I wanna be forgotten, and I don’t wanna be reminded. -The Strokes, “What Ever Happened?” (Room On Fire, 2004)
It is impossible to deny the influence of The Strokes on modern rock-hell, on modern American music. When the New York five-piece debuted on the scene in 2001, the state of rock and roll was a mess. Nu metal was the dominant sound of the time, ‘90s bands like Weezer and Green Day had all but died out (for the time being), and no one was really listening to true rock anymore. Enter Is This It, one of the most foundational records ever released. Argue over the quality of their subsequent four records all you like, no one can deny the musical prowess that The Strokes put on display with their debut album.
Over the next 15 years, coming and going from time to time, The Strokes remained a guiding light in the American rock scene. Even when they were on hiatus, like the break between 2006’s First Impressions of Earth and 2011’s Angles, bands like Arctic Monkeys popped up wearing the post-punk revival influence on their sleeves, largely thanks to bands like The Strokes. And for a while there, they kept it up, with 2013’s Comedown Machine and 2016’s Future Present Past EP both being solid musical outings in their own rights.
But… let’s be real. Even with tours in 2019 announced, including several major festival appearances, the magic of the early days of The Strokes is probably never coming back. With rumors of fractured relationships between band members having persisted since even before the first Strokes hiatus, this reunion feels more than a little forced. In short, I think it’s more than a little fair to say that The Strokes are pretty much done.
But fear not! Wipe your tears. Because while they might not be jamming as a collective any more, there is no shortage of music being made by each individual member of the group. Spanning a variety of genres, influences, and styles, each of the five boys have gone off and made names for themselves doing music with their own groups. In order of least to most predominant, let’s look at where The Strokes have ended up on their own, both in the lengthy mid-Strokes ‘06-’11 hiatus, and post-Future Present Past.
The bassist for the group was always the most enigmatic. Soft-spoken and mysterious, it’s no surprise that of the five, he’s achieved the least fame. He never seemed to care about the fame, though, not in the same way that some of the others did.
In the band’s aforementioned hiatus, Nikolai started up a solo project called Nickel Eye (get it? Nickel Eye? Nikolai? Clever guy) with a few other musician friends. It’s nothing too notable, but it’s not bad, either; here’s his tune “Brandy of the Damned.”
It seems to me that he just doesn’t have much frontman charisma. His vocals sound like a pale imitation of Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, and the music is fairly stripped down and meager, with none of the catchy hooks, virtuosic songwriting, or inspired lyricism that made the early work of The Strokes so instantly iconic. I think this is my least favorite project by any of the five, solely because there’s just not much there.
Post-FPP, Nikolai started a group called Summer Moon, who achieved a bit more success than his solo venture, with a studio record released in 2017 and touring supporting The Killers after the fact. The band has a much more unique sound than Nickel Eye, with a bit of funk and pop influences scattered throughout. Here’s the single “Happenin’.”
Don’t worry if you’re not impressed yet. You will be.
The band’s drummer has done the least out of the five groups, output-wise, but what he has produced is actually not bad. He’s been MIA post-FPP, but in the hiatus, he was a part of alternative/indie trio Little Joy. And oh man, they are cute. Here’s their biggest hit, “Next Time Around,” from their self-titled debut.
How great is that, right? So wholesome. It really jives with Fabrizio’s general demeanor that he gave off while in The Strokes: just a happy guy who liked playing music with his friends, that just so happened to be one of the most talented rock drummers of his generation. Little Joy is also notable for being the only one of the guys’ projects not to feature the Strokes member as frontman (a role here filled by Brazilian musician Rodrigo Amarante).
The band has gained a bit of recognition, with a few of their songs being featured in TV shows, commercials, and movies, but still nothing hugely successful- nowhere near the level of The Strokes.
Spoiler alert: none of these are anywhere near the level of The Strokes. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Doesn’t mean there isn’t some good music to be found, though; case in point…
Okay, first off, I’m genuinely shocked that Stan Twitter hasn’t latched on to this guy. Talented guitarist, jawline that could cut glass, flowing curly hair… what a dreamboat.
I’m getting off topic.
Nick’s side project, who formed in 2013 but didn’t release their first album until post-FPP, is called CRX. Yes, like the Honda. And yeah, they’re badass. Here’s “Ways to Fake It,” from 2016’s New Skin.
This band works for me on so many levels. First off, it has the most old Strokes vibes of any of these side projects — especially Room on Fire, my favorite Strokes album- blending alt rock and power pop beautifully. Nick also has incredible frontman chops, with great baritone vocals, incredible stage presence, and that undeniable skill on the guitar.
