Daft Punk and Julian Casablancas Preview ‘Instant Crush’ Video

Daft Punk’s big year might be coming to a close, but they’re still doin’ it right months after the release of Random Access Memories. Music’s most famous robots have shared a preview for the “Instant Crush” video, featuring Julian Casablancas. The Strokes singer is seen performing in a sunset-lit room, but he also gets turned into some sort of pastoral puppet who shares a moment with a simple farm girl. The dolls, while unsettling, are still less creepy than those giant Arcade Fire heads.

The “Instant Crush” clip aired on France’s BFMTV at 5:30 a.m., so it was presumably seen by viewers who were truly up all night to get lucky. If you’re wishing that there was more “Giorgio by Moroder” instead, the disco legend recently stepped in to remix Haim’s “Forever.


The Virgins’ Donald Cumming on the Band’s Comeback, His New Sound, and Being a Life-Long New Yorker

Donald Cumming has led and continues to lead quite a life. From the trials and tribulations of his youth to those that accompanied signing with a major label, the 31-year-old born-and-bred New Yorker has no shortage of stories illustrating his hustle, his hang-ups and his regrets.

Cumming’s cult band The Virgins—which loosely formed in 2006, was signed to Atlantic in 2007, experienced a meteoric rise in 2008, and continuously toured the world after that—has kept somewhat mum for a few years, but returns today with their sophomore album, Strike Gently, out now via Julian Casablancas’s indie imprint Cult Records.

In the interim since his debut, Cumming has overhauled his sound—essentially morphing from shiny pop to folk rock—and begun playing with three entirely new “dudes,” as he is wont to collectively identify his bandmates. Max Kamins (bass), Xan Aird (guitar), and John Eatherly (drums) round out the updated ensemble, which last month played an intimate set at Soho House and tomorrow plays SXSW. The remainder of March and early April the foursome will tour the US, and they can next be enjoyed in NYC at Bowery Ballroom on April 1.

Connecting with Cumming, who I’d feel more comfortable calling Donald, was particularly special for me, as The Virgins was the first band I ever interviewed. Last time, we crouched together at Highline Ballroom in the designated “VIP” section. Five years later we could be found at his studio space in the East Village—walls lined with blankets in an attempt to muffle their rehearsals—sitting on his beat up sofa beside an open window while he basically chain smoked. “It’s, like, my shame,” he told me, explaining that in part his shame stems from the fact that cigarettes are tested on animals and for the past few years he’s been vegetarian-turned-vegan.

He seemed to me to be in a better place, and said so. Married for two years to Canadian visual artist Aurel Schmidt, Donald, the only child who dropped out of high school, ran away, and did odd (and undisclosed) jobs to make ends meet, seems to have found his footing again. He was gracious and humble and open to talk. We caught up for an hour and a half, and what follows is the most meaningful, entertaining, and informative aspects of our conversation. Donald discussed a number of things, including his take on The Virgins’ audible departure, what he’d do if he didn’t have his music career, and how, despite a challenging childhood and professional woes, he feels ever so fortunate.

Tell me a bit about this switch. New members, new sound…
It’s been a minute. The dudes [and I] wanted to do different things. I love those dudes, those guys are like family to me, [but] we were ready to move on. We changed a lot. These guys, I’ve known them a while. We played together in a country cover band. When I was writing new songs, I started playing with these guys, and it felt really good. It just made sense that, since we were friends—we’d been hanging, playing music—they would be the dudes I worked with. It was a cool vibe; when we started writing new stuff, the songs grew naturally. It worked right away. I love these dudes and the way they play. We don’t have to tell each other much. Everybody does their thing.

What was the process of bringing the album together?
We’d been writing songs, started playing around the city. Because we had an opportunity to do a one-off, we had a single. We had, like, half this record written and started recording. We didn’t know who was going to put it out. We probably thought we’d end up putting it out ourselves. Through a mutual friend we found out Julian [Casablancas was] interested. We played him songs, talked about what [we] wanted to do, and he [told] us about the label. It felt really cool. The vibe was good right away.

