"I strive to build a world where the Velvet Underground would be more popular than the Rolling Stones"
Speaking to Vulture recently, Casablancas suggested that the internet has had a negative effect on which artists see mainstream success and that “cultural brainwashing” has led to Sheeran’s massive popularity.
“I really believed that the internet’s capacity to let people access the best of the best of music — from underground stuff to music from all over the world — would’ve been a positive influence, that music would’ve evolved like never before,” Casablancas said.
“Instead music has been co-opted by some kind of capitalist profit game. I thought the internet would help balance the relationship between quality and the mainstream, but it’s gone the opposite way. Quality is being sucked out of music. One Direction will have 4 billion views and the best artists of today will only see a fraction of that attention.”
“There are formulas to make the most amount of money out of music and those formulas don’t incorporate the variable for quality,” he continued.
“Artistic value and truth value are casualties of the process. I understand that people are trying to make songs that will work at a CVS or in a taxi or in a nightclub or for a 3-year-old. If you can do that, it’s a magical thing, but that doesn’t mean the result is artistically good. And the bummer for me as a musician is that the music world is the one place where commercial success seems to imply artistic quality.”
Casablancas went on to argue that an artist like Ariel Pink should be as big as Ed Sheeran, comparing the lo-fi musician to David Bowie in the process.
“Today someone like Ariel Pink is relatively unknown. In another era he would’ve been much more popular… People think that public opinion in their own time is the truth.”
“Everyone knows David Bowie now, but I bet he was pretty underground in the ’70s. I think Ariel Pink will be one of the best-remembered artists of this generation and now nobody in the mainstream knows him. I don’t know — I keep wanting to jump between politics and music. People are so unaware and everything is confusing and information is coming out of every orifice.”
“My mission is the same as it’s been from day one, which is to try to make something that has artistic value and bring it to the mainstream. Nothing about that has changed. I strive to build a world where the Velvet Underground would be more popular than the Rolling Stones. Or where Ariel Pink is as popular as Ed Sheeran.”
When the journalist argued that “one of those musicians is trying to be pop and one isn’t”, Casablancas replied: “Everything you’re saying sounds 100 percent like cultural brainwashing.”
He added: “Because if you grew up in a world where Ariel Pink was popular then you would say ‘I don’t see how Ed Sheeran can be popular.’ People grow up with norms knocked into their heads. And I’m not trying to diss Ed Sheeran or any pop star. Ed Sheeran seems like a nice, cool guy and I have nothing against his music. Let him sell a billion records. I’m just saying I don’t understand why there can’t be a world where Ed Sheeran gets 60 percent of the attention and Ariel Pink gets 40 percent. Now it’s almost like Ed Sheeran gets 99.5 percent of it.”
“The creative bands have been pushed so far into the margins. But my bigger point is that whether it’s music or politics, right now we’re mired in whoever’s propaganda is loudest.”
“If you could time travel 30 years into the future, tell me who is going to be more popular: Ed Sheeran or Ariel Pink?” Casablancas later asked, arguing: “I have nothing against Ed Sheeran, and maybe he’ll still be putting out records 30 years from now, but I just think that with the internet and how accessible things could be, we shouldn’t have to wait years and years for time to sort things.”
In the same interview, Casablancas also said that Jimi Hendrix “didn’t have hits”.
“Jimi Hendrix: People don’t realise that it took years for him to get the acclaim that he has now,” Casablancas said. “You look at the charts back then and he was at No. 300. He didn’t have hits.”
When the interviewer pointed out that Hendrix was in fact very popular during his lifetime, Casablancas said that he is “seeing it through the rearview mirror.”
He continued: “From what I’ve seen I thought he had never had any commercial success.” When it’s clarified that Hendrix closed Woodstock, he simply responds, “Okay.”