Although he is best recognized for his work as lead guitarist of The Strokes, Nick Valensi also serves as the lead vocalist and guitarist of power-pop rock group CRX. The Hoya spoke with Valensi last week, following the Oct. 28 release of CRX’s first album, “New Skin,” to discuss his initial hesitance about becoming a frontman and his enthusiasm for his new interest in songwriting.
While Valensi has been notably opposed to side projects in the past, he now sees CRX, initially formed in 2013, as a way to fill his desire of touring on a more regular basis.
“The Strokes don’t tour that much anymore, and I found myself with some extra downtime, and I thought, ‘Let’s see if I can put some songs together and take it on tour.’ … I was always curious what it would feel like getting on stage and being the frontman for the band and not just the guitar player,” Valensi said.
This transition, however, did not come easily. For someone who has spent a lifetime mastering his craft, Valensi said the biggest challenge he faced during the early stages of CRX was not the nuanced and technical aspects of learning to sing, but a psychological barrier that prevented him from feeling comfortable with his recorded voice.
“For singers, and for orators, there’s always this thing where you speak and you record something and then you hear your voice played back and you just f—–g hate the sound of your own voice. … But there’s also this aspect of psychological acceptance of, ‘Well that’s my voice and that’s what I got, and I’m just going to work with what I got,’” Valensi said.
After spending significant time over the past year singing into his own computer over demos of new tracks, Nick steadily grew more accepting of his natural timbre.
While the songwriting process may come more naturally to some, including The Strokes’ principal songwriter and lead singer Julian Casablancas, Valensi found himself exploring unknown territory. He dedicated an hour or two each day to writing, looking for patterns of topics that would reveal what he felt were genuine emotions.
“Now with this, for the first time in my life — I’m in my thirties — I find myself writing lyrics, and basically writing poetry, so it was a challenge. … I filled several notebooks with whatever it was — random musings, sometimes it was more like a narrative, random words, stream of consciousness ramblings,” Valensi said.
In his role as the frontman of CRX, Valensi tries not to compare Julian Casablancas’ ability to his own, though he admits to being somewhat biased after spending nearly 22 years working alongside one of the most prominent frontmen in modern rock. Instead of borrowing techniques from Casablancas, Valensi integrates his distinct guitar musicianship into CRX’s new music, creating a distinct sound.
“There’s a part of me that is constantly striving to discover new things and different ways of playing on the guitar, and then there’s another part of me that feels very comfortable relying on the style that I’ve developed over the years,” Valensi said. “I feel like on the CRX record there’s a little bit of both of those things going on.”
With regard to The Strokes’ recently announced sixth studio album, Valensi said fans may have to wait a while before its release.
“We’re not recording yet, it’s super early. We’re just writing and demoing songs. … People get so excited about that and it’s really cool for me to have that. At the same time, it’s a little dangerous because I feel like people get prematurely excited, because the truth is we haven’t done anything yet,” Valensi said.
For someone who has never taken on the frontman role before CRX, Valensi makes the product of his dedicated work sound effortless. The songs on CRX’s new album “New Skin” drip with lyrical cynicism and dueling guitar riffs, enough to make any Strokes fan latch onto Valensi’s wild ride and never let go.
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