United States—ultimately won by RCA Records—the EP was drawing rave reviews in the United Kingdom and multiple feature stories from the U.K. rock weekly New Musical Express ; additionally, the single "Hard to Explain"
debuted at number sixteen on the U.K. music charts. Restless to document their new songs, the band began recording their debut album before signing their record deal.
Band Drops Song in Wake of Terrorist Attacks
By the time Is This It? was released in late summer 2001 in the United Kingdom, the hype had reached deafening proportions. Every move made by the group became fodder for articles, including their original choice of album art, a suggestive photo of a woman's nude behind with a leather glove-clad hand resting on it. When U.K. retailers objected, the U.S. version—released in October—was changed to feature an abstract, lattice-like image.
More controversy followed, however. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York, band members were pressured to remove the song "New York City Cops," which features the line "New York city cops, they ain't too smart"; it was replaced by the song "When It Started." When the album was finally released, it was hailed by critics as a work of genius, synthesizing the street attitude and jagged guitar sounds of such important New York bands as the Velvet Underground and Television with the buoyant, pop-inspired sensibility of rock legends the Beatles and Buddy Holly.
With Casablancas's vocals sounding as if he is singing through a megaphone, songs such as "Hard to Explain" burn with a dark energy, propelled by Hammond's distorted, jazzy guitar riffs and Fraiture's steady, elongated bass lines. The combination of high society boys dressed in thrift store clothes playing a previous generation's music clicked with audiences, who more often than not ate up the spectacle of the disheveled, mop-topped Casablancas stumbling around the stage clutching a beer while yanking on his jean jacket lapels.
Casablancas plays the part of world-weary club kid to the hilt, penning lyrics about life as a disaffected twentysomething, summed up by the opening couplet to the title track. "Can't you see I'm trying, I don't even like it / I just lie to get to your apartment / Now I'm staying there just for a while / I can't think 'cause I'm just way too tired," he sings in a monotone over Hammond's spiky guitars, Moretti's steady, marching beat, and Fraiture's bouncy bass line.
The group debuted a handful of new songs during a fall 2002 U.S. tour and were named Spin magazine's Group of the Year for 2002. A second album was expected in 2003.
Despite a sound that added little original spin on the underground New York punk of the 1970s, the Strokes were hailed as the first great rock band of their generation. Ignoring the buzz, the band delivered on the promise in their live shows and released a debut album that features a classic combination of twentysomething ennui coupled with brash, rock and roll energy.
Is This It? (RCA, 2001).
"Strokes, The." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/strokes
"Strokes, The." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved January 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/strokes