Julian Casablancas Is Still Out Here (2024)

About an hour and a half from Manhattan, at a mall in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Julian Casablancas was cementing the allegiance of fans, one at a time. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, but the line to get into a meet-and-greet at Spencer’s Gifts, the chain purveyor of assorted kitsch, music ephemera, and sex toys, stretched outside the mall. Casablancas, who launched a turn-of-the-millenium rock revival in his early twenties, stepped away from signing posters and guitars for a minute to hand his manager a scrap of paper with some contact details written on it. One fan hadn’t been able to get a ticket to the Voidz’s last show in Philadelphia, and surely something could be done to make it happen this time around.

Much as Casablancas, 39, doesn’t rest on what he achieved in his early career, he could. In his original (and occasionally continuing) role as the front man of the Strokes, he was held up as the foremost standard-bearer for Lower East Side ennui. The rock clubs from that time may have long since been cleaned up, but the Strokes can still headline massive festivals, and as long as there are skinny jeans and guitars, their influence feels inescapable. Arctic Monkeys were one of the many bands to take cues from the group in 2001, and they haven’t forgotten. The opening line on their new album, released last month: “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes.”

In his second act with his band the Voidz (née Julian Casablancas+The Voidz), though, Casablancas is carving out a less-trodden path. At dinner at a Capital Grille steakhouse with some of his friends and crew after the signing, he appeared energized by it. “There’s quarter notes if you like Arabic music,” he told me during a break from our oysters and shrimp, when I asked about sounds that had influenced him lately, and broke into a demonstration. “It’s like bending notes. It’s almost similar to country twang,” he continued, and offered a preview of what it might’ve sounded like if the Strokes came up in Nashville.

This month, the Voidz have launched a sort of grassroots campaign in support of their recent sophom*ore album, Virtue. They play four shows a week in small venues around the Northeast, anchored by a monthlong residency on Wednesdays at Elsewhere, a 675-person capacity hall in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The workmanlike rock ‘n’ roll method could surprise fans who have only seen him from football fields away at Governors Ball, but to Casablancas, “it’s just the standard way. It’s a new band. I can’t just, because I did something else, think it’s gonna be popular. So you gotta actually play. You gotta tour.”

A few days before the Spencer’s signing, the Voidz played the first of their shows in Brooklyn. The full residency quickly sold out, and if the clientele shaded towards thirty- or fortysomethings who might’ve seen Casablancas in 2001, there was also a healthy contingent of teens who moshed to lead single “Leave It in My Dreams.” Virtue confidently flutters between styles and sounds, from psychedelic to punk to electropop to Motown, and its insistent experimentation can make it difficult to tell whether you’re still listening to the same song, let alone album. But the show and the album alike are unified by Casablancas’s unmistakable croon: “New York, New York,” he sang to the crowd when he stepped onstage.

“We’re dating this city,” Voidz guitarist Jeramy Gritter told me after the show. “We’re not just doing a one-night stand; we’re dating.” The band was struggling to piece together how exactly they know one another or got together—someone played on someone’s album when someone was in Los Angeles. “I think something we all have in common is we’d like to further the language, even at our own risk or hazard,” said bassist Jake Bercovici. “But I think we’re more interested in cutting through the bush than sitting around.” The members are alums of a range of bands: Wolfmother, Coastal Kites, and Whitestarr (as featured in the short-lived VH1 series The Rock Life, with appearances by Mischa Barton and Lauren Conrad), to pick a handful. Casablancas came around to a Voidz origin story eventually: “We all, in our bands, would be like, ‘Hey, let’s do this weird thing.’ And everyone would be like, ‘But I don't understand you.’ But here, we're all just like, ‘Hell yeah!’”

Casablancas’s earliest songs with the Strokes are economical and restrained, and their breezy, back-of-the-bar-napkin nonchalance always felt like the secret to their tuneful elegance. They don’t sound much like the Voidz’s trippily expansive songs, but in his telling, they emerged from the same impulse. Casablancas’s solo debut Phrazes for the Young placed four songs in a single Gossip Girl episode, instantly making it 2009 canon, but was met with mixed reviews. It was the one album where Casablancas thought he’d truly gotten off track: “I realized that I would rather do what I wanted to do, because that was more where my heart was . . . I really forgot. I lost sight of that. Because one of the rules I had early on, always was just to do something that I thought was good.”

One of the kids who excitedly met Casablancas at Spencer’s gave him an old Nintendo promotion, and he carefully folded it into the chest pocket of his Cadillac racing jacket. When the signing ended, he looked around the store, fascinated by a row of old posters.

“Want anything?” a Spencer’s employee asked. “An internship,” Casablancas replied.

He had introduced himself to me as “Jules,” and when a movie or book came up with his friends, he immediately swivelled and asked if I knew it and what I thought. But he was also cautious. After a New York interview published in March, he was kicked around on Twitter for claiming, among other things, that Jimi Hendrix wasn’t popular during his lifetime. (“I think I've had an issue with idiots in the past taking things out of context,” he told me.) Merits of the argument aside, the Casablancas who solemnly makes it is hard to square with the one whose new music was heralded by a rollicking performance on Brazilian late night. (The Voidz’s manager, who goes only by Dmtri, told me that Cherry Hill has nothing on South America when it comes to Casablancas fandom.)

Julian Casablancas Is Still Out Here (2024)
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