No one can blame Nick Valensi for wanting to take a break.
A member of the Strokes and the guy behind some of the most distinct guitar licks of the past two decades, Valensi can be forgiven for wanting to chill out between albums and take a break from music, aside from a few huge festival appearances (like Outside Lands in 2010).
And for many years, that’s what Valensi did. His more famous bandmates produced solo efforts or created side projects between Strokes albums, while Valensi did pretty much nothing. But as the breaks between records got longer and touring more rare, Valensi eventually got the creative itch to strike out on his own, as well.
“At first, I enjoyed the free time,” Valensi says. “When the Strokes started to slow down, I had just moved to Los Angeles and started a family. It was nice to be with my kids. But after a while of seeing my friends come to town and play shows, I’d inevitably start to feel envious, and wish I could do that that same thing. I just got that bug to really play again.”
That “bug” led Valensi to tinker around in the studio and start making music again. He played in front of some of his musician friends, and after making improvements based on their criticisms, decided to take his project — which he dubbed CRX — public.
Because the Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas took over songwriting duties of the band, Valensi, was a novice when he began CRX. A guitarist and keyboardist, he had never before penned lyrics or sang lead vocals on a track, let alone completely arranged and developed a song from its infancy.
“It took me a year to really find my voice,” Valensi says. “I’d never written without the dynamic of a band [or] getting that feedback from other people in the room.”
He sought the advice of Richie Follin, the singer for Guards, a post-punk band from New York — who would later join CRX along with three other musicians — and Josh Homme, the singer for Queens of the Stone Age. They gave him a much-needed boots of confidence and helped him flush out CRX’s debut album, New Skin, which came out in October.
You can hear the influence of his past bands — tunes like “Ways to Fake It” and “Anything” are pure Strokes guitar bliss while “Give It Up” and “On The Edge” have the hardened feel of Queens of the Stone Age.
New Skin hits the sweet spot between the seamless melodies of the Stokes and the more-aggressive underpinnings of classic rock bands. More than anything, the album owes a debt of gratitude to the Cars, a band that set the template for how to write legitimate rock tunes with unforgettable pop hooks.
“The Cars are just a fun band to listen to,” Valensi says. “I was really trying to harness the essence of that. You get the impression that they had fun making their records, and I want CRX to be that.”
After years of playing in front of enormous crowds with the Strokes, Valensi says he’s excited to perform at smaller venues.
“It’s such a different vibe,” he says, “playing on these massive stages with tens of thousands as opposed to performing in a club with 400 or 500 people. And for too long, I was only able to experience one of those things. CRX really is a way for me to get back to that balance.”
CRX plays with Dead Heavens and Streets of Laredo on Saturday, Dec. 3 at Slim’s. More info here.