The Guardian interviewed guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and producer Gordon Raphael for a new feature about the early days of the Strokes, and it includes some interesting tidbits. For instance: Hammond explains that before playing their first show, the band was so nervous that they decided to calm down by seeing the Eddie Murphy/Steve Martin comedy Bowfinger:
It was 1998, and the plan was to rehearse for a year, then play live. Before our first gig, we were so nervous we went to see the Eddie Murphy film Bowfinger, hoping it would calm us down. The gig was probably terrible. It’s hilarious that we were so nervous playing to six people, all of whom we knew.
Bowfinger came out in 1999, so Hammond has his dates wrong, but we all have memory lapses; for instance, I remembered Bowfinger being a total flop, but it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 80/100 and debuted #2 at the box office behind The Sixth Sense. Anyway, Hammond also recalls the first time he realized things were clicking for the Strokes:
I realised things were starting to happen during one show at the Luna Lounge in Manhattan. We were the middle band. It was snowing, and there was an argument over what time we’d go on. We were really annoyed, so just went on and played a monster show, doing The Modern Age and Last Nite for the first time and kicking in the drumkit. Then all our friends left with us, and the headline band were left playing to an empty room.
Raphael explains how he ended up producing Is This It after working on the three-song demo that became The Modern Age EP:
Julian [Casablancas] took me to dinner and said Rough Trade wanted them to record an album with Gil Norton, who’d produced Pixies and Foo Fighters and sold 6m copies of every recording he’d made. Julian said that if I told him I was a better producer, I could record the album. I couldn’t do that. So he stood up and said: “Fuck you. Now we have to use Gil Norton.” A few weeks later, he called. It hadn’t worked out with Gil.
Maybe the most interesting part of the whole story is the way Casablancas described the sound the Strokes were going for back then:
Julian said: “Imagine you took a time machine into the future and found a classic album from way in the past and really liked it.” That was the sound they wanted.
One more great quote from Raphael regarding Is This It’s (controversial, at the time) lo-fi vocal aesthetic:
While recording the album, we had a visit from the band’s new US label. They said it was crappy-sounding and unprofessional, and I was ruining Julian’s voice and killing any chance the band had of a career. It was very satisfying when the album became a modern classic.
A modern classic indeed! It’s such a classic that we commissioned a tribute album in 2011; have a listen.