Sounds pretty painless.
It was. This experience has been amazing. A lot of painful shit happened with the last album, with the label we were on.

What compelled you to maintain the name while transitioning the style?
The first thing I ever made was a demo in my room. I started giving [it] out and put “The Virgins”—I thought it would be cool to be in a band. Then, when I got a deal really quickly, I didn’t have a band, so I put the band together [and] made the EP. Things were progressing logically, except we had [signed with] a major label. When we went to make the record, a lot of stuff didn’t fit for me. It changed our direction, without us having control. We started having to deal with the business model and projected earnings and all the things that come with being on a big label.

It’s the name of my band. It was my name before the label, before the record and, after, it’s still the name of my band. When we started making this record, it was like going back to when things flowed naturally. We made what we felt like making. It didn’t feel like a change of direction. It felt like getting back on track. Personally, [“The Virgins”] doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s a name. I don’t have any attachment to it, emotionally or aesthetically. It just seemed like it would be more trouble changing it than leaving it alone.

Why the aesthetic shift?
For me, the music isn’t different. It’s just songs I believe in. I was deciding whether or not I even wanted to make music anymore, the conclusion I came to was, I’m not interested in doing anything I don’t believe in. It wasn’t a decision to change the style. I had to make what I wanted to make. I couldn’t have done anything else. If it throws somebody off, there’s not anything I can do. There might be fans that are like, “Oh, this sounds different.”And I understand. It definitely does. But, it just sounds like the way we play. We’re just doing it, and it sounds different. It’s not an ideology where we have to present a new thing. We didn’t say, “Let’s do it differently.”

Can you share a bit about your uncertainty surrounding continuing to make music?
Making the record with Atlantic was kind of crazy. I don’t want to go into it, but we all felt [that] wasn’t what we were trying to do. It affected all of us. Then we toured extensively. It was a strange experience. It wore away at me. I couldn’t identify with the music [anymore]. It got to the point where I was like, “I hate this. I hate this whole thing and I don’t know how to fix it.” So, I guess I had a bit of a spiritual crisis. [Laughs]

That was 2008?
’08 through ’10. Maybe ’11. It went on and on because we just kept touring.

Did you do anything else between then and now?
A ton of shit, but I needed to get my brain together. Besides getting married, finding out what means most to me, follow[ing] goals to their logical conclusions. There’s always somebody with an opinion, a reason you shouldn’t do what you want. Most times in my life, when I haven’t done what I wanted, I’ve ended up regretting it.

When I saw you perform last month, I kept thinking about Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Have you gotten that before?
No. It’s great to hear. Everybody has their own take. So far it’s been stuff I like. It’s cool with me.

So, where do you like to play?
I love Mercury Lounge. I’ve enjoyed every show we’ve played there. It’s my favorite spot in the city. It sounds good. It feels connected. You’re sharing an experience with a room full of people. Obviously it’s cool when we play bigger venues, but the bigger the place the less personal things feel.

Do you become homesick pretty easily?
No. I really like traveling. It’s one of my favorite things about being in a band. Making records is amazing—it’s its own special thing—but the fact that you get to travel is quite cool.

And you grew up in Manhattan.
I grew up a few places, but I lived on Canal and Greenwich when I was a kid and, when my parents split, I [divided] my time between [there] and Astoria, with my mom. I’ve probably moved 10 or 11 times.

You have a favorite neighborhood?
I love Chinatown. I don’t live there anymore, but it’s peaceful and I like that. It’s gentrified, but doesn’t look like a mall. It’s heartbreaking to walk around the city and see how fucked it is. But, I love New York.

You’re a lifer.
Oh yeah, for sure.

Me too. So, of course this city influences your music.
Of course. All my memories are here and all my friends are here. Every place reminds me of somebody or something. It has an affect on me.

You didn’t finish high school, did you?

And no college.

