The urge to begin a new project, for CRX’s Nick Valensi, came from a primal place: He just wanted to play. “I was at a place where I got really hungry to perform in front of audiences, and do things a little more simply,” Valensi says. “The Strokes don’t play that often anymore, and when we do it’s awesome, but it got to the point where I needed to balance that out with a project I could take on tour whenever I wanted to. And the idea of playing clubs again was really exciting to me.” But Valensi couldn’t start playing until he’d written some songs, and he realized he’d have to finally embrace an aspect of performing he’d resisted up until that point — singing. Last summer, he just dug in, grabbing whatever spare time he had to record demos on his laptop at home. “It was a learning process,” says Valensi. “It took me some time to figure out how my voice sounds most natural, and to think about what I wanted to say.”
In his earliest writing sessions, Valensi gravitated toward more aggressive, riff-driven songs like the menacing “Unnatural,” whose breakneck tempo approaches speed metal velocity. The heavy, hazy “Broken Bones” — inspired by a motorcycle accident that left the guitarist hospitalized for two weeks — counterbalances its massively sludgy bottom end with Valensi’s surprisingly effortless falsetto. But as he continued demoing songs, Valensi found himself exploring other sonic territories, indulging his long held love of 70s power-pop and 80s new wave on tracks like the bright, catchy “Ways To Fake It” and the dub-tinged “One Track Mind.”
As the songs progressed, Valensi invited a few trusted musician friends to join the nascent project, and to contribute as songwriters. In addition to Valensi on guitar and vocals, CRX includes bassist Jon Safley, keyboardist/vocalist Richie Follin, drummer Ralph Alexander, and guitarist Darian Zahedi. “Once we were all in a room together, it got collaborative pretty quickly,” Valensi says, noting that about half of New Skin’s ten tracks are cowrites with the band.
After demoing several songs, Valensi reached out to Queens of the Stone-Age’s Josh Homme, for feedback on the tracks and advice regarding producers who might be right for the band. It quickly became apparent that there was no better person for the job than Homme himself. “He was really enthusiastic about the demos,” says Valensi. “There were even specific things he loved from the demos so much that we ended up including them on the album, which was very much a Josh decision.”
New Skin, CRX’s debut album, was recorded at Homme’s Pink Duck Studios in Burbank, with work wrapping up in early 2016. And even as this year marks the fifteenth anniversary of The Strokes first LP, it represents the beginning of a promising new chapter for Valensi. “One of the coolest things for me is that I began making this record as a vehicle to get onstage,” he says, “but along the way, it started to feel like we were working on something more special than that. I’m excited to be singing and having a lot of fun with it, and I’m really enjoying the feeling of having to work hard to win people over. It’s like being a kid again — like everything is new and kind of scary but irresistibly fun, too.”