Enter The Voidz - a midnight conversation with Julian Casablancas
The frontman of The Voidz and sometimes The Strokes on truth, politics, culture and beyond.
The thrill, as they say, is in the chase.
Hunting down a rock star who is seemingly wary of journalists might not sound like a white knuckle affair, but there's something to be said for literally sitting by the phone on a Saturday night as Julian Casablancas fails to call.
There's a greater adrenaline rush attached to having your interview rescheduled to an in-person backstage affair immediately following a tricky gig one week later in Dublin.
And an even bigger jolt when said chat keeps getting tweaked and you have to frantically check your emails as a mosh pit unfurls before you.
The bar afterwards hosts the usual post-show melee of wide-eyed fans not so much hoping to catch a glimpse of their chosen hero but content enough to mill around until the lights say otherwise.
For this writer, a 15-minute appointment at 10.45pm has transformed into a 10-minute sit-down precisely one hour later.
"I'll come get you at 11:43", reads the ultra-precise email from a man by the name of Aarron, amiable tour manager for The Voidz, the current major focus of the aforementioned Strokes frontman.
10 minutes pass without incident.
"Coming down now," mails Aarron. "Grey shirt that says RAT on it."
Lo and behold, his grey shirt does indeed say RAT on it.
Back to the mosh pit, for a moment.
Julian Casablancas isn't necessarily the type of frontman you expect to encourage such a happening, nor does he appear too bothered about it.
You've read about various legendary 'I was there' nights associated with The Strokes, early sweatbox hometown rumbles where punches were enthusiastically doled out from both sides of the stage.
A zeitgeist band that came of age during an intensely emotive and deeply wounded time for their city, their country. The leader of The Strokes didn't necessarily find himself radicalised by 9/11. His focus was elsewhere.
Magazine covers, music videos, critical and commercial acclaim, die-hard fans, worldwide success. The Strokes remain a fascinating moment in time. The band that would save rock and roll, and us, too.
They burned oh so bright, but the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, as Rutger Hauer once learned.
Back to the most pit, for real now.
The throng briefly tears itself apart, a fever dream of a thing. The band watch on, unfazed.
For the uninitiated, The Voidz are an experimental outfit designed to fuck with any expectations people might have of their iconic lead presence.
Recruited in segments and splinters by Casablancas following his first solo album, the six-piece initially felt like a challenging side project - complete with Casablancas' name billed before the band on debut album Tyranny in 2014.
This year's arrival of second record Virtue finds the fiercely independent band ploughing a touch more accessible furrow, while still proudly sporting unconventional elements and textures.
In Dublin, guitarist Jeramy 'Beardo' Gritter dons clown-like make-up in the vein of The Crow. Casablancas opts for sunglasses and an ensemble that Michael Jackson might have worn if he developed a kinship with Formula 1.
The Voidz resemble the kind of act that Nicolas Cage might stumble upon in Mandy in between the slow burn psychedelia and cocaine-fuelled ultra-violence that charges that midnight movie.
Sound is an issue, and Casablancas will engage in more than a couple of impromptu level and microphone checks along the way. It all builds to a beautiful chaos, topped off mesmerisingly by the epic fantastical voyage that is 'Human Sadness'.
In March, Casablancas had a lengthy, eyebrow-raising conversation with Vulture that boasted a deep dive into his political leanings and his grievances with a music industry that champions Ed Sheeran over a more esoteric artist like Ariel Pink.
"Let go of your conditioning", he curtly scorned his interviewer at one point.
"We are all culturally brainwashed", he casually informs this one in the green room of Vicar Street as Friday bleeds into Saturday.
The New York native cuts a tired figure. Sunglasses off, more casual attire donned, he offers his hand and a smile.
"What's... cracking?" he drawls.
Like the show, there's a nice tension in the air. Casablancas invites his guitarist - still caked in some traces of fright make-up - to join us.
Truth is important to Julian Casablancas. Is it a virtue? It certainly no longer feels like a prerequisite in 2018, more of an abstract concept depending on the delivery system.
"The irony is that in the information age that truth has kind of slipped away a lot", he offers.
Later, he reflects on his own perception.
"Sometimes, I think people misunderstand things. I’ve seen random comments that show that they don’t really understand my perspective."
These are the cliff notes. Once he starts to flow, the perspective is both clear and a little bit all over the map.
JOE: Julian, you seem to be in a place in your life right now where you want to change how things are. I feel like you want your fan base to perhaps care more than they may have previously?
Julian Casablancas: I don’t want to change how things are. I think that’s annoying, in general, to want to do that. But I do… I might contradict myself but I guess I’m talking systematically and societally - ‘Things should be like this, things should be like that’ - for a musician to go there, if you’re going to do politics that’s cool, but I think for me it’s more about just truth and holding truth to a religious standard.
I value truth and I believe in that. I would fight for that. I think that the irony is that in the information age that truth has kind of slipped away a lot. Things go back and forth and so you never know if it’s a forever trend or temporary or hopefully there is a reaction. As a musician, from that place, that’s how I approach.
Do you feel like it’s not your place as a musician to approach those issues? You seem quite passionate about them. Is it not fair enough to use your voice?