You’re self-taught. How many instruments do you play?
I attempt to play the guitar and the piano. That’s it. I’m not that guy who masters instruments. I get by. Shit’s not sounding so crisp anymore, you know what I mean? It doesn’t have that pop. I’m not the world’s tightest rhythm guitarist. Any little addition to my repertoire feels like a big achievement. [Laughs]

What’s been the biggest challenge?
Getting back to a place where I [can] express myself and feel like [I’m] making music for reasons valid to me. I didn’t know if that would happen again and was prepared for that not to happen. I feel grateful to have had the experience [of] making this record and excited to make more and play with these guys. I just feel really fortunate.

Do you do anything else apart from this?
I mean, I’m not really qualified to do anything else.

If you couldn’t make music, what would you do?
Honestly, without wanting to be overly romantic, washing dishes. That was [a] job I had that felt pretty all right. But you can’t support yourself doing that. Well, obviously people do. I don’t want to sound flippant. I’m lucky to make music for a living. But, when I washed dishes, I had some good friends and some good times. That’s a job I look back on without frustration or anger. A lot of things I’ve done for money in my life I really regret.

[Deciding] to do something because I needed money, as opposed to believed in or wanted to, that stuff stayed with me. I’m not resolved. I needed money, so it was good to alleviate whatever problem I was having. But, I don’t have that money now. And those things are indelible. So, is it worth it? I don’t know. When I was younger, I avoided all work all the time. I was always broke. Beyond broke. No money whatsoever. I would paint myself into corners. If an opportunity came up to [make] money, I had no choice. I feel like it was cosmic punishment for not working. Like, you do shit for money you don’t want to do. I’ve got hang-ups about this obviously. [Laughs] I’m grateful to be a professional musician, to support myself with music. But washing dishes was a job I don’t have bad feelings about. I just got into tight situations. You do what you gotta do.

Did you receive monetary support from your family at all? Were you “privileged,” as they say?
No, not at all. My dad had a liquor store, my mom worked in an office. My dad was an alcoholic and basically went bankrupt. Closed the store. Moved in with his boyfriend. He was a committed alcoholic and died when he was 41, 42. I was maybe 11 or 12. My mom worked in Jersey, I went to school in Manhattan and we were living in Queens. She would take me, then get on a bus and go to work. It was tiring for her. When I was, like, 14, she met this guy from Florida and moved there. I went with, but didn’t get into it. My life was here. So, I ran away. I left home and moved back when I was almost 16. I had a little bit of money from social security—from my dad dying—and I started renting a bedroom from my friend’s mom. I got a job working at a coffee shop and was trying to go to high school. But I stopped going to school. I stopped working. That led to figuring it out. I wouldn’t trade it or change anything.

Wow. So, no regrets?
Only petty stuff that fucks with my ego and shit. I regret not going to school. I regret not going to college. I’ve always had to do shit on my own. It might have been cool to have a professor and be with other students, finish an assignment, and get feedback. I would have been down. But, I was way more focused on the opposite of that. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Switching gears, you’ve got a certain look. Can you comment on your personal style?
I only buy used clothes. I don’t believe in manufacturing clothes. It’s a drain of resources, putting all that shit into the world. I believe in secondhand. I’m vegan. I don’t wear animal products that are new. There’s definitely enough clothing on the planet, not only to clothe everyone, but [also] to stop fucking with animals, stop polluting the world, stop using plastic, stop exploiting people—all that shit. Like, I’m just not down. I could go on and on.

Didn’t see that coming! What prompted the veganism?
I bought The Animal Rights Handbook: Everyday Ways to Save Animal Lives by Linda Fraser at a secondhand store, because I liked the cover. I was already vegetarian and it was on my mind. I felt super guilty eating cheese and was like, “Fuck, I know I shouldn’t be doing this.” I didn’t know what was going to be “the thing,” but I knew it was coming. I started reading this book and that was it. I have never thought about going back. It’s not difficult at all. It makes perfect sense. It’s quite strange how willing people are to not give a fuck. 

What the Hell Are the Strokes Doing?

You know, I seem to recall having declared this band dead in an album review almost seven years ago now, but I guess Julian Casablancas and company don’t keep up on the weekly papers put out by small liberal arts colleges. And their determination is admirable. But there’s got to be a healthier way to channel it than they are on forthcoming fifth LP Comedown Machine.

