The Strokes arrived in 2001, in a flurry of media hype but wearing the mantle of cool like a bespoke suit and coming on like the bastard sons of The Velvet Underground and Television. They combined a nervy, punk rock energy with classic New York cool, earning plaudits from the likes of Noel Gallagher, Joe Strummer and even a musical love letter from Courtney Love.
Despite the group's scuzzy, wasted facade, the five members come from privileged backgrounds. Singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas is the son of John Casablancas, founder of the Elite model agency. It was at Manhattan's exclusive Dwight School that a teenage Casablancas met drummer Fabrizio Moretti and guitarist Nick Valensi. Soon after, the trio met bassist Nikolai Fraiture, who attended Manhattan's exclusive Le C'est Francais academy and added him to the band. Then Casablancas met guitairst Albert Hammond Jr. (the son of singer/songwriter Albert Hammond) while he was attending the oldest private school in Switzerland, Le Rosey. The school's strict code of discipline made little impression on Julian who reportedly entered a rehab programme in his late teens. Casablancas officially christened the band, The Strokes in 1999 and they spent most of that year writing and rehearsing material in New York City's Music Building, impervious to John Lydon's onetime assertion that rock 'n' roll is "a working class pursuit."
The band gradually began to build a reputation as an incendiary live act, playing to small crowds in New York clubs. Soon they were touted as leaders of a new rock underground. The band's ascent was dizzying. Rough Trade released the group's three-song demo as The Modern Age EP in January 2001 which sparked a record company bidding war. The band played their first UK gig on 31 January 2001 in Portsmouth, supporting And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. By August they were sharing the main stage at the Reading Festival, had a major label deal with RCA and were regularly championed by the NME. The group's UK debut single, Hard To Explain, was released and reached No.16 in the charts. Courtney Love was excited enough to write a song about Casablancas entitled 'But Julian, I Am Much Older Than You.' With all the hype and the commotion, the band's ironically titled debut album, Is This It, was released in September 2001 to critical acclaim, hailed as the best debut album since Oasis' Definitely Maybe. The album combined the Strokes' live energy with a shrewd pop sensibility, proving they were more than style over substance. "I think originality is more important than style," says guitarist Nick Valensi. "I always felt we had the potential to do something different and cool, with the right influences." We play melodious rock. And our beat and rhythm gives it balls." The album entered the UK Top 10 in its first week of release, with its risque, bare-bummed, Helmut Newton inspired cover (which Woolworth's and HMV refused to stock). But as the band watched the Twin Towers collapse from their New York rehearsal room on September 11, they decided to pull the song NYC Cops from the American release of the album.
The remainder of 2001 saw the group's profile continue to rise as they picked up NME awards for Best New Act, Band Of The Year and Album Of The Year. The band toured extensively throughout 2002, including a series of dates that summer in New York and Detroit with the White Stripes and the Reading and Leeds festivals. During their live shows and a string of dates as opening act for the Rolling Stones, the band debuted some new songs, including Meet Me In the Bathroom, You Talk Way Too Much and The Way It is. By March 2003 the group were ready to start recording their new album. After starting rehearsals with producer Nigel Godrich, of Radiohead fame, the band switched back to Is This It producer, Gordon Raphael. The Strokes' first single, 12:51 didn't deviate too much from their new wave blueprint but it still managed to be wonderfully retro and modern at the same time. The resulting album, Room On Fire saw the band consolidate their position as rock's elegantly wasted upstarts. It was pretty much everything a second album needs to be, more emotional and more colourful. Songs like the singles Reptilia and The End Has No End, saw the band refining their sound but remaining sleek and thrilling. The album's release saw the band hit the road again, this time with Kings Of Leon.
In the ensuing two years the band have kept a low profile. Casablancas has got married. In early February 2005, he wed longtime friend and assistant band manager, Juliet Joslin. Nikolai Fraiture has become a father and both Moretti and Valensi are in long term relationships, with Drew Barrymore and Amanda de Cadenet respectively. Now the band have resurfaced with a new album, First Impressions Of Earth and a typically Strokesian, scuzzy single, Juicebox. The album took nine months to record and is the sound of a band having fun, not the debauched fun of the past but an older, wiser kind of fun. According to Moretti the album is, "a representation of our renewed sense of values, responsiblity and musicianship."
The band insist that they are still making music only to satisfy their drive to make original art. And perhaps in response to John Lydon's quote about working class rockers, Moretti says: "I hate being these pretty-boy darling kids who come from affluent backgrounds. It's not true. We worked really hard to get what we have. We're very respectful of what we have and we're very proud of being in this band."