The Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi finds his voice.
Ask Nick Valensi where he’s from and the answer will surprise you. Coming from a member of the Strokes, arguably the most influential, most New York band of the aughts—credited with restoring rock’s grit and debauched cool—claiming a Los Angeles residency is revelatory. Still, the 35-year-old guitarist, raised in Manhattan, has quietly resided in Southern California for the last decade, and the place has become an integral part of his psyche.
It shows in New Skin, the debut album, out this October via Columbia Records, from Valensi’s new band CRX (named for an inside joke involving the Honda CR-X). Produced by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, the sound splits the difference between vintage Strokes and a post-punk Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. It marks a sea change of sorts for Valensi, who spent two years writing lyrics and teaching himself to sing (during his Strokes off time) for the project, and reluctantly embraced the role of lead singer. “I’ve only ever been in one band,” says Valensi, sipping black coffee at LaMill Coffee in Silver Lake, down the street from The Satellite, the locale of their second-ever show, several nights earlier. He started playing with Strokes front man Julian Casablancas when they were 13 and 16, respectively. “Being the front man never registered as desirable to me—I grew up idolizing [Guns N’ Roses guitarists] Slash and Izzy,” he adds.
Of course, things change. He lives in South Pasadena with his wife, photographer and documentarian Amanda de Cadenet, and their 10-year-old twins. Long gone are the nights of closing down Lower East Side bars and crashing Porsches (which he did once shortly after moving to L.A.). The lanky, blue-eyed son of a Tunisian Jewish émigré and a French mother, Valensi is involved in his children’s school and takes them to the theater and to sports practices.
Earlier this year, the Strokes released the Future Present Past EP, their first material in three years. They continue to play festivals, but with every other member of the quintet living in New York and invested in side projects (including Little Joy and Julian Casablancas + the Voidz), Valensi wanted to perform more regularly, a desire that prompted him to form CRX (which also features keyboardist Richie James Follin, drummer Ralph Alexander, bassist Jon Safley and guitarist Darian Zahedi), who are set to open for Beck on several upcoming fall tour dates.
Valensi’s passion for music remains unabated, though his philosophy has shifted. “I’ve taken music really seriously for all my life and now I’m older and less precious—I’m to the point where art is fucking cool but we don’t have to feel like we’re torturing ourselves over this shit,” he says. “You know, it could be fun.” • JEFF WEISS
Edited by Kelsey McKinnon.