Strokes comeback: Frédéric Schwilden meets Julian Casablancas

Dhe was in winter. My girlfriend had separated from me. And I had sold my entire vinyl collection, the 30 volumes of Brockhaus that I had from my parents for my 18th birthday, and the binoculars that I got from my aunt for my 16th birthday in Berlin for drugs. I heard back then “Is This It” by the Strokes: “Can’t you see I’m trying? / I don’t even like it / I just lied 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 “.

I slept with more people than ever before. I stayed with someone else every other day. Sometimes I stole some food from the fridges when I sneaked out of the strange apartments with a hangover and completely broke.

And now I’m married. I have two children. We bought a house. And the strokes release a new album. The fact that it exists still feels like news. And then I realized that I must have grown up by now. The strokes have been around for 22 years.

The new album is called “The New Abnormal” and is produced by Rick Rubin. The cover is a picture of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an African-American artist who died in 1988 in New York at the age of 28 from a heroin overdose. Basquiat was sponsored by Warhol. Warhol produced The Velvet Underground. And the music of the strokes happens right in between.

That evening in February, the current shutdown is still unimaginable, they play a concert in Berlin’s Columbiahalle. A surprise concert that was announced just a few days in advance. It was sold out in no time. And the record label has invited some journalists to listen to “The New Abnormal” in advance. The whole thing takes place before the concert in the “Silverwings Club”, the former officers’ casino of the US Air Force stationed in Berlin, opposite the Columbiahalle.

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Chefs fry burgers for the journalists, along with chicken skewers and vegan spring rolls. Beer and white wine are drunk. Old strokes songs are playing in the background. Now “Reptilia”. A woman from the record label from Munich announces the new album. The journalists applaud. A sound engineer presses play. The first song is called “The Adults Are Talking”.

But another strokes song is playing in the background. The journalists and the woman from the record company don’t notice that. You toast yourself. I go to the mixer and tell the woman that there is another song running. And she looks at me. And after a short pause he says: “It was just a test to find out if you were listening.” She waves to the sound engineer. It makes up the old song. You play “The Adults Are Talking” again from the beginning.

It’s such an 80ies roller disco song. I think of the mall from the “Stranger Things” series. To Miami. On cocaine. On the unshaven armpits of a young woman. I’m thinking of getting away with a stolen Ford Mustang and driving through the night. The guitars play a dü-dü-dü-dü-dü-dü-dü-sing-along tune, the drums sound like a spray can, the verse consists of palm-muted Chords. And Casablancas sings so shot, in a thin, slightly distorted and shattering voice, of the terror of adulthood and the realization that you can never get out of it.

“Hashtag blessed”: Julian Casablancas from the Strokes

Source: Frédéric Schwilden

After the fifth song the music goes out. The journalists applauded after every song, like tourists when the pilot hit the Palma runway. The woman from the record company plays an old strokes song again. And radio host Anja Caspary dances expressively.

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Three days before this evening “At The Door”, the first single for the new album, released. It is five minutes and thirty-three seconds long. There are no drums and almost only synthesizer tones. The riff comes from the guitar technician of the strokes. He had played the band in the rehearsal room. It sounds like chamber music from the future when the universe is on fire. The video is an apocalyptic cartoon in the style of the eighties. Future-Space-Ninja-Turtle-Heavy-Metal-FAKK-2-Flash-Gordon-Martin-Eder-Moving picture: An ulcer grows from the back of a rabbit, it gets bloody eyes, it wants to kill. An out-of-space princess sits on a throne of light. A spaceship slides into an energy beam. A door appears in a starry nebula that morphs into an abandoned wooden house.

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Casablancas sings: “I’m an ugly boy / Holdin ‘out the night / Lonely after light / Banging on the door / I don’t want to know / Sinking like a stone.”

The concert starts sometime after nine. Everything is too loud. Exactly right. And the 30- to 40-year-old fans form a mosh pit. The advertisers, the creative directors, the music managers, the fashion designers are, or are still, 16. They are children who are afraid to die. They are children in adult bodies.

