The Strokes
w/ the Turn-ons, the Lashes
Sat Aug 11, Crocodile, $10.

I'm speaking with the Strokes' drummer, Fabrizio Morietti, via cell phone as the band's van speeds up I-5 from San Diego to a show in L.A. "The readers shouldn't believe the hype," he tells me. "We certainly don't believe the hype. It's complete and utter bullshit. But, of course, we appreciate that people are saying nice things. All we want to do is get our music to as many people as we can."

Given the avalanche of press his band has gotten, it's understandable that Morietti is a little embarrassed. To believe everything written about the Strokes is to be firmly convinced that the Strokes are the second coming of the Velvet Underground (signaling a revival of CBGB-style hedonism), the next major pop sex symbols to storm both sides of the Atlantic, and a bunch of rich spoiled brats with lucrative family connections who bought their own hype machine.

Any of these conclusions could be somewhat plausible. Lead singer Julian Casablancas is the offspring of model agency mogul John Casablancas, and all five shaggy-haired New Yorkers in the Strokes are products of upper-class grooming, complete with prep-school educations and film-school dabblings. The family connections did help make the band's three-song EP, The Modern Age, a regular soundtrack for the Milan catwalks, and the much-hyped bidding war over the band resulted in a quit-your-day-job-caliber deal with RCA Records (who will release their debut LP, Is This It? in late September).

There's also no denying that shades of Lou Reed coolness and mid-'70s punk bravado permeate the band's sound. The guitars of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond jangle like mad, Casablancas' vocals are full of disaffected toughness, and drummer Fabrizio Morietti exhibits the perfect combination of precision and charismatic abandon. And yes, the boys are ferociously good-looking. Frothy press aside, however, the Strokes are armed with a collection of fairly stunning garage pop tunes, and they deliver the kind of live performance that makes a person glad to be alive.

Casablancas, Valensi, and Morietti all met at Dwight School, a posh private prep school in Manhattan, and started playing together casually in 1998. Within a year they met bassist Nikolai Fraiture and added Hammond as a second guitarist (both were old friends of Casablancas). By the summer of 1999, they had begun to get significantly more serious about their craft, sometimes practicing eight hours a day at their rehearsal space in Hell's Kitchen.

"If something sounded wrong to any one of us, we had to dissect the songs and make sure we knew exactly what was bothering us," recalls Morietti. "The songs were built very meticulously." Such introspective discipline soon paid off. Their first live outing was for a handful of friends at the Spiral in New York City. Favorable word of mouth helped them ascend the Lower East Side club circuit, eventually landing them on the stage of the Mercury Lounge, in front of the well-trained ears of booking agent Ryan Gentles. Under Gentles' careful management, the Strokes hooked up with Rough Trade Records, who released the Modern Age EP in January 2001.

The three songs on Modern Age were strong enough to bring them attention at breakneck speed, and within a few months the deal with RCA was inked. A blitzkrieg of touring took them on the road with the Doves, and later as support for Guided by Voices.

Whirlwind success is not only overwhelming, it can also be notoriously fleeting. Morietti sounds sweetly grateful for the attention, but is wisely grounded in reality. "Honestly, there's two ways we can look at it. We can appreciate it for what it is--just words on paper that people write to sell magazines. Or we can believe it and get completely washed out. I don't think they would write so well about us if we didn't have anything backing us. What we have to do is keep our heads straight and not get swept away by this. Frankly, I don't think we'd be hurt if the press started saying bad things about our album--it's been hard work, and it was time well spent. I'm just so happy we're getting to do this."

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