"Tyranny," Julian Casablancas' debut album with new band The Voidz, justifies its title by covering themes of capitalism, war and political unrest.
As the prime writer, composer and vocalist, Casablancas returns to his signature frontman role but without the weight of The Strokes' legacy. He'd previously struck out on his own with his electronic-influenced 2009 debut album, "Phrazes for the Young," and then last year worked with Daft Punk on their standout single "Instant Crush." But for his new Julian Casablancas+TheVoidz album, the 36-year-old got back to rocking out but with more musical and lyrical ferocity.
The Huffington Post Canada recently sat down with Casablancas to discuss the politics of "Tyranny," the role of art in exposing the "illusion of democracy," the public's "lazy" ignorance and what fatherhood has taught him. Also, The Strokes.
Given the album title "Tyranny" and some of the lyrics, would you consider this a political record?
It's not really political as much as it's about truth and morality, you know? I think art is supposed to be a reflection of what is going on and I think we have a lot going on in the present and it's relatively complex, it's not as black and white as maybe the Civil Rights Movement. I think we are living with more of a monarch mentality and the whole illusion of democracy. It's unfortunate that people are not as aware.
I'm not trying to be a hippie or a radical, just more pointing out what's going on around us. It's all the same companies that are spending millions of dollars to get laws passed. You can't tell me that's not the case. I will be able to say what I want — I am not doing anything too radical — but if anyone tries to threaten someone powerful they get sent down.
Do you think because artists have the ability to speak to the masses, they should take more of an authoritative role against corporate dominance?
I don't think it is the job of musicians specifically, no. I think it's more about inspiring and the record is meant to work on a universal level and doesn't even have to do with politics. I'm impressed with people like Russell Brand because he's out there speaking and talking about matters of worth, which I think is great. I wouldn't say all comedians should talk about politics, too, I think it's about one's own conscience."
I don't know you personally or how you were raised behind closed doors, but being around models and in privileged circles, do you think people have a stigma towards you as perhaps being seen as the rich kid? [The late John Casablancas founded Elite Model Management and is credited with creating the concept of the supermodel.]
Well, first of all I would say that as a whole I never saw myself growing up in that world. That was my dad's world and I didn't live with him, I lived with my mom. I feel like my upbringing has slowly been blown out of proportion over the years, but I don't really fight it and never try to cover anything up. But honestly, when I thought of rich kids I would think of other people I saw.
I think it is important that all types of people are aware of what's happening regardless of divisions of power and wealth. If anything the people who have the money, that 1 per cent arguably that are abusing power, those are the people that need to be aware. Everyone needs to be on the same page of what's happening, especially those that are not negatively affected.
Interview continues after slideshow
"Tyranny" doesn't seem like you're pushing a philosophy or doctrine rather it's more of a hegemony of sociopolitical antidotes, beautiful lies, if you will. Do you agree?
If anything, it’s about inspiring people to think more on their own and to dig deeper, especially with this Internet age. I'm so surprised how unaware people are. I mean, you can research anything online and get right to the bottom of it. I'm just surprised.
But there is a lot to filter through, a lot of misconstrued facts and opinions meshed into it all.
True, true, but how lazy can you be? It’s like "ah, I didn't want to spend extra time on this so I went to the first website I found and got the information" (laughing).
Remember when you had to go to the library and look through the catalogues to find information?
Yeah, I remember those times very well.
When it came to making this record (or any record for that matter) when is there that "aha" moment where you know it's ready and you’re happy with what's in front of you?
I don't know if there is that "aha" moment but the final moment of signing off is when there is nothing that bothers you about it. So once you listen to the whole song and you're not like "the outro or chorus is too long" or you don't like a certain transition — once you can’t pick apart anything is when it's done for me. It’s not an emotional feeling though because you've heard the song 100 times.
Are you particular in the way the writing is done or does it just happen in an arbitrary way?
I don’t have the patience to keep to the same routine. I’ll have my guitar, some little lamps and posters in the studio, it’s all very light. Actually, I just got rid of it now, but I had a digital recording device so when something happened I’d record to it but to be honest I got so lost with so many ideas so I don’t record anymore. Now if it’s cool I’ll ask someone else to record because I don’t want to be responsible for it (laughs). I still have thousands of music files that I still haven’t looked through.
Have things changed since becoming a father?
When you have children you stop living for yourself, that’s something I’d say to the next generation: "the only way to maintain what you were doing before is basically to have enough time to yourself and flat out work harder." I think you can make it happen but it’s really hard. I don’t want to sacrifice but if I had to I’d sacrifice career, but I believe you can balance it.
Has the Strokes identity stuck with you throughout all your other projects? And if the Strokes never happened, do you think the response to "Tyranny" would be different?
Yeah, it’s a reflective sentimental time. I mean, if this came out of the blue I think it would be a whole different level of excitement for sure, but as we tour we are encountering a lot of people who are excited.
And people are getting it?
From most of the comments I've seen, well…I think the only way the criticism makes sense is if you’re comparing this to the Strokes. So like if you were A to B'ing this to the Strokes sure there is sentimentality that we are trying to combat but I’m also trying to show people that it’s still the same person, but I’m evolving.
I'm not putting myself in this realm, but if you look at John Lennon and The Beatles, Lennon was my favourite. I don't even really like the Beatles. I mean think about "Imagine," it’s probably better than any Beatles song. Plus, all of Lennon’s solo stuff is amazing yet I think in his time he considered it all a failure and people were against it because of the sentimentality of The Beatles.
I’m still trying and as cool as the Strokes was, and it’s part of me, I was always striving and still am. I guess I haven’t really stopped. Also, it’s not like the Strokes are over, we're still going to record, I hope.
Did you feel present in the success of the Strokes?
It's always in hindsight, but it's not as though we were having number one hits or anything. The music has lasted such a long time and it started a lot of other influential things that were successful. But within the Strokes there was this feeling like "what are we doing?" and "we should be like this," you know? Just saying it's different from those looking in from the outside.
I'm not doing it for others sake, too, and I think people are starting to come around to this record. At first it was confusing for people but, like I said, being on the road and seeing the enthusiasm grow has been validating.
Julian Casablancas+The Voidz will play Toronto’s Kool Haus on November 21 before making their way to Montreal on November 22.