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A solo turn from Julian Casablancas

The Strokes' frontman is hunkering down in L.A. for a spell. His solo album, 'Phrazes for the Young,' comes out Tuesday, and then there's that November residency at the Downtown Palace Theatre.

November 02, 2009|Mikael Wood

Let's get this settled right out of the gate: Julian Casablancas, frontman of the New York neo-garage band the Strokes, has not moved to L.A.

"Not officially," he says, nursing a Coke at Silver Lake's Red Lion Tavern. "But I'm here for like two months, and I've gotta say, man -- I'm starting to kind of get sold on it."

The singer's current West Coast stay isn't his first; he spent several months here last year working with producer Jason Lader on his solo debut, "Phrazes for the Young." That hits stores Tuesday, and now Casablancas and his wife are renting a place in Silver Lake as he launches a November residency at the Downtown Palace Theatre.

Casablancas fingers the usual suspects for his pro-L.A. attitude. ("I didn't realize weather was such a big thing," he says.) But he also singles out a feeling of newness he says he doesn't get from New York.

Listening to "Phrazes for the Young," it's obvious why he values that quality: The album is a bold departure from the Strokes' stripped-down retro rock. It's as full of keyboards and drum machines as it is of fuzzy guitars, and it's peppered throughout with the occasional bluegrass banjo lick and fake-classical synth flourish.

"I live on the frozen surface of a fireball," Casablancas sings in the lead single, "11th Dimension," and that's a pretty good indication of the album's paradoxical pleasures.

"Julian is incredibly detail-oriented," says Lader, who's also worked with Maroon 5 and Rilo Kiley and was recommended to Casablancas by their mutual pal Rick Rubin. "He has this little voice recorder where he records every idea he ever has: a lyric, a vocal idea, him tapping a beat on his knees. He came in with hundreds of these things, and that's how we started working on the album.

"Most people only care about a vibe when they're recording," Lader adds. "With him, every single note matters."

In spite of that exacting methodology, Casablancas didn't actually set out to make a solo record. The Strokes' most recent album, "First Impressions of Earth," came out in 2006; since then, several in the group have released solo efforts or formed side projects.

"I had this song 'Ludlow St.,' and I showed it to some people in the band," Casablancas says. "But people weren't really interested in working on stuff. Maybe they were burnt out or something on the band. So I was like, 'Well, everyone else is going outside the confines of the Strokes. Why shouldn't I?' "

In the studio, the singer relished the opportunity to call all the creative shots, which reminded him of the Strokes' early days. "I used to do everything," he says. "I mean, I try not to be a total dictator monster, but I was writing pretty much all the bass lines and drum beats and guitar solos."

Does he think fans knew that about the band?

"No, and that's the funny thing," he says. "I was always fighting to create this image of the five-piece gang. I always liked that vibe. But as things got on, relationships got weird, so I just tried to back off. I was more like, 'OK, let's all work together and fulfill the illusion or whatever.' "

He laughs. "I probably shouldn't say that."

According to Casablancas, the Strokes aren't breaking up. In fact, they're slowly getting to work on a fourth album. But between the singer's growing enthusiasm for life in L.A., the left-field sound of "Phrazes for the Young" and the fact that he and his wife are expecting their first baby soon, it's not easy to imagine how the band might work when it regroups. "Whatever," he says, dismissing such uncertainty. "It can still happen, I think. I hope."

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Julian Casablancas

Where: Downtown Palace Theatre, 630 S. Broadway, Los Angeles

When: Fridays, 8 p.m.

Price: $35-$50

Contact: (213) 629-2939

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