At the end of January we got a taste of what The Strokes would be up to this outing in a track called “One Way Trigger,” which, to be perfectly blunt, beggars belief. Seriously, half the Sound Cloud comments are outraged fans demanding an explanation for this trainwreck. See if you can even make it to the vocals:

And then, what’s this? Yesterday we got the real single: “All The Time.” Whatever you want to say about it—mainly that it’s too little, too late—it is recognizably The Strokes, damn it. So I guess Comedown is not going to be the experimental calypso-opera that “One Way Trigger” promised. Make up your minds, dudes! Vintage rockist formula or bold evolutionary missteps. I can’t get in the middle of this tug of war.  

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Surfer Blood Redefine ‘Retro’

You may have noticed this recently, or I’m losing my mind, but I think bars have been playing a lot of that turn-of-the-millennium rock revivalism and dance-rock and whatnot. Or, you know, The Strokes. It’s as if we’re finally nostalgic for 2001. And when an old Strokes song come on, you’re all: “Oh yeah! I remember liking this.” I bring all this up because Surfer Blood just released an old Strokes song.

Sorry, dudes from Surfer Blood and the PR person who has to read this for you regardless, but it’s true! That album you put out a few years back, Astro Coast, was all reverbed-out and soaring, saturated sound—now, with “Weird Shapes,” you’ve got the flatter, somehow more cynical aspect of, say, a band that’s from now on will be dogged by an association with domestic violence.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s actually pretty catchy. If the rest of Pythons, out this summer, strikes a similar pose, it’ll be worth a spin. And it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for other people to try and make music like this again. Hell, maybe even Julian Casablancas will give it a shot. 

Photo credit: Zachary Alexander Bennett

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

BlackBook Tracks #26: Apocalypse Now

Hey, what’s up? At the time I’m writing this, I have been sitting at the airport for nine hours because my flight back to California for Christmas was overbooked, so I’m kind of at the point of hoping the Mayans were right. Here’s your apocalypse playlist.

Beyoncé – "End Of Time"

Admit it, if the world was actually ending, you’d want to go out listening to Beyoncé.

Tame Impala – "Apocalypse Dreams"

The Australian psych-rock outfit doesn’t mess around with the end of the world. Imagine the earth bursting into flames in slow motion!

Andrew Bird – “Yawny At The Apocalypse”

You’re bored of this apocalypse talk, aren’t you? Andrew Bird apparently already was back in 2007, with this track that closes out Armchair Apocrypha.

Jens Lekman – "The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love"

The apocalypse really puts things into perspective, or at least it does for Swedish raconteur Jens Lekman. This song also shouts out the Flatbush Ave Target, which sounds like a decent place to stock up on doomsday supplies.

Guillemots – “If The World Ends”

This seems like a pretty chill way to end things. It’s either that or watching Melancholia, which I still haven’t seen all the way through because I fell asleep.

Mew – "Apocalypso"

The Danish band made their breakout back in 2005 with "Apocalypso." It’s still a driving anthem for a fiery crash.

Housse De Racket – "Apocalypso"

You get two songs with the same title, because apparently the apocalypse is a more favored theme in indie rock than I previously realized. I’m glad I’m finding this out before our premature demise.

Julian Casablancas – “Four Chords Of The Apocalypse”

Apocalypse confession: I still haven’t listened to the most recent Strokes album all the way through. Maybe I can still fit that in before Cthulu rises or whatever.

The Doors – "The End"

Shit, I’m still only in Saigon.

The Strokes: Bored & Dysfunctional

Pitchfork has a long, in-depth story about the Strokes that was apparently researched for the last year and a half. Really long. If you make it through, you leave with the impression that the Strokes have always been an unhappy, poorly functioning group of guys who don’t seem to like each other much. Every album they’ve recorded has been fraught with difficulties, including Angles, which comes out this month. (They really do a shitty job promoting it, frankly: “I feel like we have a better album in us, and it’s going to come out soon,” says guitarist Nick Valensi). So, yeah, it’s kind of a downer!

