Neil Strauss has released a new book, ‘Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead (And Other Things I Learned From Famous People)’, where he chronicles his run-ins with the likes of Lady Gaga, Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, David Bowie and Julian Casablancas.
It includes a particularly agonising encounter with The Strokes, around the time of ‘Room On Fire’, October 2003, which we’ve reproduced here
When I met Strokes singer Julian Casablancas at 19th Hole, a dive bar near his apartment in Manhattan, he was wearing the same outfit he’d worn for the past week: a green work shirt with the words “U.S. Garbage Company” over the pocket and faded black pants. On his wrist were three fraying colored paper bracelets: one from a Kings of Leon concert a week earlier, another from a Stooges show two weeks ago, and a third from a Vines show who knows when.
As he ordered two beers for himself, he announced with evident pride that he’d finally come up with a press answer to “the Nigel Godrich question.” (The band had hired Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich to work on its latest CD, but then quickly parted ways with him.) When asked what his great soundbite was, Casablancas said he would tell me when we began the interview. The tape deck was dutifully started. And so began…the worst interview ever.
Julian Casablancas: “I’m drinking myself back into the game.”
I’ve noticed that people tend to think you’re drinking and out of it. But the truth is that you’re ultra-aware if everything going on and everyone’s motivation-
Casablancas: “That’s your opinion.”
And what’s yours?
Casablancas: “I don’t see myself that way. If you see it that way, cool, thanks.”
So how do you see it?
Casablancas: “I see myself out of my own eyes, which means I have no idea what’s going on the other way around. I just think I try to be a good person – and I fail.”
Casablancas reaches over the table and presses stop on the tape deck. Then he immediately starts it again.
Casablancas: “I’m sorry.”
I don’t care. Do what you want.
He turns the tape recorder off: I turn it back on.
Let’s talk about the music instead.
Casablancas: “Fuck music.”
All right, good. So let’s talk about your shirt. You have a whole closet full of-
He turns the tape deck off again. I look at him. He looks at me. Then I turn it back on.
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Casablancas: “Talk to me.”
Okay, so what’s your stock answer to the Nigel Godrich question?
Casablancas: “Fuck you. I’m not answering that question.”
What the hell?
Casablancas: “Next question.”
It’s interesting. People’s true personality comes out when they’re drunk…
Casablancas: “You’re too nice, man.”
Random woman at nearby table: “What’s he like when he’s sober?”
Casablancas: “Sober, he’s a fucking asshole.”
Random woman: “So what is he right now?”
Half sober, half drunk.
Casablancas: “And when he’s tired, he’s a rapist. (Looks warily at the tape recorder, then speaks into the microphone:) Rape is bad. Very, very bad.”
Honestly, this has to be the worst-
Casablancas: “-the worst interview ever?”
Oh man, good times.
Casablancas: “Good times. “Woah-oh-oh-oh, for the longest time.” (Starts singing the Billy Joel song to the tune of the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs,” which is playing on the jukebox.) It’s the exact same melody.”
He leans over and turns off the tape deck again, then sits in his seat, swaying and staring.
Dude, what are you doing? If you don’t want to do this interview…
Julian Casablancas: “One day maybe I’ll be able to communicate it better. But it’s not where we’re at right now. I just don’t have anything deep to say. I’m trying to do it. I don’t know.”
I don’t expect anything deep from you. I just want you to be yourself.
Casablancas: “I’ve got nothing to hide. But what I meant a few minutes ago, if I can even recall what I was saying, is just that there’s so much shit to do and so little time. And everything I have to say is not going to be this one Rolling Stone interview”
I hope not.
Casablancas: “There’s a lot of stuff to do and it’s going to be a long, hard road. If anything, it’s just the beginning. And I’d like to get our foot in the door, and just get to a point where maybe we can say something that will be matterful. That’s definitely not a word, by the way. And I look forward to the future, blah, blah, blah, blah. (Stops the tape; I start it again.) I mean, really, no one wants to hear what I have to say. No one cares.”
Fine. Let’s have a regular conversation, not an interview, and just leave the tape recorder running.
Casablancas: “Okay here’s the thing. It’s not time yet. God, or whoever it is that controls things, is telling me not to say anything. People don’t believe in us yet. They don’t think we’re serious or real or whatever. And I can’t say anything until we’ve done something undeniable as a band.”
Strokes manager Ryan Gentles enters the bar.
Ryan Gentiles: “How’s the interview going?”
We’ve got seven minutes of tape so far.
Gentiles: “Seven minutes is all you have? (To Julian) You need to do this.”
Casablancas: “What are you working for, me or Rolling Stone? It’s like there’s an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and then a gay manager on my sleeve.”
Your picture is going to be on the cover. Most people with pictures on the cover talk inside.
Casablancas: “You are a complainer. You’ve got enough. Work with what you’ve got. You’re a professional. God bless America.”
