The World According To The Voidz' Julian Casablancas (2024)


In a wide-spanning interview, The Voidz frontman sits down with Rebekah Sherman-Myntti to talk about his process, total truth, The Strokes, and so much more.

By Rebekah Sherman-Myntti

Illustration by Natalie Shields

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Characters is a column by filmmaker Rebekah Sherman-Myntti that spotlights unique artists and personalities, giving readers a deeper understanding of her featured guest.

It took 2 hours to reach the diner where I’d be meeting Julian Casablancas. For someone whose name is so deeply linked to New York City, I momentarily questioned the suggestion to not meet in town…but as I approached the place, it all made sense. With a bright red, blue, and metallic silver exterior, it was as if the restaurant had been ripped out of a 1980s science fiction film set (not in some phony contrived way) and was the home base for a mad scientist – in the end, this turned out to be a fitting vibe for our conversation. Julian talks about his personal history, his work, and his future with the adventurous spirit of an explorer and pathfinder, someone always blazing ahead.

As the frontman for The Voidz, Julian has embraced a wild, genre-defying sound and maintains a constant desire and enthusiasm to experiment and delve into uncharted musical territories. Many credit his first band, The Strokes, with the revival of garage rock and indie rock music in the early 2000s, and their songs (and style) have had a profound and lasting impact on subsequent generations of musicians.

From those early days to today, there is a purity to Julian’s artistic expression and to his rejection of the industry’s expectations. It is inspiring to see an artist care so deeply about his work (and impact) after decades of creative output. Unlike many musicians who have experienced his level of fame and success, Julian shows no sign of slowing down. So, after shooting The Voidz for a special episode of my music time capsule show TOMORROW!, Julian and I sat in a turquoise leather booth and traversed my map of subjects, from his relationship to truth and understanding to “melodic harmonic realms” and his transformative experiences with music and people in his life… and much, much more. Our conversation further confirmed something most of us already know — Julian is one of today’s greatest living musicians.

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Rebekah Sherman-Myntti and Julian Casablancas. Photo by Christopher Petrus.

Julian Casablancas: Sorry I'm late. I’ve been… building a prototype.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: (Laughs) Mysterious. I’ve actually been told you want to save talking about that for another time. Do you want a coffee? I should tell you that I'm allergic to small talk.

Julian Casablancas: I am, too. Sometimes.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: (Laughs) Good. Something that has always really interested me regarding artists, but also just humans in general, is the concept of feeling understood. For someone like you who has such a large body of work that means so much to so many people, do you find that you feel understood? As an artist? As a person?

Julian Casablancas: It's the ultimate question.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: I think that's what being human is — that desire to be understood. Is that something that you feel? And is it something you're in touch with now at this stage?

Julian Casablancas: As artists, that's kind of a goal. It's like, oh, there's a complicated thing going on. Let me explain it with strange, cryptic quotes and symbols because that's more accurate than anything else. Sometimes, I get to a point where I assume people understand me, but then things happen that prove that wrong.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Yeah. Are there specific periods of time when you felt more seen and understood artistically than others?

Julian Casablancas: I'm still working on it. You have to be really explicit, which sometimes is tricky to do in art because it's not how art generally works. For me personally, it's not that I care about being understood. The truths in each era are always proved to be different than what everyone is talking about. Hindsight is just about understanding the truth in one's time. So for that purpose, I would like to have some ideas be understood and sometimes things are. But for the most part, it's a struggle in this era, in this day and age, sadly, because people get a lot of weird information from all angles, and people just kind of believe what's been drilled into their heads. So, I don't know if I feel like everything I've said is understood.

“The truths in each era are always proved to be different than what everyone is talking about. Hindsight is just about understanding the truth in one's time.”

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Yeah, which means you must have a pretty evolved relationship with control and releasing control. When you think about the child version of yourself, what was your relationship to music? What was young Julian's relationship to making music and music in general?

Julian Casablancas: Oddly, I didn't really have a close relationship with music when I was young. I got into it late because I really loved basketball, and I wanted to do that. I hit an age where I was like, "Oh, I don't think I’m—"

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: “—going to be an NBA star."

Julian Casablancas: (Laughs) It sounds ridiculous, but it bums you out. I eventually stumbled on music through a series of different events that convinced me that I had a deeper understanding of it. I knew what a magical power people associated with music, and it made me think, "I guess I should, I could do it." It's not that I didn't like music or had zero passion for it back then. Whether it was movies, books, poems, or music, I was picky and only liked things that really moved me. If a song felt power, that was something that I was in tune with. So when I got into music, I knew I didn't want to do anything unless it moved me. It took a long time, but that's how that journey happened. I don't know if that's exactly what you meant.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Totally. Are there certain markers in time or your mind when you've heard songs that just really changed things for you?

