Ten years ago, Julian Casablancas released his first and only solo album. It arrived at the tail end of a contentious four-year hiatus for The Strokes after the release of their third album— the band’s first break since becoming an overnight phenomenon with their 2001 debut Is This It? —during which the band’s other members were quick to pursue side projects. Casablancas, meanwhile, was newly embarking on sobriety, marriage and fatherhood. After taking time to recover, Casablancas ultimately unveiled Phrazes for the Young in Nov. 2009. The result was a concise but complex eight songs (plus a few B-sides) drawing heterogeneously from new wave, punk, soul and country influences — unified by shiny, synthesized production helmed by Casablancas alongside Jason Lader and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis.
The album was met with mixed reviews, and in the years since, Casablancas has expressed his own feelings ranging from lukewarm to remorseful. Phrazes was also the inaugural release on Casablancas’ independent label Cult Records, which has seen releases from Karen O, The Growlers and Har Mar Superstar, and is the current home to The Voidz, Casablancas’ primary musical outlet these days. Casablancas recently sat down for a lengthy chat with Billboard, where he delved into his complicated feelings about the album, what insight he’s accrued about himself and about the industry over the past decade, and what he hopes the future holds.
Where did Phrazes for the Young begin for you?
I just came off years of touring. Hadn’t really caught my breath since the beginning, really, and so it took me a while to recover from all that travel, and drinking, and all that. The problem with music is it’s not like riding a bicycle: if you stop doing it, you have to start from scratch a little bit. There’s a certain amount of knowledge that you retain, obviously, [but] I was really kind of starting over. We had had all these, I don’t know, weirdnesses within the bands at the time — other people were doing records, and there were a whole bunch of problems that I’m sure a psychiatrist could have helped with. Time has helped and healed and all that [but] at the time, things were pretty volatile. I had never really wanted to do a solo thing, because I felt like The Strokes was my thing already. [With that] kind of fraying at the seams a little bit, I decided to try to do some things myself.