Julian Casablancas + the Voidz: "Don't Trust Headlines"
I didn’t expect to be nervous talking to Julian Casablancas, but as I shake his hand backstage at House of Vans, 14-year-old me suddenly takes over and I can’t make any sense of my first question. We’re sitting on a cushioned bench (“Ah feels good to sit for an old man like me,” he says) surrounded by The Voidz and friends of the band, who’ve just played an incredible set – a combination between songs from their debut album Tyranny and covers of The Strokes songs written by Casablancas.
Suffice to say, the frontman is incredibly cool, donning a multi color-streaked mullet and an enviable shirt that has hands printed all over it. He’s tall, and funny, and smart – livening up when we start talking about politics (“being uninformed is the source of 98% of problems”), and defending the fan that ran on stage during the middle of the show before he was promptly chased by security to be taken down.
Even though the band itself is fairly young, the musicians that comprise it are all veterans, and you can tell – their sound, which is loud, hard, visceral, is not that of amateurs, and their presence on and off stage screams rock and roll. It’s an exciting time for Julian Casablancas + the Voidz, who are gearing up to release their second album after being on tour for a year promoting Tyranny, the rock-punk-experimental album which has put them on the map as a band completely divorced from being associated to the band which made Casablancas a modern-day icon.
Amidst a cloud of chain-smoke and the clanking of beer bottles, Milk’s Ana Velasco sat down with Julian and Voidz member Jake Bercovici (bass guitar & synth) to talk about not trusting headlines, video killing the radio star, and about the strangest jobs they’ve had.
How do you deal with craziness when somebody jumps on stage like that?
Julian Casablancas: It was fine, he was cool – it’s the security guy who was the real problem. It was like he was arresting a fucking criminal, the guy was just like ‘yay!’
Jake Bercovici: I’m just glad that guy that jumped on stage didn’t stab Julian or anything (laughs). I think the trick is to not think about the things that happen in the moment. Aside from that, I just rock out.
What’s your favorite part about playing shows?
JC: I guess when it just feels like it sounded good and you’re singing well and the song is coming together properly, and it’s moving, and you feel the crowd reacting to that – that’s probably my favorite thing.
Julian you’re a music veteran, not to mention you’ve delved into so many different music projects. What is the biggest difference from your other projects and what you do with the Voidz?
JC: Musically I feel pretty confident in many different styles. I write a lot of stuff so if I just did The Voidz, I’d probably have a lot of songs I would not sing. The Voidz is my main creative outlet.
What’s the exploration behind the new record, the driving force so to speak?
JB: I think it’s a continuation of the first record, but now since we’re more of a band after playing so many shows and jamming so much that we have a shorthand or telepathic ability that we didn’t have in the beginning. So I think the next record will bring in those new dynamics and the depth of what we’re doing musically. That sounds like an interview answer, right?
Your song ‘Crunch Punch’ uses samples from old radio ads, which is ironic considering that video and internet killed the radio star. Do you think our relationship to music has changed because we are, more than ever, always in control of what we listen to?
JC: I actually listen to the radio all the time. I think that’s where the coolest stuff is, to be honest. I have a rule: I stay below 92. I just hang out there and find cool jazz music I’ve never heard, there’ll be a weird underground Hip-Hop hour, there’ll be some avant-garde classical stuff. I discover so much cool stuff listening to the radio and shazam. If anything I have too much new shit now. There’s always a new genre. It’s always like ‘oh man, Bangladeshi music! No, I’m still not done with my Woody Guthrie boxset!’ But not commercial radio, fuck commercial radio.
Your website is categorized into traditional things like ‘news’ and ‘merch,’ but you also have a section called ‘politics.’ Do you think that there’s a responsibility for a famous artist to use their platform to show what’s important socio-politically and globally?
JC: I think if you feel strongly about it and your conscience dictates that you have to do it, then for sure it’s important to follow that. It’s not interesting to a lot of people, and I get that, but I think people being uninformed is the source of so much…maybe almost like 98% of problems. The people that can be kind of tricked into not caring…I understand it’s not interesting, but if you have to try to simplify it and not tell people that it needs to be their whole life. You need enough to not be one of the voices that allow the mega-trickery train to keep going. But if you don’t know anything, then it’s better that you don’t try to speak out or you might say the wrong thing.
What do you think is the most important present topic in politics?
JC: I think the main thing is to be informed. With this day and age it’s very easy to learn the facts of a lot of shit with the internet, so it’s not really hidden. Corporate media is totally the problem. People believe it’s objective because the journalists that they hire believe it’s objective, but really it could never go against the interests of the people who own it, and they’re not good people.
Like the New York Times is not a good thing, it’s a very dark forces thing, and it’s subtle. For example, the way that they’ll frame the Greece story, they make it seem like ‘oh Greece won’t pay back their debts ‘cuz they’re just irresponsible’, but really it’s the financial mega institutions that are complete supervillains; it’s not even close to a 50/50 thing. The fact that you have the most “educated” people writing for them makes you think they’re intellectuals, but the top intellectuals are on underground websites and no one wants to talk to them because if they worked for the New York Times they’d be fired. I think people shouldn’t trust the headlines – it’s complicated, but if I wanted to simplify it and just say one thing then that would be it.
What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
JC: I had this one summer job at this random office and they wanted me to organize all of their important papers and I just remember that was really crazy because I was seriously underqualified.
JB: I delivered flowers in Boston for a year. But the flower arrangers were actually cocaine dealers. It was six gay dudes who just arranged flowers while on cocaine all day. So that was interesting. I never delivered drugs, but I would have been down for that. They were so cool. One of the guys that worked there was this really attractive guy named Ralph who didn’t talk much, but he had this obsession for exotic meat. Like alligator, quail, and Ralph showed me how to treat girls with this meat. Where is Ralph now? That’s the question. Ralph if you’re reading this, I remember you, please find me.
What musician or band inspired you to become a musician?
JB: It was probably Led Zeppelin. The first time I ever jammed was to [Nirvana], that record just came out. My friend Adam invited me over after school to smoke pot and I was like ‘What?!’ And while I was there he taught me how to play the riff for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on bass. I think my life was forever changed after that moment. That was the widest smile I’ve ever had on my face.
Do you have pre-live show rituals? Anything superstitious like having to wear the same underwear?
JC: No…but I always wear the same underwear (laughs), no I’m kidding.
If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?
JC: In my fantasy world or trying to be realistic? I’m overthinking this. A tomato.
That’s what Jake said!
JC: You know what’s funny though, we always talk about how he’s the L.A. version of me. We’re very similar but he’s got the West Coast vibe. I could go through all of us and call each Voidz member a Strokes equivalent, and Jake would be me. I could run down the whole band if you like.
JC: Nick [Valensi] would be Alex [Carapetis], Amir [Yaghmai] would be Nikolai [Fraiture], Jeramy [Gritter] would be Albert [Hammond Jr.] obviously, Jeff [Kite] would be Fabrizio [Moretti], and Jake would be me.
Julian Casablancas + the Voidz photographed exclusively for Milk by Andrew Boyle