CRX shows off its ‘new skin’


Courtesy Shannon Cosgrove

CRX, a new rock band led by The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, will perform tracks from its first album New Skin at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., on Nov. 11.

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Nick Valensi, 35-year-old guitarist for rock band The Strokes, has played in the same band since 1998. Now, Valensi is stepping out on his own for the first time as the last member of the band to release a side project. 

CRX, led by Valensi, first announced its debut with a site launch and tweet Aug. 1 before dropping its first single, “Ways to Fake It,” on Sept. 7. Although its album cover is lit up with neon colors, New Skin, released on Oct. 28, features Valensi and fellow band members Ralph Alexander, Richie Follin, Darian Zahedi and Jon Safley experimenting with a rocky, heavy metal sound thanks to producer Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age fame. 

Valensi spoke with The Chronicle about taking on the frontman position, launching his first side project and what fans can expect when CRX stops at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Nov. 11. 


THE CHRONICLE: How does it feel to have New Skin available to the public?

NICK VALENSI: I was working on this album for almost three years, so to have  [it]out is exciting. As soon as it came out, my brain started going into creative mode for the next batch of songs.


Did fans’ reactions to the album encourage that “creative mode?”

No, it is just finally being able to put it down and say, “I’m done.” It is like when you finish the last page of a book and it is satisfying. You put it back on the bookshelf, and you are done with it and can read another book.


What is it like launching a side project outside of The Strokes?

I have not released a project [on my own] since I started a band in high school with Julian [Casablancas] and Fabrizio [Moretti] that turned into The Strokes. I did not realize until I was unveiling [New Skin] that I did not have the experience of showing something new to the world in 15 years.


How has being in CRX been for you so far?

The thing with The Strokes is that there is a lot of down time in the band, which is good. It enables us to create better [music] together. We enjoy each other’s company more when we’re not stuck in a van and with each other all the time. I found myself with all this downtime, and I wanted to get on tour and be onstage. Performing is one of the aspects of being a musician that I really enjoy, and it’s one of those things that The Strokes does less and less.

For me, it felt important to have a project that I could pick up and get onstage at the drop of a hat whenever I wanted to. I felt like if I could force myself out of my comfort zone a little bit, I would have fewer obstacles in between [CRX] and getting onstage. I love singing karaoke and in the shower [and for] The Strokes on our records. I know I can [sing], but there is a big difference between being able to and wanting to. I had to psych myself into that mindset of wanting to.


Was there a certain sound CRX wanted to collectively have in the beginning? 

I had the [mindset] since day one that I wanted to put together an album and go and perform [it]. At first it was very open-ended. I didn’t know if this was going to be a band or a solo project. The first couple of tracks I put together and actually liked were “Unnatural” and “Monkey Machine.” When I wrote those, I was really excited because they were so distinctly different from what I had done in The Strokes. When I wrote those, I was really excited because they were so distinctly different from what I had done in The Strokes, and the idea at that point was “let’s barrel along and write this aggressive, heavy, fast album.”


How have The Strokes’ fans reacted to your new band? 

I have some built-in Strokes fans who are going to follow me down the CRX road no matter what. I’m so grateful, but I want this to be more than just that. I am looking forward to being introduced to people who are not just Strokes fans and could be fans of CRX.


How has it been stepping into the frontman role?

The reason I was reluctant [to be frontman] was based out of fear of not knowing what it would be like. I started playing music and [playing in] a band really young. Never in my life have I had desire to be that guy fronting the band with the spotlight on him. Even through The Strokes, I never envied Julian’s role. I like being a guitar player. 


What was it like working with Josh Homme [of the Queens of the Stone Age] as producer?

I got to a point where it felt like there was these two camps of heavy and pop tracks [on New Skin]. I had a tough time reconciling that for a bit, but it was Homme and the guys in the band whom I brought in to help me collaborate and finish the songwriting. They loved the pop ones and did not see any issue with having all of that on one record together. Homme was adamant that the album was going to be more enjoyable to listen to because of that. By the time I had opened the door to a producer coming in and helping me make the record sound good, I had been working by myself for a year in secret.

What can fans expect at the Chicago show?

It’s going to be a loud rock show. It’s going to be really sweaty and aggressive. Wear clothes that you don’t mind sweating through is my advice.