Julian Casablancas: Yeah. I mean, there are many different smaller moments. One time when I was at a friend's, and they were playing music. I didn't play an instrument, but they were working on something, and I was hanging out there.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: How old are you at this point?

Julian Casablancas: 13. And I was just like, "Oh, wait, can you just..." I was trying to communicate with the guy who was playing guitar, and he didn't understand what I was saying, which was frustrating. I thought, "If I just had a basic knowledge of playing guitar, I would be able to communicate and do what he is not understanding what I'm saying." That was one drop in the bucket, I guess.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: You’re someone who's constantly pushing yourself to create and move outside of the boundaries of your previous work. Can you talk about that drive? How do you sustain that, and what motivates you? Because there are many people who, you know, if they were you and they experienced the success you've had, they'd be in permanent vacation mode. But you, you have this drive to create and put out work — work that is also boundary shattering.

Julian Casablancas: (Laughs) That sounds great. I can't remember the last vacation. I think it's not putting myself in a vacuum, even though that's what it might appear like, or what a lot of people tend to do. I mean, it might indirectly be that, like, subconsciously, genetically…what I'm convincing myself of or what I am doing remains to be seen, I guess, by…

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Time?

Julian Casablancas: Yes. The future enlightenment. Psychologists of the future. (Laughs) No, but what I mean is there's a target I'm trying to get to and I feel like if I get there, I'll be like, “Okay, cool,”... But I just haven’t hit that target yet, so that keeps pushing me and I'm glad people enjoy things I've done. There was another part of me where I'm so brutally honest with myself that I don’t…I tend not to get too full of myself. I'm confident in some areas. You can be confident without being condescending.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Yeah, I hate co*cky.

Julian Casablancas: Yeah. I really don't like co*ckiness because there's no way anyone can understand or know enough. That's always been a very unattractive trait to me. But you should still have confidence.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: I agree. You have to be clear in your vision and probably have a certain sense of security in yourself and your actions.

Julian Casablancas: There are a lot of negative things that can happen if you're not confident. There's like a sweet spot, I guess. What I'm getting at is that sometimes I listen to my music, and I'm like, "You're not that good,” so that will always keep me in check.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Maybe it's not always a good thing, but I do believe that having that kind of attitude can serve you well as long as you’re still motivated and staying true to your vision. As you said, you have very specific targets. Are they ones that you can describe?

Julian Casablancas: Mixing a blend of all the elements of music that I respect, seek, and crave and putting them into one thing. They exist in different realms, but they never really touch, I mean, sometimes they do... they get near. Essentially, there's a harmonic melodic realm, which I feel like Beethoven started with, that almost feels atonal compared to the prior generation of music. It's this intense, melodic, almost depressing, but really emotionally painful power. The pushing of harmony. Radiohead does it a little bit. Or a lot a bit, I should say. There's just this harmonic thing where it's not standard. But it's better than the standard.

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The Voidz. Photo by Christopher Petrus

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Have you ever come close to hitting those targets?

Julian Casablancas: There's always one left out. There have been songs, actually maybe, like "Xerox" and "Take Me In Your Army," where I think I got the closest.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Yeah, and so the goal you’re always working toward is to hit those targets?

Julian Casablancas: If I do it and it's unknown, fine. But I guess the goal is being like, check out this new single it's all those things I mentioned and popular, right? That would feel like the good thing.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Could you tell me about your two bands and their different collaboration styles and processes?

Julian Casablancas: I mean, The Strokes, I've turned the page a little bit. I'm not really... that's kind of the old...I feel like what I'm doing with The Voidz is like how I treated The Strokes back in the day. That's where all my attention is.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Why?

Julian Casablancas: Why what?

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: When you treat the new thing like you once treated the old thing in its early days, is it just because of that feeling of purity or something? I guess that's what I mean.

Julian Casablancas: Yeah, I don't know if it's really doing... it's not really checking those boxes that I described to you earlier. I fought for that in the early days, and it made us butt heads. I like working in respectful environments.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: I hear you. Well, from how you've described The Voidz, it's a very collaborative and supportive dynamic.

Julian Casablancas: Yeah, I think success affects people differently. And so I think, in terms of The Strokes, I don't want to like, you know, name names, but I can't really relate to all of them, musically or otherwise.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: With The Voidz, it was very apparent when I was talking to you guys, but also in the footage, there is a real simpatico vibe.

Julian Casablancas: Yeah, creatively, we all have the same mission dream, and we all have these intertwining skill sets that generally complement each other. And personality-wise, it's always worked, so yeah, it's the ideal situation.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Who have been the most influential people in your life?

Julian Casablancas: My stepdad, because he believed in me and mentored me when I was a teenager and taught me how to be an artist.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Is he an artist?

Julian Casablancas: Yeah, he's actually got an opening at a museum on Long Island soon.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: That's great. What's his name?

Julian Casablancas: Sam Adoquei.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: What's his relationship to being an artist?

Julian Casablancas: He believes that the best artists work the hardest.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Have you guys ever collaborated?

Julian Casablancas: He did the cover of Tyranny.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Are there any other people in your personal history who have been very striking to you?

Julian Casablancas: My guitar teacher JP Bowersock, the guru on our first Strokes record and who I toured with later on with my solo project. He was a great guitar inspiration and a great guitar teacher. Also, my college professor was Paul Moravec. He's a modern composer, actually. He accepted me at Adelphi and gave me a scholarship. He taught four-part harmonies and had a really cool creative class. He was very helpful to my development, I would say.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Did you have an “aha!” moment? Where you were like, oh, actually, I do want to hit the ground running and pursue music in a very real way.

Julian Casablancas: I’ve often talked about listening to a Doors tape at Sam's. I could really understand what all the instruments were doing very clearly, and that kind of hit me. That's what set me on a path.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: What else?

Julian Casablancas: Someone had a mixtape with "Yellow Ledbetter" way before it became super famous. That song had an effect on me and had emotional power. For Christmas, Nicolai [Fraiture]'s brother gave me a Velvet Underground CD, and that had a big effect on me. Sam showed me a Bob Marley documentary, "Time Will Tell."

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Did you have any setbacks early on?

Julian Casablancas: Setbacks? I mean, it was very slow going. It was a long ass haul, but it was also a good feeling. And that's something that Sam instills like he really cares and is passionate about art. Every detail about it, even if it seems like a boring menial task -- is enjoyed with the exhilaration of achieving great art because you know you're working hard to achieve that.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: People love to talk about process vs. outcome. When you're doing something, making art, making a song, or making a film, some people only see the end result, and it's very outcome-driven. Personally, I love the process. Do you think you're more about process or outcome?

Julian Casablancas: It's probably in the making. For me, it's more about the joy of it, I guess. You're not just doing a boring exercise, you know? I'm enjoying it. How's the documentary going?

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: I'm loving it. It has been so much fun. I'm an extreme person (laughs), and I shot you guys with about seven different cameras. All my friends were filming, and we decided to really go for it since it was only one shoot day. (laughs) They got pretty beat up in the pit. Your fans were going hard. But yeah, I love shooting musicians, and I love editing multi-cam.

Julian Casablancas: Your friend said you couldn't come to that party because you were working on it?

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Oh, yeah (laughs) I was editing. I can get lost in stuff when I'm working on things and I can become really antisocial. (laughs) Okay but back to you — what does success look like to you? How has your relationship to success changed over time?

Julian Casablancas: Well, I think there are definitely different tiers of success in terms of like dimensions of success. And I feel like I've been successful in a couple of them and I feel good about that. I'm happy I learned how to make a living and support my family. I've teetered on the verge of broke a few times, and I think that there was a phase after the first three Strokes records that there was a question mark of like, "Where are things going?" and we wondered if it would be financially sustainable. But beyond all that, I'm good. I'm fine. It's not like this insatiable greed for the usual things. It's not about, like, I want a bigger house.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: So it’s not about money or power – it's about art?

Julian Casablancas: For me personally, it's more about politics. But politics is the wrong word. It's about messaging that pervades. I want truth and understanding in the present and future world, which seems at stake and in danger. There's a part of me that wants just to be chill about it and say people will figure it out in time. But I feel like—

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: The alarm bells have been ringing. Where do you feel your value system comes from? You care about politics and are connected to the idea of having a positive effect. How has that developed over time?

Julian Casablancas: For me, it's always been political. It has always been something that I cared about and thought was important. As a kid I was aware that there are important things to be fighting for. And now, music is something I can do well and, like, get attention. So I'm at the point where I feel like I'm good at it and want to keep pushing myself intellectually. I'm thinking more about political things and hoping that the invention and music I’m working on will go into avenues of having a positive effect in a realer way. Having people work together to create something that can have a positive effect, that's needed in the world.

So maybe that's where my mind goes regarding "success." The more I dig into it, I realize that it's just very basic, tribal, common sense, common decency, values that most people have naturally inbuilt, but we communally haven't built it. It is like we've been misled and misguided so that our energy falls into a vacuum.

“ I want truth and understanding in the present and future world, which seems at stake and in danger.”

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: We've lost our way. You have kids, right? As someone who has literally brought new life into this world, you're obviously thinking about these next generations and the world we're leaving to them. How do you approach these subjects with children and give them a consciousness or system of values that reflect your own?

Julian Casablancas: It's an intense responsibility. I don't take it lightly. I try to give them as objective information as I can, to inspire them to learn things on their own, to understand that, you know, all things are filtered through a narrator, including teachers and stuff. People aren't necessarily lying or trying to lie to you, but how do you make decisions based on the information you're given?