Julian Casablancas wears a kind of Nazi leather coat. Plus chucks. He climbs onto the drummer’s pedestal. Casablancas spits on the drums. He knocks the red cups with drinks, accidentally rather than on purpose. One stops. He drinks from it. In the one second pause in the song “Automatic Stop” he drops the microphone, misses his use. This is this complete denial of a show, which of course is the opposite, namely one of those performative acts that make the strokes so special.

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The band plays 15 songs. Only two of them from the new album. “The Adults Are Talking” and “Bad Decisions”. The melody of the refrain from “Bad Decisions” is that of Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself”. Idol is even named in the song credits as the author of “Bad Decisions”. “Bad Decisions” otherwise sounds more like Joy Division.

The sound of the new album is an almost Afro-futuristic odyssey into space. Basquiat on the cover, the dystopian future in the texts, new living spaces in space in the video. “The New Abnormal” poses the big questions of our time. Who are we as a post-migration company? What identity do we still have? Where is the Earth spaceship heading? But the concert remains in the band’s past. The dark soul of “The New Abnormal” does not come out.

The backstage area of ​​the Columbiahalle. The abandoned kitchen area. A fridge with cola, fanta and Turkish water, a few yoghurt drinks. A gas stove. No cooking marks. “I am Julian”, introduces Julian. We go into a room for two. Completely dark. A leather sofa and armchair. “I want to sit on your lap”, I want to sit on your lap, says Julian. “Of course you can sit on my lap,” I say. And I tell him that I sold all of my drug records. He asks: “Do you miss your records?” And I say, no, and that I’m surprised to be sitting here now. Sober. With family and everything. And I ask him if he can do the same. I ask him: “Are you surprised who you are today?”

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And he says: “I think you get used to yourself. Surprised? I guess yes. I’m pretty surprised. ”Julian pats his heart with his right hand and makes a peace sign. He says, “Hashtag blessed.”

We talk about what it means to find out who you are. When you are. How to be. Wherever you are. Julian says the problem is that you don’t know for a long time. “You’re playing basketball until your twenties, and then I actually found out I like baseball and soccer.”

In a way, of course, it’s banal. In another way, they are sentences from a great American novel. Snapped up and written down somewhere by Salinger, by Roth, by Capote. Sentences that a boy says who does not yet understand the depth of his surface. Then silence again. Sometimes I don’t know if he’s tired. Whether he’s far away. Whether he’s lonely. About what he is.

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In February, the strokes appeared at an election campaign event by democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. Julian wrote shortly before in a message from the band: “As the only truly non-corporate candidate, Bernie Sanders represents our only chance to overthrow corporate power and help return America to democracy.” Julian Casablancas’ father was John Casablancas, the founder of the American model agency Elite Models, he discovered Gisele Bündchen. His slogan was: “We don’t wake up for less than $ 10,000 a day”. In the 1980s, his agency made about $ 100 million a year. Today, that would be about $ 313 million. Julian’s father was Corporate America.

“Are you thinking about something on stage?” I ask him. “Yeah,” he replies. “Do you remember what you thought about tonight?” I ask. “Yeah,” he says again. “Would you share your thoughts with me?” Sorry But it’s a good question. “

A conversation with Casablancas often leads to nowhere. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t lead to anything. The existing nothing is just something and not nothing. In a David Lynch way. Dissolving is a prerequisite for becoming here. Casablancas can no longer remember why they made the album. Whether Rick Rubin asked the Strokes or the Strokes Rick Rubin.

We talk about our children. Julian says that two and a half years and eight months is a terrible age. And then he hugs me. He really holds me close. I can feel his three necklaces on me. It is just before midnight. The winter is over.

Cover magazine Rolling Stone 03/26/2020

“Rolling Stone”, April 2020

Source: Rolling Stone

The text comes from the current edition of “Rolling Stone”.

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