New wave, no wave, punk, garage, indie--The Strokes have been called a lot of things in their short career. None of it makes any sense to Fab Moretti. The Strokes drummer likes to keep it simple. "I really don't like to think of anything like that, cause I just like to make our music according to how we like it," Moretti said in an interview last week from a tour stop in El Paso. "I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to musical styles. I'm not a music critic, so I'm not very good at putting together ideas and theories on why the tendencies are for people to look at us this way, and to look at us that way. We just play rock 'n' roll music--that's all we do."
The New York City quintet has come a long way in a little more than two years. The band played their first real show in '99. Since then the band has garnered worldwide acclaim. Their debut album, Is This It, sold over a half million copies in less than six months after its release. It's a strange record--lead singer Julian Casablancas often sounds like he's battling a serious head cold while singing through a megaphone. The guitars mount jagged, jangly, repetitive assaults on the senses. And even though the band professes ignorance of new wave, there's a strong Lou Reed/Velvets thread running through the music in songs like "In the Modern Age" and "Someday." But there's more punk here than anything else-mixed with a good dose of old school rock 'n' roll. It was enough to get the Rolling Stones interested, and for them to invite the boys along for a couple of tour dates.
"It came off great--it was a lot of fun. Keith and Ronnie and Mick and Charlie--they all watched a little bit and we had a good time and they were very sweet. They were just surreal." Moretti says that the Stones met up with them before the two shows that the Strokes did with them, and were invited backstage. "We just hung out with 'em and shot the shit for a couple of minutes and then went off to play the show. They're really sweet people. I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting them to be like rock 'n' roll gods that are like 8 feet tall with fangs coming out of their mouth. Really, they were just regular human beings." When told that it's not often you hear the Rolling Stones described as "sweet," Moretti says, "I guess they choose who they're sweet to, you know? I guess they have that right."
The Stones aren't the only ones impressed by the Strokes music. Former local boy Ryan Adams took on the band's music, telling Rolling Stone that he's played their tune "The Modern Age" on mandolin and "Someday" on banjo. "Yeah, I think that's because he has a variety of expressions and he likes our music and he figures he could translate it," Moretti opines. "It was very cool. I heard some of it." But not so cool that the boys would let Adams sit in with the band. "I don't know about that," the drummer says carefully. "We're a very particular band. We're not a very jammy band. Our shows are pretty much if they're not as good as they can possibly be in terms of tightness and how much it sounds like the record, we're all very disappointed."
The band's determination to protect their vision of their music made it difficult for them to deal with record companies. As a condition of any label signing them, the band swore that they'd never make a video. "We actually did make a video," the drummer confesses. "The only reason that we were saying that we didn't want to make a video was when record labels were shopping around for us, we wanted to have a record label that would be behind us unconditionally." Moretti says the band figured that their anti-video stance would give them a chance to "test the waters and see how far they wanna take us, and how far they trust in us. Without a video you can't really sell the band as heavily, so when the record label, RCA, was like, 'we don't give a shit whether you make a video or not,' we said 'we're going with you guys.'"
For now, the band plans to keep moving. Their press kit ends with the statement that the band plans to tour and record for the rest of their lives. Lead singer Casablancas told a Penthouse interviewer that "being on the road is like a vacation. But recording was painful, it sucked out my soul." Asked what's so gratifying about touring, Moretti says that it's "like going on a road trip with your friends. Getting to do what you love to do, which is play music. We grew up doing this stuff by ourselves. This is what our fun time was when we were in high school. Being able to finish school and then just go home and play music together." And as for Casablancas' comment about the studios, the drummer says that when their lead singer said it sucked out his life, "I don't think he necessarily means that. We were all very proud when we finished the record. But it was just like the meticulousness of recording that album--like having anything as perfect as it could be, it was really tiring and a little bothersome, you know what I mean? Touring is much more of a free flowing thing where we get to see new places, hang out with new people, but always stay as a unit that feels very secure as friends."
And when their road comes to an end, Moretti has already written his band's obituary. The Strokes want to remembered simply as "a good rock 'n' roll band that never compromised their integrity, and kept it rockin'."