A Stroke speaks up

Recently dubbed “the new kings of rock” by Rolling Stone magazine, the Strokes have been hogging the international spotlight since the release of their frenetic 2001 debut Is This It. After releasing its excellent follow-up, Room on Fire, last October, the Strokes have returned to the road to bring the world their own brand of rock ‘n’ roll simultaneously ageless and urgently modern.

The band recently co-headlined the massive music festival “Big Day Out,” which features 50 of the most cutting-edge and well-respected acts in rock, hip-hop and dance, playing to crowds of 40 to 50,000 people across Australia and New Zealand. The Hatchet recently spoke with bassist Nikolai Fraiture about what it’s like inside the spiral of fantastic chaos that is the band’s existence.

Hatchet: You just got back from doing “Big Day Out.” How was that?

Nikolai Fraiture: It was really cool.

H: Do you like going abroad for that sort of stuff or is it nice to be back in the United States?

NF: It’s good to go and it’s good to come back. If we were always abroad, we’d kind of go crazy, and if we stayed home all day, we’d kind of go crazy, too, I guess.

H: What do you think the highlight of the trip was?

NF: The highlight of the trip was Australia. That was crazy. And then just playing with so many other bands. It kind of makes you get off your ass and want to be better.

H: In the past you’ve toured with Ben Kweller and the Kings of Leon. Now you’re touring with the Raveonettes and the Sounds. Do you feel a sort of responsibility to bring along bands you’re into that maybe wouldn’t get the exposure otherwise?

NF: I think it’s not so much a responsibility, it’s that when we were starting, we were just kind of blessed to have Guided By Voices and other bands that we really liked be into us. So for us it’s just promulgating good music and trying to take a band that we like and have other people hear it.

H: Is it nice seeing these bands enter not necessarily the mainstream but an area where people are becoming cognizant of that type of music?

NF: Yeah, I think it’s cool. I think the coolest thing for me is that when we got started, people said that music like ours was never going to get played on the radio. Just the fact that we were able to do that is already, for us, kind of a small accomplishment. It’s cool that other bands doing the same thing at the time, if not earlier than us, were able to have exposure. It was due to them; I think eventually they would have come up.

H: So what have you been listening to recently that you’ve really liked?

NF: I think one band at “Big Day Out” that was amazing and took me by surprise was the Flaming Lips. Their live show was really outstanding. I really enjoyed it. What’s so amazing about the Flaming Lips is that it was a festival show, and it’s really hard to make it sound good (at festivals).

H: You talked about the festival shows. Is there anything you miss about playing in front of 20 people at small clubs, or are you more concerned with expanding your audience to the point that it doesn’t really matter the size of the crowd?

NF: It depends. I mean, there’s definitely that nostalgic factor where you remember (playing to smaller audiences). But if you remember a little more carefully, you were telling yourself, “I can’t wait to stop playing these shit-holes.” For us, the only time the size of the crowd matters is if the vibe is not there. That can happen at a show with 1,000 people; that can happen at a show that’s much smaller; it can happen at a show of any size.

H: You covered “Clampdown” by the Clash at a couple of recent shows. What was the impetus for that? You don’t usually do covers.

NF: I think that the way it happened was Nick (Valensi), our guitarist, came in one day, and he was playing a part in the song, just kind of messing around, and (vocalist) Julian (Casablancas) knew some of the lyrics already, and it kind of started that way. We all went and tried to figure out the different parts. So we all came in, and it sounded pretty cool. Aside from that, it was when we met Joe Strummer (late songwriter and vocalist for the Clash) in Los Angeles, and after he saw us play at the Troubadour in front of about 300 people he told us, “You made me smile.” Our show made him smile. For us, it’s nothing corny or anything, but it’s just kind of a small tribute.

H: You talk about meeting people like Joe Strummer. You were just on the cover of Filter with Lou Reed. What’s it like being thrown into these situations with people that you have this great respect for, but also who the Strokes are constantly compared to? Is it sort of bizarre?

NF: It’s definitely bizarre. It’s also cool. It’s everything that we’ve worked for. We were thinking of these people in our heads while we were doing it. To get attention from them, I think, is one of the greatest rewards that we could think of. For us, we’re playing for ourselves, but in your head you’re kind of thinking that maybe one day the person who inspired you will hear it and like it. To have it actually happen almost makes no sense.

H: You just released “Reptilia” as the second single on the album. What’s your favorite track off of Room on Fire?

NF: It’s hard to say. It depends. Sometimes it’s “I Can’t Win,” and sometimes, for me, it can be “What ever Happened” or “Reptilia.” It changes a lot, all the time.

H: You toured quite a bit with Is This It. Do you plan to tour as long with Room on Fire, or do you just want to sort of take a break or get back to the studio? What are your plans?

NF: Actually right now, we’re back in our rehearsal space just working on new stuff. Just basically we want to reassess and make sure that our next decision is the right one, what we need for us, for our personal satisfaction.

H: Which is more disconcerting for you, tremendous hype or backlash?

NF: I would have to answer that by saying that they go hand in hand.

H: The Strokes is a band that other people seem to like to define. If you were describing them for somebody who had never heard of them or heard their music, what would you say? How would you describe the Strokes?

NF: If I was telling my friend “You’ve got to check out this band,” it would be that it’s a cool live show. That’s what we try to put forth, a live show worth the money you’re going to pay for the ticket, not a rip-off.

The Strokes will be playing an already sold-out show at Nation March 9.

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