ON THE LOOP: NICK VALENSI – Local Wolves Magazine
ON THE LOOP: NICK VALENSI

New York City raised Nick Valensi. The concrete jungle is where he grew up, attended school, and, in part, those gritty streets and the fierce nostalgia of the Lower East Side led to the fruition of the Strokes— a band that has since its industry-altering-debut has become one of the greatest city staples in rock history.

“It was all on Manhattan, on that little island,” said Valensi. “I feel like New York is always going to be in me and it’s formed me. It defined me… I was raised by the city, man.” But now, Valensi, the lead guitarist of the purveyor of indie rock, is searching for a new sense of authenticity— a sort of realness and rawness resonant of the Manhattan that he knows and loves. With his growing frustration and unhinged longing to perform again amidst one of the Strokes’ infamous breaks, the renowned guitarist established CRX, a new solo project that feels like a reflection on where Valensi is now and proves that the passion of a true artist to create never renders to obscurity. Initially, Valensi pursued CRX because of a feeling he couldn’t kick— the need for that indescribable high that comes with standing under the stage lights. He said, “You work really hard at putting some music together that people are going to like— writing it and arranging it is one thing and then recording it is another thing entirely— but then actually just getting on stage with your friends and recreating it in front of an audience… I don’t know how to describe it. I just feel like I was meant to do it.”

This desire to play live music seeps into the band’s debut album New Skin, with songs so ferociously vibrant that they sound as if they were meant to be performed live. In CRX, Valensi brings his guitar showmanship to an avenue that feels somehow very familiar and also entirely new, a sound pieced together by his garage band experience and a mysterious energy that takes the album to a dark place built by pent up frustrations. He said, “When I’m writing music, the deliberate thing is actually trying to turn off any part of your brain that is going to come in and try to criticize or edit or analyze what you’re doing too early.” Rather than going into the album with a clear vision of pursuing the varied sounds that he did, Valensi said, “For me, it was just writing and having fun and throwing everything at the wall and emptying what sticks. In the end, the songs that are on the record are just the songs that turn me on the most, quite simply.” Though the arrangements came with ease, this project was the first time Valensi found himself having to find the words that felt fit for his voice to express. As for the lyrics, he said, “It was really free. I wasn’t even thinking about the songs, I was just writing and seeing what would work. Eventually, certain sentences, certain themes, certain words kept on popping out and it felt natural to pursue the ones that I kept on revisiting, and in the end, it just felt the most authentic to me to sing about those feelings that kept on coming out,” those feelings being “some kind of frustration that was latent” to Valensi, as if the project was a subconscious search for expressing his desire for genuine feeling once again.

Rather than going into the album with a clear vision of pursuing the varied sounds that he did, Valensi said, “For me, it was just writing and having fun and throwing everything at the wall and emptying what sticks. In the end, the songs that are on the record are just the songs that turn me on the most, quite simply.” Though the arrangements came with ease, this project was the first time Valensi found himself having to find the words that felt fit for his voice to express. As for the lyrics, he said, “It was really free. I wasn’t even thinking about the songs, I was just writing and seeing what would work. Eventually, certain sentences, certain themes, certain words kept on popping out and it felt natural to pursue the ones that I kept on revisiting, and in the end, it just felt the most authentic to me to sing about those feelings that kept on coming out,” those feelings being “some kind of frustration that was latent” to Valensi, as if the project was a subconscious search for expressing his desire for genuine feeling once again. As a result, the songs on New Skin envelop riveting guitar work that bring the tracks into a wild territory all of their own, backed by lustrous percussion and Valensi’s vocals to make for dynamic pop-rock tracks that embody what live shows are all about. And with CRX, Valensi has been able to cure that itch that he was dying to scratch with a massive tour, returning to smaller clubs that the Strokes have long since grown out of. “I walk [into these venues] and I get the feeling of, ‘This is exactly where I want to be and what I want to be doing right now,’” he said. “I get that feeling of satisfaction when I’m doing the show and then the show ends and we get into the van for six or eight hours to drive to the next town, and I’m just waiting to do it again.”

Though recently Valensi has been focusing on CRX, there are definite plans for a future Strokes release. Since playing with the Strokes for nearly 22 years now, Valensi said that the brotherhood he has fostered with the band “is f*cking special, I don’t know what I did to be so blessed. Somehow we have managed to keep it going. We’ve got a high standard and I think that’s why people continue to care about us,” he said. “It’s not always easy to be a Strokes fan. We don’t put out that much music. We don’t play that much. We don’t perform that much and there have been many times when our fans have every right to leave us, but they didn’t and I feel very lucky for that.” As Valensi speaks, there is an intonation in his voice that confidently points to the fact that he truly is happy with life, the future of the Strokes, and the present of CRX. “I probably hear the [CRX] record differently than from how other people hear it because it’s been with me from its genesis. I watched this thing come out of me and take on a life of its own,” he said. “I feel really proud of it and I hope people like it.” Now, Nick Valensi stands under the spotlight, center stage as a front man, and based on his ardent joy, it is clear that this is exactly what he needed to do. He said, “Now that I’ve got it, I’ve just kind of got it. I’m having fun with it, man.”

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