“This is really unusual, but I knew I wanted to be a guitar player in a rock band when I was six years old. In 1987, I saw a Guns N Roses video on MTV and ever since that moment I’ve been doing music.” While most toddler occupational dreams phase out, Nick Valensi is one man living out his childhood dream of becoming a rockstar. Valensi is better known as the lead guitarist of The Strokes, but for the last several years, he’s pursued his own passion project in the form of his band, CRX. The CRX album New Skins features a new side of Valensi as frontman of the band. Throughout the process, Valensi continues to receive brotherly support and a full blessing from The Strokes, as he explores a new direction with four different band members: Richie Follin (guitar, keyboard, backing vocals), Darian Zahedi (guitar, backing vocals), Jon Safley (bass) and Ralph Alexander (drums). The music Valensi is writing these days takes on more of an 80’s pop persona, a cousin to his usual rough around the edges, garage rock revival music that he did with The Strokes.
While the role switch has been a transition on some levels for Valensi, music has always been a constant in his life. His father was the first to introduce a few chords to him on the acoustic guitar when Valensi was a toddler. It’s a memory that stuck with him before his father passed away when Valensi was only nine years old. Over the years, Valensi’s pursuit and love of music has been unwavering since childhood. Valensi seems to meet change and growth with a fearlessness and fluidity like one stream of consciousness leading to another. For him, it’s all part of the same flow and CRX is more of an extension of his creative exploration. This fluid energy is also reflected in The Strokes fanbase who crossed over to follow Valensi’s music.
How do you plan to differentiate CRX from The Strokes?
I’m not really trying to “break away” from The Strokes or anything like that. I’m really proud of what I’ve done with The Strokes, and plan to keep it going much longer. If it wasn’t for a bunch of awesome Strokes fans who embraced CRX from day one, it would’ve been a lot harder to get this new band off the ground. For me, CRX is something I can do when my other band doesn’t feel like being active. In a way, it’s a continuation of what I do with The Strokes.
Were there challenges in transitioning into the role of frontman?
The biggest challenge at first was writing lyrics, because that wasn’t something I’d had much experience with. I had to get out of my creative comfort zone to get this album made, and I’m really glad that I finally did.
Where do you take your inspiration from in terms of the song subject matter?
Most of the lyrics are just commentary on how I’m feeling or what I’m observing. There a few songs where I sound pretty annoyed, which makes me laugh. I didn’t realize until after the album was finished, but a lot of the lyrics ended up sounding super frustrated. Some of them are slightly more sweet.
What’s your process of overcoming your inner critic when you’re exploring musically?
That’s a struggle for most creative people I think. For me, it’s about sticking with it and knowing that the mental blocks will erode eventually, and you’ll get back in the zone at some point. If you just keep moving forward with the work everyday, no matter how blocked you’re feeling, eventually you’ll get somewhere. You might not like where you end up, but you’ll be somewhere different.
Text by Zee Chang
Photograph by Darian Zahedi