Five Questions with Nick Valensi of CRXNovember 16th, 2016
For nearly 20 years Nick Valensi has been known as the Strokes’ lead guitarist (in addition to contributing backing vocals and some keys work). But he’s stepped out to do his own thing, fronting CRX, a new band—with an even newer debut album, the aptly named New Skin (stream it below)—playing The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night. And from a hotel room in Toronto, he exchanged e-mails with The House List to answer Five Questions.
It’s your first time taking on singing and songwriting, with CRX and New Skin. Have you been writing all along or is this a more recent thing? I’ve always written music and melodies, but this is my first time out as a lyricist and singer. I worked on it secretly for about a year before telling anyone I was thinking about starting a new band and being the singer. At first, I was way out of my comfort zone, so I had to put some time in and get enough experience to know if it was even something I wanted to pursue. Doing all the guitar stuff that I usually do and then having to sing on top of it continues to be a fun challenge. I feel like I’m using new parts of my brain.
Before becoming one of the defining bands of NYC’s rock scene around the turn of the century, the Strokes were just another group struggling to make it. How is playing smaller venues again? And what’s it like performing with different bandmates? I’m having so much fun playing clubs. I wanna be able to play all kinds of shows. I love doing the huge festivals with the Strokes, and I’m grateful to even have the opportunity to play at that level, but I don’t want that to be the only type of show I play. That’s really why I started CRX, to get a little balance from that. We’re touring clubs all over North America right now, and that’s exactly what I was craving when I had the idea to start the band.
How did the CRX lineup come together? And how did Josh Homme get involved with producing New Skin? I spent about a year writing, demo-ing and working on my singing. I didn’t really tell anyone about it. As someone who’s always been in a band, working alone was kind of a difficult process for me. Eventually, I hit a wall, got stuck and lost perspective on what direction to go. So I reached out to some musician friends who I respect for feedback and insight. I got together with Ralph and we’d jam on the songs so I could get an idea of what they’d sound like in a live setting. Richie and Darian came in and helped me out a lot with lyrics, and we cowrote a bunch on the album. Jon and I wrote a song called “On Edge” together, and he helped me a lot with arrangements.
It ended up being really collaborative. Josh was another one of the friends who I reached out to for help when I was feeling kinda stuck. We’ve known each other a long time, but really became friends when I moved to L.A. He fell in love with the demos and had some great ideas about how the songs should be recorded. Over the course of a conversation, I mentioned how I wished I could get him to produce, and he said he’d love to. So we just took it from there. CRX was a thing that came together so naturally, like the way that Josh came to produce the album. At the onset, I had no preconceptions about what this was gonna be, and I’ve just kinda gone with the flow through the whole process. As a result of that, all these cool things have come about in a natural, unforced way. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to put a band together using casting calls or Craigslist ads.
As a longtime New Yorker, what does it mean to you to be playing The Bowery Ballroom? I’m really excited to be back! It’s always been one of my favorite places to play and see a show. I worked part time at The Bowery Ballroom as a teenager, loading bands’ gear and selling T-shirts. Then, I went on to play there many times with the Strokes, so it’ll be very familiar to me when we pull in with CRX.
And what’s your favorite part of a tour stop in New York City? As a native New Yorker living in L.A., my favorite thing about getting back is seeing family. My mom, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles all live in the city and will all be at the Bowery ballroom show. It’s a wonder we still have tickets left to sell. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog