Equally inspired by classic tunesmiths like Buddy Holly and John Lennon and the street-smart attitude and angular riffs of fellow New Yorkers Television and the Velvet Underground, the Strokes were also equally blessed and cursed with an enormous amount of hype -- particularly from the U.K.
music press, whose adulation for the group rivaled their fervor for Oasis in the early '90s. Barely in their twenties by the time their debut album, Is This It, arrived in 2001, singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti's success wasn't quite of the overnight variety, but it still arrived pretty swiftly.
Casablancas (the son of Elite Model Agency Group kingpin John Casablancas), Moretti (who began playing drums at age five), and Valensi started playing together in 1998 while they attended the Dwight School, a private prep school in Manhattan. Soon thereafter they met Fraiture, who attended the Upper East Side's Lycee Français, and added him to their ranks. Hammond (the son of singer/songwriter Albert Hammond, whose songs include "It Never Rains in Southern California," "When I Need You," and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before") came from Los Angeles to attend film school at NYU and was invited into the band by Casablancas; the two met at L'Institut le Rosey in Switzerland when they were kids.
Casablancas officially christened the quintet the Strokes in 1999, and the group spent most of that year writing and rehearsing material in New York City's Music Building. They made their live debut that fall at the Spiral, and word of mouth about the Strokes' incendiary live show propelled them to gigs at venues like Under the Acme and Lower East Side clubs such as Arlene Grocery, Baby Jupiter, and Luna. The Strokes' December 2000 dates at the Mercury Lounge and the Bowery Ballroom not only gained them a manager (Ryan Gentles, who booked them at those clubs), but also helped Strokes mania reach critical mass in New York. Rough Trade released the group's three-song demo as The Modern Age EP in January 2001, which sparked a bidding war from which RCA emerged as the victor.
Meanwhile, the Strokes' acclaim reached the U.K. and grew to massive proportions over the course of the year. NME quickly became their champions, profiling them several times that spring and summer as the Strokes' live act and singles like Hard to Explain (which debuted at number 16 in the U.K. charts) won them a rabid British following. That spring, the band also completed its first U.S. tour as the opening act for the Doves and proceeded to play dates with Guided by Voices and ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead in the U.S. and the U.K. The group's popularity continued to snowball in the U.K., with a side-stage slot at the NME Carling Weekender changed to a main-stage performance for fear of people trampling each other to see the band.
In late summer of that year, Rough Trade released Is This It with an album cover featuring a sexy, Helmut Newton-esque photo of a woman's nude behind and hip with a leather-gloved hand resting on it; the U.K. chains Woolworth's and HMV objected to its controversial nature. The U.S. version of Is This It was released in October and featured a few changes from the U.K. edition. The Strokes opted for an abstract pattern on the cover and removed the song "New York City Cops," feeling the song was inappropriate in the wake of the terrorist attacks that struck New York prior to the album's release; the planned B-side, "When It Started," took its place. The group closed out the fall with an extended tour of the U.S., culminating with a Halloween gig at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom.
The remainder of 2001 and 2002 saw the group's profile continue to rise. Is This It and the Strokes were lauded in many ways, ranging from This Isn't It, an EP of instrumental versions of some of the album's songs performed by a mystery band called the Diff'rent Strokes (Pulp's Jarvis Cocker was rumored to be a member) to 2001 NME Carling 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, summer festivals at Reading and Leeds, and a string of gigs supporting Weezer, some of which were canceled due to a leg injury Casablancas suffered. During these shows, their fall tour, and their dates opening for the Rolling Stones, the Strokes debuted some new songs, including "Meet Me in the Bathroom," "You Talk Way Too Much," and "The Way It Is."
By March 2003, the band was ready to start recording its new album, but instead of working with Is This It producer Gordon Raphael as previously reported, the Strokes began recording with Nigel Godrich of Radiohead and Beck fame. That May, however, the Strokes' sessions with Godrich came to an end, and they returned to Raphael to finish the album. The single "12:51" introduced the more meticulous, new wave-inspired sound of Room on Fire, which arrived in fall 2003. Just before the album's release, the Strokes hit the road once again, taking Kings of Leon with them. Early in 2006, they returned with the even poppier and more polished First Impressions of Earth.
The band took a hiatus after the tour for that album, with each member working on other projects. Albert Hammond, Jr. was the first to venture into the solo fray with Yours to Keep, which was released in late 2006 in the U.K. and in early 2007 in the U.S.; he followed it with 2008's Como Te Llama? Fabrizio Moretti played with the indie pop band Little Joy, whose self-titled album arrived in late 2008. Nikolai Fraiture embarked on the folky solo project Nickel Eye, and released the debut Time of the Assassins in early 2009. Although the Strokes headed back into the studio that same year, progress was slow as Julian Casablancas briefly shifted his attention to a solo album, Phrazes for the Young, which arrived that fall.
After playing a headlining slot at Lollapalooza in 2010, the Strokes returned to the studio with renewed focus, eventually emerging with 2011's Angles. Given the gap between their two previous albums, it was something of a surprise when they returned in early 2013 with Comedown Machine, a more streamlined, subdued affair that reunited the band with Angles producer Gus Oberg. The members of the Strokes then spent a couple of years pursuing individual projects: Casablancas formed the Voidz, whose politically minded debut album Tyranny arrived in 2014. That year, Valensi contributed to Brody Dalle's album Diploid Love, and Hammond, Jr. released his third solo album, Momentary Masters, in 2015. The band reunited in 2016 for a string of shows and Future Present Past, their first EP in 15 years and their first release on Casablancas' Cult Records.~ Heather Phares