You want your iconic rock bands to experience at least a modicum of early cohesion and spark before conflict arises. Nope. The Strokes have been having issues since Is This It.

The article chronicles the story of each of the Strokes’ four albums, each being more dysfunctional than the last. Is This It, their first and most memorable album, disappointed the band because it only went gold. Room on Fire was too similar to Is This It, plus “the intensity of the Room on Fire‘s recording sessions may have started to expose some of underlying tensions that would fully surface during the making of their next record.” They all hate First Impressions of Earth. Julian Casablancas didn’t even show up to record Angles, instead emailing his vocal parts to the rest of the band.

Valensi describes the process of making Angles thusly: “I won’t do the next album we make like this. No way. It was awful– just awful.” It does sound awful! Maybe I’m naive but I always imagined that when bands record albums, it’s all sweat and creativity and bonding in a recording studio for weeks. Or in a French villa like the Stones’ Exile on Main Street. The Strokes make it sound like a cold, businesslike thing that no one enjoys, which is just a bummer to read about. Also a bummer for those of us who listened to Is This It on repeat in high school and thought Julian Casablancas was just the dreamiest.

Anyway, if that made you want to go out and buy this new album that the Strokes themselves admit isn’t that good, it’s out on March 22.

The Strokes Finish New Album

According to a tweet last night from Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, the new album is finished, though it won’t see the light of day this year. “Still not going to be out for a few months-mixing, etc,” he wrote in a message to another user. “But JUST finally finished it yesterday actually!?” The note was then retweeted a bunch of times, and we rejoiced, because there was a time when The Strokes were the most important band in the country, and we remember that time.

But what to expect from this forthcoming album? “It sounds more like the last record, but I may try to funk it up a little bit,” Casablancas told Spin earlier this year. The band has been working with John Chicarelli (Beck, White Stripes) in the studio for quite some time now, and the album has been talked about for more than a year. “There is disagreement as to whether the songs are ready,” Casablancas said in October 2009. “Some of the band think they are and others don’t. I’m somewhere in the middle.” Here’s to the end of disagreements!

Strokeworthy: New Album from Julian Casablancas

Over the past 24 hours, loads of excitement poured through the music world upon hearing the announcement of first solo album from The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas: Phrazes for the Young. Rolling Stone’s Smoking Section delivered the news yesterday, sharing that Julian wrote and recorded the eight songs on the album over the past year with seasoned producer Jason Lader. It will be released on his own label Cult Records, alongside RCA, this fall. On Julian’s website, you can get a sample of what’s to come while watching an art-infused video with visuals by Warren Fu.

Since the release of The Strokes’ last album in 2006, I’ve only seen Julian a handful of times walking on the street in New York or at random concerts/ I always wondered if he was up to something special like his other bandmates from The Strokes — three of whom have each gone on to write their own material (Nikolai Fraiture with Nickel Eye, Fabrizio Moretti with Little Joy, and Albert Hamond Jr. solo). Suffice to say, the boys, including Julian, remained busy.

In Search of the Next ‘Umbrella’

It’s June, everyone (as if you’re a complete lunatic and needed reminding), so start your internships, season your skewers, and keep your ears open, because the search for the Song Of The Summer is on. Two potential candidates: head Stroke Julian Casablancas has teamed with head Neptune Pharell and head next-M.I.A. Santogold on the garage track “Drive Thru.” It’s part of a Converse campaign called Three Artists, One Song, and the song is quite fine, notable for its tres-cool trio, but it begins to grate, especially when Casablancas wails. This would have worked better if Santi and Pharell had gone in on it alone.

Our vote goes to the hottest heads in rap, Weezy and Yeezy, for a song called “Let the Beat Build“—and that’s exactly what they do. The song begins with one of Kanye West’s signature and singular soul samples, no drums, while Lil Wayne raps over it, all but begging for a beat to come in. Kanye eventually gives it, and the MC runs wild. Is this the song of the summer? So far, yes.