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Strokes' Nick Valensi Gets Back to Small-Club Roots with CRX

(Image credit: Amanda de Cadenet)

“CRX is probably an odd choice for a band name, but to me it sums up what our music sounds like.” Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi is explaining the origins of the name for his new side band.

It grew out of an ancient Roland CR-78 drum machine that Valensi employed on CRX’s new album, New Skin. But eventually the initials became a kind of studio shorthand for the vibe the guitarist was after.

Crunchy and concise are words that perhaps best describe the 10 tight tunes that comprise New Skin. They veer from new wavey power pop euphoria to a darker strain of hard-hitting rock. The common denominators are Valensi’s plaintive lead vocals—heard for the first time on this disc—and a bright, spiky palette of guitar sounds. All played by Valensi, the guitars muscle their way into the foreground, meshing and colliding in a gritty explosion of sound.

The songs on New Skin grew out of a desire on Valensi’s part to get back to the kind of small, gritty rock venues where the Strokes first rose to fame in the early 2000s.

“I’ve been on so many big festival stages,” he says. “I missed being on a small club or theater stage. So I started writing songs with the intention of singing on them for the first time, and also writing lyrics for the first time in my life. My idea at first was to have something a little heavier and a bit more aggressive than the Strokes, like early Metallica stuff, just a Kill ’Em All kind of vibe. That and early Guns N’ Roses have always been a big influence on my guitar playing. But then other songs started coming out that felt more on the power pop side of things—like the Cars, Elvis Costello and Cheap Trick, which have also been huge influences.”

At first Valensi was concerned that these two stylistic directions would clash. But New Skin’s producer, rock polymath Josh Homme, convinced him that the tune stack’s diversity is its strength. Which is indeed the case. Valensi recorded much of New Skin at Homme’s Pink Duck Studios in Burbank. He played all the instruments except for drums on the recordings. But in the time since then, CRX has evolved into a complete five-piece band touring across the U.S. and Europe.

Does this mean the Strokes are on hiatus? “Not at all,” says Valensi. “In between a lot of side projects, we’re actually writing a new album. We hope to have it ready next year.”

But for now, Valensi is relishing his center-stage role with CRX.

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In a career that spans five decades, Alan di Perna has written for pretty much every magazine in the world with the word “guitar” in its title, as well as other prestigious outlets such as Rolling Stone, Billboard, Creem, Player, Classic Rock, Musician, Future Music, Keyboard, grammy.com and reverb.com. He is author of Guitar Masters: Intimate Portraits, Green Day: The Ultimate Unauthorized History and co-author of Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Sound Style and Revolution of the Electric Guitar. The latter became the inspiration for the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll.” As a professional guitarist/keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist, Alan has worked with recording artists Brianna Lea Pruett, Fawn Wood, Brenda McMorrow, Sat Kartar and Shox Lumania.