I prefer to hear people speak out that don’t have some kind of vested interest, be it financial or otherwise, I don’t mind hearing their opinions on politics. People are like, ‘Stay out of that, stick to playing golf’ or whatever it is. For me, if anything, the only people that I don’t want to hear from are those who are financially invested to say something. And I feel like they are the only people that are talking about politics in the mainstream.
I don’t personally find it annoying but because of how we are all culturally brainwashed, the message isn’t received from like whether it’s an actor or a homeless person or if it’s the most eloquent thing ever said… well maybe it it’s the most eloquent thing ever said, people would respond, but in general, unless you’re like, ‘This is what I’m going to do for a living’ I don’t think people, culturally, want to hear it.
That could be true. The people who do that, they make it their nine to five. At the same time, you’re an artist and you clearly give a shit. Have you felt any particular backlash?
Sometimes, I think people misunderstand things. I’ve seen random comments that show that they don’t really understand my perspective.
Like I said, personally I don’t mind hearing the opinion of someone that I like and respect but to be honest, it seems to me like there is what I see as truth being said by people on independent news sites or by ‘intellectuals’ who aren’t technically authors, but people who are smart and trustworthy and natural leaders of society or whatever, there are people like that that I listen to.
Those voices are completely outside of the mainstream. If you’re going to say something, you have to have more thought than just, ‘I’m going to say what’s really happening’. People don’t react to that.
They react to the whole laser light, the CNN music, the Superman music and the handsome newscaster. It looks official and that’s what people trust even though it’s the last thing you should be listening to because they have a financial vested interest to lie to you and you can see in some cases that’s kind of proven and if someone has proven to have lied to you then you shouldn’t listen to them daily for your information.
But that’s 2018. For me, I keep it simple. I follow independent journalists, independent media. I try to only vote for independent candidates. And that’s kind of my only real position.
Is being in a band like The Voidz in 2018 a response to that? A form of rebellion?
I mean it’s hard to not be political in this day and age, but like I said, the person who sees the truth the clearest and speaks about it is the person that barely anyone is listening to. The people that an army of bots would attack. There’s so much vested against those messages coming out and it’s not necessarily evil people [blocking them] it’s just a systematic thing.
I think about it all the time and I think music is a universal vague way to get people awakened and I think that information is the most important thing and that truth is the most important thing. And so, there is the Internet; if you spend enough time, you know what I mean?
We’re so lazy with the headlines and stuff, so it’s there. Other than saying that truth is important and that it’s there if you are willing to look, I don’t think in entertainment or art there’s much more needed to be said than that.
Politically, there is a lot more to be said than that but this is the more spiritual art inspiration world than if I just recited my 10 points of my political positions. You might as well just yell it into a toilet seat.
When was the last time something inspired you, Jeramy?
JC: Did you see Sorry To Bother You?
Jeramy Gritter: No, I haven’t.
JC: That movie is cool.
JG: I saw Liquid Sky, which I was telling him about. It’s a movie that was made back in 1982 or '81, maybe. That inspired me just to, just everything is like there’s no male or female, everything is just colours and it’s vague and really cool.
I mean you can’t find it anywhere, he’s tried to find it. That was inspiring. I don’t really get inspired by music that much, more the things people say.
JC: There’s a funny thing about the themes in so many movies from Avengers to Game of Thrones to, I don’t know, Ready Player One… there’s always this theme.
It’s like The Matrix - what’s actually happening in the real world is actually represented and allowed in fantasy movies - we have to join together against the force. Subconsciously, all art understands that.
Specifically, it’s like living in this alternate costume fake universe but all those things are saying is that a strand of that truth has to be in it to really appeal to people.
If you put your finger on it and you get specific then there’s like the war of, ‘Well I’m for that but not for that so go to hell’ so it gets complicated quickly. In the art world, the theme is that there are these big corporations that are controlling everything and the few rebels have to overthrow that.
From Star Wars on, all these movies… it’s like throw-up scenes or a waterfall; there’s one of those in almost every movie. Same with the theme of the few voices of truth must unite against the powerful liars. Sorry to Bother You is the least vague analogy version of that.
I’m reading a book on The Wire at the moment and they make similar points in it that you’ll always be fighting against the cycle, but what’s the point in making art unless you continue to do that?
Yeah. It’s a reflection of life to try to inspire people to make it better somehow or enjoy it.
Clip via CultRecordsNYC
Time's up. Exit stage left, literally for a change.
Before that, Julian Casablancas offers another smile, another handshake and an apology for being so shattered.
He regrets not having the time explore Dublin for a bit, having opted to stay in his hotel room for the most part.
"You hang out for two or three days and you get a sense and a vibe and a knowledge of the culture and it helps with everything," he sighs.
Next time, sure. Right now, there's a 1am ferry to catch.
I thank the guys for the time. In the days that follow I find myself returning, with increasing frequency, to ‘Human Sadness’.
On the stage, it manifested as both distressing pain and tangible catharsis. On repeat in the following hours, I come to believe it might be a true masterpiece.
Back in the green room, Julian Casablancas strides up the stairs towards an orange glow that he’ll quickly disappear into. He calls back, another low rumble.
It sounds friendly. I can’t quite make it out.