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Could you talk about that? Like, do you have a philosophy that guides your decision-making?

Julian Casablancas: There are probably seven different thoughts I throw onto things to see them from different angles and different perspectives. If I make a decision, I try to see it from as many angles as possible to understand the truth of it and the morality of it.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Is there an average day for you? Paint the scene of a Tuesday.

Julian Casablancas: Average day. I push all work and business things past 3 pm so I can just wake up and do whatever. Whether it's working on songs or organizing house stuff. Three o'clock is a good time, and if you wake up early, you can get a lot done. And if you were up until 7 am, it's not painful to get up for anything. I think I haven't really found a routine honesty. I crave routine. I have kids, and together, we have a routine, but it fluctuates.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: What do you eat?

Julian Casablancas: What do I eat?

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Yeah. What kind of food do you like?

Julian Casablancas: No solids! I have someone chew my food. Doesn't everyone do that? (Laughs) Sorry, I'm kidding. Just kidding. Pasta, sushi, toast, cereal, omelets?

The World According To The Voidz' Julian Casablancas (45)

Still from TOMORROW! Courtesy of Simone Films.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: What kind of omelet?

Julian Casablancas: Should we just order? Then you can see.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Yeah, let's do it.

Julian Casablancas (to server): Could I get an omelet with bacon and cheddar, please?

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: May I please have two fried eggs? Over medium. And extra crispy hash browns.

Server: You got it.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Thank you! Alright, tell me about Cult Records.

Julian Casablancas: It was hard for me in the wake of dealing with labels as the music business I came up with shifted, mixed with being in the shadow of The Strokes. I had very frustrating interactions. So I decided to do it myself, which is hard and slightly suicidal financially, but I really have a lot of energy to do things musically.*

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Everything's shifting in such a major way, including film. I'm a big believer in doing things yourself. So, what's next for the residencies?

Julian Casablancas: Ideally, I'd love to play in New York once a month with The Voidz. Just stay sharp and stay local. There's something coming up soon. We have an endless amount of music. It’s hard to record because, again, the budgets are not what they used to be. Back then, a record company would give you a big budget to go to the studio and finish your record. Now you have $10,000 to go and do it all in a week. But that's not ideal when you're trying to be in the lab, so to speak. We can rehearse, but then so much happens in rehearsal that we want to be in a recording environment. So if we just work on a song for a month and then go in and record it for a day, what we'd end up with could be like a pale shadow of what we could have done if we were recording over that month.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Is there a solution to that?

Julian Casablancas: I mean, my current solution is to tour with The Strokes and then use the money to record with The Voidz.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: That's very Robin Hood of you.

Julian Casablancas: (Laughs) Yes.

“ Ideally, I'd love to play in New York once a month with The Voidz. Just stay sharp and stay local.”

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: How do you guys (The Voidz) know if something is "good"? What is your judgment process for that?

Julian Casablancas: If we react to something, we keep it around, and there's never like a yes or no approval conversation.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: In terms of the reactions to it, is it like a collective reaction?

Julian Casablancas: It's different all the time. The cream rises. Eventually, we'll have a conversation about what we're working on, and out of 150 songs we talked about, people are going to be like, "Well, what about this?" "What about that?" But it’s not a singular moment where someone says, "Yes" or "No.” Eventually, you'll come across something that you won't be able to criticize. And I think that's when you know.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: But trust in yourself to know is really important to highlight.

Julian Casablancas: Yeah. I don't even judge things anymore when I'm playing it. I just play it. And then I put it aside, and I'll hear it, you know, a month or a year later —

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: I think we're gonna get kicked out of here. So I want to ask you one last thing, which is if you were to give advice to people who are starting out and are unsure of themselves, and who maybe don't have—

Julian Casablancas: —the Sam figure.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: Yeah.

Julian Casablancas: I would say most people that I respect and have looked up to, there's someone somewhere along the way who supported, believed, guided them. It can be a parent, or if it's not a parent, it's someone else. I think that's almost essential. And that's sometimes not in people's power. I'll see people who have skills, but they never had encouragement or a mentor, and they're always like, "Oh, I can't do that. I can't do this," and I'm always like, "Why?" And I realized it was probably because they didn't have that. I feel lucky.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: It's wild how much of life is an accident of birth.

Julian Casablancas: Yeah, and if you don't have a mentor, you just have to be open. Seek out people who inspire you. It enhances your perception. Everyone's journey is different, so I don't know. There are a lot of great minds and philosophies and ideas that I think are so important and powerful that are kind of on the margins. The stuff that is just rammed down our throats is mostly useless drone-making garbage.

Rebekah Sherman-Myntti: I agree, and that's a great place to end.

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Still from TOMORROW! Courtesy of Simone Films.

The World According To The Voidz' Julian Casablancas (2024)
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