Nick Valensi is best known as the lead guitarist for the rock ’n’ roll band The Strokes. And while the rockers put out their latest album, Comedown Machine, in 2013, The Strokes never went on a full tour to promote the release—leaving Valensi deprived of playing live. The beckoning stage motivated him to write new music, which not only introduced him to singing and lyric writing, but also birthed a record and a new band: CRX.
The project wasn’t intended to yield a new band, though. Throughout the writing process, Valensi wasn’t sure that was something he wanted to pursue. “Instead of [writing new music] to go on tour and book some shows with my friends, it started to feel like we could potentially be making something very special,” he says. Valensi ended up reaching out to his friend, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, to produce the album. And Columbia Records’ interest soon followed.
“It was an indication: Oh, now there is a corporation that is interested. … Maybe this is something more than I thought it [could] be,” Valensi says. The unintentional evolution of the project, as well as Valensi’s shift from guitarist to frontman, contributed to the lengthy amount of time the band took to complete its debut album. Years in the making, CRX’s New Skin was released in late October.
After playing guitar with The Strokes since he was 13, Valensi started singing lead vocals for the first time with CRX. “I feel confident as a guitar player. I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he says. “When you’re a singer—when you are writing and singing lyrics—you are putting yourself in a much more vulnerable place.”
The result of CRX’s inaugural release is a 10-track album that includes heavier, QOTSA-influenced songs such as “Broken Bones” to radio-ready pop songs such as “One Track Mind.” Oddly enough, it was the pop songs that Valensi says Homme was particularly excited about. “Josh wanted to make—not a pop record, because who knows what pop music is anymore—kind of a shiny rock record.”
When producing the album, the QOTSA rocker envisioned a mohawked dude drifting through a desolate, post-apocalyptic Tokyo in a Honda CR-X—the band’s name refers to that crappy hatchback from the ’80s. And if there is one overarching theme to New Skin, it’s that the record should be listened to on the road. “When we were recording, we would always talk about how the album was good for driving. The music made you want to get in the car and just fucking drive fast,” Valensi says.
But while he says he’s having a great time on tour with CRX, he’s just fine with eventually going back to just his Epiphone with The Strokes. “That’s what I love to do,” he says.
With Streets of Laredo, Hideout; Dec. 17, 8 p.m., $12-$25, Vinyl at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, hardrockhotel.com