Where did Phrazes for the Young begin for you?
I just came off years of touring. Hadn’t really caught my breath since the beginning, really, and so it took me a while to recover from all that travel, and drinking, and all that. The problem with music is it’s not like riding a bicycle: if you stop doing it, you have to start from scratch a little bit. There’s a certain amount of knowledge that you retain, obviously, [but] I was really kind of starting over. We had had all these, I don’t know, weirdnesses within the bands at the time -- other people were doing records, and there were a whole bunch of problems that I’m sure a psychiatrist could have helped with. Time has helped and healed and all that [but] at the time, things were pretty volatile. I had never really wanted to do a solo thing, because I felt like The Strokes was my thing already. [With that] kind of fraying at the seams a little bit, I decided to try to do some things myself.
What was that songwriting process like?
I’ve always [done a lot of work] myself anyway, from the beginning. I do a lot of the demos myself, and I’ve co-produced most of the things I’ve ever worked on. I would say that it was kind of an experiment. In hindsight, I’m full of so many regrets about it... I had all these different ideas, [but] I thought “if I go too weird, people won’t take it seriously,” so I did the safest ideas. What sounded like the biggest choruses, and easiest to digest songs. And then… maybe it became this “oh, this is what he does when he’s on his own” vs. The Strokes, and that was annoying, frustrating.
Was that judgment something you perceived from outside sources, or was that your own judgment upon looking back on the work? You felt like, “Oh, that wasn’t really me?”
It’s not that it’s not me. It was me, but… I think you do music half for yourself, half for other people. Also, there was something about the sonics of the record that I had an issue with. When we were recording it, it had a certain sound, [but ultimately] it sounded very computer-y to me. Kind of ProTools-y or something. When we were doing it, we were programming beats that sounded like drum machines, and it was more beat-heavy. Little by little as the mixes went… the end result was weird for me. I want to feel good about something, but there was weirdly an invalidation of things I’d done because of how that came out. I feel like I’ve been fighting that ever since. And it might be a good thing; a good motivator, I suppose, but that’s why I have mixed feelings about it overall -- psychologically and spiritually.
If you could go back to those sessions and talk to 2009 Julian, what would you say?
Tough to say, because I don’t want to mess with [the continuum]. I just had to learn those lessons. I can see it now. It’s just trial and error, really. [But] I had to do that in public. I don’t like doing that. I like perfecting things and having everything put out to a standard. That trial and error motivated me slash frustrated me.