Ever since his groundbreaking 2001 debut with The Strokes, “Is This It,” bandleader Julian Casablancas thought his musical career was set in stone.
“Because I literally put everything I had into The Strokes,” he says. “And that whole Sting-Police vibe? I just always shut out that idea with the group, like, ‘Nope. Not doing it.’ I didn’t want to do a solo record. So without really honestly explaining everything, I kind of felt like I was forced into it, like I had no choice.”
Whatever the motivation, Strokes fans should rejoice in the singer’s new “Phrazes for the Young” debut on his own Cult Records imprint.
The album — which Casablancas will draw from during a solo San Francisco gig tonight — is a brilliant showcase that recaptures that ephemeral “Is This It” spark, in a disco-campy “11th Dimension,” the barroom waltz “Ludlow St.” and a punk-propulsive “Out of the Blue.”
He had so much fun making it, he even tacked on a zany bonus track to the deluxe edition: The “Saturday Night Live” seasonal synth-fest “I Wish It Was Christmas Today.”
As Casablancas tells it, he was blindsided a couple years ago when his band members requested time off to pursue individual projects.
He didn’t sit idly by. With Santigold, he recorded a song, “Drive Thru,” for Converse. He appeared on “Boombox” with Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island and partnered in a new Los Angeles Korean restaurant called Shin. He married his longtime gal-pal, Juliet, with whom he’s expecting a child in February.
The Strokes, he says, “needed space, and I respect that. And everyone went off in different directions, and that’s cool. So I’ve been negotiating that, and it’s been tough.”
Left to his own devices, Casablancas, 31, swapped guitar for keyboards and computers, self-sculpted every cut and recruited seasoned players to play more complicated parts.
“I learned that keyboard tones are way more sensitive than guitar tones,” he says. “With a keyboard, it’s more like clothing — there’s a very fine line between looking sexy and looking ridiculous.”
The purposely misspelled “Phrazes” title was inspired by Oscar Wilde, who prompted the composer to shelve all his previous lyrics and delve deeper. Casablancas says Wilde’s books were “commenting on what shallow, superficial animals we are. It was like the witty, intellectual stand-up comedy of the day.”
Flying solo, Casablancas says, “was weird and hard mentally, even emotionally, to make the switch. So I’ll always be down to do Strokes records and play Strokes shows. But it’s also nice to feel appreciated for what you do on your own, too.”
IF YOU GO