CRX have achieved middling success, touring domestically and overseas and supporting Beck on his recent US tour. The band has a second album slated to come out soon, and Nick seems really happy with his place at the front of a rock band; while later Strokes efforts were still good, he wasn’t really able to show off his guitar chops like he did on those early records.
Here’s another CRX song, “Anything,” just cuz I love ‘em so much.
Albert Hammond Jr.
Albert is arguably the most musically gifted of any Strokes member. Son of prolific guitarist and songwriter Albert Hammond, AHJ’s songwriting chops and musicianship are fantastic, and have really been able to flex their muscles in his solo career, which has been going pretty steady since the infamous ‘06 Hiatus. “In Transit,” from his debut Yours to Keep, is a personal favorite of mine.
While he doesn’t have the voice of Julian (or even Nick, if you ask me) his superb songwriting and guitar playing makes up for it. He’s released four studio albums and one EP, all of which are pretty solid. Much like Nick and Fab, he seems almost happier now. He’s touring on his own, and doing pretty well for himself. Way to go, Al.
2018’s Francis Trouble, by the way, is an incredible album from top to bottom. Really great stuff — blends of his signature Strokes style with some 70s stylings and pop melodies. Probably one of my favorite albums of the year. Here’s “Far Away Truths,” the definition of a banger:
But I know what you all have been waiting for.
Let’s be real: The Strokes was always kinda the Julian Casablancas Show, for better or worse. Don’t get me wrong, he is an incredibly talented musician and one of the great songwriters of the 21st century, but it was an open secret that the first two Strokes records were pretty much just Julian and Company.
It’s interesting, then, that his subsequent work has shared so little in the way of aesthetics with The Strokes. He released a solo album in 2009, Phrazes For The Young, which contains many melodies akin to Strokes records, but is much more synth-y and vaguely psychedelic. “11th Dimension,” the biggest single from the album, showcases that well.
After its release, Julian talked about how he wanted to go weirder with the music, but still wanted to make it accessible to the general public, choosing instead to bridge the gap. But he didn’t hold back when it came to his next venture, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz — later dropping his name and just going by The Voidz. Their first album, 2014’s Tyranny, is a bizarre beast of a thing, very inaccessible to the casual listener. Case in point, here’s the lead single, “Human Sadness,” an 11-minute meditation on depression and the human condition.
Good stuff, but really weird. Their 2018 follow-up Virtue both continued down this path and back-tracked a bit, with each song on the record occupying its own space and genre. Here’s the biggest and (in my opinion) best single from the record, “Leave It In My Dreams.”
The album has songs ranging from synth-pop and hard rock to acoustic ballads and Middle Eastern-inspired psychedelia. It’s a pretty good record, not going to lie, with some genuinely great stuff from Julian and his bandmates. The biggest shortcomings, in my book, are the lyrics; while not quite as egregious as Tyranny, Virtue continues the Voidz trend of writing weirdly hyper-political lyrics. That’s not to say that songs with a message can’t be good, but Julian seems to have the social and topical awareness of a 14-year-old on Reddit. “Think Before You Drink” and “Pyramid of Bones” — both great songs — feature lyrics about the dangers of society, herd mentality, and colonialism, all delivered with the subtlety of a Stratocaster to the face. What a weirdo.
The place where he’s shined brightest out of his bandmates is his fame, though; with more regular appearances on late night TV than any of the others, and considerably more publicity, Julian has maintained a fairly big place in the modern rock scene. He’s also toured with the Voidz, done residencies in New York and LA, and supported Beck on recent tours- just like his buddy Nick. The more things change, I guess. On top of that, he has collaborated with numerous successful acts- most notably The Lonely Island with “Boombox,” and Daft Punk on “Instant Crush.”
What do these five musicians have in common? Besides their old group, of course, I’d say that they all seem to be as happy, if not more so, on their own than in the later days of The Strokes. Watching videos of them performing Comedown Machine tracks isn’t sad, per se, but they don’t have that energy and spark that they did back at the turn of the century. Part of that might be that they’re all pushing 40, no longer the rock stars that were in their prime and on top of the world at age 23, but with that age comes maturity. That’s not to say The Strokes were an immature group- even with the slightly out-of-place and juvenile Is This It lyrics that they still performed at every live show — but all of the guys, from Julian to Albert to Fabrizio, have moved on to their own artistic ventures that are much more characteristic of who they are as adults, and as their own musicians. As much as I want another Strokes record- and with those festival dates and such, I bet we’ll get one before the decade’s up — I’m just happy that these guys are doing what they love, in whatever form that may take.