Casablancas picks up a bottle of beer, downs three quarters in one gulp, and slams it to the table. He mumbles something about RCA Records president Clive Davis speaking “like a gay chorus girl,” stands up, and walks to the video game Golden Tee Gold. He turns around and addresses the bar.
Casablancas: “Anyone want to play Golden Tee?”
When no one responds, he plays alone. Four minutes later, he returns to the table.
Casablancas: “Never play Golden Tee when you’re drunk.”
He then sits on my lap, kisses me seven times on the neck, and makes three lunges for my lips connecting once. Before I can wipe dry, he is out the door, rolling himself home in an abandoned wheelchair he finds outside.
The following evening, Julian Casablancas called and promised to sit still for a normal interview. An hour later, he was waiting obediently at the Gramercy Café.
Julian Casablancas: “I promise not to touch your tape deck.”
Okay I just want to ask a couple questions and make sure I got everything.
Casablancas: “It’s no problem man. I don’t mind. I mean, I didn’t want to not talk to you last night.”
I know. I felt like you were putting too much pressure on yourself to say something interesting.
Casablancas: “I knew that I was…I was going to say something I was going to regret.”
I appreciate you doing this again, because I know you hate interviews as it is.
Casablancas: “I don’t hate doing them I just get to the point sometimes where I feel like what I say never comes across. I just need to practice more. I don’t know if it was because the tape was on, but I acted differently.”
I was pretty discouraged after last night.
Casablancas: “I was so hungover. I mean, more than the night we fucking hung out until ten in the morning. Days and days of just fatigue. I was like, “The goal is just, like, don’t die.” I felt terrible. Oh God, all this bad news from [our record label] RCA, and we were just overworked.”
Yeah, you were pretty wiped out that night. You were saying-
Casablancas: “I was saying what’s the point of doing interviews when…”
…you haven’t done anything undeniable yet.
Casablancas: “Uh-huh. I just feel like it would be nice if people thought, “Wow this is something really special,” and then learned about the band from there instead of reading about a guy they’ve never heard of talking about all this fucking crazy, intense, over-the-top stuff. I was always bad at selling the band, you know.”
You’re not expected to, though.
Casablancas: “I still can’t believe that you’re doing a cover story on us. I’m still waiting for someone to say like, “April Fools.” I’m sure a lot of people are going to be looking at Rolling Stone like, “Who the hell are these guys?””
Didn’t you tell me one night that you used to practice Rolling Stone interviews in the shower?
Casablancas: “It was more like a grand monologue. It was never, you know, like, “So how is the pressure?” “What happened in Hawaii?” Because no one is listening, your mind is a lot better than it is when you’re being interviewed in front of someone.”
So what was your stock answer to the Nigel Godrich question?
Casablancas: “Yeah, it makes me nauseous explaining. It’s not even good. It’s like a run-on sentence, with little reference parts to lead to the next part. So…yeah, we just work differently. We got along great. All out parts need, you know, specific personalities, and the band comes in, plays live, and then he does his thing. And so we try to do it more hands off, blah, blah, blah, and that kind of thing.”
Casablancas: “I said it in the wrong order. I started out with the working differently thing and I should have ended with it. And the whole thing is just a run-on sentence.
Do you mind if I go outside for two seconds to smoke a cigarette.”
A few minutes later, he stumbles back. The conversation turns to his drinking problem…*
When your girlfriend left you and people didn’t want to be around you anymore because of the drinking, did it affect you at all?
Casablancas: “Yeah, definitely, especially when you are hungover. It’s just weird, because you get this built-up stuff and it comes out when you’re drunk. And you think afterward. “Yeah maybe I was an asshole, but I said what was on my mind and that’s what they hated about it/” I would like my friends to be happy, but then, obviously, I’m like drunk and being very aggressive, so it probably makes thi feel that…Yeah, it’s not cool. You can’t act like that on a consistent basis.”
When was the first time you got fucked up?
Casablancas: “The first time was probably when I was ten and there was a dinner party. There were drinks on the table and I think I just downed all the drinks, and I was like, “Whoa. What the hell is this? This is great.” My body immediately enjoyed it. It was like, “Life is actually fucking amazing in every single way.””
After nearly three hours of talking…
If you had kids, would you want them to be musicians?
Casablancas: “If you’re a musician, probably the dear is that your kid is going to be a shitty musician. Like if you’re Bob Dylan: I can imagine him coming in and saying, “Turn that music down.” And his son says, “No you don’t understand my music, Dad.” And he says, “Yeah, I do. I’m Bob Dylan, and it’s shitty.””
My phone rings.
Albert Hammond [Strokes guitarist]: “It’s Albert, is Julian there?”
Yeah. He doesn’t have his own phone?
Hammond: “No. I’m at the video store. Can you just ask him if he wants to watch Fletch tonight?”
*Ozzy Osbourne on alcoholism, from a press conference at his home: “I’ll tell you what my drinking problem is: I’ve only got one mouth”
Click here to order ‘Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead (And Other Things I Learned From Famous People)’ from Amazon.